I got back into Bristol about midday today, having missed the last train back last night. I’ve been in Iraq, and my flight was delayed. More about the trip later, if I feel so inclined. It was organised by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, running a series of workshops with MPs from the Kurdish Regional Parliament, telling them how we do things in the UK. Amusingly, considering the reaction I got from some Tories when I mentioned on Twitter that I was doing this work, it coincided with David Cameron announcing extra funding for the WFD’s work, in view of the Arab revolutions. (Oh, and I managed to deal with all the emails AND prepare for the Budget Responsibility Bill Committee while I was out there – no skiing in Davos for me!)
Today was more usual constituency business. First thing was a meeting set up by CIWEM (the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management) with a woman who works for a local construction company about a ‘buddying’ scheme for MPs. The idea is that they will provide us with advice on issues within their field of expertise. Interesting talking to her. The company she works for employs ecologists and their job it is to deal with wildlife issues facing developers, for example, moving badger setts, and, if hedges or other boundaries are being removed, finding other ways to ensure that bats know where they’re going. We ended up talking about the fact that most school kids don’t have the slightest idea such jobs exist, and think that all that is out there is what I call “Mr Benn jobs”, i.e. doctors, carpenters, astronauts. The sort of thing Mr Benn dresses up as.
Next up I decided to take the team to Cafe Kino for lunch. After a week living on mezze and salad, I went for the BLT. (For non-Bristolians, it’s all-vegan). Then it was off to the Co-op store in Fishponds, for some photos to highlight their commitment to Fairtrade Fortnight, which mostly involved waving bunches of bananas at the camera.
Then it was a surgery at the Vassall Centre… It’s very noticeablethese days that I’m seeing more constituents with concerns about disability benefits these days. Incidentally, worth reading what Prof. Paul Gregg from Bristol Uni has to say about the Work Capability Assessment… He’s says it’s “a complete mess” and I can’t say I disagree with him. If you’re interested in knowing more, here’s a guide to his work designing the new Employment Support Allowance, introducing an element of conditionality for some disability benefits claimants. This is what Labour is talking about when we say we support the broad thrust of reform, but the fact remains, the way the assessments are carried out is severely flawed. Far too many people are failing the eligibility test, and then succeeding on appeal when medical evidence is properly considered.
Then it was back to the office till 8pm. Only the emails, preparation for a Delegated Legislation Committee onMonday (on the Climate Change Levy and lead recyling), and speeches for Tuesday’s Bill Committee to do over the weekend – plus campaigning if the rain stops!