Welcome to the September edition of my Lewisham East Newsletter. I hope everyone has had a lovely summer and taken some time off to relax and enjoy themselves.
The recent heatwave was very concerning and confirmed to the nation that we are in a climate crisis. These temperatures we have been experiencing are likely to become more common in the years ahead. We have seen heated debates from the two Conservative candidates, who have been competing for the position of Prime Minister and seem to think that a mishmash of Thatcherite policies will solve the crisis.
This is undoubtedly not enough and is something I will talk about later in this Newsletter, along with the climate crisis, Home Office deportations, the war in Ukraine and other areas of concern.
As you know, I pride myself in being approachable and if you would like to raise anything with me, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Cost-of-Living-Crisis and the Conservative Leadership
Last week millions of people learnt of the shocking news that energy prices will rise by 80% from October. This is not acceptable during a cost-of-living crisis. We cannot continue making working people pay whatever the big energy companies demand. In Lewisham, 14,928 three-day emergency food parcels were given to people in 2021-22. This was an increase of 10,911 in the past seven years. I am concerned that unless something drastic is done, this figure is set to rise massively.
Conservative mismanagement of the economy is making the cost of living far worse for families in Lewisham East and this cannot continue. Whilst the Tories have been fighting amongst themselves in a leadership contest that has dragged on for what seems like an eternity, it is Labour who are focused on helping hard working families through the pain of ever rising energy prices.
A Labour Government would stop the price cap going up whilst increasing the windfall tax on the oil and gas producers as well as closing costly loopholes. Labour will also make sure that people on pre-paid meters are not penalised compared to those who pay their bills monthly. Our fully funded package will reduce energy demand, lower bills in the longer term and create new jobs by insulating 19 million homes across the country over the next decade through Labour’s Warm Homes Plan.
I have heard from so many constituents who are very worried about the planned increase to the energy price cap. In Westminster I will use every mechanism at my disposal to hold whoever the new Prime Minister is to account.
uring the last few months, we have all endured an intense heatwave. In mid-July the temperatures reached 40 degrees for the first time ever in the UK. We are in the midst of a climate crisis. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and others have provided a grave warning that disaster lies ahead if we continue with business as usual. The extreme heat we have seen in the UK this summer has only added to these warnings. The IPCC makes clear that there is still time to act if we do so urgently.
This week, we have seen horrific monsoons and floods in Pakistan. It has killed over 1,000 people and caused at least £8.5bn of damage, and many people face serious food shortages. The Pakistani Climate Change Minister has said one third of Pakistan is underwater with 33 million people affected. This demonstrates that the international community must band together to avert worldwide disaster and Britain should play its role in this.
Lewisham Council declared a climate emergency in 2019 and has proposed a target to be carbon neutral by 2030. The Government declared a climate emergency as well, but it has been too slow to act. Therefore it is vital that the Tories follow Labour’s plan for energy security because whilst it will help tackle the cost-of-living crisis it will also reduce the UK’s contribution to climate change. The plan would double the national target for offshore and onshore wind production and triple the UK’s solar power target of 40GW by 2030. We also need a robust net-zero and nature test for all Government spending.
Forced Deportation to Jamaica
Recently, on a BBC Documentary you may have heard me contribute about the case of Eric who has family in Lewisham East. Eric was born in Jamaica but moved to the UK as a young child, with his family in the early 1990s. He was granted indefinite leave to remain. Devastatingly, he was groomed into crime from a young age and in his teenage years he was diagnosed with mental disorder. What followed was convictions for multiple offences.
Earlier this year Eric was deported by the Home Office because they claim he is a “foreign criminal.” The fact he was deported on the ground of his Jamaican citizenship has too many similarities with the Windrush scandal. He was and remains in a mental health crisis. He was labelled by the Government as a dangerous criminal and deemed well enough to travel, both claims were untrue. In addition to this he was not well enough to travel and was heavily sedated as he was put on the flight.
The BBC made a short documentary. I would urge you to watch it. We need to keep up the pressure in exposing the callousness of the Home Office’s immigration policy and why it is currently not fit for purpose.
