Welcome to the April edition of the Lewisham East newsletter.
It has been a busy month in Westminster. I am not just talking about the weather and how it could not make up its mind to have a mini heat wave or to snow. It has also been busy in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine but also the cost-of-living crisis and the many ways this Conservative Government will negatively impact people across the country and Lewisham East.
In March I attended and spoke in many Bill debates, Urgent Questions and Ministerial Statements. Therefore, in this monthly round-up I will provide detail on how I have spoken out on various issues impacting on local people. This will include the Spring Statement and the cost-of-living crisis, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the release of Anoosheh Ashoori from detention in Iran, the rights of minors in police custody, recent Government announcements on the provision of education in schools, Partygate and the second anniversary of the first COVID-19 lockdown, work to increase awareness and understanding of issues that blind and partially sighted people face and the upcoming local elections.
If you would like to raise anything to my attention, please contact me and my office (via email@example.com). I am always happy to raise issues on my constituents’ behalf to the Government or other bodies.
Spring Statement and the cost of living
On 23 March 2022, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, delivered his Spring Statement to Parliament. I was far from impressed with the contents of the statement. The Chancellor tried to claim he was on the side of working people by introducing a temporary 12-month reduction of 5p per litre on fuel duty. His claim, however, was far from the truth.
The Chancellor could have properly scrapped his national insurance hike, yet he failed to do so. This will not help families who are struggling to make ends meet at a time when inflation is forecast to hit 7.4% this year, the highest rate in 30 years. Additionally, and Office of Budget Responsibility predicts that real household disposable income will now drop this year at the fastest rate since the 1950s.
As a result of the Government’s inaction, on 1st April the energy price cap rose by 54%. The Government should have listened to the Labour Party and introduced a one-off windfall tax on oil and gas companies to help struggling households. Clearly the Tories don’t want to do anything about the cost-of-living crisis.
Rest assured, I will continue to call on Rishi Sunak to stop burying his head in the sand and to start governing for the entire nation and not the privileged few. It is not acceptable that for every £6 Rishi Sunak has taken in tax since becoming Chancellor, he gave back just £1 in his Statement.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Over the past month I have found it hard to look at the images of destruction that Putin has inflicted on Ukraine. Cities like Mariupol are now under relentless bombing. My deepest sympathies go out to all Ukrainians whether they are fighting in their country, seeking asylum or are living in the UK but still have family in Ukraine.
I was outraged when I saw that Russian forces have bombed maternity hospitals. I was also appalled to see evidence showing Russian soldiers massacring Ukrainian civilians in Bucha and Irpin. US President Joe Biden has said Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin should face a trial for war crimes.
Russia’s leader is trying his best to terrorise the Ukrainian people to break their morale. Russia must comply with the laws of armed conflict. I and my Labour colleagues support the decision of the International Criminal Court prosecutor to open an investigation. I will continue to call for an immediate ceasefire and a complete withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine’s internationally recognised borders.
I will also continue highlighting the plight of Ukrainian refugees. In fact, I spoke in a parliamentary debate on this issue and relayed that there are 530 Ukrainians living in Lewisham, and many have family and friends in Ukraine. I made the point that the Home Office has not made it easy for refugees to receive food, drink and warmth.
Release of Anoosheh Ashoori
On March 16th my constituent Anoosheh Ashoori was flown out of Iran after being held in detention for nearly five years. He is now back to his family in Lewisham, it was here in this constituency that I was finally able to meet with him and his amazing family.
My first impression is that he is a humble and friendly person. In appearance and compared to his photographs he has visibly changed to when he was first taken hostage. That is not just because he is older. It is because he has been through so much.
As I listened to Anoosheh I feel he is experiencing survivor’s guilt. Whilst he is so grateful to be back home with his family, he knows that innocent people who he calls his friends, are still left behind and this is painful for him.
I also noticed that Anoosheh wants justice for the many others he has left behind. It struck me how kind and caring Anoosheh is, that after all he has been through, he said he would not truly celebrate until all those unjustly detained are released.
On his behalf and as his MP we are grateful to everyone who stood with us for his release and for his freedom.
The rights of minors in police custody
In Parliament I am starting to draw the Government’s attention to the rights of minors while in police custody. I have come across too many examples where children have suffered whilst held in police custody. One child, for instance spent 34 hours in custody, where an appropriate adult only arrived after over 16 hours of detention. In a debate I led last month, I called on the Government to rectify this situation.
Unfortunately, the Government did not engage with my demands to cut the maximum time children can stay in custody to 12 hours, they also failed to grasp that the law is not working as it should be. I called for urgent reform to address the damage done to children traumatised by this part of the criminal justice system. I stressed that long stays in custody suites that are built for adults are not fit for children.
This debate took place at the same time as the case of ‘Child Q’ caught the public attention. This poor 15-year-old girl was left traumatised after being strip searched by the police with no appropriate adult in her school while she was menstruating. In response I signed an all-London MP letter to the Home Secretary calling on the Home Secretary to make a statement in Parliament on how this was allowed to happen and what the Government are going to do to address.
I will keep a very close eye on these issues and continue to call for the welfare and rights of minors to be at the heart of the Government’s decision making.
Government announcements of provision of education
On Wednesday 28th March the Government published their schools white paper. The paper contained measures on forcing all schools to deliver a 32.5 hour school week at the very minimum as well as offered targeted support, including tutoring sessions and regular updates to parents. However, after two years of disruption for school children this is not enough. The Government should have used Labour’s children’s recovery plan which included an Education Recovery Premium, breakfast clubs and new activities for every child and small group tutoring for all who need it. When the white paper was released, I told the Secretary of State for Education that schools desperately need the classroom support teachers who have been drastically cut over the years by this Tory Government.
You can watch my question to the Secretary of State for Education here.
The next day the Government published their green paper on Special Education Needs and Disability (SEND) provision in Schools. This means the Government will now consult on measures to help children with SEND for 18 months. In response I stressed we need action not more dither and delay. When the green paper was presented to Parliament, I asked how the Government would address the lack of school places for SEND children. I also voiced my concern that the exclusion rate for children with SEND is disproportionately high.
You can watch my question to the Secretary of State for Education here.
Partygate and second anniversary vary of the first COVID-19 lockdown
Since reports that parties were held at the heart of Government during the pandemic surfaced, my anger at Boris Johnson and his senior official has steadily increased. This month marked the two year anniversary of the first COVID lockdown. This piece produced by the BBC details the experience, all too familiar to everyone who went through the pandemic, of the residents of Corona Road which is in Lewisham East.
It was therefore utterly staggering that on the day that 20 Downing Street aides were fined for breaking COVID rules, Tory MPs were drinking and dining out at an event hosted by Boris Johnson. The contempt towards decent law-abiding people was clearly summed up, when in the second batch of fines, Downing Street’s former head of propriety and ethics was fined for her role in illegal gatherings. You can count on me to continue to voice my disgust at how we were taken for fools during the pandemic and to carry on the calls for Boris Johnson to resign.
Increasing awareness and understanding of issues blind and partially sighted people face
This month I attended an event in Westminster hosted by the Sight Loss Council. I was very keen to hear from the Sight Loss Council volunteers about their life experiences and some of the key issues they have faced. I was deeply struck by these inspiring people. I will therefore be looking to spread awareness and understanding of the needs and aspirations of blind and partially sighted in Parliament and beyond.
The local elections on 5th May are now a stones throw away. Lewisham Council provides many of the services we all rely on. I would therefore like to encourage all residents who are registered to vote to cast their ballots.