This summer has seen a double whammy for rail passengers in Wakefield.
First, the Government announced they are scrapping plans for the electrification of the railway line from Leeds to Manchester which they promised back in 2012. After a “pause” in 2015, ministers promised plans were still on track. On the day that Parliament broke for the summer holiday, the Transport secretary announced the route, along with routes in Wales, the Lake District and Nottingham to Sheffield, will not be electrified. Yorkshire and the north continues to suffer from underinvestment in our transport infrastructure. All the government has delivered is delays, excuses and now, this final blow to the North’s economy.
Second, we have learnt that rail fares are set to rise by 3.6% in January, the biggest increase for 5 years. That means an annual season ticket from Wakefield to Leeds will cost £1048. Public sector workers, like teachers, nurses and police officers are experiencing their seventh year of a 1% pay cap. It is simply unacceptable for rail fares to rise so much faster than wages.
Last week saw the naming and shaming of over 200 businesses, including Argos, who have been ordered to pay back money owed to staff after failing to pay the national minimum wage. Poor working practices, such as deducting money from workers pay packets to pay for uniforms and incorrectly recording overtime, are deliberately used to avoid paying low paid workers what they are due.
These practices are contributing to a low pay economy where we see more people employed in low-paid or part-time jobs, struggling to make ends meet. I have had people attend my constituency surgery in tears as they try to hold down two or three jobs and are still struggling to pay rent and support their family. This situation is being made worse by the Government’s Universal Credit system.
Universal Credit is supposed to simplify the way people claim benefits but instead is pushing people into debt and leaving families relying on food banks. Debt support charities and the Citizens Advice Bureau have told me that some people are waiting up to 12 weeks to receive their first payment, leaving them unable to pay their rent or buy food, putting them at risk of eviction.
Universal Credit has only been introduced for some new claimants in Wakefield so far- the full rollout starts in August 2018. The Government must get a grip on the project fast making sure families affected by delays in payments have access to hardship funds immediately and the application process is not overcomplicated. I will continue to push the government to make sure the system is fit for purpose before it is rolled out fully in Wakefield.
Thankfully it’s not all doom and gloom. I want to congratulate all students in Wakefield who picked up their GCSE and A-level results in the last fortnight. We are lucky to have the fantastic new Wakefield College Advanced Skills and Innovation Centre providing opportunities for our young people right across the district. Whether you choose an apprenticeship, are going off to university or are starting A levels or your first job, I wish you all the best on the next exciting chapter of your lives!