I have been overwhelmed with emails from constituents expressing their anger, hurt and disappointment over the recent behaviour of Dominic Cummings and the Prime Minister.
I share that anger and I have previously set out some of my views on social media which you can see here and here.
On Monday evening the nation was looking at the very least for an honest explanation and an apology. Instead, we received some frankly laughable excuses and no apology whatsoever.
Cummings actions are inexcusable. It is clear he broke lockdown rules more than once and the right thing for him to have done would have been to apologise and resign.
There are numerous contradictions in his statement and the trip to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight is an extraordinary excuse which I think most people would be hard-pressed to believe.
Additionally, the explanation that he followed his parental instincts and did what any good parent would do is offensive. It implies that those families who were in similar or significantly worse situations but followed Government guidelines did not care about their families enough.
Overwhelmingly, people have felt bound to follow the rules, no matter how difficult their circumstances. They have done so because they know it could save lives.
In my view there are no exceptional circumstances in this case, he was in a position that families have found themselves in the length and breadth of the country.
I also struggle to believe that the Prime Minister’s chief adviser would have had no childcare options in London had he and his wife become too sick to care for their son.
The vast majority of people across our country have made extraordinary sacrifices during the lockdown. Families have been forced apart, sometimes in the most tragic of circumstances. But they have stayed at home to protect the NHS and to save lives.
Meanwhile, the statements from Cummings and the Prime Minister have made it apparent there is one rule for Boris Johnson’s closest adviser and another for everybody else.
Further, in my role as Shadow Solicitor General, I am extremely concerned that the Attorney General tweeted her support for Cummings’ actions. When there is still a significant question mark over whether a criminal offence has been committed this support destroys confidence in the Attorney General’s impartiality and the Rule of Law.
The public reaction to what Cummings has done demonstrates his actions have undermined trust in this Government. I am extremely concerned that this may impact public compliance with necessary Covid guidelines both now and in the future, particularly if we enter a second wave of the virus.
Therefore, in my view, it is extremely important that Dominic Cummings gives a full apology and hands in his resignation. If he does not then I remain clear that he should be dismissed by the Prime Minister.
Finally, I want to thank you for doing what the vast majority have done - following the rules no matter how difficult the circumstances. We will beat this pandemic and we will do so by all working together following the rules that are set.
We have come a long way since the beginning of the lockdown but there is still a way to go and to get through this we are going to need to ensure the Pandemic’s impact on people’s jobs and livelihoods is kept to a minimum.
With the economy necessarily being shut down, it was right that the government acted to protect jobs and incomes by launching the Job retention Scheme and the Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). However, the limitations of these programmes are reducing their scope.
For example, there are a number of significant gaps which have left many self-employed people falling outside of the scheme. This includes those who work through Limited Companies, those who have yearly operating profits of £50,000 and over, the newly self-employed and freelancers who fall below the 50% of self-employed income threshold.
I have raised these barriers with the Chancellor and called for the inclusion of limited company directors in the scheme, a tapered package of support rather than a cliff edge at £50,000, an extended deadline for submitting 2018/19 returns and the option to submit 2019/20 returns early to calculate the grants on this basis.
But the problems do not end here. Workers who have had recent gaps in their earnings because of maternity leave will receive less financial support as this is not exempt from the calculations for support. This discriminates against women and I raised this with the Chancellor last week but did not receive a satisfactory answer.
In all, it is estimated that over 75,000 recent mothers could receive less income and two million self-employed people will be unable to access SEISS. I do not doubt the scale of the challenge facing the Government but without urgent reforms to the SEISS many of my constituents, and I fear many more people across the country, will face serious hardship in the coming months.
It falls to us to do all we can to continue pressing the Government on this issue so they are true to their word and ensure that no workers are left behind in these challenging times.
I am sure that constituents will have been keeping up to date with developments on the Coronavirus and can appreciate that this a fast-moving situation and I hope that everyone has been following the official guidance and is keeping safe.