War in Ukraine
On 24 August it was Ukrainian Independence Day. It is also just over six months since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Throughout that time, I have been amazed by the determination of the Ukrainian people in how they have defended freedom and democracy. Over 11.2 million people have fled the country since the conflict. That is a staggering amount. I am proud that Lewisham, as a Borough of Sanctuary has done a lot for these refugees, but there is still more to be done.
The Government on the other hand have not carried themselves with the same dignity. Tory leadership hopeful and our current foreign secretary was foolish to insult Emmanuel Macron, by saying ‘the jury’s out’ on him after she was asked if he was a “friend or foe”. At a time of conflict, we need our Foreign Secretary and potential Prime Minister to work with our NATO allies and hold up the Western coalition against Putin. Her comments reflect sheer opportunism in getting as many leadership votes from Tory members as possible.
Afghanistan Evacuation – One Year On
We are now one year on from the evacuation of Afghanistan. When the Taliban took power, I immediately held a special meeting in Lewisham for the Afghan community. So many worried and distressed residents came to me all wanting help for their relatives. Whilst the Taliban have cemented their grip on the country by limiting women’s rights and persecuting those who helped the British and American forces there remains many questions over the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS).
I therefore wrote to the Home Secretary about my concerns that there are many vulnerable Afghans who are unable to access the scheme, thereby leaving them trapped in the Afghanistan or in refugee camps in the wider region. I put three questions to the Home Secretary:
- What information can she provide about how their families may seek assistance and access to the ACRS through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)?
- How will refugees be identified by the UNHCR?
- Whether the people must currently be in a refugee camp?
I have not yet heard back from Priti Patel, but when I do I hope it satisfactorily answers these queries. Although considering how the Home Office has been run by the Conservatives since they took power, I am not optimistic.
Ticket Office Closures
Are rail ticket offices set to be closed across England? The Government has only stated that no final decision has been taken, yet the move to contactless and digital ticketing has been emphasised in the Government’s response to this question.
I am particularly concerned for those members of the community who will be disproportionally impacted by these plans. This includes vulnerable people and the three million people over the age of 65 who have never used the internet. The importance of face-to-face interactions for many residents, when seeking to travel from the station cannot be overstated. Any major decisions that could change the current day to day service must have this in mind.
It is essential that local people’s concerns are heard if these plans go ahead.
London City Airport
Today London City Airport concludes its consultation on extending its flight times. Over the summer I have analysed these plans and have found that the 24-hour weekend ban on flights from London City Airport must be protected, flight paths need to change before any other expansive proposals are considered. There are also doubts on whether the new planes that will be flown by the City Airport are demonstrably quieter than the older models currently used. Surely it is obvious that expansions to flight paths and flight numbers should be weighed up against the need improve our air quality.
Lewisham East is on a double flight path, which is wrong as the flights are not equally distributed across London. This is what I object to and will continue to raise with the City Airport along with Heathrow. I will continue to voice the concerns of local people on this issue. I am planning to engage with local stakeholders and pressure groups in the weeks and month ahead.
In late July I was delighted to celebrate the new library opening in Catford alongside the Mayor of Lewisham, Damien Egan. The library will offer a 7 day a week service to borrow books, meet and learn in community/workspaces and pods.
I was also honoured to be presented with my own copy of Green Lewisham which looks at Lewisham’s award-winning parks and green spaces.
Out of 650 constituencies, Lewisham East ranks in the bottom 100 constituencies for literacy rates. This is not acceptable. The Government must invest more in areas like ours to improve this situation. Nevertheless, the fact we have a wonderful new library where children can learn and enjoy reading books of all kinds is a positive step in the right direction.
GCSE and A-level results
Lastly, I want to say a huge congratulations to everyone who received their A-Level and GCSE results. It has not been easy working and studying throughout the pandemic. There have been many obstacles and challenges that past cohorts did not encounter before the pandemic started.
The adversity of the past few years makes all our young people’s achievements that extra bit more special. Students, parents, and teachers should all be proud.
Thank you for reading this Newsletter.