• the rise of rough sleeping in St Helens

    I am absolutely appalled that between 2010 and 2018 rough sleeping in St Helens borough increased by 600%. This is a direct consequence of Tory austerity increasing levels of poverty.
    St Helens Council, alongside voluntary groups like The Hope Centre, YMCA, the Salvation Army and Teardrops, are working hard to tackle homelessness and its root causes. They support the most vulnerable people in our community and prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.
    The Labour Party has committed to tackling this issue with a pledge to end rough sleeping within five years. The Tories must take action on this now.

  • Shocking figures from the Trussell Trust

    Shocking figures from the Trussell Trust show that in the last year in communities across St Helens North, 6822 three-day emergency food supplies had to be given to local people in crisis – with 2564 of these going to children.
    Nationally, the Trussell Trust network distributed 1,583,668 three-day emergency food supplies to help people in crisis, a record rise of 18.8% on the previous year.
    This reflects the increase in families living in poverty as a direct result of Tory austerity. They are damaging the country, our communities, and families. We need a Labour government to ensure that no one in St Helens borough or across the country goes hungry.

  • managing wild birds

    General licences GL04, GL05 and GL06 were issued under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 for specified purposes enabling people, lawfully, to take certain actions in relation to various species of wild birds. This included the use of lethal control for purposes of public health and safety, protection of crops and livestock, and the conservation of wildlife.

    I appreciate that the revocation of these licences has caused uncertainty and disruption for those who own and manage land. As I am sure you will be aware, the Government has now taken on responsibility for the future granting or revocation of these types of general licence. However, Natural England will continue to issue individual licences to anybody who needs to act within the law to control wild birds, where there is no reasonable non-lethal alternative.

    On 4 May 2019, the Government launched a consultation on this issue. It is seeking views on the revocation of the specific general licences GL04, GL05 and GL06. This consultation closed on 13 May and there will be a separate review of general licences later this year. I hope the Government will listen carefully to all views that are submitted as part of the current consultation.

    The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee will hold a one-off evidence session on this issue on 21 May 2019. I will follow developments on this closely.

  • Whirlpool tumble dryers

    It is shocking that the OPSS says the risk from Whirlpool tumble dryers is low when consumers continue to report signs of fire in machines that have supposedly been fixed.

    I am far from satisfied that the OPSS review was strong enough. I note, for example, that the Government has said interviews with affected Whirlpool customers did not form part of the review. Also, the Government says the OPSS is not aware of any evidence of lint fires attributed to a failure in Whirlpool’s technical modification designed to fix this problem. Yet according to consumer group Which?, one customer received a report from a Whirlpool engineer giving lint as the cause of her tumble dryer starting to produce smoke, despite the machine having been repaired.

    The UK’s product safety regime has been out of date and not fit for purpose for some time. The Government established the OPSS in 2018 after years of reviews and consultations. I believed it was a step in the right direction. However, cuts to local authority budgets have reduced the ability of trading standards bodies to enforce product safety measures and it appears the OPSS does not go far enough in addressing the fundamental issues of our product safety and recall regime.

    This issue requires serious action and I believe the Government is letting consumers down. Lives are on the line – it is vital that we do all we can to ensure that the products people buy are safe to use. I can therefore assure you that I will continue to monitor this issue and press for real action at every opportunity.

  • Radiotherapy4Life campaign

    More than 360,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with cancer every year. I sympathise profoundly with anyone who is affected, and I believe all patients have a right to the best possible care.

    Radiotherapy technology in the UK has improved significantly over the past 20 years and around four in 10 of all cancer patients are now treated with radiotherapy. However, I am concerned by analysis from Action Radiotherapy which finds that as many as 20,000 cancer patients are missing out on vital radiotherapy each year due to underfunding and management issues in service provision.

    The NHS Long Term Plan identifies cancer as a clinical priority over the next 10 years. It sets out its aims for prevention, diagnosis and treatment, includes a specific commitment for faster, smarter and more effective radiotherapy, and greater access to specialist expertise and knowledge in the treatment of cancers. The plan also sets objectives to commission the new Proton Beam facilities in London and Manchester, and to reform the specialised commissioning payments for radiotherapy hypofractionation to support upgrades.

    While the aspirations for improving cancer services are welcome, I remain concerned that our NHS will continue to be held back by cuts and staff shortages. There are 100,000 vacancies across the NHS and Cancer Research UK has warned of chronic shortages in the diagnostic workforce, yet Ministers have delayed setting out a workforce plan.

    Nine years of cuts and the most significant financial squeeze in its history has pushed our health service to the brink and I believe it is patients who are paying the price. The national cancer treatment target has repeatedly been missed for the last five years and cancer performance hit a record low in 2018.

    I believe a credible strategy to support and recruit the cancer workforce for the future must be at the heart of the NHS plan. Ministers should fully fund the NHS and provide more resources for training and education. I will press Ministers at every opportunity to improve the provision of radiotherapy services and ensure that patients receive the best possible treatment and support.

     

  • We need to save Honda Swindon

    The car industry has always been the showpiece for British manufacturing, and Honda Swindon is a world class plant with a world class workforce. Closing the plant would be a devastating blow not just for the 3,500 Honda workers in Swindon, nor just the thousands more working in its supply chain, but for UK manufacturing and our entire economy. It is therefore vital that the Government puts together a bold and radical package of support for Honda, and other car manufacturers, to get Honda’s executives to change their decision on Swindon.

    Honda, alongside the wider car industry, has said it wants an electric vehicle market. I believe we need to deliver one. We should invest in infrastructure to provide electric car charging points in every street in every village, town and city. We need to incentivise people to buy electric cars and other low-carbon vehicles. We need to use the power of public procurement, getting the Government and public services to buy their vehicles from Honda and other UK-based manufacturers to support our own industries. Finally, we should support businesses developing the UK supply chain, such as those involved in battery manufacturing.