To date, I have tabled numerous Parliamentary questions to get answers to the range of concerns I have, you can see these here. They include questions on what the Government is doing to increase the number of ventilators and ICU capacity, when testing for Covid-19 will be made available for NHS frontline staff and members of the general public and whether the Government will increase statutory sick pay to the European average.
I have written to the Business Secretary to ask for guidance on what support businesses will be receiving from the Government and I have also written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure full sick pay and lost earnings protections are extended to all workers (including the self-employed) and that renters are not threatened with debt, insecurity and homelessness. I am also a signatory to a letter to the Chancellor calling for an adequate minimum level of support for people moving onto Universal Credit.
In addition to this I have contacted Lewisham & Bromley Councils to find out what actions they are taking, especially to protect people with underlying health conditions, older people isolating, the homeless, refugees, those with no recourse to public funds, those accessing social care and families in crowded emergency/temporary accommodation.
I have also contacted many of our local organisations and charities to find out about what efforts are being made in the community and to help coordinate the community response.
The Government has announced an economic package to protect households and businesses, you can find out more on the Government website. I believe that the Government should be doing everything it possibly can to assure and secure all individuals and groups within our society.
To this end I believe the Government should introduce measures for rent deferrals, mortgage holidays, measures to keep businesses afloat, an increase in statutory sick pay – commensurate to the amounts paid in other European countries - and lost earnings protection from day one of self-isolation and illness for all workers including insecure workers, low paid workers, and the self-employed.
In addition to this I believe the Government should make the scientific evidence and their modelling publicly available. Publishing this information is very important to maintain public confidence in the Government’s handling of the outbreak and so that we can all come together and get behind the effort to protect our communities.
Going forward if we as a community remain calm, work together to help those who are most vulnerable and follow the up to date health guidance I am confident that we will be able to get through this challenging period.
If any constituents have any concerns, please do not hesitate to let me know and I or a member of my team will do what we can to help. Following the advice on social distancing my office is closed but my team is working as normally as possible from home and we can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and 020 7219 2668.
I hope this helps clarify everything to date and again please do not hesitate to get in contact with me if you need to.
This winter has been an incredibly busy time. In the December election, I was extremely pleased to be returned to Parliament to represent my home seat. It has been an honour to represent Lewisham West & Penge since 2017 and I am extremely proud the community has put their confidence in me again to continue to serve the area.
The election was certainly eventful, with the birth of my second child occurring partway through the campaign. I want to pay tribute to all of the staff at the Birth Centre at Lewisham Hospital for their care and support. Thankfully I was able to get back out on the campaign trail with my baby after a couple of weeks, speaking to voters and listening to their views.
After the election, I had to go to Parliament to ‘swear in’ in order to take my seat. However, when my son was 6 weeks old, I was finally able to start some maternity leave! Although my maternity leave means I won’t return to Parliament until after the summer recess, I am now spending a day or two a week on important constituency work like surgeries and casework.
June is the month of the Penge festival and I was very pleased to help open it at the Royston playing fields. There were some fantastic activities, rides, food, drink and as ever the Pengenista drummers. The festival has now been going for 47 years and is always a great way to celebrate Penge’s art, culture and history. Seeing the community come together and all of the other events over the festival's duration really make you feel proud to be a part of Penge.
In other news last month, I entered Penge’s Himalayan kitchen into the Tiffin Cup 2019 competition. The Tiffin Cup is an annual competition run by the Tiffin Club to find the best South Asian restaurant in the United Kingdom. Nominees are selected by their local MPs and one restaurant from every region is then shortlisted and invited to participate in the Grand Final cook-off event held in the House of Commons.
I am extremely pleased that the Himalayan Kitchen has made it through to the final. I’m really looking forward to seeing them in Parliament on the 2nd of July in a ‘Master Chef’ style cook-off between the other finalists judged by Ainsley Harriot. The team at the Himalayan Kitchen do such an amazing job and are a Penge institution so I look forward to being at the final and rooting for them.
