I hope you are keeping well. It feels like it’s barely been five minutes since I wrote my last update, but here we are again!
Of course, the most significant development we’ve seen in the last month is the publication of the PM’s roadmap and we can now tentatively start to look forward to an easing of restrictions. As I write the schools have just started to return, which will be the first big test.
I was grateful for the February recess as it gave the team and I a bit of a chance to catch up, but life in Parliament has been as busy as ever. Here are a few highlights.
Britain’s Jobs Crisis
Ahead of the budget, Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds used our Opposition Day Debates on February 23rd to call on the Chancellor to announce an immediate extension to the furlough scheme and for urgent reform to make furlough smarter, with new training to help furloughed workers improve their skills and tough conditions on employers to stop abuse.
Anneliese further called on the Chancellor to set the fourth grant of the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) at 80% of pre-crisis profits and for the scheme to opened to the 200,000 people who only have a 2019/20 tax return. She also pressed him to urgently fix the holes in the Government support schemes that have left millions of others excluded from support. More details here.
Fire Safety Bill
The Fire Safety Bill returned to the Commons on February 24th when we considered amendments made by the Lords. This was an important opportunity for the Government to do the right thing by protecting leaseholders and implementing the recommendations from the Phase One Grenfell Inquiry.
Shamefully, the Tories voted to reverse Lords amendments aimed at putting the recommendations into law and stopping building owners from being able to pass on remediation costs – such as the replacement of dangerous cladding – to leaseholders and tenants. The cladding scandal continues as we await the next round of amendments. I have also been working with local people affected by this; see below for further details.
The country was crying out for a budget to put us on the road to recovery and right the wrongs of the last decade by rebuilding our economic foundations, but what we received on March 3rd just papers over the cracks. I’m sure it came as no surprise to any of you when the OBR confirmed that the Tory Government’s mismanagement has left Britain with the worst economic crisis of any major economy.
There was no plan for NHS recovery so we can get people the healthcare they badly need. Indeed, there was no mention of the NHS or social care at all, until a few days later when we heard that NHS workers would receive a paltry 1% pay rise. There was also no mention of schools or teachers, or restoring Britain’s high streets. Meanwhile the Chancellor is forcing through a council tax hike that will hit households across the country.
It was the same old Tories with the wrong priorities: stamp duty cuts for second home owners and a cut to the incomes of the lowest paid, just as unemployment kicks in. This budget showed that the Conservatives want to go back to the same insecure economy and unequal country that’s been so clearly exposed by the virus.
A Labour budget would have put the NHS and social care at the centre of a new settlement to build a country fit for everyone. It would have had a plan to rebuild the foundations of our economy for the long term, with a relentless focus on supporting new jobs across the entire UK, supporting our high streets to thrive, protecting family finances and backing our key workers. We need to learn the lessons of this pandemic, not go back to the insecurity of the past. It is clear that Rishi Sunak has the wrong priorities and is totally out of touch with what the country needs.
Shadow Minister for Disabled People
I’ve kept up a steady stream of meetings with disabled people’s organisations over the last month. It’s so useful to keep these dialogues going.
In the (virtual) chamber I’ve continued to push for clarity for people who have been shielding. Matt Hancock seems to think Government communications with this group have been good, but I know many people (including me) who would beg to differ.
Recent polling commissioned by Scope has found that a quarter of disabled people are concerned that they will be unable to access a vaccination centre and a third of disabled people are concerned about catching COVID-19 at a vaccination centre. On February 11th I asked Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office Secretary, what action the Government is taking to ensure that the vaccine roll-out is fully accessible and safe for disabled people, and how ministers will ensure that no disabled person waiting for their vaccine is left behind.
Work and pensions questions is always a great opportunity for our team to collectively highlight where the Government is failing to support people. On March 8th I raised the tragic case of Philippa Day. The coroner was clear that the flawed PIP assessment process was a predominant factor in Philippa sadly losing her life. The Government must act now on the coroner’s findings and overhaul this inhumane system to treat everyone with dignity and respect.
The team and I have also been working hard to prepare for our regional roadshows. I am very aware that disabled people feel they have been ignored by the Government for too long, and I am determined to ensure Labour does much better. The first roadshow took place on March 5th and I had a brilliant discussion with disabled people and organisations from the north west. Details of upcoming roadshows are available here.
In the Constituency
Things have slowed down slightly on the casework front, but the team still opened almost 50% more cases in February than during the same period last year. As we approach the one-year anniversary of working from home, it will be interesting to see whether this trend continues (sadly I have a feeling it will).
Housing continues to be the biggest issue and has accounted for just under 40% of recent enquiries. Unsurprisingly, many of my constituency meetings over the last month have also been connected to housing in one way or another and I have met with several housing associations and developers, as well as residents.
Policy enquiries are still coming in thick and fast and our current response rate is hovering around five times that of this time last year. Interestingly there have been no major trends in recent weeks, with people contacting me about a wide range of issues from the gender pay gap to food banks, vaccines and the Trade Bill.
I am still holding virtual/telephone advice surgeries every two weeks and the office remains closed for the time being. As things start to open up again we will keep this under review, but I will not be able to reopen the office to the public until I can guarantee the safety of constituents and my staff. If you or someone you know needs assistance, please email email@example.com or call 020 8469 4638.
Bakerloo Line Extension
I was delighted to hear last week that Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, had issued directions to safeguard the land between Lambeth North and Lewisham required to build the Bakerloo line extension. The news follows a public consultation which found that nearly nine out of 10 respondents supported the extension, along with local authorities and businesses. This is a significant step on the road to finally seeing the Bakerloo line extended to Lewisham.
Relocation of Refugees
On February 22nd I joined my fellow Lewisham MPs Janet Daby (Lewisham East) and Ellie Reeves (Lewisham West and Penge), Mayor of Lewisham Damien Egan and Councillor Kevin Bonavia, Cabinet Member for Democracy, Refugees and Accountability, in writing to the Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts to request that the UK joins EU countries in relocating refugees currently stranded in the Greek islands using the UK’s Refugee Resettlement Scheme. The scheme has already been utilised successfully by many local authorities – including Lewisham – to provide a safe and secure sanctuary for vulnerable and displaced people. You can read our letter in full here.
Creative Industries Roundtable
On Friday 26th March at 12.30 I will be hosting another Creative Industries Roundtable event to speak to those who have been or are currently working in the sector about the impact of COVID-19 and the support needed to rebuild.
Many working in the sector – especially those who are self-employed and/or freelancers – have been left behind and excluded from various government support measures. This has had a catastrophic effect on a sector which is especially important here in Lewisham Deptford. It is so important that we listen to creatives who live or work in our community, especially with Lewisham as the upcoming London Borough of Culture.
Please share this event with anyone you know in Lewisham Deptford in the creative industries.
Register to attend by clicking here.
Local Update on the Cladding Scandal
At the end of February I hosted a second constituency meeting for leaseholders and housing providers affected by the cladding scandal. This came a day after Lords amendments to the Fire Safety Bill intended to protect leaseholders from bearing the cost for remediation were voted down by the Government.
It was a welcome opportunity for constituents to put questions to their freeholders and to hear how other organisations are tackling the situation. Unfortunately, Berkeley Homes/St James and First Port declined the invitation and I will press them for a further meeting.
Stop and Search Surgery
On March 6th I held a second surgery dedicated to stop and search/policing. These surgeries are designed to give constituents a chance to speak with me regarding any issues that they have had, with my team and I then supporting them through any further steps they wish to take. I intend to hold more of these – as well as other related events – and will share more details as soon as I have them.