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No monopoly of wisdom or compassion, says MP

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no monopolyIT’S FUNNY how a spontaneous comment on Facebook can get picked up and played back, but that is what happened to a few words of mine about benefit reform and its impact on Pembrokeshire. And I am glad that it did.

In a thread of comments responding to the local charity PATCH I said that “no Government or Party has a monopoly of wisdom or compassion, and that none were evil either”. I thought no more about it but thanks to the Herald, I am now.

One of the things that I find frustrating about my job are the claims that there is only ever one cause of the nation’s concerns (them) and only one solution (us). If only it were so easy. The reform of the benefit system was largely seen as essential by all parties, but we differed on the detail. For me benefits are there for people in need; for that time when life goes wrong, when you lose your job or your health; for old age or some other unexpected hardship. They should not be a lifestyle choice, or a cosy alternative to work if work is available or possible.

And I think it is right that the way in which benefits are handed out are as fair to the people paying for them (you and me) as they are the recipient. If that means being reassessed from time to time then so be it. This is taxpayers money and billions of pounds of it.

Did you know that if over your lifetime you earn on average £32,000 or less per year you actually take more out of the state than you put in? I didn’t either, nor did I know that 30% of the UK’s income tax comes from just 1% of people paying it. What this means is that every working family is spending a huge proportion of their cash on benefits for other people – we are all happy to do that if we know those benefits are vital for that person’s quality of life.

By reforming the system like this we get other advantages too. Health and social problems, as well as crime can often be associated with a workless environment or extreme poverty. By changing the system to enable more people to get back to work and stay there we take huge pressure off our NHS, Police, and other services. And the numbers really are looking up. We have more jobs on offer in the region, lower unemployment and lower youth unemployment. New figures show that treatment for drug addiction is getting better. And as for housing I see nothing fair in keeping families in overcrowded conditions if their next door neighbour has two empty spare rooms. Surely we owe it those families to make better use of our housing stock?

Nevertheless I recognise one flaw in this otherwise positive picture. How can we apply these ‘one size fits all solutions’ to a nation which is clearly not one size? How can we make assessments as fair for someone with a mental condition as we do for someone with a limited physical one? Or encourage people to opt for a smaller house if no such houses are available?

This is where fairness comes in and where the nucleus of the problem lies. To be honest I think the Work Capability Assessment has fallen well short of expectations, especially for mental health sufferers. I have highlighted this point in Parliament – but I support the overall aims. The spare room subsidy is perfectly fair, but I regret that we did not have a longer transition period for Councils to work within. (It is of interest that in some councils the “discretionary housing fund” – used to help those facing a spare room subsidy cut – is denied to anybody with a Sky subscription or who smokes)

And it is a source of profound concern that anyone should genuinely face a choice of feeding their families or heating their house or flat. But I support the plans to move, by lots of carrot or a tiny bit of stick, people out of a benefit-dependent lifestyle.

Here in Westminster we mix with members of other Parties much more than the press would ever have you believe. I know and respect my opposition colleagues and in the main our differences are not as pronounced as all that. Strange though it may seem, we all strive to make our home areas that little bit better. The idea that there are any sections of society, young or old, rich or poor for whom we have
nothing but hatred or contempt is simply ridiculous.

This is why MP’s should be entirely non-judgmental when it comes to our constituents. You can love us or loathe us, you can vote for ‘us’ or ‘them’ or for no one at all, but in the end we are here to represent you and to use our judgment in doing so. We don’t always get it right, which is why I used those Facebook words in the first place.

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Pembroke: Leave teenage girls alone, sex offender told

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A SEX OFFENDER from Ashdale Lane, Pembroke has been jailed for repeatedly ignoring court orders which were put in place to protect young girls.
Gareth Thomas James Flynn, aged 41, frightened a 14-year-old girl who refused to get off a bus in case he managed to find out where she lived.
41-year-old Gareth Thomas James Flynn scared a 14-year-old girl because she refused to get of a bus, frightened he would learn her address.
He admitted breaching a Sexual Harm Prevention Order and was jailed today for a year.
Sitting at Swansea Crown Court, Judge Geraint Walters berated the defendant.  His Honour said that Flynn had shown a complete disregard for the original SHPO.
The judge said: “Leave teenage girls alone. They are scared of you”
He told Flynn he would be on licence for 12 months after his release from prison, and he reminded him that the SHPO remained in place.

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Narberth: ‘My mum’s camper was stolen and found burned out down the road’

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A CAMPER VAN stolen on Thursday night in Narberth was found burned a short distance from where it was parked, the owner’s son has said.

Zachary Bunce posted an appeal on Facebook on Friday morning saying: “Can every single one of my friends please share this my mother’s Ford transit campervan was stolen last night in the Narberth area can people please be on the lookout for this van as my mother is completely heartbroken.”

But three hours later he updated the post to say: “Thank you everyone who shared, sadly my mums van was driven 1.3 miles down the road and driven into a ditch and burnt it out.

Mr Bunce has said on that the incident has been captured on CCTV, and took place at 2.10am in the morning (Jan 24).
Anyone with any information should contact the police on 101.

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Hook: Police and school confirm death of boy, 13

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POLICE are investigating the sudden death of a 13-year-old boy from Hook on Wednesday (Jan 22)

A police spokesman told The Pembrokeshire Herald: “Dyfed-Powys Police is investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of a 13-year-old boy, from the Hook area of Pembrokeshire.

“The death is not being treated as suspicious at this time. Next of kin have been advised and are being supported.”

A letter was sent out to parents and carers by Haverfordwest High VC School headteacher Jane Harries following the death. The letter reads: “It is with great sadness that I have to inform you about the sudden death of a year nine pupil at our school.

“The children in Year nine were told this morning by myself and other pupils were told by their teachers during their lesson this afternoon. The full detail surrounding the death are not known at this stage – but children have been reassured that this is something that does not happen very often. Your child may or may not want to talk bout it, but it is likely that he/she will need your special care, attention and reassurance at this difficult time.

“We are deeply affected by the death, but we are trying, for the children’s sake, to keep the school as normal as possible over the coming days, whilst allowing the children opportunities to talk about the pupil if they wish to. Trained support staff and counsellors are helping to support us through this difficult time. If you feel that your child needs extra support, please let us know.

“Our thoughts are with the pupil’s family at this difficult time, and the whole school community sends them our sincerest sympathy and support. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact your child’s achievement leader, or Miss Thomas, pastoral support manager. Paul Lucas, chairman of the governing body at Haverfordwest High VC School, said: “The governors are shocked at the tragic loss of this young student. The family are in our thoughts at this very sad time.”

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