National Issues

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A large number of constituents wrote to me to express their fury at the Tory cuts to free school meals for families receiving  Universal Credit.

As you know, currently all children living in households that receive Universal Credit are eligible for free school meals. However, the Government has brought forward new proposals to lower entitlement to those earning £7,400 from April 2018. These proposals are deeply concerning and I am aware that these changes will affect many families in this area. One million children across the country who would have received free school meals won’t under these rules.

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 Universal Credit.

I voted to keep the current system, but unfortunately, the motion was defeated with the support of Tory MPs.

I remain concerned that the rollout of Universal Credit 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 Universal Credit. In addition, I believe the Government must provide further investment in Universal Credit to ensure that work always pays, and that children and young people are not pushed into poverty.

Helen shares local concerns about Tory cuts to free school meals

A large number of constituents wrote to me to express their fury at the Tory cuts to free school meals for families receiving  Universal Credit. As you know, currently all...

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Two years ago my Mum died in a local care home after a struggle with dementia. So I know how important and how hard it is to get the care frail elderly people need. I appreciate the important work that the Alzheimer’s Society does on behalf of people living with dementia and I therefore support their campaign to improve social care. It has supported awareness raising of dementia 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. 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. Improving the quality of social care is a vital part of providing dignity in older age and support for people living with a long-term condition.

Since 2010 the Government has cut £3 billion from councils for social care. The Chancellor’s Autumn Budget offered no additional funding to support social care services. Indeed, it made no reference to social care whatsoever, and in December the Government confirmed that it will not implement its plans for a cap on care costs in 2020. Furthermore, the Government has delayed its green paper on social care until summer 2018, despite promises that this would be published by the end of 2017.

At a time when the social care system is coming under increasing pressure, I believe this Government is failing to take the immediate action required to find a long-term and sustainable solution to social care funding. I share the concerns of the Alzheimer’s Society that the Government is neglecting social care and that people with dementia and their families will rightfully feel betrayed and abandoned as a result. At the General Election, I stood on a manifesto that promised an extra £8 billion to tackle the funding gap in social care, including an additional £1 billion for the first year. This would have extended publicly funded social care to thousands of people in highest need.

With the Care Quality Commission describing the future quality of care as “precarious”, the Government should consult with carers and experts on how it can move from the current broken system of care to a sustainable service for older people on the principle of shared risk, so that no-one faces catastrophic care costs as they do now.

Helen backs Alzheimer's Society's campaign for better dementia care

Two years ago my Mum died in a local care home after a struggle with dementia. So I know how important and how hard it is to get the care...

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I receive regular emails from constituents who care deeply about the environment and the well being of animals.

As Labour Shadow FCO Minister, I have responsibility for the Polar Regions. I have met with members of the Great British Oceans (GBO) coalition (which includes the RSPB, Greenpeace UK and the Zoological Society of London).

I decided to campaign to get the Tory Government to back the Blue Belt and further marine conservation, so that our global oceans and our marine wildlife are protected.

Before Christmas I challenged Ministers at Foreign and Commonwealth Office Questions to commit to establishing a marine sanctuary around the British South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and a series of Written Questions on the Blue Belt have forced the Tory Government to release more information to the public on their plans for oceans around the UK’s Overseas Territories

Earlier this year I led a group of Labour MPs, which included Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, and Shadow Environment Minister, Holly Lynch, to London Zoo, one of the partners of the GBO coalition, to raise the profile of the Blue Belt Charter. We learned that a third of all penguins are British and live in the South Atlantic. Following the Blue Planet BBC Programme watched by 14 million people I encouraged people to #backthebluebelt.

The Government’s 25 year environment plan was disappointing as it seeks to eradicate avoidable plastic waste in (only) 25 years, I, along with other Labour MPs, have committed to engaging even more with these issues, in order to get the Tory Government to tackle plastic pollution today and not in a quarter of a century, when it may be far too late.

Helen supports #backthebluebelt campaign

I receive regular emails from constituents who care deeply about the environment and the well being of animals. As Labour Shadow FCO Minister, I have responsibility for the Polar Regions....

The large number of letters and emails I have received on this issue highlights the strength of public concern about the public sector pay cap. Indeed, an online petition calling on the Government to end the public sector pay cap has been signed by more than 230,000 people.

I believe a pay rise for all public sector workers, both in our constituency and across the country, is fair and affordable. Public sector workers have been subject to years of falling real wages and I do not believe that this is sustainable.

