Jeff Smith

Standing up for Manchester Withington

News

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Manchester Withington MP Jeff Smith has backed a Labour report into diversity in the arts sector.

The report, published today, warns that the arts sector suffers from clear class divides, both in terms of those who work in the arts and those who view it.  The report claims that just 16% of actors come from working-class backgrounds and 42% of British BAFTA winners attended a fee-paying school.

Led by Labour MPs Tracy Brabin and Gloria De Piero, the report highlights the impact of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) as leading to a ‘systematic marginalisation of arts subjects, particularly drama’.

The EBacc measures students’ attainment across so-called ‘traditional’ subjects including maths, science, English, history, geography and modern languages.  It was introduced by the coalition government in 2010, but has been criticised for deprioritising arts subjects.

Commenting on the report, Jeff said: “This is an important inquiry exposing the dire lack of diversity in the arts sector.

We cannot ignore that the narrowing of the school curriculum is having a detrimental impact on the number of our students that see creative subjects as more than just a hobby.

I hope the Government listens to Labour’s report and makes sure that the arts sector remains open to people from all walks of life.”

Introduction of English Baccalaureate has contributed to ‘diversity crisis’ in the arts – Labour report

Manchester Withington MP Jeff Smith has backed a Labour report into diversity in the arts sector. The report, published today, warns that the arts sector suffers from clear class divides,...

Manchester Withington MP Jeff Smith has criticised the Government for refusing to fund the electrification of the train line between Leeds and Manchester.

Jeff said: “Only two years ago, the then Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said that electrifying the Leeds-Manchester line was “at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse”

In recent weeks, not only have the Government cancelled the electrification of the line, but they have announced funding for the Crossrail 2 project in London. 

Transport infrastructure is crucial to tackling wider regional inequalities so if the Government wants to save the Northern Powerhouse project they should reinstate the electrification of the Leeds-Manchester Line, and bring forward plans for a Crossrail for the North.”

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Jeff criticises ‘unjustifiable’ decision to cancel electrification of Leeds-Manchester line

Manchester Withington MP Jeff Smith has criticised the Government for refusing to fund the electrification of the train line between Leeds and Manchester. Jeff said: “Only two years ago, the...

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"The Government must work towards a fairer and more humane asylum system" My letter to the Home Secretary

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Jeff Smith, MP for Manchester Withington, has welcomed a report from UK Music which calls for more support to be given to local music venues.

The report, entitled Wish You Were Here 2017, highlights the importance of live music to our economy and livelihoods.  Music tourism generates £4 billion to the economy, with 30.9 million people attending either a UK festival or concert over the last year (12% increase on the previous year).

The report also reveals that in the North West music tourism contributed £500 million to the regional economy, with 1.86 million music tourists visiting for gigs and festivals. Music tourism in the North West also supports 6256 jobs.

The report warns of the need to support local music venues through the impact of leaving the European Union and protect the industry as a whole.

Commenting on the report, Jeff said: “Having worked in the music industry before I became an MP, I know how important it is to our economy and our society.

Manchester has always been the beating heart of British music culture. 

The home of The Smiths, Joy Division, the Happy Mondays, the Hacienda and a whole host of other musical icons, our city has led the way in showing how local music venues can transform not only the fortunes of artists but also the city they live in.

With 1.9 million people visiting the North West last year for gigs and festivals, the Government must recognise the huge impact of the live music industry on our economy.”

New report calls for more support for local music venues after Brexit

Jeff Smith, MP for Manchester Withington, has welcomed a report from UK Music which calls for more support to be given to local music venues. The report, entitled Wish You...

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Manchester Withington MP Jeff Smith recently met with the Matthew Ludlam Foundation and praised their street art projects around south Manchester.

The Foundation was set up in memory of Matthew Ludlam, a south Manchester resident, to raise funds for charitable causes.  One of Matthew’s passions was urban design and the Foundation is funding a street art project in west Didsbury entitled ‘Chasing Dreams not Dragons’ (see pictures).  The pieces were made by renowned street artist Mateus Bailon.

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Jeff said: “Great street art like the Chasing Dreams not Dragons pieces can revitalise urban areas and I hope we’ll see a lot more examples like this across south Manchester.

