This week I have barely had chance to catch my breath. I began on Sunday with a lovely event to celebrate the achievements of Burnley’s Bangladeshi community. I was delighted to join with staff from Sir John Thursby Community College to present awards for academic achievement. The Pitha food festival also formed an important part of the event and I think it is fair to say that a good time was had by all. I was, though sorry that my busy schedule meant that I was not to be able to stay to sample the winning dishes.
On Monday an unexpected vote in the Lords caused a stir. Surprisingly a Conservative dominated House of Lords voted to reject the Government’s plans to cut Tax Credits. This is highly unusual and surely a clear indication of how very unfair these proposals are. Later in the week I was pleased to welcome a couple of Burnley constituents. I managed to get them into Prime Minister’s Question Time and I think they were as shocked as me to hear David Cameron reaffirm his commitment to cut tax credits. I know that 7,000 families in Burnley and Padiham are anxiously awaiting a final decision on this important matter. If the Government persist these families won't feel much like celebrating this Christmas.
On an ordinary week I return to Burnley on Thursday but this week I needed to stay in London for the second reading of my private members bill. This was a big event for me personally: many MPs serve for over 20 years in parliament and never get the chance to present a private members bill so for a new member it is a big deal. For months I have been campaigning to get an exemption from hospital car parking charges for carers. On Friday my day began at 5.30 am and by 6.30 I was in the BBC studio at Mill Bank for a series of TV and radio interviews. By 9am I had done 12 interviews and then it was time to dash down the road to the House of Commons where 5 hours had been set aside for this debate. The Conservative Minister for Carers had made it clear from the beginning that the Government would not be supporting the bill. In line with this the Conservative MPs wanted to make sure that the bill failed but they did not want to openly vote against a measure that would help over a million carers so they filibustered the bill in other words they deliberately and shamelessly talked so long that the bill ran out of time. This outrageous abuse of the parliamentary system showed a total disrespect for carers and a distinct lack of concern for the challenges that they face on a daily basis. It has attracted a massive amount of media interest and I have had emails from dozens of people from all round the country, all of whom are angry and disgusted. In England there are 5.5 million carers providing unpaid care to a friend or family member. During my research I heard stories of people caring for the physically and mentally disabled, chronically sick children, Alzheimer patients, stroke victims and cancer sufferers. As part of their caring role carers spend many hours visiting hospitals and other medical facilities. The average weekly parking charge is £39 and in some areas it is as high £130 per week. Car parking charges are therefore a massive burden for carers many of whom have been forced to give up work to fulfil their caring role. Research carried out by Carers UK shows that 48% of all carers are struggling to cope financially. Hospital car parking charges are just one extra burden that they really do not need. Research also shows that the help that carers often provide on the ward saves the NHS billions of pounds every year.
We need also to consider too the emotional burden on carers. On behalf of the person who has spent hours at the bed side of someone they care about, I would say: when they come out of the hospital the last thing they want to do is to join a queue to pay for parking. They really
don’t need to worry if the machine is working or if they have the right change. They are often distressed. They are in invariably in a hurry. They are often on their way to pick up clean clothes and supplies and are already planning the return journey which in many cases is on the same day. Of course some hospitals including Burnley General require payment on entry and this brings its own pressures where carers who are on a very limited budget are trying to estimate how long each hospital visit will last often having to leave the ward or the treatment room to run out and replenish the every hungry parking meter. So I hope that you will agree with me that my Bill addressed a worthy cause. I won't give up my fight, though. As a result of my campaign the minister has promised to introduce new guidelines to hospitals recommending that they provide parking concessions to carers. I will press him for an early publication date and I will then lobby hospital trusts to implement them. So watch this space.