Strictly just great fun!

skershawsI REALLY didn’t know what to expect when I first agreed to take part in Strictly Kershaw’s dance fundraising event – but now I’m so glad that I did it.

Last Friday night was an experience that left me breathless but buzzing and I’m so pleased now that I that stepped outside my comfort zone and took up the challenge.

Part of what made it such a memorable night was the incredible effort that had been put into making this a success by the Hospice’s organisers and volunteers.

The QE Hall looked simply fabulous – with all the glitz and glamour you could hope for – and, best of all, it was absolutely packed.

Having been drawn to go on and perform first I will admit to having had some initial butterflies, but these were quickly forgotten once the music began.

From that point on you have to focus incredibly hard to keep yourself co-ordinated and be in the right place at just the right time.

What helped everyone taking part was that the crowd were so enthusiastic and they whipped up an atmosphere that inspired us all.

Looking back it was, for me, quite a risky thing to agree to take part in this. Too few of us step out of our comfort zone like that very often and I really hadn’t enjoyed my previous brief flirtations with dancing.

Now, however, I certainly understand the great pleasure that dancing gives to so many people. It’s not just a great physical challenge but also helps you forget a bad day, to put things into perspective – and you also get to meet some simply fantastic people.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at Dr Kershaw’s, Madd for Dance in Shaw, my dance partner Marco Maestro, and and all those who have helped me on this journey.

And we also mustn’t forget the incredible people who keep Dr Kershaw’s going all year round, plus all those who sponsored me (which you can still do!) here.

Boundary-Commission-EnglandMoving onto other matters now and I was disappointed to see the latest version of the proposed Boundary Commission for England (BCE) changes that was published last week…

This is its third and final consultation on proposed new Parliamentary constituencies as part of a move to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600.

We made representations last year to the BCE on their initial proposals to create two Parliamentary constituencies within the borough boundaries.

There were clear flaws in those proposals which, in particular, ignored important long-standing local associations and identities.

This new version does at least no longer propose to split the two Royton wards into different constituencies – as was initially put forward – and also now keeps the Saddleworth wards together.

However, I  do not view these plans as a good deal for Oldham because they are still breaking up the direct links with local authority boundaries, which is very important.

We will be putting our concerns forward again to the Boundary Commission and urging the public to do the same before the final December 11 deadline. You can do this by visiting the BCE website here.

BIGBANG2017Finally this week a reminder that with the end of British Summertime upon us this weekend, and with the nights drawing in, it’s almost time again for the Big Bang bonfire at Oldham Edge.

I will be talking more about this in my blog next week, but for now please mark Thursday, November 2 (5pm onwards) in your diary for this fantastic free event.

You can also visit our webpage here to see everything we’ve got planned to make this a ‘Feast of Fire’ – and our biggest and best event yet.

Jean

Universally Discredited: Stop this madness 

UCREDITUNIVERSAL Credit is making headlines again – and that will continue throughout the winter unless the Government comes to its senses.

For the uninitiated, Universal Credit (UC), is this government’s flagship Welfare Reform.

It’s an all-in-one benefit system that replaces several existing benefits, including housing benefit and child tax credits, with one single monthly payment.

So what’s going wrong?

The main issue is that people moving onto UC are faced with a six-week delay before receiving their first payment. Nationally, more than a quarter of claimants have been waiting even longer than that. Months, in some cases.

stackSuch delays are totally unacceptable. They are needlessly pushing many people into debt and rent arrears, causing great stress, especially to the most vulnerable, and can lead to eviction or homelessness.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says UC is “an online service” and last week used that to justify their telephone helpline charging callers 55p per minute.

Well I’m sorry but how on earth can hard-up people be expected to pay a premium rate to get help in claiming money that they are actually entitled to? What’s morally defensible about charging those most in need of the money for help with their claims?

The DWP says encouraging people to use UC online helps with their digital skills and employability. That’s fine, but those struggling financially are less likely to have a smartphone, tablet, PC or even their own internet connection. And you can’t just cut people adrift like that.

For me, social security should do exactly what it is supposed to do – offer a safety net for those who need it and help to get people back into work.

When Oldham agreed to become an early adopter of UC in 2013 we envisaged working with the DWP to help identify problems and produce a more effective system before it was rolled out nationally.

