March 2015 Report

Parliamentary Business

The Budget

The Chancellor of the Exchequer presented his Budget to Parliament on 18 March. The Government’s policies will have a direct impact on Hackney, and I spoke about this in the House the following day.

The Chancellor highlighted some issues but did not detail where the next tranche of Government cuts will be coming from. We know that there will be £12 billion cuts in welfare, but the Government has remained silent on where most of this will come from. I am concerned that there will be more cuts to those in greatest need.

Public services such as the NHS, schools and social care are at risk. Hackney council is having to make £28 million worth of cuts. And we have already seen 24 per cent cuts to further education colleges, including Hackney Community College.

These public services matter in Hackney. We know that about 36 per cent of children live in poverty, which is the third highest rate in London. The 24 per cent cut to further education would also have a devastating effect. FE for adults provides opportunities to get on.

I know that some parents in Hackney are working on zero-hours contracts in low-wage jobs while having to meet the costs of child care and high private rents. Many poor families cannot now get housing in the social sector. That means that many of them are trapped on benefits or tax credits. The routes to self-advancement are shrinking, and the policies that the Budget propose will make it even harder.

I also challenged the Government’s help for home buyers and the urgent need to address high rent costs in London.

In 2005, the average house price in Hackney was £269,000. Today, the average house price is £606,000. That is a staggering 124.9 per cent increase in 10 years. The Government’s announcement of an individual savings account (ISA) for homebuyers will not help Hackney residents faced with ever increasing house prices.

To read my full response to the Budget click here.

Digital democracy

I secured a debate on 10 March to discuss the Digital Democracy Commission Report.

I was a digital democracy commissioner, so was delighted to hold a debate that could encourage Parliament to take the recommendations forward.

The debate addressed the key issues of the report including online voting and exploring the possibility of a ‘cyber chamber’. It would function as a third chamber in Parliament allowing the public to debate issues ahead of MPs’ discussions. There was also a consensus that open data should be the norm in Parliament.

The debate was well attended, with the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, Tom Brake responding on behalf of the Government. And it was the first time the public were allowed to use electronic devices during an MP’s debate.

I will continue to support, implement and monitor progress beyond the debate. I am hopeful that the next Parliament will introduce the recommendations and will open up Parliament and all data.
For more information on the debate click here.

Affordable housing

I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on 4 March to discuss affordable housing.

I continue to have concerns about the housing crisis in London and the effects on Hackney. More people in Hackney rent privately rather than own property, and 44 per cent of people rent social housing. This is an issue when private rents are now at more than half of the average income.

Hackney council is building homes. It is one of the top two councils nationally doing this.

In the private sector we need to see longer term tenancies. And I supported Hackney council’s ten step plan for private renting.
We must campaign to change the definition of ‘affordable’, to break the ridiculous link with market rents.

I am keen to hear your experiences of housing in the borough via my online survey. It only takes 5 minutes to complete. Your feedback will be invaluable in helping me argue Hackney’s case.
To fill out the survey, click here.

Broadband

I regularly hear from businesses and residents in Hackney and Shoreditch about slow connection speeds, high costs and unreliable services. On 4 March, I spoke in a debate to share this experience.

I sit on the Public Accounts Committee, and we are now seeing the second round of the rural broadband programme being rolled out (to provide superfast broadband coverage to 95 per cent of the UK by 2017).

Even with these goals in place for rural areas, places such as Hackney and Shoreditch face embarrassingly slow speeds. We are a powerhouses for the future of the tech economy. But I have heard cases of people having to leave the area because of this persistent problem.

For more information on the debate, click here.

Benefit cap

The Prime Minister recently raised the prospect of reducing the benefit cap to £23,000 a year for a household.

I raised this with DWP ministers because there is not a single three or four-bedroom property in London or the south east that somebody could rent within the cap.

Brownfield land

The use of brownfield land is routinely cited as a solution to housing issues. But it is not as easy in urban areas like Hackney.

It was announced in August last year that councils could benefit from a shared fund of £5 million to start working on housing projects in brownfield land.

I raised concerns about the sale of brownfield for expensive homes.