Finally, last week I was very pleased to speak at the ‘Penge Matters’ event at Melvin Hall. The event was organised by the Metropolitan Police’s Youth Engagement team, Safer Neighbourhood team and local Councillors to bring residents together and discuss how to tackle youth violence and enhance the community in Penge. It was fantastic to see so many residents come together and have a positive discussion about what can be done.
Tackling youth violence and knife crime requires this kind of approach where you bring different interest groups together with the community to define the local problem, what it’s causes are and what interventions can help prevent it. I have long been calling for the Government to adopt this approach; a public health approach.
The Government has finally committed to having a public health approach, but this model means bringing together all services like the Police, Youth Services, Health, Education and Justice systems so that early intervention can take place. However, all these services have been hit hard by the Government’s austerity agenda over the last nine years.
As such, I fear that this is a public health approach in name only since the resources needed to fund these services properly are not forthcoming. I questioned the Home Secretary on this matter this month which you can see here: https://bit.ly/2NbjZ0v. To read about my work on this issue over the last few months please visit my blog post here: https://bit.ly/2YM08GX.
This week I lead a debate calling for Parliament to become a more modern, family-friendly and accessible workplace. Having worked as an employment rights lawyer for many years, specialising in maternity discrimination and family-friendly working before being elected to Parliament, after my election in 2017 I was surprised to find many components of Westminster life that are far from being either modern, family friendly or accessible.
Whilst opinion on this issue varies amongst MPs, there is a considerable appetite to improve the way Westminster operates and remove the barriers that may otherwise prevent some people standing for Parliament. If MPs are to be truly representative of those they seek to serve, then it is so important that people feel able to put themselves forward for Parliament regardless of their background, caring responsibilities or family life commitments.
Much has been achieved in recent years, including the creation of an on-site nursery and changes to sitting hours, but progress is often slow. Even the simple introduction of proxy voting for those Members on parental leave has taken until 2019 to implement in the House of Commons.
In the two years since my election, I always find the House of Commons to be at its most inefficient and inaccessible when we have multiple votes at the end of the day. When the division bell rings, 650 MPs head to the narrow division lobbies where they queue up to give their name to the teller. With each division taking up to 20 minutes, multiple votes can see 650 MPs left walking around in circles through the voting lobbies for hours on end often late at night. This simply isn’t an efficient use of MP’s time which could be more productively spent working on other matters or spending time with their families.
Given the importance of Parliamentary votes, I believe the act of attending the division lobby to be counted is important, but just as clerks have moved from paper to iPads for counting votes we similarly could move to use simple and straightforward technology that allows for multiple votes to be registered at the same time. I know that some colleagues have at times struggled with the cramped and claustrophobic conditions in the division lobbies so instead we could have a series of electronic booths lined up in the lobby which would be simpler, more efficient and accessible to more people.
A constant criticism of modern governance is its inability to keep up with the pace of technological and societal change so starting with reform of our voting system would be an easy and quick step in the right direction.
I think it is also important to look at the certainty of the Parliamentary week. We live in extraordinary political times but there must be ways we can improve the system to promote a degree of routine and certainty. At present, most people in Parliament organise their diaries week to week by finding out the following week’s agenda during the Business Statement on a Thursday morning. If we have late votes on the next Monday evening, that only gives those with caring or childcare responsibilities one and a half working days to secure alternative arrangements.
We should strive to have a clearer Parliamentary timetable set further in advance, with allocated windows for voting or the deferring of votes when sittings run later than planned. All of these would give, not only Members but also clerks, house staff and security personnel a better understanding of their working patterns – all of which are conducive to a more modern, family-friendly and accessible workplace.
There is no magic, single change that will instantly remedy all of Parliament’s outdated practices or bring the institution into line with other modern, accessible workplaces. But by taking small progressive steps – as seen with the introduction of proxy voting – we can ensure our Parliament grows to be as open as possible to those who work within it and those who may wish to follow.
I have been deeply saddened at the recent spate of knife crime across London and I send my condolences to those families who have been so needlessly affected.
