Welcome to my November Newsletter where I will share with you the main issues I’ve raised in parliament and elsewhere as your MP over the past month. I’ll also be sharing an update on the coronavirus crisis and useful contact information which may help support you and your family during this difficult time.
As always, I would love to hear from you if you agree with how I’m approaching things and what further issues you think I should be addressing via the details at the top of this report. I, and my office team, will continue to help support you and all constituents and to raise issues with the government or with agencies if they do not appear to have them on their agenda.
I wish you all well at this difficult time.
In May 2019 the Equality and Human Rights Commission launched an investigation into allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party. This investigation has now been concluded and the EHRC has published its report and recommendations, which can be found here.
Like many of you, I am ashamed and distressed at the findings of this report. Rebuilding trust with the Jewish community is a priority for me in my brief as Shadow Minister for Faith – but it is also a key objective for Keir Starmer in his leadership. Labour is committed to implementing every single recommendation of the report, as soon as we can. Find out our full response here.
The report’s conclusions are clear and stark. The Commission has found that the Labour Party has breached the Equality Act in terms of unlawful harassment and indirect discrimination towards the Jewish community.
We are absolutely clear that the Party accepts the report and its recommendations in full. It is up to all of us to change the Party’s culture and make sure that we are once again, an open and welcoming place for people from all backgrounds and all communities. For further reading, you can also find a transcript of Keir Starmer’s statement here.
The Lawrence Review
On 27th October the Labour Party published a report conducted by Baroness Doreen Lawrence, titled An Avoidable Crisis: The disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.
This report investigates the various ways in which those communities have been worst hit by Covid-19; in terms of rates of transmission, mortality, and the socio-economic factors lying behind that.
Keir Starmer has been calling for a Government review into the racial disparity in the Covid impact since the crisis started in the Spring. We know that this crisis is avoidable, and it doesn’t have to be this way; if the Government acts now, they can reduce this harmful trend before more Black, Asian and minority ethnic lives are needlessly lost. Further information on the report and the position of the Labour Party can also be found here.
This month I have met with a variety of faith groups and leaders to discuss the impact the Covid-19 pandemic is having on their communities. In spite of severe financial problems, places of worship and their congregations continue to serve their neighbourhoods so well. It is a joy to learn about the charitable initiatives happening not just in Lewisham but across the country, powered by people of faith.
However, I continue to be concerned about the Government’s approach to faith groups, particularly in the lack of consultation on Covid regulations. I will continue to speak out on this. I also asked Robert Jenrick what financial support they planned to give faith groups – the Government are still refusing to move on this.
Women and Equalities Brief
Last month we celebrated Black History Month, which felt especially poignant after a year of activity in the movement for racial equality, and the pain experienced in Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities from Covid-19.
I was delighted to speak in a range of events to mark the month and support the work of Marsha De Cordova and Keir Starmer in launching Labour’s plans for a black curriculum. I also wrote an article for the Independent to highlight the role Black Christians have played in the movement for equality. Separately, I have been working on the issue of the crisis in women’s employment. I also questioned the Government on what support they would give to the disproportionate numbers of women in the retail sector being made redundant with no renumeration.
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill
This month, the government presented this bill to parliament. This Bill is about covert human intelligence sources (CHIS) who are working to disrupt some of the vilest crimes, including terrorism, violent drug gangs, serious and organised crime and child sexual exploitation.
I believe it is vital that our security services can disrupt this activity, prevent further crime and bring people to justice. Indeed, since March 2017, MI5 and Counter Terror Police have together thwarted 27 terror attacks.
I welcome that this Bill seeks to bring the work of CHIS under a clear legal framework with oversight and safeguards. Crucial to these safeguards is the fact that the Human Rights Act is on the face of the Bill. This means that no criminal authorisation can go beyond its limits – in effect this prohibits murder, torture and sexual violence.
