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EU must continue work to restore Peak District moors

Peak District moorlandNow that funding for a brilliant project restoring natural peat moors in the East Midlands is coming to an end, I want the EU to continue its commitment to this unique natural habitat.

The Peak District is a stunningly beautiful example of natural England at its best and is enjoyed by thousands of visitors from across the East Midlands each year. This precious area of untouched wilderness appears at first glance to be completely free from the negative effects of human actions. But unfortunately this is not the case and since the Industrial Revolution, thousands of acres of peat moorland have been lost. Over the past four years, EU funding has been used by the brilliant Moors for the Future Partnership to restore plant life to huge areas of barren land which has helped bring back wildlife and fight climate change.

Just like global warming, we have only recently begun to wake up to the destruction of this unique habitat. Pollution from Manchester and the textile towns of the North West has caused the peat that forms much of the Peak District landscape to become as acidic as vinegar. This has meant that the soil cannot sustain plant life without special treatment. Wildfires on the moors, mostly caused by visitors carelessly dropping cigarettes, have wiped out large areas of vegetation that have never grown back since. These barren areas cannot support animal life either, and release carbon into the atmosphere which contributes to climate change.

But all is not lost, and work is well underway to reverse this decline. In 2003, a partnership was set up by the National Trust, Natural England, Severn Trent Water and many others to improve research, build visitor centres and plant millions of moorland trees and mosses. Over the past five years, their £5.5 million MoorLIFE project has restored 2,000 acres of moorland partly thanks to funding from the EU’s LIFE programme which supports environmental and conservation projects across Europe. This fantastic work has rescued the moors so that they can be enjoyed by future generations, but much more land is still to be revived.

The Moors for the Future Partnership are eager to continue this work and offer their services to a much wider market over the coming five years. Their MoorLIFE 2020 proposals are even more ambitious than their current project and they are bidding for further grants from the government and the EU. I am wholeheartedly supporting their plans to increase the moorlands’ resilience against climate change and widen their citizens’ programme to inspire more volunteers and communities to get involved. I hope that the EU sees the continued value of this project and commits the funding to make MoorLIFE 2020 a reality.

Running out of time to help young people

The UK Job CentreGovernment’s Commission on Social Mobility and Child Poverty published its final annual report yesterday. While noting some successes, it makes for grim reading, especially for our nation’s young people.

Speaking in advance of the publication at the weekend, former Labour cabinet minister, Alan Milburn, highlighted the plight of under-30s in the UK, pointing out that while the current generation are better educated than any previously, they are “losing out on jobs, earnings and housing.” The report is clear that the modest economic recovery has not equalled a social recovery and that young people have been disproportionately affected by austerity, with long-term youth unemployment still double pre-recession levels.

While youth unemployment in the UK remains unacceptably high at 16.9%, this is just part of a depressing picture across the EU. The EU average is 21.9% and in some countries more than 1 in 2 young people cannot find work; overall more than 5 million young people are currently unemployed in Europe. As I’ve written before, many more are stuck in low-paid, precarious jobs and face a bleak future in which they fear they’ll be denied the opportunities their parents had.

Labour MEPs and our colleagues in the Socialist and Democrat Group know that this can’t go on. That’s why we started campaigning for a Youth Guarantee to ensure all young people are offered a job, apprenticeship or further training after 4 months of becoming unemployed. We were therefore pleased when the European Commission decided to commit to this idea and allocated €6 billion to help fund it. Under the EU’s Youth Employment Initiative, the UK is entitled to an additional €192.5m to help tackle youth unemployment in the worst affected regions.

However, we were disappointed when the Coalition Government said it would not implement a Youth Guarantee and will instead put the UK’s share of funding towards supporting existing schemes. One such scheme is the Youth Contract, under which the Government paid subsidies to employers who hired a young person. However, the programme was heavily criticised for paying subsidies to companies that would have hired young people anyway, and the so-called ‘wage incentive’ scheme closed early in July this year. Meanwhile, the Youth Guarantee already has proven success in other countries, for example Finland’s programme saw 83.5% of young job seekers receive an offer of employment after 3 months.

The report published today calls for whoever forms the next government in 2015 to change direction, and Labour will do just that. We’ve already promised to introduce a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee to give all long-term unemployed people a paid starter job and to ensure companies must take-on a new apprentice for each skilled worker they hire from outside the UK.

Of course, Labour MEPs realise that this can’t just be about getting young people into any job and it’s clear that much of the modest fall in unemployment we’ve seen is down to people taking temporary or zero hours jobs. So while we’re pushing for the EU to do more on youth unemployment, we always emphasise that we need to create quality jobs that will give our young people a chance and make sure they are no longer losing out.

Labour MEP receives Outstanding Leadership Award

Glenis Willmott, Labour MEP for the East Midlands, will today receive the Award for Outstanding Leadership from the Belgian Association of Clinical Researchers. The award recognises Ms Willmott’s extensive work on encouraging medical research and ensuring full transparency of clinical trial results.

Glenis Willmott MEP said:

“I am thrilled to be receiving this award from the experts in medical research. Three years ago, I visited a brain tumour centre in Nottingham where I met children suffering from some of the rarest cancers. For some of these children a clinical trial might be their only hope of survival.  But because the conditions are so rare, researchers needed to work across borders and conduct a trial in a number of different countries at the same time.  Currently that is very difficult and extremely expensive, but the new EU rules I have negotiated should facilitate those life-saving cross-border trials.”

Currently the results of only half of all trials are published, which can lead to unnecessary or even dangerous research being repeated.  It can also lead to bad decision-making around health, as demonstrated recently by the stockpiling of billions of pounds worth of flu medicines, which previously unpublished trial results had shown were not particularly effective.

“These new rules will mean the results of trials must be published, advancing science and ensuring patient safety.”

“I hope these rules will encourage more research here in the East Midlands, and a more transparent system for pharmaceuticals across the whole of Europe.”

Labour MEP becomes chair of Access to Medicines Group

Boy and vaccine syringeA Labour MEP has been chosen as the new chair of the European Parliament Working Group on Access to Medicines. The group works to improve the availability of medicines in some of the poorest countries in the EU and across the world, where preventable diseases kill millions each year.

Glenis Willmott, Labour MEP for the East Midlands, said:

“I am delighted to be the new chair of this group which works to advance access to medical treatment. We will only beat these diseases if European countries work together and take co-ordinated action.”

According to the World Health Organisation, more than 5 million children under 5 died last year from malnutrition and infectious diseases. The vast majority of these deaths could have been prevented with drugs that are widely available in developed countries like the UK.

“Even with our modern medicines, the number of people dying each day for want of basic medical help is staggering. With tuberculosis making a comeback in Europe and Ebola devastating West Africa, a strong response from the EU is needed now more than ever.”

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