• Unpaid Trial Work Periods (Prohibition) Bill

    I support this Bill,  I agree that this is an important issue and I know that it will be of concern to many people in our area. I note for example that around 140,000 people have signed a petition calling for MPs to support the Bill. I also note that last year over 41,000 people signed a petition that successfully called for Mooboo Bubble Tea shops to pay those working trial shifts, following reports that the company required staff to work a 40-hour unpaid trial, with no guarantee of a job after that.

    Last year, research from the University of Middlesex identified unpaid induction and trial shifts as one of several types of unpaid work that contribute to an estimated £1.2 billion of wages denied to workers every year. I am concerned that this is an example of an imbalance of power between employers and employees in the UK workplace that has led to the proliferation of low wage jobs and employers avoiding paying workers fairly. I believe that unpaid trial shifts are exploitative to workers. If people undertake work during a trial period they should be fairly and properly paid.

    I can assure you that I back the The Unpaid Trial Work Periods (Prohibition) and will continue to support an end to unfair and exploitative trial shifts.

  • End of life care

    End of life care and the law concerning assisted dying are extremely complex and emotive issues, and that there are strongly held ethical and moral arguments on both sides.

    I know that this issue provokes strong views and it is important that the debate is fully considered.

    When a bill to introduce a provision for assisted dying in the UK was brought before Parliament in 2015, I opposed it and would oppose it if it came before the House again.

    However, I can assure you that I will continue to bear in mind the points you raise and those of other constituents who have contacted me on this matter, both for and against.

    Given the sensitivity and importance of this issue, it is vital that high-quality support, guidance and palliative care are available.

    I believe there needs to be improved care for those with terminal illnesses, more support for their carers’ and improved facilities offering specialised care. This would go some way to improving patients’ quality of life as would earlier and faster diagnosis of terminal conditions.



  • Autism and the campaign by the National Autistic Society

    Securing an early diagnosis is fundamental to ensuring that people with autism, and their families, can access the right support. Yet research from the NAS has found that people are waiting years for an autism diagnosis. Indeed, a survey by Public Health England found that in one local authority waiting times stood at 125 weeks.

    In August 2015, the NAS launched a campaign to end what it described as a “crisis” in autism diagnosis. I pay tribute to the NAS and all involved with this campaign, which led to data on autism diagnosis waiting times being collected and published for the first time by NHS England from April 2018. Guidelines state that an autism diagnosis should be started within three months of the referral from the patient’s GP. However, data was not previously collected and it was difficult to identify gaps in treatment and support.

    The Government has acknowledged that more needs to be done to improve the lives of people living with autism. In its Think Autism strategy, Ministers have outlined that there should be a pathway to diagnosis, care and support in every local area to improve recognition, speed up the process of diagnosis, and meet individuals’ advice and support needs.

    I believe it is right to put an end to social isolation and ensure that autistic people can access the whole of their community and receive the support they deserve. It is vital to work with employers, trade unions, schools and public services to improve awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace and society. Indeed, at the General Election I stood on a manifesto with an ambition to make our country autism-friendly.

    I have consistently campaigned on the issues facing people diagnosed with autism across St Helens having met with parents to discuss the needs of children with autism in the constituency and backed Saints launch of a replica shirt for Rugby League’s Magic Weekend which carried the logo of St Helens Autism Support.

    There are some great organisations in St Helens such as St Helens Autism Support which make a massive difference in the area by helping raise awareness of the condition and aiding people, particularly children, with all levels of autism.

    It is clear that more needs to be done to support the mental health needs of people living with autism. Between 70% and 80% of autistic people develop mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and four out of 10 children with autism have at least two mental health challenges.

  • Hunger strike by detainees at Yarl’s Wood

    Over 100 detainees have been taking part in a hunger and work strike to call for changes to detention policy. This has highlighted a number of serious concerns, and I believe there must be an urgent review of the UK’s detention system, and an end to indefinite detention.

    The Government recently made a statement on this in the House of Commons, in response to an urgent parliamentary question. The Immigration Minister was pressed on detention and welfare policy concerns raised by the events at Yarl’s Wood, and she maintained that the dignity and welfare of all individuals detained is of upmost importance to the Government, and that any decision to detain is made on a case-by-case basis taking into account individual circumstances.

