INTERVIEW: MP for Peterborough looks back on first months
From important votes on Brexit to quoting rap lyrics, life in Parliament has been a whirlwind for Peterborough's Labour MP Fiona Onasanya after eight months in the role.
The former solicitor defeated three-time Conservative incumbent Stewart Jackson by 607 votes last June, beginning the campaign as a relative unknown before delivering a first Labour victory in the city since 2001.
But the transition to full-time politician has not always been easy for Ms Onasanya who in an interview with the Peterborough Telegraph apologised to constituents for not replying promptly to some of their concerns, a problem she put down to difficulties in getting her office set up.
Speaking during Parliament’s February recess about what she has been up to as the city’s representative since her election win, Ms Onasanya also highlighted how she has been keeping the pressure on the authorities over the benefits system Universal Credit, which was fully rolled out in Peterborough last November.
Looking back on her time as an MP so far, she said: “If you care about helping in the community I would definitely recommend this role.
“It’s rewarding, but it makes you feel quite solemn. We are some people’s last chance so I really want to do all I can.
“The struggle is real. People are really in a bad place, especially when it comes to housing and health and adult social care.
“I feel very privileged to be in this position for the people of Peterborough so I can champion their cause.”
Some of the causes Ms Onasanya has taken up as MP for Peterborough include:
. Writing to Prime Minister Theresa May about a constituent who has been “messed around” for years by the DVLA which will allow him to drive a car but not an HGV
. Writing to the culture minister after alleging no cases of reported racism in local football have been upheld. She added: “We need to see action.”
. Speaking to local businesses in Central ward about the problems they have, which include fly-tipping nearby.
. Working with charity Independent Age to support older people and to combat loneliness
. Meetings with Terry Jones, principal of Peterborough Regional College, and others about the future University of Peterborough.
The MP is also due to meet headteachers from all Peterborough schools. She said: “I really want to make sure this university is going to be delivered. And we need to tackle the issue of low attainment.”
. Writing to health secretary Jeremy Hunt about a constituent who is being charged £62 an hour to see a clinical psychologist which he cannot afford but desperately needs
. Raising concerns about bed blocking at Peterborough City Hospital. Ms Onasanya also wants to renegotiate the hospital’s costly Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deal.
The MP made headlines last August when she promised to spend more than £800 of her own money every month on free bulky and electrical waste collections to help reduce fly-tipping in the city.
Reflecting on the strength of the initiative so far, Ms Onasanya said she is pleased to see Peterborough City Council follow her lead by offering their own free bulky waste collections, which take place separately.
Her next collection is in Paston and Walton on Saturday, with Labour and Liberal Democrat activists handing out leaflets she has paid for to residents to let them know.
The initiative ends in August. Ms Onasanya said: “It’s not a viable option doing it each month so I’m hoping businesses will get involved.”
The MP has also been vocal with the Conservative-run council over the fly-tipping hotspot of Norwood Lane, where a new action plan is being put forward, but she insists her relationship with the authority is strong, stating: “The council have been very good. If I say I need to speak to someone that’s fine.”
She added: “I am liaising with the council on Carillion. What contracts they had, what effect it can have on people employed in Peterborough and what effect it will have.”
Since becoming an MP, Ms Onasanya has become a member of the Communities and Local Government Committee. She was also recently made a Labour whip and was appointed as Parliamentary Private Secretary for Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith.
She has used that position to look into housing conditions for the armed forces. During her time as an MP, Ms Onasanya has also:
. Twice voted against the EU Withdrawl Bill which she claims would hand over unregulated power to the cabinet
. Raised the tragic case of stillborn baby Darcey Maddison
. Called on the city council to undergo a review of social housing and new builds to make sure both are safe for inhabitants following the Grenfell Tower disaster
. Written to the secretary of state for housing in relation to temporary accommodation at St Michael’s Gate in Parnwell
. Joined the Reclaim the Night march through Peterborough to make a stand against sexual harassment.
And on a lighter note, Ms Onasanya also made national news for quoting a line from rap artist Shaq’s Man’s Not Hot during a debate on the Budget last November.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT CRITICISM
Having previously labelled it “universal crisis,” Ms Onasanya says she has been keeping the pressure on the authorities over the benefits system Universal Credit, which was fully rolled out in Peterborough last November.
The system combines six benefits into one monthly payment, but it has been criticised because recipients do not receive their first full payment for six weeks, with some waiting longer.
Ms Onasanya said: “I contacted the manager for our region. I was saying ‘I need to know has every person out of the 100 people you are monitoring received their first payment on December 27?’ She could not confirm that.
“Some families would have had no money during Christmas and after Boxing Day still have no money.
“Families that are not homeless are still destitute and have to choose between heating and eating.”
The MP attended FoodCycle Peterborough recently at Park Road Baptist Church to have lunch with members of the community.
The not-for-profit organisation collects surplus food donations from local suppliers and organises volunteers to cook hot, nutritious three course meals for those facing food poverty and loneliness.