• launch of a new not-for-profit company in our local communities

    Conor joined representatives from local housing associations, the voluntary sector, St Helens Council and Jobcentre plus for the launch of a new not-for-profit company aiming to provide jobs, education and training in our local communities.

    As well as back to work programs, Genesis plans to organise courses on everything from first aid and food hygiene for local businesses. It will be working closely with local employers and assisting those they work with look for jobs, improve English and maths skills and will provide IT support.

    Among the sites it will work from is Derbyshire Hill Family Centre in Parr.

    Conor said “it is important that we give local people the chance to take advantage of the employment opportunities being created in the local area. Initiatives like this are vital to improving skills, building confidence and enjancing employability. I wish Genesis well in playing its part in supporting residents into work.”

    Company founder, Roy Williams, added “it was good to see so many people at the Genesis launch event to hear about the work we are doing to support local people and improve their skills and help employers find new staff. I would like to thank Conor for his support and commitment to initiatives like this.”

  • dementia care and the related campaign by the Alzheimer’s Society

    I commend and support the Alzheimer’s Society’s “Fix Dementia Care” campaign to ensure that people with dementia receive the highest standards of care in hospital, in care homes and at home. It has supported the development of hundreds of dementia-friendly communities across England and is leading investment in research to improve care, advance prevention and move closer to achieving the goal of a world without dementia.

    Improving the quality of social care is a vital part of providing dignity and support for people living with dementia. As we work to find a cure, I believe we should place an equal emphasis on the care provided to people living with dementia and the support provided to their families and carers.

    I believe the Government has failed to address the crisis in social care. Eight years of cuts to local authority budgets have left our social care system ill-equipped to deal with increasing demands. Since 2010, £6.3 billion has been cut from adult social care and there are now 400,000 fewer people receiving publicly funded social care. The Government has repeatedly delayed the publication of its social care green paper and last year Ministers scrapped plans to implement a cap on personal contributions to lifetime care costs.

    I support the establishment of a new National Care Service, built alongside the NHS, to move quickly towards a joined-up system that responds to the health and care needs of the population. I am also committed to ensuring that people do not have to pay high care costs, as is too often the case with the current system. I support implementing a lower cap on care costs than the £72,000 cap that was abandoned by the Government.

    At the 2017 general election, I stood on a manifesto with a commitment to invest an additional £8 billion in social care budgets across this parliament to ease the care crisis, including an extra £1 billion in the first year. This additional funding would have meant offering some extra packages of care which were publicly-funded.

  • religious dress

    The freedom to practice faith – or not – is one of the cornerstones of the free and diverse democratic society in which we live, and I firmly believe in a person’s right to choose their expression of faith.

    I therefore support the right to wear all forms of religious and other dress and I believe in strengthening our communities’ rights to practice religion free from persecution.

    I believe that we must do everything in our power to ensure that people of faith or no faith have the freedom to pursue their beliefs without fear of harassment or victimisation.

    I am therefore proud that the Equality Act 2010 helped to foster an open society by strengthening the legislative framework to protect people from discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief or, indeed, lack of it.

  • human rights defenders

    As one of the UK Parliament delegates to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council or Europe, I agree that more must be done to protect human rights defenders globally. Human rights defenders champion and fight for the human rights of others, challenging oppression and injustice. I believe the UK should lead the world in promoting human rights and they should be at the heart of our foreign policy.

    This year marks the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. This recognises the right and the responsibility of individuals, groups and associations to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels.

    It is therefore reprehensible that over 300 human rights defenders were killed last year, and hundreds harassed, threatened or detained. As the UN Secretary-General has said, human rights defenders, both individuals and organisations, “are our eyes and ears and conscience.”

    In December last year, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued updated guidelines to its network of Embassies and High Commissions on working with human rights defenders. This guidance tasks them with finding practical ways to support human rights defenders and considers groups who may face additional risks such as those defending the rights of women.

