As I said before the election, I respect the fact that Britain voted to leave the EU – despite having been desperately disappointed at the result of the 2016 referendum. However, I am immensely concerned about the potential for a chaotic Brexit to harm our economy and make lives harder for working people across the country.
The Bill, which has now completed all stages in the House of Commons, should be about Parliament's role in the withdrawal process and how we ensure that our legal system is maintained and that vital rights and protections are safeguarded as we leave the EU.
As it currently stands, I do not believe that this Bill is fully fit for purpose. It would still put huge and unaccountable power into the hands of Ministers, side-line Parliament and the devolved administrations, and put crucial rights and protections at risk. I have therefore supported several amendments designed to repair and remove its worst aspects.
These included amendments to restrict the use of "Henry VIII" powers, to protect workers' rights, safeguard environmental and animal welfare standards, ensure devolved governments are not side-lined, legislate for strong transitional arrangements, and to bring the Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law.
I tabled my own amendment, NC79, which was debated in the House. The New Clause sought to ensure that both women’s rights and the rights of workers and employees with caring responsibilities would be no worse after Brexit than had Britain remained a member of the EU. I also voted in favour of Chris Leslie’s NC13, which would have kept open the option for the United Kingdom to stay in the customs union.
Disappointingly, the Government rejected these amendments. However, I voted in favour of Amendment 7 which aimed to give Parliament, not the Government, a final say on the Brexit deal and I was very pleased that we managed to defeat them in this vote on December 13th and the Amendment has been added to the Bill.
The Bill will now undergo scrutiny in the House of Lords and I am hopeful that it may return to the Commons with further amendments. I can assure you that I, as pledged during the General Election, will continue to fight for a Brexit deal that protects jobs, the economy and rights for all.
My amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill was debated last week in the House of Commons. The amendment (NC79) sought to ensure that both women’s rights and the rights of workers and employees with caring responsibilities are no worse after Brexit than had Britain remained a member of the EU. The clause would enforce this by ensuring that Parliament is informed, after Brexit, if the EU provides any new rights that would have applied to Britons if the UK was still an EU member, and commits the Government to consider their implementation.
The EU has a strong history of developing employment and gender rights since the 1970s. There is a fear however, that Brexit could undermine four decades of progress. The Fawcett Society has previously said that while the Equality Act 2010 has achieved a great deal in terms of protecting women’s rights, it is essential that EU derived legislation and cooperation are safeguarded post-Brexit, given prevalence of gender inequality, discrimination and the gender pay gap.
New EU legislation is proposed on issues such as pay for parental & carers leave and measures to support women’s participation in labour markets leaving scope for the UK to fall behind. It is vital that we do not fall behind the EU in the years ahead. People voted to leave the EU for many varied reasons but they didn’t vote to be worse off. Our laws on this matter must be no less favourable than they would have been had the UK remained a member of the EU.
Unfortunately the Tories voted against my new clause and as such will not be included in the EU Withdrawal Bill. Nevertheless I am extremely grateful to the 295 MPs who voted for it, especially those that added their name to the clause & that helped me navigate the process.
Earlier this month I hosted a loneliness summit in the constituency as part of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission. I brought together local parents and organisations to talk about parental loneliness and how we can tackle it. Experiencing isolation in the early months of parenthood, especially among new mothers, is an issue which has previously been often overlooked but has a huge impact on large numbers of people.
Research by Mush (a mobile app which helps connect mums) found that 50% of new parents leave their house only twice a week and 25% of parents leave only once a week and a recent survey by Action for Children found that 52% of parent’s experience loneliness. The survey of 2000 people found that the majority felt cut off from friends, colleagues and family after the birth of a child. In terms of the causes of loneliness, many cited lack of money and the inability to leave the house when caring for small children, leaving them feeling isolated.
In Parliament two weeks ago I spoke about my own experience suffering from loneliness after I became a mum. For me, the shift from having a busy job and a good social life - to being at home every day with a lot of time to suddenly fill and little structure, was quite a shock. After my maternity leave finished I started working from home and I could sometimes go for days without having a proper conversation with another adult. It became a vicious circle where the more isolated I became, the harder I found it to go out. You can se my speech in the video below.
At my loneliness summit, hearing about all the work being done to combat isolation was encouraging. From the Red Cross ‘Connecting Communities’ service to Mush - a mobile app which helps connect local mums. We also heard about the work of local children’s centres, Bromley & Lewisham Minds ‘Mindful Mums’ sessions (free groups for mums to build mental resilience) & Mummy’s Gin Fund (an online parenting community).
However, what was most clear from our discussion was the impact reduced NHS funding is having on Health Visitor and midwifery services. Health visitors and midwives play a vital role in supporting families with the physical health of their new child as well as the mental health of the parents. The mums who attended the summit told me that families rarely receive a continuous dedicated visitor and while the service is great at identifying mental health issues such as loneliness & post-natal depression, they often lack the resources to follow through and treat these issues. Mums also told me about the limited support available for breastfeeding.
Worryingly, the Health Visiting services were recently cut from Beckenham Beacon, leaving limited support for new parents in that area. I met with Bromley Council recently to raise my concerns about this and to ask for a new service to be provided locally. I am pleased to say that a new Health Advice Clinic will start at the Neighbourhood church on Cromwell Road on 30th November. I hope that this means more parents will be able to access support, as well as reducing the strain on the Health Visiting services at nearby Community Vision in Penge.
However, what is clear is that more funding is needed for these vital services to ensure that new parents get the help and support that they need – a big factor in tackling parental loneliness.
I will continue to fight for good local services and confront the challenge and stigma of loneliness. It is fantastic that awareness of parental loneliness has grown, helping parents to know it is ok to say they feel lonely and to ask for help. However, it is vital that services are properly funded so that when parents do ask for help, the services and resources are there.
Over the last few months I have had an increasing number of emails from constituents in regards to moped crime. I find the recent rise in such crime very concerning and I want to reassure the community that I am working very hard with all stakeholders to try and mitigate this problem.
Moped crime, involves the theft of a moped as well as its use in criminal activity such as assault and robbery. The Metropolitan Police Service states that, in the 12 months to May 2017, over 15,000 scooters, motorcycles and mopeds were stolen in London, and were used in the commission of over 14,000 crimes. Overall incidence of this crime has increased by more than 10 times since 2012. This is in part due to the relative ease of stealing a moped and the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) policy to prevent drivers from pursuing criminals who do not wear a helmet.
I recently met with Lewisham Councils Executive Director for Community Services and spoke with the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime on these issues. They told me that this policy has been reviewed and that trained Police are now able to chase criminals if the driver is confident that the risk to the public is low, there are special techniques the Police can use when pursuing a moped. This will help curb the problem but it still remains that scooters are easily broken into. To this end I have sent a letter to the motorbike manufacturing industry to put pressure on them to implement the use of more sophisticated technology to make it a lot harder to steal mopeds in the first place.
The Government have stated "there is no single quick fix" to this and believe it is therefore "vital that we work together - industry, law enforcement, Government and civil groups - to understand the various drivers of this crime and how they can be met head-on." Home Office ministers have held a summit bringing together motor and insurance industry leaders, law enforcement agencies, local government agencies, youth charities and motorist groups, to confront the emerging threat of motorcycle-related crime.
However, I am worried that serious crimes such as these are rising in part due to the impact of Government policies, particularly stretched police resources and significant reductions in neighbourhood policing. I hope the Government will listen carefully to the concerns that have been raised on this issue and consider how best to move forward in tackling these reckless and dangerous crimes.
I have met the Police Borough Commander for Bromley and will be meeting the Borough Commander of Lewisham shortly to discuss these issues further. I have also spoken to the Deputy Mayor for Police and Crime. This is an ongoing issue and a concern for me which I will continue to track the progress of and call for change.
