Friday, January 28, 2011

Coalition reforms will increase health inequalities

This week the European Parliament's Environment and Public Health Committee adopted a resolution on reducing health inequalities in the EU, whilst in the UK Conservative-led reforms to healthcare could see these inequalities widen.

Across Europe people in the lowest socio-economic groups can expect to live on average 8 years less than those in the highest socio-economic groups. Unemployed people are especially at risk, and as the coalition cuts kick in more and more people will find themselves in this vulnerable group.

I have put a lot of work into this resolution because we need to send a clear message to all European governments that during these difficult economic times we must keep equal access to quality healthcare as a priority. When amending the report I focused on the need to tackle obesity, tobacco and alcohol harm, all of which affect lower socio-economic groups disproportionately. I also called on governments to invest in employment and housing conditions, which have a huge effect on people's health.

Unfortunately it doesn't look like the British government will be paying much attention to these widespread calls to protect healthcare. Andrew Lansley's reforms of the NHS are absurd. Making GPs into administrators for practices will mean they'll have less time to do what they trained to do, which is treat patients, not fill in ordering forms and file paperwork.

It may make little difference to those who can afford to pay, but for the majority of ordinary people who rely on our NHS these reforms could be devastating. Here in the European Parliament Labour MEPs will continue to put pressure on the UK and all EU governments to remember that healthcare is not something we can afford to cut.

Friday, January 21, 2011

We must continue to fight homophobia in Europe

In recent years gay rights have come a long way, but we can't become complacent. Roger Helmer's comments on Twitter last weekend show that many on the right of British politics still don't get it. By asking why it's "not OK for a psychiatrist to try to "turn" a consenting homosexual" Mr Helmer was implying that homosexuality is a mental illness or some kind of disease that can be "cured". This is an unfair and damaging stigma that LGBT people have had to deal with for decades, with the World Health Organisation only removing homosexuality from the list of mental disorders in 1990. So when my fellow MEP for the East Midlands made this statement I immediately called on David Cameron to condemn it, or risk showing that the Tories are still the nasty party. However, as shown in last year's interview with the Gay Times, the Prime Minister doesn't seem to care what his MEPs are up to. Roger Helmer and some of his colleagues have voted against numerous measures promoting gay rights in the past.

This all comes at a time when it is crucial that the European Union is firm on upholding LGBT rights. This week in Strasbourg we voted for a tough resolution condemning a proposed law in Lithuania which would make the "promotion of homosexual relations" illegal. The law, similar to Thatcher's Section 28, would mean that people could be fined up to £2,500 for "offences" such as holding hands with someone of the same sex in public, or taking part in a gay pride march. If passed the law would breach the European Convention on Human Rights, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Unsurprisingly it was allies of the Tories in the European Parliament who stood up for Lithuania's freedom to flout the rights of their minorities. The EU was set up in the wake of the mass murder of homosexual men and women, and we have a responsibility to make sure a member of the EU does not abuse the rights of its citizens. As for Mr Helmer, he has a responsibility to represent his many gay constituents, not insult them.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

While the government backs down, Labour cracks down on bankers' bonuses

Unsurprisingly all George Osborne's talk of being tough on bankers' bonuses has turned out to be empty rhetoric, as reported in today's Guardian. It is now clear that the government has little real appetite to tackle the City's risk-taking bonus culture.

However, despite attempts by the government to water it down, new EU legislation is now in place to limit the cash payments that have in the past rewarded bankers for short-term risky investments. These new rules, taken through the European Parliament by Labour's Arlene McCarthy MEP, aren't about bashing bankers. They are about putting long-term interests ahead of short-term risks.

The rules specify that only around a quarter of the bonus can be paid upfront in cash, while the rest must be deferred and will only be paid out if investments perform as expected. In addition banks must establish limits on bonuses in relation to salaries, to help limit the disproportionate role played by bonuses in the financial sector.

The government has talked tough but done little, and it is Labour that has delivered the constructive reforms. While we're in opposition in Westminster, Labour MEPs are still in a position to make fair and practical legislation for the UK.