I’m looking forward to working with the Matthew Ludlam Foundation to find new spaces in south Manchester."

You can find out more about the Matthew Ludlam Foundation, and their street art projects, here.

Jeff backs the expansion of public art displays around south Manchester

Manchester Withington MP Jeff Smith recently met with the Matthew Ludlam Foundation and praised their street art projects around south Manchester. The Foundation was set up in memory of Matthew...

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Jeff Smith has pledged to work alongside the leading charity Arthritis Research UK to represent the thousands of people in south Manchester living every day with the pain of arthritis.

Arthritis is the single biggest cause of disability and pain across the country with 10 million people living with arthritis, and other musculoskeletal conditions such as back pain. The pain, fatigue and lack of mobility caused by arthritis affects every aspect of a person’s life, making everyday tasks such as making a cup of tea, travelling to work or getting out of bed extremely difficult.

As well as the personal impact, these conditions amount to the third largest area of NHS spending, with an annual budget of £4.8 billion, and are the cause of one in five working days lost in the UK.

Jeff Smith has pledged to support Arthritis Research UK’s Prevent, Transform, Cure manifesto in Parliament as an Arthritis Champion, which calls for:

  • Making arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions a public health priority
  • Ensuring people have timely access to health and care services that enable them to improve their musculoskeletal health
  • Ensuring people with arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions have fair and timely access to services that support them to be in work, including financial support
  • Protecting the UK’s position as a global leader in science and sustain the benefits of the life-science sector to the economy 

Speaking about becoming an Arthritis Champion, Jeff Smith said:

“I am proud to be a champion of Arthritis Research UK’s call for policies that will improve prevention of arthritis and cures for arthritis suffers.

This is a painful condition that has such a huge impact on all aspects of people’s lives in south Manchester.

We need to put these issues at the forefront of Parliament’s agenda.”

Dr Liam O’Toole, chief executive officer of Arthritis Research UK, said:

“I’m delighted that Jeff Smith has become an Arthritis Champion. It’s imperative that we have the support of as many MPs and Peers as possible to stand up for the rights of people with arthritis.

“There needs to be a public health approach focusing on preventing arthritis, transforming services and finding a cure for the 10 million people affected by this devastating condition. It’s vital we work together to make life better for everyone affected by arthritis.”

Jeff Smith pledges to become an Arthritis Champion for south Manchester

Jeff Smith has pledged to work alongside the leading charity Arthritis Research UK to represent the thousands of people in south Manchester living every day with the pain of arthritis....

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Jeff Smith MP attended a Guide Dogs event at the House of Commons on 3 July to show their support for the campaign to end problem pavement parking.

At the event, the MP for Manchester Withington heard from guide dog owners how parked cars blocking the pavement force them to walk in the road, into the path of traffic they cannot see. They heard that some guide dog owners face these dangerous situations on a daily basis, risking their safety every time they go shopping or make the school run.

Research by YouGov for the charity Guide Dogs shows that 54% of UK drivers admit to parking on the pavement, with more than a quarter (29%) of those doing so a few times a month or more. More than half (55%) of these drivers do think about the impact on people with sight loss, but park on the pavement anyway.

Pavement parking particularly affects people with visual impairments, parents with pushchairs, wheelchair users and other disabled people. According to a Guide Dogs survey, 97% of blind and partially sighted people have encountered obstacles on the pavement, and 9 out of 10 have had problems with pavement parked cars.

Guide Dogs is campaigning for to make pavement parking an offence, except in areas where local authorities grant specific exemptions. This is already the case in London, but elsewhere across the country, councils struggle to tackle unsafe pavement parking because they can only restrict it street by street.

Jeff Smith MP commented: “No one should be forced to walk into traffic by cars parked on the pavement.

In some places, pavement parking is necessary, as long as drivers don’t put people at risk.  But in too many cases, it’s unnecessary and causes real danger.

I’m calling on the Government to end problem pavement parking across the country. Blind and partially sighted people should be able to walk the streets without fear.”

James White, Senior Campaigns Manager at Guide Dogs, commented: “Pavement parked cars can turn the walk to work or trip to the shops into a dangerous obstacle course. It’s a nuisance for anyone, but if you have a visual impairment or a toddler in tow, stepping out into the road with moving traffic is just too big a risk.

