Remembering the ‘forgotten class’ - MP for Peterborough Fiona Onasanya

MP for Peterborough Fiona Onasanya
MP for Peterborough Fiona Onasanya
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I often think being an elected official is like being a waiter.

If you went into a restaurant and you had to approach the waiters, ask them for a menu, prod them to take your order, and tell them to bring your meal, you would never return to that establishment.

We expect waiters to come to us, ask us what we want, bring us what we ordered, and do so cheerfully.

Similarly, I strongly believe in visiting as many of you as I can, to find out what you’re thinking, and do what I can to help.

At the invitation of a colleague, I recently went to see a constituent living in one of the further flung corners of Peterborough. We met at her pleasant, modest bungalow: her husband had neatly trimmed the back garden in which we sat. The grass was framed with flowers. Beyond the hedge, we could hear farm equipment operating in the fields. The sunlight was just starting to fade into the depths of the afternoon and her husband brought us glasses of cold water.

My constituent proceeded to tell my colleagues and I about her situation. She had worked hard all her life, but several years ago had become disabled. Specifically, she had suffered a series of four strokes which rendered her unable to work. She has mobility issues, problems with grasping a pen and writing, and sometimes difficulty getting her words out.

She told us about how she lives in dread of receiving a brown envelope. The way she talked about it sent a shiver down my spine: generally speaking, receiving the post is a mundane matter. The postman strides up to the door, pushes the mail through the slot and we may sigh or smile depending upon the contents that land on the other side. But imagine if the brown envelope contained demands you could not possibly meet: to fill out a lengthy form though you cannot easily write, to prove to an unseen body that you are disabled though the medical evidence is clear, to do all that they ask and more, or otherwise they will take away the meagre income which keeps you financially afloat.

Again, she had worked all of her life; she had paid into the system. But for the grace of God, this could be any one of us. Just because we are fortunate today doesn’t mean tragedy won’t strike tomorrow, and we would need that help in order to survive.

The biases of the system and the narratives of the media tell us to treat her with suspicion, even disdain.

As she put it to me, “There’s an upper class, a middle class, and a working class. We are the forgotten class.”

I want to reassure her and others like her: the fear and frustration you are experiencing is wrong. You are not forgotten.

My colleagues and I will not rest until you do not have to live in dread of tomorrow.