In November, Jay Hughes, a 15-year-old child was murdered in Bellingham and, less than 72 hours later, a 22-year-old, Ayodeji Habeeb Azeez, was killed in Anerley. These tragic murders came just a year on from that of teenager Michael Jonas in Betts Park. I raised these awful events with Ministers soon afterwards, see below video:
Each of these murders shook the community and it was troubling to learn that yesterday (25th March), a 15-year-old boy was stabbed on Dartmouth Road in Forest Hill. I wish to pay tribute to the emergency services who attended the scene and those who helped treat the individual in hospital. I was pleased to later be informed that his condition was improving and no longer considered life-threatening.
Whilst it may appear that Parliament is consumed by Brexit, please rest assured that I continue to proactively engage on this most important issue. I have raised the issues around serious violence in Parliament on several occasions, including most recently on two Urgent Questions on knife crime which can be viewed here:
I have also had meetings with the Home Secretary to discuss my specific concerns and have been in direct contact with both Lewisham and Bromley Police, the Mayor of London’s team, a number of schools and youth services as well as local activists and campaigners who specialise in issues that affect young people.
The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has recently admitted there is some link between falling police numbers and a rise in violent crime contradicting the answer I received from the Prime Minister when I questioned her in April 2018 over this link (see below video). Whilst our police do an absolutely fantastic job, they should be properly funded to deal with these serious crimes.
Whilst the £1 billion worth of cuts the Met have faced since 2010 are completely unacceptable, we must also recognise that current knife crime has some other deep-rooted causes. I have long been a proponent of a public health approach to resolving the current issues around knife crime which has previously worked in cities like Glasgow. Locally we have seen cuts to the police, child and adolescent mental health services, schools and youth services. These must be restored if we are to fully tackle this issue and I have previously called for Ministers to commit to a comprehensive joined-up, cross-departmental approach to youth violence. I spoke at length about this in the debates in Parliament on youth violence and knife crime, see below:
These issues are by no means limited to my constituency or London and I will continue to work with national Government, councils, the Mayor of London and the police to do all I can to bring about meaningful actions to tackle the troubling increase in serious youth violence.
If you would like to find out more about my activity in Parliament, you can also find my speeches through the Hansard website: https://hansard.parliament.uk
I recently met with Citizens Advice Bromley (CAB) in Anerley town hall for their Big Energy Saving Week – a national campaign to help people cut their energy bills and get all the financial support they are entitled to. Energy bills can be a significant challenge for many especially during the winter months, and it was fantastic to see the CAB team in action and hear about their work helping those in difficulty save money.
Whilst there the team also briefed me on one of their other big campaigns on bailiff reform. Last year alone, Citizens Advice helped 41,000 people with bailiff issues. The team shared with me the case of one Bromley resident who has serious mental health difficulties and whilst experiencing changes to their welfare payments, this person fell behind on their council tax.
Approximately £300 was passed to the bailiffs who then added enforcement fees. When the bailiffs visited they asked the individual to pay in full - and despite clear evidence of the individual’s vulnerability - they did not refer them for further support or give them additional time to pay. In doing so, they broke the standards set out in the ‘Taking Control of Goods: National Standards’.
Sadly, this is not an isolated case, research has shown that in the last two years bailiffs have broken the rules in 39% of cases. It is clear we need much stronger legislation, especially to protect vulnerable people from bailiff malpractice and it is also evident that reform of the complaints procedure is needed since remedial action rarely leads to a bailiff being penalised for breaking the rules.
As chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party Backbench Justice Group, I held a meeting last week in Parliament specifically on this issue. We had speeches from numerous MPs and campaign groups and we all agreed that reform is needed. Specifically, we concurred that an independent bailiff regulator needs to be introduced to oversee the activities of bailiffs and bailiff firms. In addition, we also need to create a free, independent complaints process to help eliminate problems in the industry.
Following on from this I submitted evidence to the Ministry of Justice’s ‘Review of the enforcement agent reforms’. In this, I highlighted local case examples of bad practise I am aware of through my own constituency casework and conversations with Citizens Advice and the backbench justice group. This is something I will continue to campaign on in Parliament and given the scale of the problem, is something that the Government needs to act on urgently.