    However, I remain concerned that at Yarl’s Wood and in other institutions like it, already vulnerable people are, effectively, being held indefinitely despite the fact that the majority of them have committed no crime. The Government claims there is no indefinite immigration detention, but holding people for years on end without a release date amounts to exactly that in my view.

    I understand the Government expects a review by Stephen Shaw, the former prisons and probation ombudsman, to be published shortly. The review will report on progress made by the Government since his initial 2016 report on the welfare in detention of vulnerable persons.

    I can assure you that I will follow any developments and continue to press the Government to urgently review the detention system and end indefinite detention.

  • Free school meals and Universal Credit

    As you know, currently all children living in households that receive UC are eligible for free school meals. However, the Tories have brought forward new proposals to introduce an earnings threshold of £7,400 for all UC claimants from April 2018. I believe these proposals are deeply concerning and I am aware that these changes will affect many families across the UK and in our area.

    I agree that free school meals have significant benefits, as children are more attentive and ready to learn when they are fed a healthy meal. I believe it is a scandal that the Government is pressing ahead with a plan that could leave over a million children going hungry.

    In addition, I share your concern that the proposals will create a dangerous cliff-edge in support, and will make it harder for families on low incomes to make ends meet. Families should not have to refuse pay rises or avoid extra work for fear of losing their entitlement to free school meals. I believe the Government should step back from introducing this cliff-edge in eligibility and instead introduce free school meals for all primary school children, and all secondary school children whose families claim UC.

    As you may be aware, Labour secured a debate on this subject on Tuesday 13 March and put forward a motion to annul the Government’s proposals on free school meals. Unfortunately, the motion was defeated with the support of Tory MPs.

    Moving forwards, the Commons’ Work and Pensions Committee is holding an inquiry on UC and is seeking evidence on how the eligibility for free school meals should be determined. I can assure you I will follow the progression of this inquiry closely. I remain concerned that the rollout of UC is causing real suffering in our communities, which is why at the General Election I stood on a manifesto which pledged to reform and redesign UC. In addition, I believe the Government must provide further investment in UC to ensure that work always pays, and that children and young people are not pushed into poverty.

  • Food labelling

    I support the mandatory labelling of meat to include details on country of origin, method of production and method of slaughter.

    I am aware of the recent investigation by The Times which found that some supermarkets have labelled meat and dairy products using specific images and phrases to suggest higher animal welfare standards than what is the reality in many cases.

    There are no requirements for most food products (including meat, milk and dairy products) to display information on method of production, although some producers provide it on a voluntary basis. EU law says that food labelling, whether compulsory or provided voluntarily, must not be misleading to consumers, including information on the method of production.

    The UK Government acknowledges that it is not always clear to the consumer what standards underpin welfare terminology and that definitions on labels, such as the term “grass fed”, can vary between retailers. The Government says that when we leave the EU, there will be an opportunity to review labelling requirements for all foods, to ensure that we maintain the highest standards of quality and transparency for consumers. However, it has no plans to introduce compulsory method of production labelling once we leave the EU.

    I believe food labelling must be clear and unambiguous so that consumers know exactly what they are buying – including the country of origin and method of production. That is why I support the mandatory labelling of both domestic and imported meat to include details on country of origin, method of production and method of slaughter (stun or non-stun). Improved food labelling is also vitally important to encourage consumers to buy British.

  • Concerns over women with mental ill-health being sent to prison

    I share Constituents concerns on this issue and believe that prison should always be a last resort and that it should never be a substitute for failing mental health services. At the 2017 General Election, I stood on a manifesto which committed to personal rehabilitation plans for all prisoners and to review the provision of mental health services in prisons.

    There are currently nearly 4,000 women in prison in England and Wales. For many women, it is not the best way to break the cycle of reoffending. We could achieve a better outcome for the women themselves, and reduce the number of victims of crime, if we invest in women’s centres, rather than sending non-violent women to prison.

    Recently, the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts stated that record high numbers of self-inflicted deaths and incidents of self-harm in prisons are a “damning indictment of the current state of the mental health of those in prison and the prison environment overall”.

    Tory cuts to the prison service have meant there are fewer staff to understand individual prisoners and recognise when they are vulnerable. The cuts have further led to prisoners having to spend longer periods of time locked up in cells. Isolation and confinement can have a devastating impact on those with mental ill-health.

    In my view, there needs to be a distinct approach to the specific needs of female offenders, and I await the strategy for female offenders with interest. The Government has said that the strategy will improve outcomes for women in the community and custody and that it would be published this year.