That simply hasn’t happened and unless a debate led by Oldham East and Saddleworth MP Debbie Abrahams is successful in Parliament today (October 18) then I really fear the impact in the months ahead.

Sadly there’s a wealth of local data showing the true impact of UC here in Oldham.

Oldham Food Bank has seen a 77 per cent increase in people getting food parcels due to benefit delays or changes in the last two years, for example.

oldhamfoodbankAt Oldham Council our benefits advisers are spending an average of one hour and ten minutes on the phone just to help each claimant through the online application process.

Politicians – and that’s from all sides – are now uniting with public sector bosses, advice services and the voluntary sector in calling for the national rollout of UC to be stopped.

Even the National Audit Office, the body overseeing government spending, has said that UC is “driven by an ambitious timescale” with “weak management, ineffective control and poor governance”. We can’t all be wrong, surely?

Universal Credit just isn’t fit for purpose as it stands and our society should be treating vulnerable people much better than this.

Instead of continuing to try and save face and push on with this rollout, the Government should acknowledge these failings, press the pause button and stop this minimum six-week delay. And do it now.

The consequences of not doing so, for many people and families, don’t bear thinking about.

With winter on the horizon some could be facing the coldest months of the year making the hardest of choices, like whether to heat their home or feed themselves and their families.

This is a Government that has talked a lot about creating ‘an economy that works for everyone’ and its concerns for those who are ‘Just About Managing’ – so how on earth does the UC rollout fit with that stance?

Please spare a thought for those affected by this as we head towards the festive season and visit the Oldham Foodbank website here to find out how you can help make a difference for local people in crisis.

strictly-kershaws-2017_Facebook_and_webAnd finally this week: after thousands of steps, 12 weeks of practice, two outfits and two left feet, I am as ready as I will ever be to strut my stuff on Friday at Strictly Kershaw’s.

Although I’m used to speaking at public meetings and debating issues with large groups of people, this is really going to be something very different.

I’ll let you know how I get on in next week’s blog.

You can still buy tickets here and (please!) sponsor my efforts at my JustGiving page here to help keep Dr Kershaw’s on course for its challenging fundraising targets.

Jean

Integrating health and social care – What really matters

asburnhamUSEIT WAS great to welcome Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, to Oldham this week.

He came to hear Oldham Council, the Oldham Clinical Commissioning Group and other partners explaining what we’re doing to integrate our health and social care work into one system.

Now I know this stuff does not sound immediately exciting – and it doesn’t make big media headlines – but it’s vitally important, so bear with me…

I know a lot of the health sector can seem inaccessible to the public and filled with confusing acronyms and jargon, which I will avoid here.

The key point about this integration work is simple: it’s all about the quality and effectiveness of the result for the patient.

When we need to access care we probably don’t care who’s responsible for providing the service, or who controls the budget. Why would we?

What matters is the right help being there for us at the right time in the right place, and that it is effective.

Success will mean better prevention and health outcomes for patients – and hence reduced costs and less strain on the public purse, enabling more money to be available to invest in the health of our population.

 

greater-manchester-devolutionThat’s why we are all focussed on this work. This integration of health and social care is a great opportunity from devolution – and its ‘win win’ for all if we get it right.

Like all members of the GM City Region, Oldham now has a Locality Plan under which all partners are working together to transform our social and health care system into a new model that breaks down the old silos at every level.

This is also about aligning care to wider public services like education, skills, work and housing to create a system that is financially balanced and sustainable.

One great example of this is housing where Oldham Council, Oldham CCG and the Oldham Housing Investment Partnership broke the mould in coming together to fund Warm Homes Oldham in 2013.

This scheme offers measures like installing insulation and more efficient boilers, assistance with tariff switching, accessing benefits, using heating systems better and clearing debt with energy companies.

The health problems associated with badly heated homes are those usually suffered by older people and associated with cold weather, like strokes, and conditions affecting children, like asthma. But there are also mental health issues linked to social isolation caused by a reluctance to invite friends and family into a cold home.

warmhomesoldhamWarm Homes Oldham has now lifted more than 4,000 local people out of fuel poverty, eradicating many health problems and producing significant savings on reduced hospital admissions and mental health.

Andy Burnham expressed his concern to us that the link between housing and health outcomes appears to have been under-recognised elsewhere. He was suitably impressed with this scheme and wants to come back to learn more about a scheme he says is just one showing how Oldham is “moving further and faster” than many others on integration.

