UNISON has formally nominated Jayne Kirkham as the union’s choice for Labour in Truro and Falmouth. We caught up Jayne to talk about the realities of life in Cornwall and what motivated her to want to be an MP.
Jayne, a UNISON member, was the Labour candidate in 2017 and slashed the Conservatives majority from 14,000 to just 3,792 votes.
Before moving to Cornwall she worked as a solicitor for Thompsons and specialised in health and safety cases – including some on behalf of UNISON.
Why are you running for Parliament?
This seems even more urgent now than it did in 2017. Cornwall has been left behind. Our wages are still 20% lower than the rest of the country, but our housing costs have skyrocketed. A decade of austerity and then the pandemic have pushed more people in Cornwall into poverty. Someone needs to be a loud voice for Cornwall in Westminster and our current crop of 6 Conservative MPs aren’t doing it.
As Leader of the Labour Group on Cornwall Council, I have a proven track record for delivering for the people of Truro and Falmouth. From getting Cornwall Council to declare a climate emergency and set a 2030 zero carbon target; to proposing and pushing through a successful Cornwall Council alternative budget for an extra £3.5 million for mental healthcare in Cornish schools; to campaigning for and achieving a Covid vaccination clinic in Falmouth. People in the constituency know me and they know I will deliver for them.
I know how to win here. I have already won local elections in Truro and Falmouth in 2018 and 2021, increasing my vote each time, and we almost tripled the Labour vote here in the General Election of 2017, when I was the candidate. I also have a high local profile in the media and a strong history of holding the Government and Cornwall Council to account.
What did you learn from being in UNISON?
I have worked with UNISON on campaigns such as fighting the MITIE contract at Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust, getting Cornwall Council to take on the Ethical Care Charter for social care workers in Cornwall and the Foundation Living Wage campaign. I hold the Council and its contractors to account on this and am pushing for a truly Living Wage Cornwall.
I have also worked with UNISON throughout this era of local government cuts and job losses and have seen first-hand UNISON reps and organisers standing up for their members in countless redundancy consultations.
It is a gruelling time to be a UNISON rep in public services when our members have been under a huge amount of pressure for little reward and often, even end up with their jobs under threat. It underlined to me strongly how being in a union and the collective strength that brings is the best way to protect workers.
What would you say to public service workers voting in the next election?
The clapping during the pandemic showed just how much the public came to respect public sector workers and key workers. You are valued, despite this Government not following any of that through as the pandemic has gone on.
Labour values what you do and I would push for a fairer deal for public sector workers in this country. Be it in local government where services have been squeezed to the bone and workers are demoralised and often doing two people’s jobs; or in care, social work and health where the Government has still not given the sector the serious attention that it needs to pay more fairly and plan to deal with the workforce crisis.
What do you think the key public service issues are in your constituency?
I read my 2017 answer to this question and it is wearyingly still relevant. Low pay is still such an intractable issue in this area. Terms and conditions are being diluted by contracting out and privatisation. And housing. Such a desperate problem in places like Cornwall. Often public sector workers cannot afford to live anywhere near where they work. We need some serious, multi-faceted solutions to the dire lack of truly affordable housing.
What issues do you particularly care about in politics / your constituency?
When I last stood for Parliament in 2017, I was a teaching assistant in a Falmouth secondary school. Funding for schools here is lower than other areas and academisation has lowered terms and conditions for staff. Our schools are still underfunded. That is still a huge issue.
So is our NHS and social care. Despite our rurality and relative poverty, we get less than other areas. I care desperately that there are 200 people in our hospitals who can’t get out because the care isn’t there for them, and that ambulance response times are dangerously high. I care that we have nearly 700 people in Cornwall who have been assessed as needing care, but there simply aren’t the carers to look after them. And I care that our care workforce still aren’t valued and paid as they should be and that we still don’t have a truly integrated health and care service where all workers have decent pay and terms and conditions.
I care about housing. It was recently confirmed that up to 1500 people in Cornwall are in emergency accommodation. That is disruptive and damaging for families as they are often ripped from their support networks and sent long distances, so they are unable to get to their schools and jobs. We need short term and long term solutions. We already know what many of those are, but the Conservatives who are in charge simply aren’t doing enough, quickly enough to deal with it.