Politically Correct by Cat Smith

Cat Smith - Labour candidate for Lancaster and Fleetwood

Cat Smith - Labour candidate for Lancaster and Fleetwood

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Pension age change is a struggle for women

When I meet constituents in advice surgeries I hear how families are struggling on the Fylde coast.

One of the most heart-breaking cases I had recently was from a woman born in the 1950s who took early retirement to care for her elderly parents, only to find out too late her state pension age was years away than she thought.

Her savings just won’t last until she can claim her pension, and she’s struggling to find work.

That’s why Labour has outlined our plans to help end the plight of the hundreds of thousands of women abandoned to live in poverty by the Government’s changes to their state pension age.

Under the plan, Pension Credit will be extended to those who were due to retire before the chaotic pension age increase of the Coalition Government.

This would alleviate the worst of the impacts for the most vulnerable women, and restore some of the dignity many of them feel they have been robbed of.

It would provide support worth up to £155 per week to half a million women.

The Government’s changes have affected women who would normally have retired earlier under the 1995 Pensions Act.

Labour plans to extend eligibility to pension credit to these women, ensuring that they are not forced into the punitive social security regime.

We are also developing solutions for those affected who would not be entitled to means-tested Pension Credit under these proposals.

It is however vital that action takes place now, to end the hardship faced by women who have worked all their lives, but find that they cannot retire as planned.

Sadly the Pensions Minister has issued a point blank refusal to do anything to alleviate the worse cases – claiming that the current social security system was sufficient to meet the needs of everyone.

Labour are now acting where the government has refused.

Cuts affecting social care

Under the Conservatives social care services in England are facing financial crisis, and Lancashire and Blackpool are no exceptions with social care funding across the country slashed by £4.6bn over the last Parliament.

The crisis in social care means patients are being forced to stay in hospital for weeks, sometimes months, longer than they need to because they can’t get the care they need at home.

Having worked for a social work organisation before being elected I know that good social care is essential.

This week, in Parliament I called on the Government to increase social care funding for Lancashire and Blackpool in the upcoming Autumn Statement, which will outline the Government’s spending plans.

Just last month, the Care Quality Commission said that social care was approaching “a tipping point”, while the Local Government Association warned social care faces an estimated funding gap of an £2.6bn by 2020.

In Lancashire, the amount spent on social care has gone down in real terms by 9.6 per cent under this Conservative Government, and in Blackpool it’s down 3.3 per cent.

Without appropriate funding we risk failing to meet basic needs for our society’s most vulnerable, such as ensuring people are washed, dressed and helped out of bed.

When I ask doctors they tell me the crisis in social care is also having a knock on effect on our already overstretched NHS.

I will continue to stand up for our local community in the face of unfair Conservative cuts.

The Chancellor urgently needs to commit to bringing forward much needed funding, and ensure the social care system is capable of meeting demand in the future through a longer-term settlement.

Port can lead green drive

I believe Fleetwood can be at the front of the green energy revolution.

Proposals for a barrage over the Wyre are exactly what we need. As an island nation we do not do enough to harness the natural assets which surround us and the time to do so is now.

With a climate change denying President-elect of the USA, we need to act to protect the future of our planet and take a lead in developing new high skilled green jobs as well as fulfilling our obligations of the Paris climate agreement.

We need a fair transition to a low-carbon economy and drive the expansion of the green industries and jobs.

Labour would do this using our National Investment Bank to invest in public and community-owned renewable energy. Investment which is outside London and the South East, investment right here on the Fylde coast.

With the right vision and investment we can deliver clean energy and curb energy bill rises for households – energy for the 60 million people of this country.