Our research shows that most drivers who park on the pavement know that it can be dangerous for pedestrians, but many do so regardless. That’s why we need clear rules so that drivers only park where it’s safe.”

Jeff Smith says “it’s the end of the road for unsafe pavement parking”

  Jeff Smith MP attended a Guide Dogs event at the House of Commons on 3 July to show their support for the campaign to end problem pavement parking. At...

May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) on a really excellent speech? It was a privilege to be here for the first maiden speech by a brightly coloured turbaned Sikh. I am looking forward to a number of maiden speeches today. In my own maiden speech two years ago, I said among other things that I looked forward to arguing for reform of our drug laws. There has been very little chance to do so since then, so I welcome the debate today. However, unfortunately, the Government’s new drug strategy is a massive missed opportunity.

We do not get a new strategy very often. There is always the hope that it might contain some radical thinking. This strategy, sadly, offers little that is new. It is more of the same approach that is not working, that has seen an increase in drug-related deaths in the UK and that sees the UK responsible for nearly a third of Europe’s drug deaths.

My friend Cara’s son is five tomorrow. It will be his third birthday without his father Jake, who died of a heroin overdose. Cara wants to legalise drugs to end the stigma around drug use and to end the unnecessary criminalisation of drug users that made it so hard for her family to deal with Jake’s addiction, and makes it more difficult for people to seek help with drug problems.

The day after tomorrow, Thursday, will be the fourth anniversary of the death of 15 year-old Martha Cockburn, who died after taking ecstasy that turned out to be 91% pure; as a result, she died of an accidental overdose. Martha’s mum, Anne-Marie, who I think is in the Public Gallery, now campaigns for the legalisation and regulation of ecstasy, among other drugs. Martha died because there was no controlling measures on the substance that killed her and no way for Martha to check the safety of the substance she was using. Martha was failed by our approach to drug policy.

Many people who have been touched by the loss of loved ones want a more measured debate and a more rational approach to drug policy. Fifty people a week are dying of drug-related deaths in the UK—50 Marthas and Jakes. Our first duty in this place has to be to try to keep people safe and we are failing. The biggest missed opportunity in this strategy is the fact that we have not even considered decriminalisation or legalisation of some drugs as a solution to the problem. We have heard a number of times about Portugal, which decriminalised the use of drugs in 2001. Its drug-induced death rate is five times lower than the EU average. It had 16 overdose deaths last year and there has been a massive reduction in HIV infections.

In an article last week on the publication of the strategy, the Home Secretary said:

“We owe it to future generations to work together for a society free of drugs.”

Talk of a society free of drugs is a dangerous fantasy. Humans have taken drugs for thousands of years and are not going to stop because the Home Secretary produces a new strategy. It is a dangerous fantasy because it diverts attention and resources from the real challenge, which is how we make drug taking safer, how we educate users, how we reduce the consumption of dangerous drugs, how we take control of the drug trade from the criminals who want to exploit vulnerable ​users, and how we stop criminalising thousands of people unnecessarily. Many people are being criminalised because they have a medical or psychological problem. We need to recognise the link between early childhood trauma, including abuse, and addiction in later life. It is a closer link than that between obesity and diabetes. Drug addiction is often a psychological or biological problem, and criminalising people who have those problems is not the answer. In other cases, we are criminalising people unnecessarily for using a relatively harm-free intoxicant.

The best example is cannabis. It is surely wrong that we criminalise people for using a substance less dangerous than tobacco or alcohol—a substance that the overwhelming majority of people find pleasant, relatively harm-free and even a rewarding experience to take. We have all-party parliamentary groups that extol the virtues of beer, wine and whisky, but when we talk about a substance that is less harmful than alcohol, we are not allowed to say that it can be a positive experience.

If we legalised and regulated cannabis, we would take it out of the hands of the dealers, and reduce the opportunities for them to tempt users into experimenting with more dangerous drugs. We would also regulate the product, so users know with confidence what they are getting, so people who are worried about high levels of THC do not have to take whatever they can get on the street. There is a bonus too: we would raise many millions of pounds for the Exchequer to spend, if that is what we desire, on drug education or the NHS.