    In the review, the Government should also look seriously at whether prison is the right place for some women. I hope that the Government will carefully consider the proposals that have been put forward by organisations such as Women in Prison when formulating its strategy.

  • Pavement parking

    I appreciate that pavement parking can be a real problem for those who are blind or partially sighted, parents with prams, wheelchair users and older people. Indeed, I am aware that Guide Dogs conducted a survey which showed that 97% of blind or partially sighted people have encountered problems with street obstructions, and 90% have experienced trouble with a car parked on a pavement.

    As you are aware, Guide Dogs have criticised the inaction of the Government on tackling this issue, and called for all pavement parking to be made illegal. I agree that we need to take action to protect vulnerable pedestrians, and all those who use our roads and pavements.

    There are various ways local councils, along with the police, can act to tackle on-street and pavement parking, such as using legislation governing obstruction and dangerous parking; designating limited areas of ‘no pavement parking’ through a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) or establishing a special parking area. I believe the current laws on pavement parking are often confusing for motorists, dangerous for vulnerable road users and costly for councils who are having to repair damaged pavements.

    The Department for Transport held a consultation on its Accessibility Action Plan between August and November 2017, in which it committed to launch a survey in autumn 2017 to gather evidence on the current, costs, and timescales for processing TROs, and options for change. The Government has now said it will begin the survey in spring 2018, and will engage with stakeholders on this issue in the near future. I can assure you that I will follow this survey closely as I believe the status quo to be unsatisfactory. I would like to see laws in place that would help local councils to make decisions more simply, with reduced costs.

  • The need to ban the use of electronic collars on cats and dogs

    In 2014 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs funded research on the use of e-collars on dogs. The research concluded that e-collars can have long-term detrimental effects on the welfare of dogs, and in such circumstances, an owner could be in breach of the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

    On 12 March the Government launched a public consultation seeking views on its plans to ban the use of e-collars in England. The Welsh Assembly has already banned the use of these products and the Scottish Government has brought forward proposals to do the same.

    Many animal welfare and veterinary organisations, including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Dogs Trust, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Blue Cross, and the British Veterinary Association are opposed to the use of e-collars for dogs and cats. The RSPCA maintains that the evidence is clear that there are “huge welfare” concerns with using e-collars for training animals and that positive training methods should be used instead.

    I am committed to supporting the highest level of care for domestic animals, and while I appreciate that approximately 5% of owners use electronic collars for training their pets, I support measures to ban the use, sale and importation of these products.

    The consultation on the Government’s proposals will run until 27 April 2018. I will follow the outcome of the consultation closely and bear in mind the points you have raised.

  • Response to ‘Crumbling Futures’ report

    The Children’s Society’s recent ‘Crumbling Futures’ report raises concerns that vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds are being let down by the law. I believe that too often, 16 and 17 year olds are treated like adults and are not afforded the additional protections given in law to younger children.

    The report raises further concerns over young people dealing with complex issues such as poverty and mental health problems. I believe we need to do more to help protect vulnerable children and young people.

    At the last general election, I stood on a manifesto which committed to refocus social care to work with families in local communities to prevent children becoming at risk of going into care. It also committed to tackle child poverty with a new Child Poverty Strategy and to increase the proportion of mental health budgets spent on support for children and young people.

    On 16 March 2018, the current Government announced plans to transform education for children with additional needs and to improve the experiences of children in alternative provision. I am aware the Children’s Society believes this review should be broader, and I hope that the Government will carefully consider and respond to these concerns.

    The Children’s Society has further argued that the review must look at how support can be paid for in the context of declining financial resources given to local authorities. It is very concerning that the Local Government Association has found that children’s services are facing a £2 billion funding gap by 2020. Indeed, local authority spending on services for children and young people has fallen in real terms by almost £1 billion since 2012.

    St Helens has been hit hard by Government cuts over the years having lost well over 50 per cent of central funding since 2010. Over the next two years, the council will face further funding cuts totaling £9m, resulting in funding cuts of £90m over the ten-year period which equates to £507 less per person to spend on services than 2010.

    Children’s services provide a lifeline to thousands of vulnerable children and families across the country and it is incredibly worrying that funding has fallen so dramatically. I believe councils must be provided with the funding that is needed to meet demand for children’s services.

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