With Christmas almost upon us, I’m looking forward to spending some time with my family. However, I know that for many who’ve lost loved ones Christmas can be a very difficult time and that was driven home to me last week as I attended a moving ceremony at Salford University where a clinic was opened to honour the Rochdale Red Cross worker, Khuram Shaikh, who was murdered on Christmas Day in 2011.
We have campaigned very hard this year to ensure that Khuram’s killers were finally put behind bars but that will provide little comfort this Christmas, as Khuram will be greatly missed by all his family.
I’d also like to spare a thought to the family of Sheila Holt who will also find it difficult this Christmas. Sheila, who suffers from severe bipolar disorder, was hospitalised around this time last year after being pushed through the Government’s Work Programme. She suffered a heart attack, went in to a coma and is still in hospital.
Although I was able to get the Minister for Disabled People to apologise to Sheila’s father, it won’t make her any better and it’s very hard for Ken. I was struck by his immense dignity throughout this trying time and my thoughts are with him this Christmas.
Sheila’s case, like many that I deal with in Rochdale, show the system all too often does not work and that politics fails far too many people. Politicians in Westminster regularly talk about GDP figures and other abstract measures, but have little understanding of how their policies work on the ground.
One area that must be pushed up the political agenda is social mobility. It’s becoming harder and harder for people to work their way out of poor circumstances and we have to change this. I recently met with a young man in Rochdale who works for the minimum wage and is trying to combine his job with a college course to improve his skills.
However, he’s now had to quit his college course because he’s on a zero hours contract and his hours keep changing. Again, despite his best efforts the system is failing him and far too many other young people.
Britain will be a much stronger, fairer and confident country if we tackle the insecurity that plagues communities and help people who work hard realise their potential to get on. Surely that’s a New Year’s resolution every politician should be trying to realise.