    Unfortunately, I am worried that there has been a drift away from the prioritisation of human rights under the current Government, including in its international dealings. I believe the Government should lead international efforts through the UN and other international organisations to ensure that human rights are protected and upheld around the world. I believe it should also urge respect for human rights in its bilateral discussions with other governments.

    I can assure you that I will continue to press the Government to support human rights, and those who defend them, globally.

     

  • the rollout of Universal Credit

    UC is a single payment which will replace six means-tested benefits and tax credits for working-age individuals and families. It is the Government’s flagship welfare reform and I am concerned that it has been plagued by problems in its design and delivery.

    UC was intended to lift people out of poverty and smooth the transition into work to ensure that it always pays. Unfortunately, the programme has acted as a vehicle for cuts and caused real hardship for many people across the UK. It has pushed claimants into debt, rent arrears and forced some to rely on food banks. I agree that the rollout should be stopped.

    Indeed, a report by the National Audit Office found UC may end up costing more than the benefit system it is replacing. It also stated that it cannot be proven UC helps more claimants into work and concluded it is unlikely to ever deliver value for money. More recently, a report from the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee (PAC) concluded UC is causing unacceptable hardship and that the Government’s approach is failing claimants. This report also argued that the recent announcement of a further delay to the rollout is not a solution.

    The PAC report reveals the culture of denial about the failings of UC. It is shocking that the Government is still refusing to accept the hardship it is causing and is determined to go ahead with the next phase of UC.

    I am deeply concerned that UC is failing in its current form, which is why Labour has committed to a root-and-branch review of the social security system. This review would ensure that our social security system genuinely lifts people out of poverty and provides support when people need it. In addition, the Opposition has also committed to end the freeze on social security payments by raising rates in line with inflation every year.

    I am committed to rebuilding and transforming our social security system and I will continue to press the Government on this important issue at every opportunity.

  • local government funding

    I share constituents concerns about cuts to local authorities and I pay tribute to council staff in our constituency who have risen to difficult challenges over the past eight years. Despite the very best efforts of local councils to protect public services, Government cuts to local authority budgets have reached 49.1% since 2010, leaving councils with no other option but to take tough decisions on spending.

    Youth centres, museums and libraries are having to close and our social care system is in crisis. Compared with 2010, there are now 455 fewer libraries, 1,240 fewer Sure Start centres and 600 fewer youth centres. House building has fallen to its lowest rate since the 1920s and homelessness is rising. Indeed, the number of people sleeping rough on our streets has more than doubled.

    The Local Government Association (LGA) estimates that by 2020 reductions to local authority budgets will reach 77% and warns that local services in England face a funding gap of almost £8 billion by 2025. I am concerned that councils are reaching a financial breaking point and I believe things must change as a matter of urgency.

    I believe the Government must immediately increase funding to local authorities so that councils can deliver the vital public services that our communities want. More widely, Ministers should act on the warnings of the National Audit Office (NAO) and initiate a review of local government funding to ensure that the sector is sustainable for the long term.

    I will continue to stand up for local communities in Parliament, ensure that vital public services are protected and urge the Government to bring forward a long-term and sustainable funding settlement for local government.

  • human rights in Bahrain

    I recognise the serious concerns about the human rights situation in Bahrain, particularly on the position of opposition and civil liberties groups, the detention of political prisoners and allegations of torture.

    The 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) into human rights abuses made no fewer than 26 recommendations. On 9 May 2016, the King of Bahrain announced that these had been “fully implemented”. However, developments such as the suspension of the opposition group Al Wefaq and the detention of Nabeel Rajab, for example, reinforce the view that serious human rights concerns remain. The UN has also expressed concern at reports of excessive and disproportionate use of lethal force, enforced disappearances, torture and arbitrary detention.

    The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has designated Bahrain a human rights priority country and expressed concerns about the issues I just mentioned as well as about freedom of expression and assembly more widely. Human rights should be at the heart of our foreign policy and the Government must ensure that it continues to raise these issues at the highest levels in Bahrain.

