JONATHAN Reynolds has described his appointment to a key post in the Shadow Cabinet as a “massive honour and a real challenge”.
The MP for Stalybridge and Hyde was made Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions by new Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.Mr Reynolds, a junior minister as Shadow Economic Secretary to the Treasury, is relishing the challenge as his appointment was confirmed with the coronavirus crisis at its peak.
He said: “The Department for Work and Pensions is huge and represents about one quarter of the Government’s entire budget, the majority on pensions.
“But because of the current crisis, we are seeing an unprecedented number of people applying for support, more than one million for Universal Credit.
“As we have seen, there are gaps in the system involving the self-employed and some who don’t even qualify.
“I know just how big a brief this is to both individuals here in my constituency and the UK economy.
“It is a real challenge and since my appointment I have been working to help people get the support they need and working constructively with the Government.”
Mr Reynolds revealed the scale of the problems, not only from his constituents but also from the whole country.
He said: “I have been contacted by thousands.
“A lot of people in need have been on to me, worried about the future as nobody has ever experienced anything like this.
“The Universal Credit rate increases have been on a scale never seen before and the department has never previously had to cope with such high demand.
“It is important the Government gets in right because, if it doesn’t, it will affect hundreds of thousands of people across the country.”
Mr Reynolds described being “proud and humbled” to be asked by Sir Keir to join the Shadow Cabinet and also be one of his representatives on the Labour Party’s NEC (national executive committee which is its governing body).
Reflecting on recent times, Mr Reynolds said: “This crisis has brutally confirmed that our existing welfare state is not fit for purpose.
“Too often it leaves people without support and fails to treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve. Many people who have contributed are finding for the first time that the assistance they need and expect is just not there.
“People may know I also have a family interest in disability policy. I will defend at all times the right of every person in this country to live the decent life we should all be entitled to.
“I will campaign vigorously against the disgraceful levels of child poverty, foodbank need and homelessness this country has after 10 years of Tory government.
“We also need serious long-term thinking on pensions – I know from my time as Shadow City Minister there are many people who want to work with us on this agenda.”
• Andrew Gwynne, MP for Denton and Reddish, chose to stand down from the Shadow Cabinet.He had been Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government when Jeremy Corbyn was leader.
Mr Gwynne also relinquished his post as Labour Party co-national campaign co-ordinator, what he described as a “tortuous job” and wanted a break from front-line politics.
He said: “I had been in the Shadow Cabinet for four years and on the front bench for 10 years. It has been a tumultuous last 12 months with everything that went on.
“It was exhausting, and I needed a rest. The change of leadership was a good opportunity to do that.”
Mr Gwynne, who voted for Sir Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner as the new leadership team in the election, added he will have more freedom on the back benches to pursue other issues.
Her said: “When you are in the Shadow Cabinet it restricts what you can do in Parliament which was my biggest frustration as you cannot go beyond that.
“I am looking forward to standing up for the borough in terms of getting investment and the infrastructure we need for local services.
“From the back benches, I will also be able to speak out on issues I have not been able to do before like WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) and ovarian cancer.”
Mr Gwynne added his constituency case work has “gone through the roof” during the current crisis.
This has included constituents stranded in Peru, Colombia, North Africa, India and Pakistan.
He also praised his staff who have risen to the challenge of dealing with this increased workload while working from their homes.
Mr Gwynne, who recently went into self-isolation for 14 days, is convinced he had Covid-19.
“The symptoms I had were sheer exhaustion and no energy whatsoever. I felt I had been run over by a steamroller,” he said.