Budget week is usually fairly frenetic in Westminster and last week was no exception, however the subsequent events have very much overtaken the Budget itself. I have learned during my time as an MP that the full contents of any Budget do not become fully understood for a few days afterwards. The headlines are always well reported, but it takes some time for experts, and indeed MPs, to go through the fine print to fully understand all the measures and their consequences.

This was demonstrated this week over the changes to disability benefits talked about by the Chancellor in his Budget statement. In my column last week and on my website I outlined the proposals for changes to Employment Support Allowance, however the proposals to the changes in the way assessments for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) are done is a separate thing, and in the days following the Budget it became apparent that they were potentially a step too far in the quest to reform welfare.

Naturally when benefits like this are being looked at it raises concerns for myself and colleagues, so we were having numerous discussions on Friday and Saturday in between various events and commitments we had. Even before the resignation of the Secretary of State, we were all greatly concerned about the proposals and their impact.

We had all been given the facts that the number of people qualifying for PIP solely on the basis of aids and appliances had trebled in the last 18 months, so I understood that it could be revisited to ensure that the system is working properly, i.e. ensuring that those who need the payment are getting it and at the correct level, but also looking at what the driving factors are in such a steep increase, and how the Government should deal with them.

The overriding concern though is that as spending on PIP increases each year - and this year the Government are spending £50bn in support for sick and disabled people - it is given to those who need it the most. It is regrettable that what appears to be a ham-fisted attempt to review this has led to so much upset and concern for the people who would potentially be affected.

We now have a new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Stephen Crabb MP, who, in a statement to the House of Commons on Monday, scrapped the changes. I’m pleased that the poorly thought out PIP reforms have been abandoned, and I hope lessons have been learned and a repeat of the weekend’s events can be avoided.

I know there has been a lot of concern over a recent vote surrounding the reform of Employment & Support Allowance and specifically level of benefits paid to people in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG).

It has been reported as ‘cutting benefits to the disabled’ giving the impression that anyone who is on a disability benefit will lose £30 per week. I have placed a full description of what the changes are on my website, as the way it has been reported doesn’t explain the full details.

Firstly, the changes will only affect new claimants from April 2017 and then only those people who, following assessment, are placed in what is known as the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG). These are those people whose condition means that they have limited capability to work but if given the right support could be helped into work. People who are assessed as unable to work through a severe disability are not placed in the WRAG but in the Support Group, where there is no expectation on them to find work. Their condition is, quite correctly, acknowledged and people in the Support Group are not affected by these changes.

It has become clear that those people who have been in the WRAG have not been getting back into work at the same rate as people who are on Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), so something is not working as it should. It is therefore evident that, whilst those in the WRAG are receiving extra payments, they are not getting the right level of support targeted to help them overcome their difficulties to get back into work. Consequently, from April 2017, new claimants who join the WRAG will receive the same cash benefit as people on JSA, but the Government are then looking to invest significant extra funds into upping their support to give them every possible opportunity to find work, as many of them wish to do. This is not about taking money away, it is about trying to better target it to help people back into work. For years people with disabilities were simply written off by the system, but these changes are aimed at giving people, who through no fault of their own face extra challenges when looking for employment, a real chance of getting into work.

The Government provides more than £50billion in support for people with disabilities, but I can understand when these changes are expressed in the terms of ‘cutting money for the disabled’ the anger and indignation that many people have expressed over this. If it had been that straightforward then I would have been similarly outraged.

I have spoken at great length with the Minister for the Disabled over this matter, who has informed me that at present, someone on JSA (closer to the jobs market) would expect an average of 710 minutes professional support, whilst those in the WRAG would expect just 105 minutes, which is not good enough, so I do believe that these measures will help to provide real and meaningful help to those who wish to work but face greater obstacles than others.

There is a fuller and more in-depth explanation on my website and I am always happy to meet with constituents who are worried they may be affected by these changes. Similarly if someone feels that they may have been incorrectly assessed I will always try to get this put right.

As readers will know, I always try to do a fundraising event every year for local charities. In the past these have been walks in and around the constituency through to a charity cricket match. Thanks to the generosity of local people and local businesses these various events have raised in the region of £20,000. I always do these events for local charities because I feel that the money will benefit local people and make a real difference to the charity.

This year I will be doing my charity challenge in aid of the 4 local Mountain Rescue teams as they all provide a vital service for the area and it is all done using volunteers. Buxton, Edale, Glossop and Kinder Mountain Rescue teams will each benefit equally from the challenge. As Chairman of the All Party Group for Mountain Rescue I am always keen to help the organisation in whatever way I can.

On July 1st I am aiming to play all 7 golf courses in the High Peak. I will be playing 9 holes on each, but given that I am not a golfer it will provide quite a challenge to play 63 holes in a single day. I am grateful to all 7 courses who are allowing me to play their course for free and are fully supporting the event. As with previous events we have a range of sponsorship opportunities available at prices to suit every pocket, from the full sponsorship of the day to caddying opportunities at £50, and as ever, all the sponsorship monies will go to the charities.

