• The Good Childhood report

    The Good Childhood report published in August,  sets out the shocking scale of the disadvantages some children experience. It is alarming that the report includes evidence that young people’s happiness with their life as a whole is at its lowest since 2010. I agree that it is important that we consider how we tackle the serious problems identified by the report as leaving teenagers more likely to be unhappy, such as emotional neglect and living in a family struggling to pay the bills.

    Over the summer in St Helens, the council had holiday schemes running on weekdays in churches and children’s centres where children could get a hot meal and join activities.

    I visited the Make Lunch St Helens project that aims to help parents who struggle to provide a hot meal for their children during the school summer break. But the Government must do more to help cash-strapped councils and parents ensure that children and teenagers do not go hungry during school holidays.

    A growing number of families in St Helens and across the region are finding it hard to make sure their children get a hot meal during the school holidays. The absence of free school meals puts them under increasing financial pressure and they often have to try to find extra money to pay for activities for their children during school breaks.

    There are some fantastic local projects doing their best to provide support, but we need more action from the Government to make sure children do not go hungry during school holidays.

    The report argues that there is an increasing gap emerging between the scale of the need and the funding available for local authorities to help children and families deal with these problems. I know the Local Government Association has said the funding gap for children’s services is expected to reach £2 billion by 2020 and is putting vital work at risk, and has called for the Government to provide the resources that councils need to keep children safe and well. It is unacceptable that there are now nearly four million children living in poverty. The manifesto I stood on at the recent general election committed to deliver a new Child Poverty Strategy. It also pledged to introduce a Breathing Space scheme for households struggling with high debts. As you may be aware, the current Government also has a manifesto commitment to adopt a Breathing Space scheme and I can assure you that I will hold it to account on this commitment. Supporting young people’s mental health is crucial, particularly through prevention and early intervention. Too many children and young people are still not getting the support they need. Despite the Government making repeated promises to give mental health the same priority as physical health, 40% of NHS trusts saw cuts to mental health budgets in 2015/16. There are also fewer doctors and 6,000 fewer mental health nurses than in 2010 and money intended for mental health has been used to plug funding gaps in the wider NHS.

    I believe we should increase the proportion of mental health budgets spent on support for children and young people. More widely I support investment in school counselling, which has been shown to prevent mental health problems worsening in adolescence and adulthood.

  • Grenfell Tower

    The Grenfell Tower fire is a tragedy that has shocked the whole country and it should never have happened.

    The first priority must be to ensure that all those who are affected are given the support they need now and in the years ahead. The initial support was not good enough and the Government must now do everything it can to support local residents, including providing new housing for all families displaced in the local area. Funding must also be guaranteed for victims’ legal, funeral and other costs.

    I welcome the announcement of a public inquiry into the fire at Grenfell Tower, which includes a commitment to publish interim findings. However, there is still significantly more that must be done. I believe the Government should set out a plan to act immediately on the recommendations from the Coroners’ reports after the Lakanal House and Shirley Towers fires – which it has had since 2013 – by retrofitting high-rise blocks with sprinklers, starting with the highest risk buildings, and overhauling building regulations.

    Residents need to have up-to-date advice about what to do in the event of a fire in their block; and full safety checks should be undertaken for all high-rise blocks. I am pleased that the Government has confirmed it is conducting an audit of all high-rises in England by local authority. I believe up-front capital funding should be provided from central Government as required to make homes safe, and housing revenue account borrowing restrictions should be lifted to allow councils to invest in the maintenance of homes.

    On 5 July the Government announced a period of “limited leave to remain” for victims of the Grenfell Tower fire and claimed that the Home Office will not conduct immigration checks on survivors. I do not believe this goes far enough. To access all the support they need without fear of deportation, I agree that any survivors concerned about their status must be given indefinite leave to remain.

    More widely it is clear that a wider re-think of housing policy is now needed, including the resources and powers available to local government to build and maintain homes.

    At the General Election I stood on a manifesto that pledged the biggest council house building programme for over 30 years. The manifesto committed to prioritising homes for social rent and building new homes for living rent, with rents capped at a third of local incomes to give private renters the breathing room to save for a deposit on a first home.

    Currently I am a member of the Fire Brigade Union Group in Parliament and locally I have written to both the Local Authority and Helena Homes to seek assurances regarding both organisations actions following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, I will continue to monitor their responses.

     

  • European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

    The Government’s European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, also known as the “Repeal Bill” will convert EU law into UK law so that there is certainty from the moment we leave the EU. This will then allow Parliament to repeal, amend or replace any EU-derived laws as necessary in the future. I do not underestimate this task. However, in my view, the Government’s Bill as it stands at the moment is not fit for purpose. I appreciate concerns about the extent of powers that have been outlined in this Bill to allow Ministers to make changes to other laws. These are sweeping powers that require effective oversight or accountability. However, such safeguards are currently lacking from the Bill. The Bill also lacks clear enforcement mechanisms. I will fight against any attempts to diminish, qualify or limit existing workers’ rights, equality law, consumer rights or environmental protections throughout the consideration of this Bill. These should be protected without qualifications, limitations or sunset clauses. However, I also believe it is important that we make sure UK rights keep pace with EU rights after Brexit too. As the Bill does not currently provide for this, it will be something that I will be pressing for. Brexit should also not be an excuse to hoard powers in Westminster and I believe the Bill takes the wrong approach on devolution. I believe there should be a presumption throughout this process that devolved powers transferred from the EU will go straight to the relevant region or nation. I would also like to see all relevant and substantial rights in the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights converted into domestic law. The existence of a single, clear document of rights is clearly beneficial in helping people understand their rights but the Government has refused to include this. I hope the Government will listen carefully to the points that have been raised, including by a number of organisations, and make the improvements that are necessary.

    My focus in the weeks and months ahead will be to keep the pressure in the Government to get the best Brexit deal for St Helens North, Merseyside, the North West and the country as whole.

     

     

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