As part of Labour's front bench International Development team, I am proud that this week, our shadow Secretary of State, Kate Osamor launched Labour’s new vision for International Development.
In our policy paper, ‘A World For The Many, Not The Few’, we set out Labour's plan for tackling the root causes of global poverty, inequality and climate change. Our paper also commits to setting a second twin goal for all international development spending: not only reducing poverty, but also, for the first time, fighting inequality.
Inequality is the challenge of our generation and it is getting worse, over 75% of people in the global South are living in societies in which income is more unequally distributed today than it was in the 1990s. In virtually every city and country around the world, extreme wealth and poverty now co-exist side by side.
This growing inequality and widespread poverty combined with climate change is already subjecting millions of people to unacceptable living conditions bereft of opportunity. We can’t stand by and let this happen. The UK must play its part in helping tackle the root causes of these global crises and not just addressing their symptoms, which is the Governments current approach.
Our specific policies to help do this include:
You can read the full paper here.
I am very proud to be part of this plan led by our Shadow Secretary of State, Kate Osamor. However, if we truly want to tackle these global crises, we need to take drastic action. At present, this is not happening, only a Labour Government is offering a vision to do this.
In this week’s Prime Ministers Questions I questioned Theresa May over cuts to Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
I raised the issue of long waiting times and the referral process children have to go through in order to receive treatment and questioned the Prime Minister on Government cuts, including a 5% reduction to Lewisham CAHMS, which will only make matters worse.
Theresa May responded saying “we're clear that we want to see parity of esteem between mental health and physical health in the National Health Service”.
Despite the Government signalling their wish to emphasise the importance of mental health, their current approach and proposals do not amount to meaningful long-term action.
40% of NHS trusts saw cuts to mental health budgets in 2015/16 and NHS underfunding has lead to money intended for mental health being used to plug funding gaps in the wider NHS. Furthermore, since 2010, there are 5,000 fewer mental health nurses in the NHS.
All of this has meant CAMHS are struggling to meet demand. Almost one in four children and young people referred for treatment are turned away and the referrals that are accepted can be subject to a postcode lottery of waiting times, which can be up to six months for a first appointment and up to eighteen months for the start of treatment.
If we want to truly tackle this issue we need to stay true to our words and fund it properly. See my question to the Prime Minister in the video below:
This is not the first-time I have raised cuts to CAMHS in Parliament. In February, I questioned the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, on referral & treatment times:
I also questioned the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss, over the possibility of reversing the Government cuts:
At the beginning of March, I also questioned the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care, Steve Brine, over inadequacies in the Government’s Green Paper on ‘Transforming Children and Young People's Mental Health Provision’:
Last Thursday marked International Women’s Day and this year was particularly significant as we are also celebrating the centenary of some women getting the right to vote. We have come a long way in terms of gender equality since then, the Borough of Lewisham being entirely represented by female MP’s demonstrating this. However, despite this and other advances, gender inequality still persists and particularly so in the workplace.
Before being elected to Parliament I worked as an employment rights lawyer. During this period, I encountered countless examples of women being demoted or dismissed after returning from maternity leave, employers placing unnecessary barriers on staff for flexible working and women being paid less than men for doing work of equal value.
These issues are so pervasive in our working environments that I started my own legal business providing affordable legal advice to women facing maternity and sex discrimination at work. I wish that there was no demand for a business such as this, but there was and this is borne out by the statistics.
Research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that 54,000 women a year are being forced to leave their jobs simply for becoming a mum and that 77% of mothers surveyed said they had a negative or discriminatory experience before, during or after their maternity leave. As it stands today the gender pay gap in this country is 18.4% and at the current rate of progress, it will take another 100 years to close this gap. This is not acceptable.
To remedy this a cultural shift in the workplace is needed whereby stereotypes regarding women being a burden on business and the assumption that they alone will be responsible for childcare duties are ended. This can in part be achieved through policy such as the introduction of properly paid paternity leave paid at a rate closer to actual earnings and flexible working becoming the norm so that families can better juggle their work-life balances and ensure that having children doesn’t diminish prospects at work.
Additionally, it should be harder for women to be made redundant after their maternity leave. Although women have some protection against redundancy when they are pregnant and whilst on maternity leave, the protected period ends once the mother returns to work. However, it is very often exactly at this point, that women begin to feel pushed out. Therefore, the period of protection against redundancy should be extended to 12 months after a woman returns to work.
I am proud that the Labour Party recently announced its new plan to help tackle the gender pay gap. The policy requires all organisations that employ over 250 staff to audit their gender pay gaps and further prove that they are taking action to close the gap or otherwise face a fine from the Government. I welcome this proposal as if employers risk losing money, they will be more likely to comply with their legal obligations.
We have achieved so much since women first won the right to vote but if we truly want to achieve gender equality at work then we must end the gender pay gap, make flexible working the norm and promote shared caring responsibilities. I raised these points in last week’s Parliamentary debate for International Women’s Day (see video below). However, as the suffragettes said 100 years ago, we need “deeds not words”. Current policies are providing slow, incremental progress at best; we need to implement transformative policy, otherwise true gender equality will be another century away.