A report published by the Office of Manpower Economics in July found that real earnings have fallen since 2010 and remained below their 2005 level in 2015. The report states that the decline in earnings from 2010 coincides with the wage freeze imposed on public sector pay settlements by government in 2011-2013 and the average 1% rise in 2014-15.

On 12 September the Government announced a partial lift of the 1% pay cap for police and prison officers. This will come as cold comfort for other public sector workers who the Government has ignored and will face even steeper pay cuts on top of what they have lost since 2010. Furthermore, with inflation now at 2.9%, the reality is that the Government is still going ahead with a pay cut in real terms for police and prison officers. Police and prison services will also have to fund this rise out of existing falling budgets which will inevitably lead to further cuts to front line services.

I supported an Opposition motion in the House of Commons which called on the Government to end the pay cap. The motion was passed without a vote, meaning MPs have been unanimous in saying that the Government should now end the pay cap and give public sector workers a fair pay rise. On 10 October the Health Secretary told the House of Commons the “pay cap has been scrapped”, yet there has been no confirmation of any extra funding.

At the General Election I stood on a manifesto that pledged to end the public sector pay cap and make a return to public sector pay being agreed through collective bargaining and the evidence of independent pay review bodies.

Alongside my Labour colleagues I will continue to press the Government to lift the pay cap so that public sector workers are paid at a level which recognises the skill and dedication which they bring to their jobs.

Helen supports pay rise for public sector workers

The large number of letters and emails I have received on this issue highlights the strength of public concern about the public sector pay cap. Indeed, an online petition calling...

I have been deeply saddened by the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire. I would like to express my sincerest sympathies to those who lost loved ones in the fire, and my gratitude at the exemplary work of the emergency services who responded so bravely.

As you say, there has been a clear failing of fire safety regulations and the Government must now act. It is vital that we get to the bottom of how this fire happened, hold those responsible to account, and do what is necessary to make sure it never happens again.

A lot of the factors which led to this tragedy have already become clear. Here is a shocking timeline which shows events leading up to and around the Grenfell disaster:

  • 2013 - Boris Johnson overrules the ruling body of the London Fire Brigade and uses legal action to inflict £29m in cuts. Closing 10 fire stations, cutting firefighters by 552, losing 14 fire engines and cutting minimum staffing levels from 5 to 4. By the time he steps down as Mayor of London he inflicts a further £100m in cuts to £130m total and the loss of 7000 firefighters. Fire prevention measures carried out by the service drop by over 25%.

  • 2013 - All Party Parliamentary Group on Fire Safety and Rescue produces a report strongly recommending installation of fire suppression systems and sprinklers in 4000 tower blocks throughout Britain.

  • The Grenfell residents’ action group publishes a report warning that their landlord is putting their safety at risk by restricting the access ways to their car park. They are ignored by their landlord.

  • 2013 - 2016 Conservative housing ministers sit on All Party report without action, promising they are "looking at it", including Tory Housing Minister Gavin Barwell.

  • 2016 - Conservatives vote against a Labour motion to make sure all landlords and housing associations ensure residences are fit for human occupation, including provisions for fire safety. The motion is defeated by 312 votes to 219. 72 of the MPs voting against are landlords.

  • The Grenfell residents’ action group publish a report warning people will die in a fire before the landlord takes notice of their poor fire safety provisions. They are ignored by their landlord.

  • 2017 - Ex-housing minister Gavin Barwell becomes Prime Minister Theresa May's chief of staff. He never actions the All Party Parliamentary report recommendations.

Whilst I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement that there will be an independent public inquiry into the incident, I fear that, based on the Government’s record and their extremely slow and lacking initial response to the tragedy, sufficient action may not be taken. This is why I have written to Theresa May to press her to ensure robust fire safety standards are applied to all kinds of housing and buildings, and I will continue to scrutinise the developments of this case closely. I have also written to the Housing Associations in this constituency to find out what they are doing to ensure the safety of their tenants.

The Conservatives have cut 10,000 firefighter jobs and closed dozens of fire stations. As a result, response times have got slower and lives have been put at risk. Last month I visited Bishop Auckland Community Fire Station and was told by worried fire officers about the falling crew numbers on fire engines, which has dropped from 5 to 3 on some call-outs. This level simply cannot drop anymore because of further Conservative cuts, which put our firefighters at risk as well as the general public. In this election I stood on a platform of halting cuts to the Fire Service and a Labour promise to recruit 3,000 new firefighters.