    I can assure you that I will continue monitor the human rights situation in Bahrain closely.

  • sex selective abortions

    It is illegal, and in my view morally wrong, to perform an abortion on grounds of sex selection alone. I believe more should be done to stop pre-natal tests being used to discover a baby’s sex for sex selection.

    I share concerns over a recent BBC investigation which found evidence of women coming under pressure to undergo sex-selective abortions. The investigation found thousands of British women discussing using the Non-Invasive Prenatal Test (NIPT) to determine sex, on an online forum.

    The Non-Invasive Prenatal Test (NIPT) is used by the NHS to test for genetic conditions, but people can pay for it privately to discover a baby’s sex. It could be used by those who might pressure women to undergo an abortion based on gender. I appreciate that this situation can put a great strain on women.

    I believe NIPT screenings should only ever be used for their intended purpose – a view shared by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, which has recently called on the Government to restrict their use.

    I can assure you that I will continue to follow this issue closely and press the Government to look into this exploitative practice and enforce appropriate restrictions.

  • eating disorders and NHS services

    Eating disorders are serious mental health problems which can have severe consequences. I believe it is right that the Government does everything possible to improve early intervention and treatment.

    As you know, in 2015 NHS England published guidance which established standards and requirements for providing community-based eating disorder services for children and young people. It sets a new access standard that 95% of patients should be treated within four weeks of their first contact with a designated healthcare professional.

    I understand your concerns that the Government is not currently planning to extend a similar waiting time standard for adults with an eating disorder. The charity Beat Eating Disorders (Beat) published research which found that 40% of adults have waited 18 weeks or more from their first GP appointment to treatment and in some cases the wait can be years.

    I am aware that the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) published a report highlighting how NHS services are currently failing adults in this area. It recommends that the Government should review the existing quality and availability of adult eating disorder services to achieve parity with child and adolescent services.

    Ministers have said NHS England is committed to meeting the PHSO’s recommendations and in July confirmed that a working group has been established to oversee this. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) also published an updated quality standard in September. It focuses on promoting early access to treatment and accepts the PHSO’s recommendation that greater emphasis needs to be put on the need to coordinate care across different services.

    While charities have welcomed the new standard, concerns have been raised that a lack of resources for frontline NHS eating disorder services means there is still a postcode lottery when it comes to access to and quality of treatment. Data from NHS digital shows that the number of beds for people with serious mental health conditions, such as eating disorders, has fallen by nearly 30% since 2009. More widely, 40% of NHS trusts saw cuts to mental health budgets in 2015-16 and there are now 5,000 fewer mental health nurses than in 2010.

    If the Government is to be taken seriously on mental health, I believe it must increase spending on services and ring-fence budgets. I will press Ministers in the meantime to do more to improve early intervention and treatment for everyone with an eating disorder.

     

  • Yemen and the role of Saudi Arabia.

    Over 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen since 2015 and the humanitarian situation in many parts of the country is extremely dire. Indeed, the UN estimates that almost 18 million people are food insecure and over 8 million people are at risk of starvation. Millions more also lack access to safe water and sanitation or adequate access to healthcare.

    There is no military solution to this conflict and it is vital that a peaceful, negotiated resolution can be secured. It is incredibly disappointing therefore that, despite promises from the Government to bring a ceasefire resolution to the UN Security Council in October 2016, there has still been no progress on this.

    I have shared my deep concern about potential violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) in Yemen for some time now. This is why I have consistently called for a comprehensive, independent UN-led investigation into alleged violations of IHL in Yemen, including air strikes on civilians by the Saudi-led coalition.

    Resolving this situation could not be more urgent. The people of Yemen have suffered so much throughout this ongoing conflict and the Government must now play its part in bringing it to an end. I have long been calling on the Government to use its influence to secure a UN resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire and resumption of peace talks in Yemen and I will continue to do so.

     

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