For example, St Leonard’s hospital has been sold on to PropCo, the NHS Property Services Ltd in the NHS. Kingsland fire station was closed, and has also been sold for a rumoured £28 million. Neither of these sites is likely to be used to provide much needed local affordable housing.
Domestic violence

Women who are victims of domestic violence are increasingly finding it hard to secure legal aid.

I am concerned that some have given up after spending their own money to secure legal protection from a violent partner. Many end up moving housing frequently to get away from the situation and too often feel let down by a system that does not work.

I asked the Home Office minister to look into the issue and to acknowledge that there is a problem with the system.

Barts Health NHS Trust

Barts has just been put into special measures by the Care Quality Commission. It is the largest health trust in England and includes Barts, the Royal London, the London Chest hospital and Whipps Cross. When it was formed many concerns were raised.

The trust is now appointing a team to directly manage Whipps Cross. The previous arrangements diluted accountability and direct line management.

I maintain that the trust is too big, and consideration needs to be given to breaking it up. On 25 March I met with the trust management to voice my concerns and learn about plans for the future. I will meet them again in three months’ time if I am re-elected.

Public Accounts Committee United Nations Development session

I was recently asked to speak to delegates from various international Public Accounts Committees on the work of the UK Public Accounts Committee.

I shared my experience of being a member of the Committee and gave examples of inquiries.

This was an opportunity to look at examples of best practice which I hope will feed into the work of Public Accounts Committees around the world.

Centre for Kurdish Progress awards

The London based Centre for Kurdish Progress organised a Newroz Celebration in Portcullis House. I was delighted to attend the most successful Kurds in Britain award on 18 March.

The organisation which was launched in June 2014 welcomed over 200 people to celebrate the Kurdish New Year. As part of the celebration, the most successful Kurds in Britain awards were held. They acknowledged some of the best achievements in the Kurdish community from business to arts, politics and education.

I presented the award for the most successful student society to the SOAS Kurdish society.

For more information on the Centre for Kurdish Progress click here.

Hackney Issues

Shelter Hackney service

Hackney Shelter works locally to help tackle some local people with housing needs.

It offers help to Hackney based residents that are in urgent need of housing or emergency accommodation.

Shelter’s services range from legal services to advice drop-in sessions. To get in touch email: hackneyfamilysupport@shelter.org.uk

Proposed re-routing of 394

Last year TfL consulted with Hackney residents about proposed re-routing of the bus 394.

The reroute will make changes to both directions via Morning Lane and Ponsford Street in order to provide faster journeys times to Hackney Central and Homerton hospital.

The new route will come into effect from 9 May 2015.
For information click here.

Consultation on Brook Community Primary School

The governing body of Brook Community primary school is proposing a change of status from 1 September 2015 to become an Academy sponsored by the Mossbourne Federation.

Before making a final decision, the governing body wants to understand the views of the wider community. Consultation runs until Friday 17 April. A consultation document and response form is available here.

Hackney volunteer and befriending

The Hackney volunteer and befriending service is run by Outward and aims to tackle loneliness. Volunteers offer just one hour per week and visit someone registered on the service in Hackney.

It is an effective initiative that I would encourage people to get involved in. The Hackney volunteer and befriending service is based at 15 Ramsgate Street, Dalston.
For more information click here.

Hackney Health hub

The Hackney Health hubs have announced a new initiative funded by Hackney Council Public Health.

Through your local Hub, you can access free health improvement services, delivered by Homerton university hospital. You can also meet with your local health coach to find out about local opportunities and activities to help you reach your health goals.

Health coaches will help you identify health goals and provide support for up to eight weeks. There are four different Hubs located all around Hackney. For more information click here.

Community eye care

In 2011, there were an estimated 1,563,340 people in England living with sight loss and 3,520 of these live in the Hackney.

Optometrists and optical dispensers play a key role in prevention. They are trained to spot early signs of common eye conditions including cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.

I recently was diagnosed with an eye problem thanks to my local optician who referred me to Moorfields Hospital.

Remember that NHS eye check-ups are free for children, people on benefits and some people with a family history of certain eye conditions (such as glaucoma).

Homerton High Street Post Office

I have been advised by the Post Office that the improvement work that was due start on their branch at 226-228 Homerton High Street has been postponed.

Once I receive an update on a new date for the works I will report back.