I hope you are well and that you have had a good summer. I am pleased to report that after having to postpone my wedding last year, I was finally able to get married last month!
Unfortunately, the celebrations were swiftly followed by news of the crisis in Afghanistan. I pay huge tribute to my team – especially my brilliant caseworkers – for working incredibly hard to get people out of the country before our troops were forced to withdraw. More on that below.
As always, this is just a snapshot of what I have been up to. If you have any comments or questions, please do get in touch.
Since my last update in July, I have been able to use oral question sessions and statements to push the Government on a number of vitally important issues, including the funding of violence reduction units and the continuing stress leaseholders are experiencing due to problems with cladding. You can watch clips of my questions below.
As of Monday 6th September, we are back in the Commons for a few weeks until conference recess. I was incredibly disappointed when the Speaker confirmed that hybrid proceedings would not continue. As Covid cases rise once again, this seems like a poor decision.
Opposition Day Debate on Universal Credit
Tomorrow (8th September) we have an Opposition Day Debate on Universal Credit (UC) and Working Tax Credits (WTC). At the end of the month, the Government is planning to remove the £20 uplift to UC and WTC that has been in place since the start of the pandemic. This will be the biggest overnight cut to social security ever and will have a big impact on millions of struggling families.
It is shameful that many of the key workers who helped get us through the crisis will be affected by what amounts to a £1000 cut in their annual income. The Tories say that they want to focus on getting people back into work, yet 40% of those claiming UC are already in work.
There is now near-universal opposition to the Government’s plans: Labour, the public, the House of Commons, dozens of charities and campaign groups and now 6 former Conservative Work and Pensions Secretaries all agree that this money must remain in place.
Shadow Minister for Disabled People
Before summer recess, I spent a lot of my time in Parliament continuing to raise the concerns of immunocompromised people in the run up to so-called Freedom Day. I have received many despairing emails from people who are terrified of having to return to normal as cases are rising.
I wrote to the Secretary of State urging him to do everything he could to protect immunocompromised people as restrictions were eased and also questioned him in the House.
In the run up to recess we were also impatiently awaiting the publication of the Government’s National Disability Strategy and Green Paper on health and disability. Both had been promised following the 2019 election. I asked repeatedly for updates, only to be told we would have them “soon”. “Soon” turned out to be conveniently just after the Commons broke up for summer and we could not ask any difficult questions in Parliament.
As expected, both were full of bold claims and promises to consult and engage, but I am concerned that this is yet another case of too much talk and not enough action. I am also aware that many charities and disabled people’s organisations felt they were not properly consulted.
During my time in this job, I have become increasingly aware of the importance of co-production and ensuring disabled people are at the heart of policy making. As my Labour colleagues and I start to develop policy ahead of the next general election, we are consulting widely and ensuring we work cross-departmentally.
In the Constituency
In July and August, the casework team opened almost 500 new cases and the policy team replied to a similar number of emails and letters. We took a break from surgeries during August (to allow everyone to take some annual leave), but these started up again at the beginning of this month.
There has been some movement within the team after one of my brilliant caseworkers left, but we are in the process of recruiting someone new and hope they will be able to start very soon. Some of you may have seen this article in The Guardian at the weekend, which details the huge increase in workload we have been facing over the last 18 months. It shows no signs of slowing, and MPs and their staff are appealing to IPSA to permanently increase our staffing budgets so that we can continue to serve our constituents properly and ensure that staff do not burnout.
The constituency office remains closed to the public for the time being. If you know anyone who is in need of support, please do encourage them to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 8469 4638. More details of upcoming surgeries are available here.
It was great to see so many young people achieving good exam results across the constituency this summer. This year’s cohort have had so much to deal with after their education was disrupted by the pandemic and it has been heart-breaking to see them repeatedly let down by the Government.
I know, however, that we have many incredibly dedicated teachers, parents, carers and others who will continue to support them as they take their next steps.
Over the last few weeks, my constituency work has been utterly dominated by Afghanistan. I have received hundreds of emails from people who are either trying to leave themselves or are desperate to get family members out.
Some of the stories have been truly harrowing and we been met with a great deal of uncertainty when trying to contact the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to get cases expedited. When we saw reports that some 5000 emails remained unopened after UK troops had withdrawn from Kabul, it was a massive kick in the teeth.
You may be interested to read the statement I posted on my website when it became clear how critical the situation was. It still seems unbelievable that both the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister went on holiday at such a crucial time.
It is only thanks to the heroic efforts of our troops, diplomats and civil servants that so many people did manage to get to safety. The Government must now outline an urgent plan to help those who remain stranded leave via a viable and safe route and work with councils to establish how they can be supported to rebuild their lives here in the UK.
Ministers must also lay out a clear diplomatic roadmap for the way ahead and work through the UN and other trusted partners to deliver aid on the ground. Afghanistan was already facing a humanitarian crisis and the situation is only likely to get worse (especially for women, girls and minorities).
Support for Refugees
I am proud to say that as a Borough of Sanctuary, Lewisham was very quick off the mark to offer support to refugees from Afghanistan. I know many of you are keen to help and this morning I joined Sadiq Khan, Damien Egan and Kevin Bonavia on a visit Lewisham Donation Hub to see the fantastic work they are doing. Sadiq was there as part of the launch event for London Refugee Response.
Please check the Lewisham Donation Hub website for the latest details of their urgent appeals.
You can also donate to the London Refugee Response to help meet the needs to refugees in our city.
Gloria De Piero Interview
Earlier this week I was interviewed by Gloria De Piero (a former MP and one of my closest friends). I spoke about some very personal experiences, including the abuse I endured as a young person. It was a difficult interview, but Gloria handled the topics incredibly sensitively and I am so glad I was able to speak out.
If you are interested in watching the interview, it is available here.