MP’s Notebook: Universal Credit and repairing things

Last month, a blue plaque was unveiled in memory of the Rev Don Robins. He was appointed vicar of St George’s Church in the heart of Leeds in 1930 at the time of the Great Depression. Looking around his new parish, he saw the homeless, the hungry and the destitute and decided that he must do something.

With an old crypt below the church, he resolved that it should become a place for the living rather than the dead. So, he turned it into a soup kitchen and a night shelter, and every single day since St George’s Crypt has been serving all those for whom life has been hard.

I just wonder, if Don Robins was still with us today, what he would have to say about what’s happening at the moment because although our great city of Leeds has seen much prosperity and development in the years since, poverty, inequality and hunger have not gone away. They continue to weigh down on some families in South Leeds and it’s going to be a tough autumn in lots of different ways.

People will be dealing not only with the continuing effects of Covid but also with the looming cost of living crisis as gas prices rocket and inflation rises, and for the thousands of families on Universal Credit they will find themselves without the £20 a week extra they have been getting at the very moment when bills start shooting up.

We debated this in the House of Commons recently and I drew attention to the fact that three in ten children in Leeds Central are now growing up in absolute poverty, that some children come to school too hungry to learn and that the use of food banks continues to rise. And, of course, from next April there will be the National Insurance increase to pay for health and social care. As Don Robins might have said “something must be done.”

And talking of what needs doing, we’ve seen how companies like British Airways and British Gas have tried to make staff redundant, including in Leeds, and then offer to re-hire them on worse terms and conditions. This is unfair, unjust and should not be allowed under any circumstances. I will therefore be in Parliament on the 22nd October to back Barry Gardiner MP’s private member’s bill which is seeking to make this practice illegal.

I wouldn’t normally write about my glasses but disaster struck recently – not once, but twice – when I sat on one pair and broke the arm off another. To be strictly accurate, I broke the arm again that I had attempted to glue back in place some months ago. I was dismayed to learn that the firm I’ve used for many years to repair my spectacles – you’ve guessed it, this isn’t the first time I’ve caused them damage – had ceased trading. So with some trepidation, I sent them off to a new company and was delighted to get both pairs back swiftly in full working order. In an age in which far too many things get thrown away because apparently they can’t be repaired, a big thank you to those who show what can be done. And that includes the Leeds Repair Cafe who were doing a sterling job fixing things at the recent Beeston Festival.

As it happens, we now have a right to repair law which means that manufacturers will for the first time have to make spare parts available for washing machines, washer-dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators and TVs. Repairs also need to be possible using everyday tools. The aim is to do something about the 1.5 million tonnes of electrical waste generated each year. It is certainly a step forward but it doesn’t yet cover cookers, hobs, tumble dryers, microwaves or tech devices such as laptops or smartphones. It should.

And finally, it was a great pleasure to join lots of other people at the Great Middleton Park Show last month. The sun came out, the park looked at its best and there was lots to see and do, including in my case having the chance to view the prize vegetables and crafts before presenting the cups together with the Lord Mayor. I met one of the winners earlier in the afternoon but by the time the presentations came round he had already left for the Leeds United match and his proud mum was delighted to collect his prize. It was a lovely cake!


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