December Newsletter 2022
My Parliamentary work during the past month has been jam-packed with debates and votes; however, I have also taken the time to campaign on issues that matter to local people. This includes the extension of the ULEZ zone in London, an emerging school dinners funding crisis, and the Southeastern timetable changes. I have spoken out on wider issues such as the diversity of women in art and the Qatar world cup.
Extension of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone
Last week it was fantastic to attend and to support Sadiq Khan’s launch event of the extension of the ULEZ zone. It is undeniable that clean air is a human right. It is disgraceful that 4,000 people in London die due to toxic air annually. Indeed 105 people from Lewisham have died due to air pollution this year.
In response to these figures, I held a Clean Air Fair in Catford Broadway in June. The aim of the event was to get local groups together to highlight the need for a joined-up approach to tackle the scourge that is air pollution. It is vital that urgent action such as extending the ULEZ charge is implemented imminently.
School dinners crisis
School dinners allow children to concentrate in the classroom and to have a healthy lifestyle. It was therefore a pleasure to meet Raheem, a local school chef at the “Annual School Lunch” in Parliament this week.
However, I have been concerned to hear from local head teachers across my constituency about the worsening shortfall between what schools are given to pay for each free school meal and what each free school meal costs for our schools.
Currently, schools across the country receive £2.30 for each free school meal. In recent months, most catering companies have put up their price by a considerable amount, ranging from £2.50 per plate to over £3 per plate. This is mainly due to cost inflation of staff wages, energy prices and the complications of Brexit that the catering companies have had to pass on to schools.
Yet covering this surplus is coming out of already stretched school budgets. Many schools are paying more than £20,000 out of their reserves to caterers to make up the difference, which is not sustainable. This is a national problem, especially for areas with many families eligible for free school meals. This can be as high as 50% if not higher in some constituencies.
Southeastern timetable changes
In September, Southeastern announced that it will be making drastic changes to its timetable, with no consultation for passengers to express their views. Since then, I have been doing all I can to make Southeastern think again, or at least formally consult. The largest change will affect Blackheath station which will see all off-peak trains head to Cannon Street instead of Charing Cross.
I along with fellow Blackheath Cllrs started a petition which was signed by hundreds of residents calling for a reversal of the timetable. It was handed into Southeastern this week. I also organised a “Save our Trains” protest outside Blackheath station and I have written to every Blackheath resident to encourage them to complete a survey in which I will relay the results back to Southeastern.
It should not be forgotten that Southeastern was taken into ownership by the Government last year. They also deserve their fair share of the blame. It is the Department for Transport that has allowed Southeastern to make these changes on 11th December without the need to consult. Next week there will be a Westminster Hall debate on this and I will hold the Government to account.
Art for All by All
This year I have been working with some amazing local women who are passionate about improving the diversity of art in museums and galleries. Their overall aim is simple. They are calling for the Government to require the galleries it funds to work towards greater diversity in their collections.
I was delighted to host a Parliamentary reception for these women and their campaign to achieve “Art for All by All” last week. This was an opportunity for Parliamentarians to hear about the need to address inequality in our national galleries by showing more women’s art and how these MPs could put pressure on the Government to do this.
The Qatar World Cup
The world cup is always an exciting time for the country. Indeed, I have enjoyed watching the England team go unbeaten in the 3 games they have played so far. Yet the tournament has been mired in controversy.
Several construction workers have been killed building the infrastructure of this tournament. They must not be forgotten and the issue of improving workers’ rights internationally, especially for migrant workers, must be raised throughout the competition!
It is also atrocious that LGBTQ+ people are having to watch the tournament play out in a country where they could be arrested for simply being themselves. I was therefore keen to show my solidarity and pick up my rainbow laces from Stonewall ahead of England’s match against Wales.
Click here to watch my and other MPs messages on the importance of standing with LGBTQ+ people and fans during the World Cup.
It was great to get in the Christmas spirit by attending a lovely event in Rushey Green to turn on the Christmas tree lights. I would strongly encourage you to attend the first festive edition of the Catford Food Market. It will take place on Sunday 11th December from 10.00 am-4.00 pm where local traders will showcase their products, which hopefully will include some great stocking fillers!
Constituency Annual End-of-Year Update 2022
Welcome to my annual end-of-year update. It has certainly been quite a year!
We have seen three Conservative Prime Ministers, the death of the late HRH Queen Elizabeth, a spiralling cost-of-living crisis and war in Ukraine.
Nevertheless, there has been cause for optimism and joy here in Lewisham East over the past 12 months. As many of you know Lewisham was awarded the London Borough of Culture for 2022. I was delighted to see the Borough’s rich history of activism and standing up for equality showcased across our constituency.
The success of Labour in the local elections was fantastic and it was great to see candidates’ and members’ hard work and determination pay off. Damian Egan was re-elected as Mayor of Lewisham with an increased majority whilst every Labour candidate who stood for office was elected. Due to our overwhelming mandate here in Lewisham East and across the Borough, I am very optimistic that Labour can continue the job of delivering for local people next year and in the years to come.
Conservative Chaos and the cost-of-living crisis
It is clear to see that after 12 years of Government, the Conservatives are not fit to govern. Indeed, they have had 5 Prime Ministers in 6 years. This year we have seen a dramatic rise in people suffering from the cost-of-living crisis, yet the Government have failed to do anything about it.
Boris Johnson was too caught up in dealing with the aftermath of partygate to concentrate on helping struggling families pay for their heating. Liz Truss’ mini-Budget was supposed to help, but instead it was an act of economic self-sabotage. What we saw was high inflation, the devaluing of the pound, pension funds plummeting, and mortgage rates being hiked.
With Rishi Sunak, I have yet to see anything substantial that he would do to help struggling people during this crisis. The strikes we have witnessed over the past year has been costly and tiresome for all involved. Yet it all stems from the Tories’ inability to govern. This week we heard that up to 100,000 nurses plan to walk out to strike before Christmas. These are dedicated professionals, and it is appalling how things have had to come to this.
Rest assured, I have been, and I will continue to urge for a General election as soon as possible. Only with a Labour Government will people’s work and living standards go up.
I also want to thank all those who have helped Ukrainian refugees flee the war. For instance, this year I was honoured to visit the Lewisham Polish Centre alongside Ellie Reeves MP. We met the Chair, Agnieszka Lokaj and welcomed one of the first families to arrive in Lewisham after they were forced to flee Ukraine.
Easing of Covid restrictions
This year we saw the easing of COVID-19 restrictions. I know all of us have enjoyed seeing our loved ones again, socialising with friends and visiting places without having to worry about social distancing
Nevertheless, we must never forget all those who died. It is scandalous that 212,000 people have died since the start of the pandemic. The Government should hang their head in shame over this.
When families are suffering from high inflation, it is shameful that the Government’s failure to control PPE contracts has meant that fraud in three COVID-19 schemes totalled £4.5bn. To add insult to injury the taxpayer is only going to get £1.1bn back. This money could have helped vulnerable people who are struggling to make ends meet during this cost-of-living crisis.
Thank you for reading this and best wishes,