I was very pleased to support the 'End School Cuts' lobby of Parliament on the 24th of October. I held a drop in session with constituents where we talked about the effect of cuts locally. From this I wrote a letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer asking for a commitment to end the underfunding of education in the Autumn Budget (see below).
In July I visited Sydenham School and saw the work they have been doing on the ‘Send My Friend to School' campaign. The campaign is part of the UK coalition of the ‘Global Campaign for Education’ (GCE) an organisation working to ensure quality education for all children across the globe. The students of Sydenham School were absolutely fantastic and spoke with great passion about the need for global education.
There is currently a global education crisis: 263 million children are out of school, and many of those who are in school are not learning. One of the aims of the 'Sustainable Development Goals' (an initiative led by the United Nations which world leaders have signed up to) is that by 2030 all children worldwide will complete a free good quality primary & secondary education. However, at the current rate of progress it will be 2084 before every child is in school.
As such the ‘Send My Friend to School’ campaign seeks to increase community awareness of this and generate the political will necessary to ensure the UK plays an active part in efforts to secure education for all. I met with Priti Patel the Secretary of State for International Development to present Sydenham Schools work to her. This is a great example of how students work in the classroom can take an active part in politics by helping to influence decision makers.
I spoke in todays 'Questions to the Secretary of State for Justice'. Firstly I asked what compensation the Government is thinking about offering to those who were unable to access justice due to Employment Tribunal Fees.
Employment Tribunal Fees were introduced by the Government in 2013. Prior to this, it was free to submit a claim to the Tribunal and to go to a hearing. However, after the introduction of fees it could cost up to £1,200 just to have your case heard. Unsurprisingly after this Employment Tribunal claims reduced by 79%. Furthermore these fees indirectly discriminated against women, who were more likely than men to suffer discrimination at work.
Fees were declared unlawful by the Supreme Court in July 2017. In response the Government have stated that they will end Employment Tribunal Fees immediately and make steps to compensate those who have already paid them. But for thousands of workers who had good claims and could not afford to pursue them, the decision comes too late.
My second question concerned what the Government intends to do to ensure that the sentencing guidelines of people who commit animal welfare crimes are reviewed and strengthened. Currently the maximum sentence for a crime is six months, which is completely unacceptable, compare this to the maximum sentence of five years in Northern Ireland.
I wrote the following letter to the Secretary of State for Work & Pensions requesting him to reconsider the proposal to close Lewisham High Street Job Centre.
I received the following reply from the Minister for Employment, which in short claims that due to increased rental costs and online use of services the most cost effective solution is to merge nearby offices. The Minister further assures that this process will not lead to the loss of any jobs and will be made in consultation with staff and trade unions.
I gave my maiden speech to the House last Wednesday (July 12th) in the Grenfell tower debate. A maiden speech is a chance for a new Member of Parliament to introduce themselves to the House. Convention dictates that the speech includes a tribute to the previous MP and general remarks about the constituency whilst still relating to the business under discussion.
I spoke about the lessons of the tragedy of Grenfell Tower and called for a swift and full enquiry. I also spoke about my pledge to fight for our schools and workplace rights and told the House about Lewisham West & Penge and my experiences growing up here, as well as paying tribute to my predecessor Jim Dowd.
This is the letter which I sent to the Secretary of State for Education requesting her to fully assist Forest Hill School with its £1.3 million deficit.
The Tory cuts since 2015 and proposed future cuts mean the School is now having to restructure so as not to overspend. This restructuring means the school is reducing the number of teaching posts and is likely to have to withdraw a number of services upon which the school’s great reputation is built.
I raised the case of Forest Hill School and education cuts in my first question to the House in ‘Business Questions’ on June the 29th. I called for there to be an urgent debate on school funding ahead of the Summer recess.