October2013 Report

Parliamentary Business

Energy Prices

This issue has been the cause of much debate and controversy over the past few weeks. Winter is coming and the price of heating homes is a vital issue.

With the announcement on 8 October that SSE are increasing their prices by 8.2 per cent, I am concerned that many people in Hackney South and Shoreditch will find it difficult to afford to heat their homes during the winter months.

Other companies have followed suit, with British Gas raising their prices by 9.2 per cent. There is a clear need for a change of policy in this area.

Lobbying Bill

I have continued to receive a large number of letters and responses to this bill, which was passed by the House of Commons 304 – 206.

It is very clear that this bill does not tackle issues surrounding lobbying and is in fact a gagging mechanism on charities and campaigners. The significant issues of ‘big money’ in politics are not tackled by this bill.

I continue to oppose the bill and I very much hope that the House of Lords will stop its implementation. I will continue to call on the Government to rethink this piece of legislation.

Badger Cull

I continue to oppose this move from the Government, as does the Labour Party. As Ed Miliband highlighted in Prime Minister’s Questions on 16 October, this is yet another policy which highlights how contradictory the Government has been on environmental issues.

Food Banks

In Prime Minister’s Questions on 16 October, I asked the Prime Minister:

“The number of people helped by food banks in 2012-13 was triple what it was the previous year. Is the Prime Minister proud of that achievement?”

This is a real issue that is continuing to grow in Hackney and across the country. The Trussell Trust runs the food bank in Hackney. Tescos are holding collection days for the Hackney food banks from 29 November to 1 December. If you are shopping that day please buy an extra item or two for those who desperately need the help.

In the past year 346,992 people have received a minimum of three days emergency food from a Trussell Trust food bank nationally. Over a third of these are children.

Secondary Schools

I recently spoke in Parliament about the accountability of secondary schools. This linked to the work of the Public Accounts Committee, of which I am a member.

The Committee has been calling for greater financial accountability in schools and wants the Government to make this information accessible to the public.

In Hackney we have a growing hub of the leading technology companies. The Government can use technology to present parents with data about their local schools in an accessible format to ensure that people can make informed decisions about where they are sending their children to school.

The Bedroom Tax

I have spoken in Parliament twice in the last month about this issue. The bedroom tax is hitting families in Hackney who are out of work and have an “extra” bedroom. This can mean that they have two children of the same gender but both under 16.

The stupidity of the policy is that if a 10 year old and 15 year old boy share a room the family would have to pay an additional £14 a week out of their benefits but as soon as the eldest boy has his 16th birthday the family “qualify” for the “extra” bedroom.
Even if a household wants to move there are not enough smaller affordable properties in Hackney or London to absorb the number of households needing to downsize.

The coalition fails to recognise the financial burden that this will place on many individuals, who in many cases cannot downsize to a smaller property because there is a lack of appropriate housing.

In Hackney, 3,581households are affected by the bedroom tax and the Government has only been able to help 70 of these into smaller accommodation. The Mayor of Hackney Jules Pipe and I meet regularly with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about our concerns.

Other Matters

People’s Inquiry into London’s NHS

Changes to services in the NHS have been felt right across the country. The union UNITE have created the Peoples Inquiry into London’s NHS to assess how these changes have affected NHS service in London.

The inquiry will consist of six experts on an independent panel. The panel includes Polly Toynbee, political and social commentator for The Guardian and Dr Louise Irvine from the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign.

I hope this inquiry will go some way towards highlighting the issues facing the NHS given the Prime Minister’s aim of saving £5 billion from London’s NHS by the end of 2014.

If you would like more details of the inquiry go online to: here

AFRUCA Summit on African families

On 12 October I was delighted to be asked to speak at the Africans Unite Against Child Abuse Summit on African families. AFRUCA is a charity promoting the rights and welfare of African children in the UK.

During the day there were a number of workshops to consider challenges confronting African families across London including why African children are disproportionately represented in the care system, in gun and knife crime and in the criminal justice system. The summit also considered mental health within the African community and issues around domestic violence.

I spoke about there being a real danger for politicians not to look at issues of abuse within communities due to cultural sensitivities and feeling awkward about crossing cultural boundaries. Ultimately abuse cuts across all cultures and religions and it is never culturally right or sensitive to abuse a child.

Also at the summit I had the honour of launching Dr Lydia Taiwo’s book “A Broken Childhood II” in which Dr Taiwo reflects on her personal experience of abuse as a child and its impact on her. This is a must read for anyone who is concerned about these issues and for those who know nothing to be informed.

Dr Taiwo spoke movingly about the contribution she is trying to make in writing her two books and why she decided to become an AFRUCA ambassador to promote the welfare and rights of African children.

For more information about the important work that AFRUCA are doing please go here.

Debate on Europe

On 17 October, I chaired a debate at City University in Angel. The topic was: The UK’s membership of the European Union: Better off with the EU? Perspectives from the UK and France.