Another area of clear agreement was our focus on what’s known as social prescribing; an approach where local health practitioners are encouraged to go beyond the simple default of prescribing pills to address problems.

Often when people present to their GP, nurses or other primary care professionals, their problems are more complex and deeper-seated than simply the immediate ailment…

It means, for example, a patient could be encouraged to join a local exercise class or group to address both weight and health issues at the same time as allowing them to make more social connections. This approach can be much more effective for the person, addressing their social, emotional and practical needs, and can also have the added benefit of reducing the use of NHS services.

Andy’s visit was inspiring and the huge collective commitment to get this agenda right in Oldham – with a new system focussed on the person and the place, rather than ‘one size fits all’ – was self-evident.

A couple more important things to mention this week…

Firstly, we have now announced dates and venues for the public consultation on our Oldham Town Centre Masterplan. We’re taking this across the borough in a mini-roadshow where you can view the proposals, then ask questions and submit comments. Please do #yourbit and find your local ‘drop in’ session here.

strictly-kershaws-2017_Facebook_and_webAnd finally I’m just two more practice sessions away from my dancing debut at Strictly Kershaw’s on Friday, October 20.

It’s been great fun to do this but the serious side is that Dr Kershaw’s Hospice needs to raise a staggering £8,000 daily to keep providing their invaluable services for free.

Many thanks to friends and colleagues who have already made donations – and for those who would still like to do so, please visit my JustGiving page and sponsor my dancing efforts here.

Jean 

Trash talk #1PieceofRubbish

I RARELY use the word ‘hate’ – but I make an exception when it comes to street litter.

I hate how litter looks. I hate how it smells and, worst of all, I hate what it says about the place to anyone living there or visiting it.

Whether it’s cigarette butts, empty cans or bottles, carrier bags, chewing gum or fast food cartons, it’s all anti-social.

Most people and businesses take pride in our community, living and operating here without making any mess, but some do not.

I often wonder what it is that makes a person feel it’s okay to just drop something from their hands, to not be bothered to keep hold of rubbish for just a few seconds more, and there’s a lot of research around the psychology of this.

People probably do it because they simply don’t feel responsible for public areas, like streets and parks and they often do it away from their own ‘patch’ – so that their mess simply becomes “someone else’s problem”.

Some people also litter because they believe or know that someone – a local street cleaner or even a good-hearted neighbour – will get it sorted out.

The big problem, of course, is that it you’re in an area where there’s already lots of visible litter, then the temptation to do the same is too much for some.

We know that’s true because if you’re somewhere that looks pristine and litter-free we know you’re far less likely to toss unwanted items to the kerb for sheer fear of embarrassment.

There’s some fantastic work being done around what can be done to tackle littering.

Some looks at how we can ‘nudge’ people to change their behaviour and it’s getting some interesting results.

Hubbub, a charity that creates environmental campaigns with a difference, is one good example.

They set up on a busy London street and tested a whole raft of things to see how it affected littering behaviour. They used ‘voting bins’ for cigarette butts, for example, or chalked around chewing gum litter highlighting the cost of removing each piece (£1.50 as it happens) and had some very encouraging results.

RUTHWe’re looking at ideas like this too and are also throwing our weight behind another campaign thanks to a very persistent and inspiring local lady.

Ruth Major (pictured, right) is retired but is certainly not a person to rest on her laurels.

She has been an ‘anti-littering’ activist for a long time and posts updates as ‘Rubbish Ruth’s Rambles’ on Social Media.

Wherever she goes – and believe me, she seems to get everywhere up and and down the country – Ruth encourages people to join a national campaign asking each resident to pick up at least one piece of rubbish a day.

Just think about that.

The population of Oldham is more than 230,000 people so if each resident did that each day it could make a huge difference.

To get things started this month we’re running a #1PieceofRubbish competition on Twitter.

1pr screen shot

Anyone who picks up a piece of litter in Oldham and follows the entry guidelines will be entered into a prize draw and the winner gets a three-month premium all-inclusive membership to Oldham Community Leisure (OCL). You can read all the details here

There’s no limit on how many times you can enter this competition because we want everyone to pick up as many pieces of rubbish as possible.

This campaign isn’t finishing at the end of October either – we’re committed to #1PieceofRubbish for the long haul.

If, like me, you love where you live then you’ll hate litter too – please get involved and do #yourbit.

Jean