    Our car industry supports highly-paid, highly-skilled jobs and contributes enormously to our economy. It gives us the ability to be a world leader in the transition to electric vehicles. I can therefore assure you that I will do all I can to press for the investment we need to make this happen and to save Honda Swindon.

  • Department for Work and Pensions letters to doctors and GPs.

    As you know, the DWP has sent letters to doctors and GPs which crucially omit to say that ill and disabled people applying for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) are entitled to medical evidence if they choose to appeal their Work Capability Assessment (WCA) decision. This is unlike the previous version of the letter circulated until 2017, which explicitly stated that doctors may have to give patients new medical statements if they decide to appeal against their decision.

    I am concerned that the decision to reword this letter has had devastating consequences. Without medical evidence from GPs and doctors, ill and disabled people have been unable to access the assessment rate of ESA while appealing their WCA decision. I am also aware of alarming reports that some people have been left close to destitution and in rent arrears as a result of being refused medical evidence during their appeals.

    I believe it is shocking that ill and disabled people have been left without vital social security support as a result of these letters from the DWP. I firmly believe that the UK Government should scrap the letter and replace it with information which clearly outlines all the circumstances in which fit notes should be made available.

    Furthermore, I believe that the WCA is not fit for purpose. DWP figures published in December 2018 indicate that more than two-thirds of fit for work decisions are overturned at appeal, which reveals the inaccuracy of the assessment. I am committed to scrapping this punitive assessment and instead introducing a tailored, personalised framework that treats disabled people with respect.

    I know that the DWP recently stated that it is updating the current letter sent to GPs, with input from medical organisations, to clarify when a fit note should be provided for ESA purposes. While this is welcome, I hope the UK Government will go further and pause any further distribution of the misleading letter.

     

  • household debt

    Household debt is an important issue that I know impacts people in our area and across the UK. Indeed, the Money Advice Service has estimated that 8.3 million adults in the UK are living with problem debt.

    As you know, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) took over responsibility for regulating consumer credit in 2014 and announced its intention to crack down on high-interest lending in May 2018. As part of this review, the FCA looked at the rent-to-own (RTO) sector and found examples of people paying more than £1,500 for household essentials, like a cooker, that could have been bought on the high street for less than £300. Following a consultation, the FCA has recently confirmed that it will introduce a price cap on RTO products.

    I know that the introduction of this cap will be welcomed by many vulnerable customers who rely on the RTO sector. I am pleased that the FCA will require firms to benchmark product base prices against retail prices, as this will allow us to check that the rules are working as intended.

    However, I believe that we need to solve the underlying problems in our unsecure economy. I am concerned that austerity has forced people to use high-cost credit just to get by, and to survive with no savings to fall back on.

    Too many families are having to rely on borrowing just to get to the end of the month and are facing huge costs from our high-street banks. I believe that the low paid debt trap is a national scandal that must end, which is why the Opposition has pledged to place a cap on credit card interest and cap the total amount that can be paid in overdraft fees. Alongside this, I believe we should also introduce a £10 per hour real living wage, stop the rollout of Universal Credit and ban zero-hour contracts.

     

  • the future of cyprus

    I would like to see the peaceful and lasting reunification of Cyprus with the consent of both communities and I am disappointed UN-led peace talks have not progressed further.
    The UK has strong historical ties with Cyprus. The relationship between our two countries has remained strong thanks to the presence of Cypriot diaspora communities in the UK as well as British military bases and peacekeeping troops in Cyprus.

    Given these ties, particularly our role as a guarantor of Cyprus’s territorial integrity, the UK must continue to have an active role in negotiating a peaceful settlement. I believe conflict resolution and human rights should be put at the heart of our foreign policy. The UK should therefore work through the UN to give support to Cyprus to end the decades of division.

    I believe the divisions in Cyprus can only be resolved by the two parties coming together and Cyprus must remain a reliable and stable partner for the UK in the future. You raise the matter of Turkish troops remaining in Cyprus, and I agree that this is a difficult issue to resolve.

    While I do not underestimate the difficulties involved, I hope that there will be a resumption of talks and that a sustainable and comprehensive settlement can be reached. I can assure you that I will continue to follow any developments closely and support efforts to achieve a united, stable and peaceful future for Cyprus.

  • aids and adaptations

    Aids and adaptations in the home can greatly enhance the quality of life for people living with arthritis and support them to live as independently as possible. I was concerned by reports that some people with arthritis face barriers in accessing this support. Arthritis Research UK has highlighted that, despite policy being in place to ensure provision of home aids and adaptations, people are living without them and are unaware that local authorities have a statutory duty to provide this type of equipment.

    The Government maintains that the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG), which supports people living with arthritis, has increased year-on-year. However, an independent review of the DFG, published in December, found that the fear of triggering demand that cannot be met by local authorities has resulted in minimal advertising of the DFG. The review concluded that this makes it very hard for people to find out about the help that may be available.

    By 2020, local authorities will face reductions in Government funding of nearly £16 billion since 2010. Directors of Adult Social Care warn that spending on prevention is again set to reduce in 2018-19 and it is becoming harder for councils to manage the tension between prioritising statutory duties towards those with the greatest needs and investing in prevention.

    At the last general election, I stood on a manifesto with a commitment to put prevention at the centre of a new National Care Service, which would have included exploring an increased role for aids and adaptations. More widely, I will continue to press the Government for the proper finances to be put in place to address our nation’s health needs and improve the support available for people living with arthritis.

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