Recent figures from End Hunger UK indicate that over one in ten adults and almost one in four parents with children under the age of 18 have skipped a meal because of a lack of money. The Trussell Trust has also recorded that food bank usage across the UK is at a record high with a 13% increase in 2017-18 compared to the previous year.
These statistics are shocking, and I believe It is shameful that in the world’s fifth largest economy a vast section of society is experiencing food poverty. Our benefits system is supposed to protect us all from being swept into poverty. But increasingly benefits are unable to cover essential living costs and issues with payments remain one of the most common reasons for referral to a foodbank.
For example, the minimum five weeks wait for a first Universal Credit (UC) payment, experienced by those moving onto the benefits system, has dramatically fuelled food bank use increases. The problem doesn’t end there. On average, 12 months after UC rollout, Trussell Trust foodbanks saw a 52% increase in demand.
UC was intended to lift people out of poverty. Unfortunately, the programme has been used as a vehicle for this Government’s appalling austerity agenda. I have previously called for the Government to scrap its rollout of UC in Parliament for this very reason however, this has fallen on deaf ears. But the impacts cannot be ignored for much longer.
In the week before Christmas my local foodbank in Penge gave out over 300 food parcels. It’s outrageous that at a time of year when most people are celebrating, Tory austerity has meant that many are having to rely on foodbanks. On my return to Parliament this month I called for an urgent debate on the impact Tory austerity has had on food bank usage and food poverty across the UK. Unsurprisingly my question was evaded.
The small consolation on this issue is the generosity of our community. The Penge foodbank and our nearest Trussell Trust foodbank in Lewisham receive so many donations that they struggle to find space to accommodate it all. After liaising with our local Trussell Trust and Lewisham Council on this matter I am pleased to say that Lewisham have been able to find the Trussell Trust some free Council space to help store this surplus. I am still making representations to Bromley Council on this issue for the Penge foodbank.
We need to do everything in our power to address this shameful increase in food poverty across the UK. A start would be for the Government to ensure benefits payments reflect the cost of living and to reduce the waiting time for UC payments. However, ultimately the Government needs to stop the rollout of UC and deliver a social security system that supports people rather than one that pushes many into poverty.
The tragic event on Samos Road at the beginning of November shocked us all. Ayodeji Habeeb Azeez was just 22 when he was murdered in broad daylight, a year on from the murder of teenager Michael Jonas which shook the community back in 2017. I am sure that I speak on the whole community’s behalf when I say our thoughts are with the families of Ayodeji and Michael.
Despite this tragic incident I would like to say how heartened I have been by the community’s response. In the face of such terrible circumstances the community has come together and worked so hard to rebuild that sense of society which was lost.
Firstly, I wish to thank the Samos Road community for organising a flower planting on Samos Road in memory of Ayodeji, I was very honoured to attend. And secondly, I wish to thank Louise Knox and the Stewart Fleming Primary school for hosting a community coffee morning and bulb planting with pupils, residents, the local police, Councillor Ian Dunn and myself.
However, despite the community’s fantastic work, the point remains, these murders should never have occurred in the first place and this crisis in youth violence must end.
Following on from the murder I had meetings with the police, councillors and community leaders and I raised the incident in Parliament. In my question I called on the government to recognise the knife crime crisis, end police cuts and put in place a proper plan to combat this, see here.
I also had a meeting with the Home Secretary to discuss this. However, tackling youth violence is not just about the police - we need a public health approach that joins up health, education, youth services, the home office and the justice system. Sadly, ever since 2010 these services have seen some of the most devastating cuts.
If we are truly going to tackle this, then we need a public health approach that joins up these services and adequately funds them. I spoke at length on this in Parliament and called on the government to adopt this proposal, see here.
Ultimately, we cannot bring back those we have already lost but we can act to prevent more from losing their lives. We can help prevent our vulnerable young people from turning to crime. And we can offer them, aspiration and a stake in our society. All that is needed is the funding and political will to do this.