This is an issue I take extremely seriously and I can assure local residents that I will continue to scrutinise the Government’s actions closely.

 

Helen responds to local concerns following Grenfell Tower tragedy

I have been deeply saddened by the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire. I would like to express my sincerest sympathies to those who lost loved ones in the fire,...

I fully supported the Leveson Inquiry and agree that, following the appalling revelations of phone hacking, it is extremely important that we establish a mechanism for independent self-regulation, which delivers proper redress for victims of press intrusion. At the 2015 general election I stood on a manifesto that committed to fully implement Leveson’s recommendations.

The first part of Leveson’s report was published in 2012. It recommended a system of independent self-regulation, guaranteed by law.  A Royal Charter was then agreed in October 2013 by all parties and approved by Parliament, to formally establish the new independent press watchdog that Leveson recommended. However, several newspapers rejected the Royal Charter and set up their own regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), which launched in September 2014. IPSO has stated it has no intention of seeking recognition under the Royal Charter and recently announced its own pilot arbitration scheme.

The government announced a new consultation on implementing section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act (CCA) 2013 which, as you know, deals with the award of costs and would enact the changes recommended by Leveson and on Leveson II. As you will see I challenged the Minister on her failure to implement it now. You can see that on Hansard.

I believe the Government must get on with commencing section 40 of the CCA 2013. I also believe the Government should facilitate Part 2 of the Leveson inquiry – which remains outstanding – and is intended to look at the conduct within News International and other newspapers, and examine how the police investigated allegations of illegality.

I am concerned the Government has failed to implement the effective form of independent press regulation that Leveson recommended and which the Government signed up to as part of the cross-party agreement during the last Parliament. I believe the Government must keep its promise to the victims of phone hacking. Anything else would be another betrayal of the victims of press abuses and their families.

I will continue to press the Government to deliver on its clear promises by fully implementing the cross-party agreement on Leveson’s recommendations.

Helen challenges Minister on her failure to implement section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act (CCA) 2013

I fully supported the Leveson Inquiry and agree that, following the appalling revelations of phone hacking, it is extremely important that we establish a mechanism for independent self-regulation, which delivers...

Constituents have contacted me recently about the Istanbul Convention. I am very concerned that violence against women and girls (VAWG) remains a hugely significant problem across the UK, with up to 3 million women experiencing violence each year.

The Istanbul Convention is a historic international treaty that requires states to take comprehensive action, set out minimum standards and create legally binding measures to tackle and prevent violence against women and girls. Crucially, the Convention gives all survivors of domestic abuse the right to access the specialist support services which they need to live in safety and rebuild their lives.

On average, two women a week are killed in England and Wales by a current or former partner, but the Government is overseeing the closure of many domestic violence shelters for women, removing the last line of hope and safety for victims of violence and abuse. Since 2010, 17% of specialist refuges in England have closed down. On one typical day, Women’s Aid said that 155 women and 103 children were turned away from refuges because there was not enough space. I do not believe that women should continue to bear the brunt of Government cuts at the expense of their safety and well-being. That is why I believe the Government should honour its commitment and ratify the Istanbul Convention.

In March 2016, the Government published its Ending Violence against Women and Girls Strategy for 2016-2020. While I welcome the steps outlined in the strategy, I want to see the commitments made to vulnerable women and girls followed through, so that they do not just remain as warm words. Ratifying the Istanbul Convention would demonstrate a clear commitment to this goal.

I believe we need to do more to address VAWG at home as well as abroad. At the general election I stood on a manifesto which included commitments to introduce a Violence against Women and Girls Bill, appoint a commissioner to set minimum standards in tackling domestic and sexual violence and to provide more stable funding for women’s refuges and Rape Crisis Centres.

The Government must take urgent action to tackle domestic abuse and violence against women and girls. I can assure you that I will continue to pressure the Government to set a date to ratify the Istanbul Convention without further delay.

Helen presses the Government to ratify the Istanbul Convention without delay

Constituents have contacted me recently about the Istanbul Convention. I am very concerned that violence against women and girls (VAWG) remains a hugely significant problem across the UK, with up...

I sympathise profoundly with anyone who has been affected by breast cancer and I appreciate that organisations such as Breast Cancer Now work extremely hard to help support people living with breast cancer, and their families, to raise awareness of the connected issues.

