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As someone born and raised in the South Wales valleys, it is an honour to be elected to represent the community of Islwyn in Parliament.
I was brought up in Wattstown, a small village in the Rhondda Fach. I attended Aberllechau Primary School and Porth County Comprehensive School before studying for my ‘A’ Levels at Pontypridd College. Later, I graduated from Trinity College, Carmarthen with a history degree, a subject I am still very much interested in.
After university, like other members of my family, I worked in betting shops spending three years with Jack Brown Bookmakers.
From there, I became a Personal Account Manager with Lloyds TSB before moving on again. First for a short stint at the University of Glamorgan and then again in 2004 when I was appointed an Area Secretary with the Union of Finance staff, based in Cheltenham.
Representing finance workers gave me a sense of helping people and a realisation that collective action could really make a difference as we managed to save a number of jobs from being relocated to call centres overseas.
Following this, I felt immensely proud to have worked for Don Touhig, my predecessor as MP for Islwyn, as a parliamentary researcher. I look back on my years working with Don as a real master class in how to be an MP and made some great friends.
My interest in politics began when I was given a book about JFK, when I was 13. This eventually led to me joining the Labour Party at 15 and since then I have held positions at every level of the party, from Youth Officer to Ward Secretary. I stood for my first Council seat at the age of 21.
Growing up in the Thatcher years and seeing the devastation as family and friends lost their jobs I felt politics was the best way of bringing about change.
In April 2004, I was selected as the Labour candidate in Cheltenham for the following year’s General Election. On Election Day, I held the vote up on a very bad night for Labour. I thoroughly enjoyed being on the campaign trail, meeting so many people and hearing their stories. This opportunity reaffirmed to me that politics can really make a difference.
When Don Touhig decided to stand down, I had the privilege of replacing him as the Labour candidate for the General Election in 2010. It meant a lot to be selected as Don’s replacement in a constituency I knew so well through my work over the years.
I was elected as the Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Islwyn on May 6th 2010 with a majority of 12,215. I was re-elected in 2015 with a majority of 10,404 and again in 2017 with a majority of 11,412.
My maiden speech focused on pay day lending. Loan sharks and providers of high interest credit have been a sad feature of Valleys communities for many years. It is my belief that everyone should have access to affordable financial services. That is why I have continued this campaign throughout my time as a Member of Parliament and in March 2012 I tabled a 10 minute rule bill calling for the introduction of legislation to tackle the problem of financial exclusion.
I was also pleased to discover that I was the first person to raise the issue of Inflammatory Bowel Disease when I led a Westminster Hall debate on employment opportunities for people with the illness. I called for the debate after being shocked to learn just how many people suffer in silence; too embarrassed or afraid to speak openly about a condition which affects every aspect of their day to day life.
Another issue I have been heavily involved in is the campaign against fuel poverty. As energy prices rocketed and more and more of my constituents faced the heartbreaking choice between heating and eating I called for a Westminster Hall debate on fuel poverty.
Since becoming the Member of Parliament for Islwyn in 2010, my major concern has been youth unemployment.
To me, it is a tragedy when someone becomes unemployed. Skills go to waste and society loses out. I believe everyone should have an opportunity to develop their talents to the fullest.
However, whenever I ask any young person about the barriers to getting a job the answer often seems to be the same – a lack of experience.
Without work experience it is difficult for young people to get on the job ladder. That is why I have teamed up with local employers from across the constituency to launch the Islwyn Work Experience Programme.
The scheme offers 18-24 year olds the opportunity to gain experience by undertaking an 8 week placement with a local employer.
Not only will this provide a young person with practical experience of a workplace but it will have no impact on their Jobs Seekers Allowance – enabling them to continue to look for permanent work.
While work experience can never be a substitute for a full time job, the programme seeks to ensure that young people will be able to get a feel of the world of work.
For more information on the scheme, contact my constituency office on 01495 231 990
Although I enjoy politics I believe it is important to have outside interests. In my spare time, I enjoy running.
Further to this, I enjoy reading as well as being an avid sports fan. In September 2017 I wrote and published a book Fearless Freddie: The Life and Times of Freddie Mills.