However, I believe there should be further safeguards within the Bill and I sought to amend the Bill to provide for these on 15 October. Firstly, I voted to ensure that judicial authorisation is required for applications to use the powers in this Bill. I voted for an amendment to insert further explicit limitations on certain criminal conduct. Finally, I voted for an amendment to explicitly exempt trade union activity from the powers in the Bill. I am disappointed that these amendments were rejected by the Government, and therefore not made to the Bill.
The Bill will now be considered by the House of Lords, where I hope amendments providing for further safeguards can be secured and will also be given the further scrutiny that it requires.
Mr Anoosheh Ashoori
As many of you will be aware, my constituent and our neighbour Mr Ashoori is currently being held against his will in Iran along with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
Mr Ashoori is a British/Iranian dual national and has been held in Evin prison for nearly three years on charges of espionage. He is 66 years old and has been increasingly concerned about the risk of a Covid-19 outbreak in the prison which at his age, could be life threatening. On Tuesday (03/11/2020) I once again asked a question in the House of Commons calling for answers regarding his detainment, and for a further update on the government’s plan to facilitate his release. You can see my question here.
As always, I will continue to challenge the government along with my colleagues in parliament to help resolve this grave injustice and bring about, not only his release, but the release of all British/Iranian dual nationals who are being unjustly held by the Iranian regime.
New Coronavirus Restrictions
Last Saturday, the Prime Minister announced that England would be going into a lockdown from Thursday 5th November until Wednesday 2nd December. The Labour has long called for a ‘circuit break’.
Whilst this lockdown is overdue and has cost lives, the party will fully support a new lockdown, but has voiced grave concern on the lack of an exit strategy.
The new rules regarding the lockdown are as follows:
- People must stay at home except for education, work (if it can’t be done from home), exercise and recreation, medical reasons, shopping for food and other essentials, or to care for others;
- All pubs and restaurants will have to close (takeaways and deliveries can continue);
- All non-essential shops will have to close (supermarkets can sell non-essential goods);
- Households will not be allowed to mix with others indoors, or in private gardens unless they form a support bubble with another single member household;
- Individuals can meet one person from outside their household in an outside public space;
- Children will be able to move between homes if their parents are separated;
- Schools, nurseries, colleges and universities will remain open;
- Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies will not be allowed, apart from exceptional circumstances;
- Places of worship will generally close but funerals, with a maximum of 30 people attending, individual prayer, and a few other activities will be allowed;
- Workplaces will be asked to stay open if people cannot work from home – including construction and manufacturing;
- Outdoor exercise and recreation will be allowed, but gyms will have to close;
- Clinically vulnerable advised not to go to work if they are unable to work from home.
After 2nd December, different regions will return to the tiers system, depending upon the rates of infection.
Further reading on the Labour Party position regarding a new lockdown can be found here.
Last week the Government withdrew support for free school meals for children during school holidays. In Lewisham 12,479 children rely on free school meals, and this decision has left many families and schools in a difficult position.
With the council’s support, Lewisham schools stepped up and filled the gap over the recent half term. Children who needed free school meals got them.
Further to this, after months of work, the council announced that it will be the first in the country to pilot a new and innovative scheme to help people who are facing homelessness. The scheme is called Proxy Address and it will help break down the barriers that many people face when trying to access support services without an address. I’m sure you will agree that this scheme should not have had to happen in the first place, but none the less is a fantastic innovation from our council.
More information about the scheme can be found here.
Coronavirus Help and Support
- General information on Coronavirus
- Covid-19: Keeping Lewisham Safe
- Health support for residents
- Housing and homelessness advice
- Business support
- Service changes due to COVID-19
Other available advice:
- Citizens Advice Lewisham
- Lewisham Foodbank – Please note changes to services
- Age UK Lewisham & Southwark
- Government business advice – Support Helpline (0300 456 3565 Mon – Fri, 9am to 6pm)
- HMRC Tax Support Helpline – (0800 024 1222, Mon – Fri, 8am to 4pm)
Domestic abuse and Mental Health support: