December 2014 - January 2015 Report

Parliamentary Business

Accident and Emergency

On 18 December I questioned the Health Secretary about poor management of A and E waiting times. The Government undertook a costly and time-consuming reorganisation of the NHS but highly predictable population shifts have led to pressure on A and E. This has resulted in long waiting times and delays in ambulances attending call outs.

A recent Public Accounts Committee’s report on out-of-hours services which is available here showed that there has been cost-shunting to the ambulance service by out-of-hours providers.

I raised the issue again directly with the Prime Minister. Whilst I was delighted that he recognised the work of Homerton Hospital, the Government has failed to address the huge pressures within the NHS and its impact on patients and staff and has failed in A&E.

Cost of living

Many Hackney residents are trapped in low-paid minimum wage jobs. Often they are not able to increase the hours they work in order to earn more. Many have to rely on housing benefit and tax credits to top up their income.

On 9 December I questioned the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, asking if he understands the difficulties of managing high living costs and low-wage employment.

The minister’s response simply suggested that wages were increasing across the country, claiming that 85 per cent of the jobs created in the past year are full time. This does not match the reality on the ground.

Recent research published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows 40 per cent of British families cannot afford to participate in society because of the crisis of living costs. Wages may be increasing across Britain, but so are the high costs of living.

Domestic Violence

In spring 2014 two women from Hackney were brutally killed by violent partners. On 6 January I raised concerns with the Solicitor General about the use of evidence gathered by the police from third parties which might help the prosecution.

This information should be used effectively and passed on to the Crown Prosecution Service. There needs to be greater collaboration among agencies, including social services, to ensure these crimes stop.

I was assured that the Crown Prosecution Service and the police are clear that there needs to be even better collaborative working to ensure that tell-tale signs are not missed before it is too late.

I will continue to monitor this issue as it is vital to help prevent further tragedies.

Human rights and policing in Nigeria

As chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Nigeria I spoke in the House on 12 January about the urgent situation in Nigeria following the recent attacks by Boko Haram.

I specifically asked the Minister to update the House on the discussions between the Foreign Office and the Metropolitan Police’s Nigerian police forum about helping to embed human rights policing in Nigeria.

With the Nigerian general election approaching on 14 February a great deal is at stake.

For the first time since military rule the outcome of the election is genuinely uncertain. When I met Nigerian academics and students from northern Nigeria recently there was a range of opinions about the impact of the outcome of the result.

Legal aid

On 4 December the Public Accounts Committee quizzed the Ministry of Justice about reforms to civil legal aid. At the hearing I shared feedback from Hackney Community Law Centre which reported a 40 per cent rise in demand. A third of those calling the centre have been turned away because they are no longer eligible for help under the new guidelines. The changes have produced a false economy, and the shunting of costs between departments is unacceptable.

Cost of children in care

On 12 January I challenged representatives from the Department for Education during a Public Accounts Committee hearing on children in care. Children are not being placed in suitable care at the earliest opportunity. The constant moving from home to home is costly for the taxpayer and distressing for children.

We also looked at the educational outcomes of children in care. In each local authority area there is now a virtual head teacher who is directly answerable for the outcomes of children in care whichever school they are in locally.

The Department for Education publishes educational outcome data on its website but it appears to do little to act on the variations. Ofsted’s Chief Inspector of schools (former Hackney Head Sir Michael Wilshaw) was happy for Ofsted to tackle this issue but needs the outcome data in real time for this to happen.

Looked after children in Hackney achieve significantly better in school than the national average. Even this is not as high as it should be, but the key question: if Hackney’s looked after children achieve so much better than elsewhere in the country, why isn’t there more effort to spread Hackney’s good practice in this area?

Broadband

I focus a great deal on the need to improve broadband in Shoreditch and Hackney generally. The speeds of connection, time it can take for a connection to be installed and reliability are an embarrassment in an area which has a reputation for being the tech hub of the UK.

As part of this work I have taken a keen interest in the Government’s attempts to roll our superfast rural broadband.

The Department for Culture Media and Sport aims to ensure good coverage for the final 5 per cent of UK premises in rural areas and offer superfast broadband. The outcome of the hearing highlighted that there are still places that struggle with extremely slow connections. The department should be more open to trialling the different methods that are being tested at the moment in various areas.

House building bill

On 17 December, I attended a public bill committee on the Self-Build and Custom House Building Bill. The aim of the bill is to allow people and community groups to build their own homes or custom projects. If it becomes law, it would place a duty on local authorities to keep a register of those wanting to self-build.

Affordable housing is something that is of key concern in Hackney. The bill had its third reading in the House of Lords on 12 January 2015. For more information click here.

Other Matters

Ebola panel debate

As chair of the All Party Group on Global Health I chaired a panel discussion on combatting Ebola on 19 January.

This event with the Africa All Party Group included speakers from the pharmaceutical sector. We discussed the main barriers to development of treatment and how we can support an African pharmaceutical industry.

The Public Accounts Committee also examined the recent Ebola outbreak. Our report has been agreed and will be published shortly.

Funeral poverty

On 9 December Emma Lewell-Buck MP presented a Funeral Services Bill calling for a national review of funeral poverty.

The price of funerals has gone up by 80 per cent in ten years, but Government grants have declined. According to a report by the Royal London insurance company, 10,000 of the 500,000 families bereaved each year struggled to afford the cost of a funeral with debt averaging £1,300.

The current price of a basic pre-paid Cooperative Funeral Plan is £3,125 but many funeral services charge much more.

More than 100,000 people are living with the legacy of funeral debt. The bill aims to encourage people to speak about their hardship and seek advice on funding.

For advice on funeral support:

Independent advice by the Government

Citizen’s Advice Bureau

Holocaust Memorial Day

I attended the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony at Hackney Town Hall on 27 January.

This Holocaust Memorial Day marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the site of the largest mass murder in history. I signed in remembrance of the millions of Jews and others who were murdered.

For more information on Holocaust Memorial Day click here.

Parliamentary Outreach

The Parliament Outreach Service aims to encourage more people to get involved with Parliament and explain the workings of Parliament.

In 2014 it ran 177 workshops, giving training to 6,290 people in London and the South East. Some examples of the service’s activities are working with select committees to explain the process.

If you know of a local group that would be interested in receiving training from the outreach service, please contact my office.

World AIDS Day

For World AIDS Day 1 December 2014, the National Aids Trust published the fifth report in its research series with Ipsos MORI.

The research shows that less than half of people are able to correctly identify ways HIV can and cannot be transmitted.

The full report can be found here.

Hackney Issues

New Era Estate update

I continue to work with residents of the New Era Estate over the sale of their estate.

Just before Christmas we learnt that New Era Estate had been bought by the Dolphin Square Foundation an independent affordable housing provider and developer.

Following this announcement I met with tenant representatives of New Era and the chief executive of Dolphin Square to discuss the future of the estate.

The chief executive of Dolphin Square gave assurances that he will fully assess the needs of tenants on the estate over the next year and will meet regularly with tenants.

I will continue to work with residents to ensure they get the best possible outcome.

Tragic murder in Homerton High Street

I was saddened by recent news that another young life was taken in Hackney. Jeremie Malenge, 17, was stabbed and killed in Homerton High Street on 6 January.

We must all be vigilant to stop young people carrying knives and strive to make our streets safe for young people.

Private rented sector

Hackney Council is asking tenants and landlords of privately-rented homes to take part in a survey of conditions and services.

HQN (Housing Quality Network) has been appointed by the Council as an independent body investigating the effects of a doubling of private rented properties in Hackney in the past decade, now 32,000 homes.

The Council will use the evidence to consider whether to introduce a landlord licensing scheme might improve standards for tenants and landlords, and also the kind of properties the scheme could apply to.

HQN needs to hear both from privately renting tenants and landlords, as well as others affected including neighbours, or businesses such as lettings agents, in order to build up a strong body of evidence to support improved management of privately rented properties in the borough.

The deadline for completing the survey is 28 February, and you can answer it online here or request a hard copy by calling 01904 557150.

Voter registration

In June 2014, changes to the voter registration system were brought in.

Under the old system one member of the household could register everyone and now every member of a household has to register individually.

I am concerned about the impact the new system is having on levels of voter registration, particularly for young residents.
To register to vote, click here.

Hackney gets animal welfare award

On 3 December Hackney Council achieved a Gold Community Animal Welfare Stray Dog Footprint.

The community animal welfare footprints award scheme is run by the RSPCA to recognise organisations that ensure the highest welfare standards for animals in the services they provide.

For further information click here.

Hackney restaurants win kebab awards

Hackney had two winners in the annual British Kebab Awards on 7 January.

Pivaz in Chatsworth Road scooped the best newcomer award and Super Kebab on Stoke Newington Road and its sister restaurant Super Ocakbasi won London’s best takeaway award.

Funding for the Olympic Park

I welcome the news that £141 million of funding has been agreed to create a new higher education and cultural district on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

The project will bring together University College London, the University of the Arts London and organisations to showcase art, dance, history, craft, science, technology and cutting edge design.

Rerouting buses 205 and N205

The current diversion on bus routes 205 and N205 will be permanent from February 2015. There is a current diversion between Old Street and Houndsditch along Great Eastern Street and Bishopsgate because of Crossrail works at Moorgate.

Buses 205 and N205 will no longer serve City Road, Finsbury Square, Moorgate, South Place, Eldon Street, Blomfield Street, London Wall and Wormwood Street.