Siobhain McDonagh is the MP of Mitcham and Morden and since being elected in 1997 has led a variety of projects in the area. Siobhain has previously campaigned to improve local health services, save the A&E and Maternity Units at St Helier Hospital and overall, worked to improve the community.
Why did you become an MP?
I was born and bred in Mitcham and Morden: it is an area I love full of the most wonderful people I know. I was so proud to be elected in 1997, but I had been contesting the seat since 1987, and had served as a councillor since 1982. I never wanted to represent any other area but my home town. I believe that public service is about standing up for people and I have been working as tirelessly as I can to represent and work with the people of Mitcham and Morden. I am very lucky to do a job that I absolutely love.
What is a favorite part of your job?
The best part of public service is helping people. When people come to speak to me at my weekly surgeries, or call in on the phone, they are often really struggling, whether it’s because of benefit sanctions, home office decisions, or waiting on the housing register. The best feeling in the world is doing something that can help them.
What are some of the projects you hope to take on in the near future?
Getting on in life, whether it’s owning your own home or finding a job that gives you financial security and even the opportunity to work your way up, is getting harder than ever. We are letting our young people down, many of whom will never be able to own their own home, and are penalised by housing benefit legislation and are excluded from forthcoming minimum wage increases. Families face tax credit cuts of thousands of pounds a year, and child tax credit cuts limited to just two children, will mean more and more families will face poverty.
We need to fight for more affordable housing both to buy and rent. We need to help our young people get on in life, ensuring they have access to good education and meaningful jobs and careers. These are the sorts of challenges I’m trying to take on by holding David Cameron to account.
Are there any projects you are currently working on?
Our present Conservative government is not too interested in people being able to get on, and as Labour is in opposition, that means we can’t introduce the sort of legislation we would have wanted, to make Britain a fairer place for everyone.
But I am working on a work experience scheme in Mitcham and Morden which focuses on getting unemployed young people the internships and work experiences they need to get on. I’ve been running the scheme since 2011 and I’m proud to say it is increasing in size and impact each year, helping hundreds of young people in the local area get into meaningful employment. I remember how hard it was to find a job in the 1980s, and many of my friends were not as fortunate as I was. I was lucky to get a clerical job and eventually worked my way up into something more rewarding.
But young people today have it even tougher – and I wanted to do something to change that.
I rally together local Mitcham and Morden businesses to offer structured, medium-term placements, and then match young people with the placements that interest them, in all sorts of areas, including charity work, schools, construction, retail, and law. I’m very proud of the scheme and of the students and businesses that have got involved.
What are some of your best accomplishments to help the area of Mitcham/Morden, in your opinion?
There has been so much that we have achieved over the last eighteen years. We’ve secured two Academy schools for East Mitcham, and area that’s been really struggling with attainment grades, which I was very proud of. But I think the biggest, ongoing campaign has been that of saving St Helier Hospital. The fight is certainly not over, but I am very proud that we have managed to keep St Helier open despite everything that has been thrown at us. This is a huge accomplishment for the hundreds of campaigners involved, but we have a long road ahead.
By Weronika Zgryska, Ursuline High school.