I know Breast Cancer Now has raised concerns that there is confusion between health bodies over who should pay for bisphosphonates, and have called for clear guidance. In response to questions in Parliament the Government has stated that Clinical Commissioning Groups are responsible for commissioning these drugs based upon clinical judgement. I know the Government has recently received a number of representations, including Parliamentary Questions, and I will follow this continued scrutiny with interest.

As you may be aware, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is the non-departmental body which provides national guidance and advice to improve health and social care. NICE guidelines currently recommend that treatment with bisphosphonates should be provided to patients according to set criteria, however it is currently updating its guidance for early and locally advanced breast cancer while taking into account the latest available evidence. NICE expect to consult on the draft guidance between January and March 2018, with publication expected in July 2018. I will follow the consultation and the outcome of the draft guidance closely.

At the last General Election I stood on a manifesto that included commitments to improve early cancer diagnosis, to speed up waiting times for cancer test results and to create a new Cancer Treatments Fund so that patients would have access to the latest drugs, surgery and radiotherapy.

I believe that although huge progress has been made on improving cancer services in the past decade, we still lag behind other countries, and there is worrying evidence that the progress we have been making on cancer care has stalled, or potentially even gone backwards. No breast cancer patient should end up lost in our vast health system, unable to find the treatment to which they are entitled.

Helen calls for access to Bisphosphonates for breast cancer patients

I sympathise profoundly with anyone who has been affected by breast cancer and I appreciate that organisations such as Breast Cancer Now work extremely hard to help support people living...

When Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation sought complete ownership of BSkyB five years ago the House of Commons united behind a motion calling for the bid to be withdrawn in the public interest. The concerns were not only about the serious wrongdoing being uncovered in the phone hacking scandal but about the concentration of media power and ownership in fewer hands.

As soon as possible after Sky announced it had received an approach from 21st Century Fox, the Labour Party asked an Urgent Question in the House of Commons, forcing the Government to make a statement. The Government was rightly pressed to refer the bid to Ofcom. The Government must be prepared to stand up to powerful interests and ensure that this proposed deal is properly and independently scrutinised.

The Government has stated that any transaction will be looked at on its merits, on a case-by-case basis. I understand the frustration caused by the lack of a decision to date. The Government promised on 12 December to keep the House of Commons updated and I hope it will express its view to Parliament before Christmas.

Moreover, the Government should not cancel the vital second part of the Leveson Inquiry, which would look at questions around unlawful or improper conduct within the Murdoch empire, at exactly the moment when Rupert Murdoch is attempting once again to strengthen his hold over the UK media.

I will continue to follow the proposed takeover closely. 

Sky takeover highlights the necessity for the second part of the Leveson Inquiry

When Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation sought complete ownership of BSkyB five years ago the House of Commons united behind a motion calling for the bid to be withdrawn in the...

Several constituents have signed the 38 degrees petition highlighting concern about Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs)  and I do agree with the signatories that these machines can ruin lives. Action is long overdue on this.

In towns and cities across Britain, traditional bookies are being turned into mini-casinos and I share your concern about the impact that high-speed gaming machines - on which people can bet up to £100 every 20 seconds – are having on our high streets and town centres.

Evidence suggests that Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) are highly addictive and that their high-speed nature makes them particularly addictive to problem gamblers. I was very disappointed that, in July 2015, the Government rejected proposals from over 90 local councils to reduce the maximum stake on FOBTs from £100 to £2.

I am aware that the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals APPG has also called for the maximum stake to be cut from £100 to £2, on a precautionary basis until sufficient evidence is presented that the high stakes on these machines do not cause harm. I want to see the maximum stake reduced from £100 to £2 and I believe the Government should act on this.

I welcome the current review of Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility Measures, which applies to England, Scotland and Wales. This shows that the Government has finally woken up to the fact that it has not done enough to curtail the proliferation of FOBTs.

The review is looking at the maximum stakes and prizes for gaming machines and also at whether the right measures are in place to protect the young and vulnerable from gambling advertising. The call for evidence closed on 4 December and I will follow the outcome closely and any proposals that the Government brings forward.

I believe that we need real action to tackle the scourge of FOBTs and to protect users of these highly addictive gambling machines.

Helen shares her constituents' concerns over Fixed Odds Betting Terminals

Several constituents have signed the 38 degrees petition highlighting concern about Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs)  and I do agree with the signatories that these machines can ruin lives. Action...

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