Around the world, countries recognise that cannabis prohibition is failing, and many of them are regulating. Uruguay was the first to do so. Eight states in the US, representing 20% of the population, have now legalised and regulated. Next year, Canada should become the first G7 country to do it. It is time we did the same. My personal belief is that this is going to happen. It is inevitable that it is going to happen in this country; we just need to grasp the nettle and do it.

We desperately need to change the terms of the debate. We need more openness and honesty in discussion of drug policy, and we need to reduce the stigma around taking drugs so that families find it easier to discuss the problem and find help. We need to stop the pretence that everyone’s experience of illegal drugs is negative.

In my previous life, I worked as a DJ and an event manager in the music industry, so I spent a lot of time working and socialising in nightclubs, being around people who used recreational drugs. Many thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of ecstasy pills are taken every week in the UK, and we cannot pretend in our public discourse that people who are taking drugs do it because it is a terrible, miserable experience; people will not believe us, and it will destroy the credibility of the message. We need an honest and rational debate around drug policy if users, especially young people, are going to take us seriously.

Most of all, we need to focus on policies that minimise harm and risk to users, and that requires looking at different approaches to harm reduction. That is where this strategy is disappointing. The Government have ignored the chance to do that by looking at interventions that can save lives—at drug consumption rooms for heroin users, at heroin prescribing, at pill testing—and we need a much stronger emphasis on educational solutions if people are caught breaking what is currently the law.

If I get caught speeding in my car, I am sent on a course to teach me to drive more carefully. Those courses have a high success rate. If I am driving a speeding car, I have the potential to do much more harm to society than if I am caught in possession of cannabis or ecstasy for personal use, but the latter is a criminal offence, with the potential for a damaging criminal record, and the former a civil offence. There is no reason not to treat drug possession for personal use in the same way.

I want to say a few brief words about medicinal cannabis. Although it is not really covered in this strategy, we looked at it last year in the all-party group for drug policy reform. There is overwhelming evidence that cannabis is a useful treatment for a range of conditions. In some cases, people find relief in cannabis, having exhausted treatments that have failed. Some people may have seen an article in the Daily Mail recently that asked whether a woman should be criminalised for medicating ​with cannabis. When even the Daily Mail accepts that there is an argument for change, that surely illustrates how far behind public opinion the House is on the issue. We should follow many countries, as well as half the states in the USA, and legalise cannabis for medicinal use.

Finally, I want to mention resourcing. As my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary said earlier, passing responsibility for drug treatment to local authorities was a good idea in practice. However, there is a huge problem for local authorities that commission addiction services because of the massive cuts to local authority budgets.

Some drugs are dangerous, and we need to get drugs under control, but I do not want those words to be misinterpreted; I do not mean that we need to ban the use of drugs. The production, retail and use of some drugs needs to be controlled, so people can use drugs safely if they choose to do so. Prohibition is not working in the UK or around the world. We need a new approach. We need to treat addiction as a health issue. We need to stop criminalising people unnecessarily. We need to begin considering proper, evidence-based strategies. We certainly need to move towards legalising cannabis, and I believe that that is only a matter of time. We also need to look seriously at the decriminalisation of other drugs.

I have spoken today not because I think I am going to secure a massive change in the Government’s drug policy; indeed, I do not expect any quick progress on drug policy. I just think we need to start reframing the debate. There are a limited number of us who are prepared to speak up on this issue at present, but I hope the numbers will gradually increase, because we need a serious debate on this issue, not more of the same approach, which has failed.

 

May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) on a really excellent speech? It was a privilege to be here for the first maiden speech by a brightly coloured turbaned Sikh. I am looking forward to a number of maiden speeches today. In my own maiden speech two years ago, I said among other things that I looked forward to arguing for reform of our drug laws. There has been very little chance to do so since then, so I welcome the debate today. However, unfortunately, the Government’s new drug strategy is a massive missed opportunity.

We do not get a new strategy very often. There is always the hope that it might contain some radical thinking. This strategy, sadly, offers little that is new. It is more of the same approach that is not working, that has seen an increase in drug-related deaths in the UK and that sees the UK responsible for nearly a third of Europe’s drug deaths.

My friend Cara’s son is five tomorrow. It will be his third birthday without his father Jake, who died of a heroin overdose. Cara wants to legalise drugs to end the stigma around drug use and to end the unnecessary criminalisation of drug users that made it so hard for her family to deal with Jake’s addiction, and makes it more difficult for people to seek help with drug problems.

The day after tomorrow, Thursday, will be the fourth anniversary of the death of 15 year-old Martha Cockburn, who died after taking ecstasy that turned out to be 91% pure; as a result, she died of an accidental overdose. Martha’s mum, Anne-Marie, who I think is in the Public Gallery, now campaigns for the legalisation and regulation of ecstasy, among other drugs. Martha died because there was no controlling measures on the substance that killed her and no way for Martha to check the safety of the substance she was using. Martha was failed by our approach to drug policy.

Many people who have been touched by the loss of loved ones want a more measured debate and a more rational approach to drug policy. Fifty people a week are dying of drug-related deaths in the UK—50 Marthas and Jakes. Our first duty in this place has to be to try to keep people safe and we are failing. The biggest missed opportunity in this strategy is the fact that we have not even considered decriminalisation or legalisation of some drugs as a solution to the problem. We have heard a number of times about Portugal, which decriminalised the use of drugs in 2001. Its drug-induced death rate is five times lower than the EU average. It had 16 overdose deaths last year and there has been a massive reduction in HIV infections.

In an article last week on the publication of the strategy, the Home Secretary said:

“We owe it to future generations to work together for a society free of drugs.”

Talk of a society free of drugs is a dangerous fantasy. Humans have taken drugs for thousands of years and are not going to stop because the Home Secretary produces a new strategy. It is a dangerous fantasy because it diverts attention and resources from the real challenge, which is how we make drug taking safer, how we educate users, how we reduce the consumption of dangerous drugs, how we take control of the drug trade from the criminals who want to exploit vulnerable ​users, and how we stop criminalising thousands of people unnecessarily. Many people are being criminalised because they have a medical or psychological problem. We need to recognise the link between early childhood trauma, including abuse, and addiction in later life. It is a closer link than that between obesity and diabetes. Drug addiction is often a psychological or biological problem, and criminalising people who have those problems is not the answer. In other cases, we are criminalising people unnecessarily for using a relatively harm-free intoxicant.

The best example is cannabis. It is surely wrong that we criminalise people for using a substance less dangerous than tobacco or alcohol—a substance that the overwhelming majority of people find pleasant, relatively harm-free and even a rewarding experience to take. We have all-party parliamentary groups that extol the virtues of beer, wine and whisky, but when we talk about a substance that is less harmful than alcohol, we are not allowed to say that it can be a positive experience.

If we legalised and regulated cannabis, we would take it out of the hands of the dealers, and reduce the opportunities for them to tempt users into experimenting with more dangerous drugs. We would also regulate the product, so users know with confidence what they are getting, so people who are worried about high levels of THC do not have to take whatever they can get on the street. There is a bonus too: we would raise many millions of pounds for the Exchequer to spend, if that is what we desire, on drug education or the NHS.

Around the world, countries recognise that cannabis prohibition is failing, and many of them are regulating. Uruguay was the first to do so. Eight states in the US, representing 20% of the population, have now legalised and regulated. Next year, Canada should become the first G7 country to do it. It is time we did the same. My personal belief is that this is going to happen. It is inevitable that it is going to happen in this country; we just need to grasp the nettle and do it.

We desperately need to change the terms of the debate. We need more openness and honesty in discussion of drug policy, and we need to reduce the stigma around taking drugs so that families find it easier to discuss the problem and find help. We need to stop the pretence that everyone’s experience of illegal drugs is negative.

In my previous life, I worked as a DJ and an event manager in the music industry, so I spent a lot of time working and socialising in nightclubs, being around people who used recreational drugs. Many thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of ecstasy pills are taken every week in the UK, and we cannot pretend in our public discourse that people who are taking drugs do it because it is a terrible, miserable experience; people will not believe us, and it will destroy the credibility of the message. We need an honest and rational debate around drug policy if users, especially young people, are going to take us seriously.

Most of all, we need to focus on policies that minimise harm and risk to users, and that requires looking at different approaches to harm reduction. That is where this strategy is disappointing. The Government have ignored the chance to do that by looking at interventions that can save lives—at drug consumption rooms for heroin users, at heroin prescribing, at pill testing—and we need a much stronger emphasis on educational solutions if people are caught breaking what is currently the law.

If I get caught speeding in my car, I am sent on a course to teach me to drive more carefully. Those courses have a high success rate. If I am driving a speeding car, I have the potential to do much more harm to society than if I am caught in possession of cannabis or ecstasy for personal use, but the latter is a criminal offence, with the potential for a damaging criminal record, and the former a civil offence. There is no reason not to treat drug possession for personal use in the same way.

I want to say a few brief words about medicinal cannabis. Although it is not really covered in this strategy, we looked at it last year in the all-party group for drug policy reform. There is overwhelming evidence that cannabis is a useful treatment for a range of conditions. In some cases, people find relief in cannabis, having exhausted treatments that have failed. Some people may have seen an article in the Daily Mail recently that asked whether a woman should be criminalised for medicating ​with cannabis. When even the Daily Mail accepts that there is an argument for change, that surely illustrates how far behind public opinion the House is on the issue. We should follow many countries, as well as half the states in the USA, and legalise cannabis for medicinal use.

Finally, I want to mention resourcing. As my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary said earlier, passing responsibility for drug treatment to local authorities was a good idea in practice. However, there is a huge problem for local authorities that commission addiction services because of the massive cuts to local authority budgets.

Some drugs are dangerous, and we need to get drugs under control, but I do not want those words to be misinterpreted; I do not mean that we need to ban the use of drugs. The production, retail and use of some drugs needs to be controlled, so people can use drugs safely if they choose to do so. Prohibition is not working in the UK or around the world. We need a new approach. We need to treat addiction as a health issue. We need to stop criminalising people unnecessarily. We need to begin considering proper, evidence-based strategies. We certainly need to move towards legalising cannabis, and I believe that that is only a matter of time. We also need to look seriously at the decriminalisation of other drugs.

I have spoken today not because I think I am going to secure a massive change in the Government’s drug policy; indeed, I do not expect any quick progress on drug policy. I just think we need to start reframing the debate. There are a limited number of us who are prepared to speak up on this issue at present, but I hope the numbers will gradually increase, because we need a serious debate on this issue, not more of the same approach, which has failed.

 

It’s time for an honest & rational debate on drug policy: My speech on the Government's Drug Strategy

May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) on a really excellent speech? It was a privilege to be here for the first maiden speech by...

Age_Champions_2017-88.jpg

Jeff Smith, MP for Manchester Withington, met with older people from across the country at an event in Parliament organised by the charity Age UK.  

The Age Champions event was the charity’s annual summer reception and highlighted the challenges of an ageing population and opportunities in later life.

MPs heard how they can tackle issues affecting older people in south Manchester and across the country, including loneliness and isolation, social care and ‎the importance of a decent income.

Speaking at the event, Jeff said: “Every older person has the right to live with dignity and enjoy a fulfilling life.  The social care crisis and the stripping away of community care such as befriending services make that more difficult for most older people.

I look forward to working with Age UK and others to make sure older people are at the top of this Government’s agenda”

Age UK Chief Executive, Tom Wright CBE, said: “I am delighted to say that we now have over 130 Age Champion MPs from all sides of the House and I hope that many others will want to join as this Parliament proceeds”

“Issues like the fragility of our social care system and the chronic loneliness that affects too many are not going away and our older population badly needs us to find solutions for them”.

Throughout the event MPs learned more about how Age UK can help them to improve the lives of older people in their constituencies and make the most of their role as an 'Age Champion'. 

For more information about your local Age UK and Age UK's work more generally please visit www.ageuk.org.uk ‎ 

Jeff pledges to speak up for older people at Age UK’s ‘Age Champions’ annual reception

Jeff Smith, MP for Manchester Withington, met with older people from across the country at an event in Parliament organised by the charity Age UK.   The Age Champions event...

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Jeff calls on government to "give children the best start in life"

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