As the festivities draw ever closer, I will be busy here in Swindon this week, meeting with constituents, attending meetings with local businesses and taking part in a Charity Christmas Bag Pack Event at Waitrose in Wichelstowe in aid of the Swindon Therapy Centre for Multiple Sclerosis.
Today, I am looking forward to hosting my last advice surgery of 2016 here at my constituency office on Wood Street. It’s always great to see new and more familiar faces and discuss a range of different issues, both local and national.
One of the biggest challenges the Government currently faces is the growing and ageing population. In the UK, between 2015 and 2020, over a period when the general population is expected to rise 3%, the numbers aged over 65 are expected to increase by 12% (1.1 million); the numbers aged over 85 by 18% (300,000); and the number of centenarians by 40% (7,000). People living longer is a cause for celebration, but older people are more vulnerable to health problems. The Government will need to take bold moves to address this challenge, which is why I am supportive of the decision to increase the social care precept to help fund adult social care. I will be meeting with Nerissa Vaughan, GWH Chief Executive this week, to discuss GWH taking on responsibility of discharge assessments from SEQOL with the aim of improving the speed by which patients, particularly elderly people, are discharged from hospital beds. I would like to acknowledge and praise all of the staff at the hospital who work hard to provide safe and high-quality care to patients at very busy times.
On the subject of education, I was pleased when Education Secretary, Justine Greening, announced last week that historic reforms to the funding formula that will finally bring an end to the unfairness in the system and extend opportunity to every child, no matter where they come from or which school they go to, will go ahead. The proposed national funding formula is due to be introduced from 2018 to 2019. This is an important step along the right road for funding of Swindon schools, which has long been a real issue for us.
As Christmas fast approaches, let us all spare a thought for those who are ill or alone and remember those who are not so fortunate to be surrounded by their loved ones. A simple act like a phone call or visit can make all of the difference. I am pleased that we have Christmas Care here in Swindon, a local charity, which offers food and shelter to the homeless over Christmas. This year, the charity will operate out of Buckhurst Park Community Centre in Walcot and will accommodate more than 60 visitors a day, who will be given food and hot drinks, as well as a change of clothing and new footwear.
Volunteers at Christ Church are also holding a Christmas Day lunch for local people spending Christmas Day alone and who would like to spend Christmas Day with others. Both of these events have been inundated with offers from volunteers and donors, which is a true testimony to the strength of community spirit that exists here in Swindon.