I was joined on the panel for this debate by Claude Moraes MEP, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in Europe, and Axelle Lemaire, who is a French MP for French Overseas residents in Northern Europe.

The debate was a first and offered an interesting insight into British and French perspectives of the EU. It further cemented my belief that the UK is much stronger within the European Union than out of it.

Thames Water bills

Ofwat (Office of Water Services) has published its decision on its consultation with Thames Water on its proposed price increase to customer’s bills for 2014-15 by £29, or 8 per cent

I opposed this measure from Thames Water as it would put even greater pressure on hard working people who are already struggling to pay the bills each month.

I am pleased to report that Ofwat has initially decided against allowing Thames Water to increase their prices, as there was not enough evidence to support the need for an increase in price.

Thames Water now has the opportunity to submit more evidence before a final decision is taken in November of this year. I think the initial judgement is the right decision that will save people in my constituency a lot of money.

For more information visit here

HER in hero’ campaign

I am very pleased to support the ‘HER in Hero’ campaign run by Little Miss Geek. This campaign, which is supported by 400 MPs, aims to encourage more girls into science and technology.

This campaign has reached over 5000 students in 50 schools. It is an important message and it is vital that we recognise the achievements of everyone in the fields of science and technology.

Visit here

Annual reception for ‘Breakthrough’

This month, I attended the annual parliamentary reception for the breast cancer charity Breakthrough. This is a vitally important charity that is fighting against a disease that kills 12,000 women each year in this country.

It is important to recognise that while great breakthroughs have been made in cancer treatment, there is a need to continue fighting this disease that affects 50,000 women in this country every year.

Breakthrough provides 25 per cent of funding for breast cancer research in the UK.

International Citizen Service (ICS) Photography Exhibition

In October I attended the ICS Photography Exhibition in the Houses of Parliament.

ICS is a programme which gives young people the opportunity to go out and help some of the poorest and must vulnerable communities in the world.

The programme is designed to fight poverty in the very poorest parts of the work and offers opportunities for young people aged between 18 and 25 years old to visit developing countries for 10 to 12 weeks.

For more information about this programme and how to get involved visit here

Members’ Advisory Group for Commemorating WW1

am a member of the MPs and Peers advisory group for Commemorating WW1.

2014 will mark the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of the First World War and this group will make plans for four years of events between 2014 and 2018.

The group is aiming to work with over 1000 local, regional, national, and international non-for-profit organisations to commemorate major events a century after they happened.

The BBC has specially commissioned 130 programmes and in total there will be 2,500 hours of programming in the next four years.
I think it is especially important to remember the sacrifice of World War One and would invite you to suggest ways in which we could commemorate this historic occasion in Hackney South and Shoreditch.

Hackney Issues

Hackney Post Office

Further to the consultation highlighted in last month’s report, I have received correspondence from the Post Office that the Hackney branch will move to new premises.

It will now move from 382 Mare Street to 398 – 400 Mare Street. The Post Office will be incorporated into a modern pharmacy.
The date of the relocation will be confirmed at a later date.

Fair Finance

I am delighted to see that local social enterprise Fair Finance, has been awarded a Big Society Award by the Prime Minister.

This organisation, which was established in 2005, offers financial services to those who are struggling with finances or are financially excluded. In London, Fair Finance has helped to support 200 businesses through almost £10 million of financial support.

Congratulations to CEO Faisel Rahman, who through this scheme will help to move 50,000 people away from high cost credit.

For more information visit here

Improving safety in taxis

In October there was a ten minute rule bill put forward in the House of Commons which would require all licensed taxis in Hackney to have secure and encrypted CCTV installed.

This is being suggested in response to a series of physical attacks, racial abuse and even the murder of one taxi driver in Bedford. I believe that this would be a significant step towards further securing the safety of both passengers and drivers.

I would be interested to know if any residents in Hackney have experienced any incidents similar to this and would be grateful if you could get in touch with any information you have.

Community Animal Welfare Award

I was delighted to see that Hackney Council has achieved a Gold Community Animal Welfare Stray Dogs Footprint this year.

This shows that in Hackney, local authorities are helping to ensure that abandoned and stray dogs are treated in the best possible way.

If you would like to find out more information about this award and projects similar to that occurring in Hackney then visit here

Protecting consumers from price rises

I was pleased to see the announcement from Ofcom that new rules have been put in place which will allow consumers and small businesses to exit their landline, broadband or mobile phone contract without financial penalty if their provider increases the cost of their monthly deal.

This is an important step to ensure that customers are not taken advantage of by communications companies.

As Ofcom states, there has been too much inconsistency over penalty charging for people leaving their contracts, and this new measure will help the consumer know where they stand on their contracts.

These changes will take effect in three months time and any contract that is taken out after this period will be protected under the new rules. Ofcom is currently ensuring that providers are aware of the new rules.

For more information visit here.