The day will start by teeing off at Glossop at 4.30am, from there I move to Bamford to play Sickleholme. After Sickleholme I play the course at Hope Works before moving on to Buxton to play High Peak and Cavendish. I then leave Buxton for New Mills before concluding the day at Chapel-en-le-Frith. I normally do my charity event during the summer recess but due to length of time required I am doing this years as close to the longest day as possible.

I am hoping to raise as much money as possible, and if anyone would like to get involved and support the Challenge they can phone the constituency office on 01298 26698 or email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . We can supply a full list of the sponsorship packages and already local companies are already proving to be very supportive and there will be more announcements as we get closer to the day itself.

The traffic situation in and around Glossop continues to cause problems. The recent closure of Long Lane in Charlesworth served to exacerbate them even further. The petition started recently has already gathered lots of signatures and if it reaches 100,000 then it will trigger a debate in the House of Commons. Last week however I secured a debate on the subject as I didn’t want to wait for it to reach the 100,000 threshold. I know many people around the Glossop area watched it on the television and subsequently on line. I highlighted to continuing problems we are facing in Glossop and stressed the need, not just for the two relief roads already promised but for an extension to help Tintwistle and also the urgency. Work is going on already looking at possible extensions but it is frustratingly slow, and like many others I want to see greater progress and faster.

By a happy coincidence, Andrew Jones MP, the Minister was in the High Peak the following morning to look at the situation. I took him to Tintwistle and into Glossop via the Gunn Inn junction and Woolley Bridge. I was and remain very determined that this project gets off the ground as soon as possible. I appreciate there are certain procedures that have to be adhered to but I want to see timescales shortened and processes speeded up. Andrew left Glossop with this message ringing in his ears, both from myself and residents who he spoke to during his visit. I will continue to maintain the pressure on the Department over this. As I said in my speech on Thursday evening in the House Commons chamber, “we are desperate – we cannot carry on like this any longer!”

Whilst he was in the High Peak he also visited a local company, Minibus Options, who are building the minibuses being funded by the Governments Community Minibus Scheme. This scheme provides new minibuses funded by the DfT for Community Groups. It has proved a popular scheme and there were a few early teething problems however they are now well on the way to being ironed out and I am particularly delighted that a local company has the contract to build so many of these buses that will be going across the country.

The final part of his visit took him to Hope Construction Materials to look at the new railway rolling stock they have invested in. These new trucks have increased capacity, are better environmentally and are much quieter. The increased capacity will potentially reduce the number of journeys which, together with the reduced noise levels, will benefits residents as well as the company, and it is another example of businesses in the High Peak doing great things which in turn benefits our local economy.

I have consistently held the position that I would await the outcome of the Prime Minister’s negotiations before deciding whether I believed Britain would be better in or out of the EU. Those negotiations concluded last week and the Prime Minister announced the 23rd June as the date for the referendum.

I have thought long and hard about this matter over several weeks in anticipation of the referendum. I have looked carefully at what David Cameron has obtained from the EU and despite his best efforts I have come the conclusion that I will be voting for Britain to leave the EU.

I think the Prime Minister did his best and worked incredibly hard to get the best deal he could for the country. However, that fact that he had to work so hard for what was achieved demonstrates the EU’s unwillingness to reform. Faced with the possibility of the second largest economy leaving the EU they were still unwilling to change, which tells me that if it won’t change in the face of that threat then it never will and the ever growing swathes of bureaucracy and power grabbing will only get worse.

The principle of a trading union across Europe is one that I do support, and when Britain joined what was then known as the Common Market this is what I think people believed it to be. In the ensuing years, the EU has morphed more into a political union and has wrapped its tentacles round our Parliament and our powers, to become too intrusive and too controlling.

Several Ministers have come down on the side of leaving the EU and Michael Gove gave the most telling account of why he had reached his decision. He related the times that as a Minister he had wanted to do certain things but to be told repeatedly that ‘it was against EU law’ which proved a great frustration to him. In the last parliament I sat on the European Scrutiny Committee that looks at EU legislation and some of the things that used to come before us were bordering on the ridiculous.

The important thing though, is that people do vote in the referendum. It is probably the single most important vote that any of us will have to cast. General Elections are always crucial as they decide who will govern the country for the next 5 years. This referendum will decide Britain’s future for much longer. I know that people will be interested in my opinion on this issue. There will be people who agree and disagree and they will come from all sides of the political divide. There will be Conservatives for and against and I am sure there will be Labour Party members in both camps, as there are in Westminster.

The Prime Minister and I disagree, which I am sure is not as he would wish it, but the matter of EU membership transcends party politics. Similarly, like everyone reading this article, I have only a single vote – we all have the same power on June 23rd. The one thing I am pleased about though is that we are at last having the referendum. It has been promised in various forms by previous Governments.

People will have a view on what the Prime Minister has or has not achieved with his negotiations, but it is for us all to decide if it is enough. What we can agree on is that the promised referendum will be delivered. It will take place on June 23rd and I urge everyone, whatever their views, to vote in it. It is too important not to.

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This website was established while I was an MP, and previous content on it relates to that period. I am not currently an MP, as Parliament has been dissolved until after the General Election. I have therefore reverted to the status of Parliamentary Candidate.

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