I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and I wish you a Happy New Year.
After 2 years of lockdowns, there are a lot of nasty illnesses going around as well as COVID-19. I hope your festive holidays were not impacted too much by this and that you all received a well-earned rest.
Parliament returns from its Christmas Recess today and I am looking forward to continuing to hold this Government to account for its many failures as of which some are highlighted in this newsletter. I will not fail to mention that our country continues to suffer the effects of Brexit. I am particularly concerned about the state of our economy since we left the EU single market and customs union. With Brexit the Conservative’s policy is shambolic and it is costing people their livelihoods.
Keir Starmer’s New Year Speech
On Wednesday 4th January Rishi Sunak delivered a speech making empty promises on the economy the NHS and immigration. On 5th January Keir gave a speech and took questions from the media, setting out his agenda for 2023. In stark contrast to Rishi Sunak, Keir set out a different way of governing to that of the Tory decline that we have seen for more than a decade.
British people cannot be expected to tolerate the current dire economic conditions, alongside hospitals begging people to stay away and children going to school hungry. Labour will tackle and change this! Keir explained how a Labour Government, unlike the Tories, will move away from costly short-term decision-making so that we can get an economy that works for everyone.
You can watch Keir’s speech in full here.
A big worry as we start 2023 is the state of our National Health Service. Over 12 years of Conservative mismanagement has meant people are struggling to get a GP appointment or an operation. In an emergency, there’s no guarantee an ambulance will arrive at all.
Whilst the pandemic made a bad situation worse, the Conservative Government’s failure has meant that now 7 million people are waiting months and even years for treatment. Indeed, according to the Royal College of Emergency Medicine the NHS is facing the worst winter for A&E waits on record and some A&E departments are in a “complete state of crisis”.
Added to this, nurses will go on strike later this month whilst doctors will also be balloted. These are Rishi Sunak’s and Steve Barclay’s strikes. They drove nurses to vote to strike for the first time in their history, refused to negotiate, and declined the nurses’ offer to suspend the strikes.
It is against this backdrop that I am concerned about the spread of Strep A (Scarlett fever) among children in Lewisham East. Just before Christmas, it was announced that Lewisham was a hotspot for Strep A. Government data shows Lewisham has the highest toll in London with four infections. This disease has already tragically claimed the life of a child who attended a local school. It is a very serious matter, and I will continue to monitor this situation. The Government must urgently tackle this.
It is not just nurses and healthcare professionals who have been forced to strike. The year kicked off with yet another rail strike. This is alongside workers from other industries such as bus drivers and staff at National Highways voting to strike. The Government must do its job to get employers and trade unions back around the negotiating table to agree on a fair deal for workers. The anti-union legislation that has been announced is clearly the wrong approach for the Government to take.
I understand the strength of feeling amongst workers taking industrial action across the economy. In general, the Conservatives have stretched many public services to breaking point and created a recruitment/ retention crisis. Strikes are a last resort and workers don’t want to take action any more than anyone else wants it. I know this as I once held a picket line.
Yet the Government should do more to solve this crisis. Whilst in office they have a duty to improve the economic situation the UK finds itself in. Just this last week food inflation was recorded at a staggering 13.3%. In Lewisham East real wages have fallen by 4.3% since the Conservatives took power in 2010. As a result, people are worse off by £1,636 a year than they were in 2010.
If the Tories continue to ignore the cost-of-living crisis and if they do not change their stance towards the trade unions then I fail to see when these strikes will end.
Last month I chaired my third Sickle Cell and Thalassemia APPG meeting. It has now been a year since the APPG and the Sickle Cell Society published the “No one’s listening report” which found that patients have been let down in various and concerning ways.
We reflected on the work done since the report was published. But there was an acknowledgement that a lot more is needed to improve the healthcare experiences of Sickle Cell patients. As chair, the momentum of the report will be kept up so positive change is achieved.
Late last year the First Lady of Ukraine came to address Parliament. She said that “victory is not the only thing we need. We need justice.” I was disturbed to hear in detail about the barbaric treatment that women and girls are facing under Russian occupation. However, it was inspiring to see her husband President Zelensky travel to the US and meet President Biden just before Christmas. I am glad he reassured the world that Ukraine is “alive and kicking” and will never surrender.
My admiration for the brave people of Ukraine knows no bounds. The Ukrainian people have suffered much, especially with the relentless shelling over Christmas and the New Year. This invasion has seen so many atrocities and loss of life. Putin and his cronies ought to be prosecuted for their crimes.
Southeastern Timetable Changes
On December 11th Southeastern Rail implemented a new timetable that reduces the ability of people from Lewisham East to travel into central London. For several months I have been vocal in my opposition to drastic timetable changes Southeastern rail company made without consultation.
Southeast London has always been the poorer relation to north London in terms of transport connectivity. We do not have a tube network, and many rely on rail services to get around. This new timetable creates problems, not solutions. Recently I raised this issue in Parliament. You can read my full speech here.
Since the Parliamentary debate, the Government has written to impacted MPs. Please see the Government’s letter via this link.
Bakerloo Line extension
Despite the disappointment over Southeastern’s new timetable I was encouraged to hear the news that TfL is making plans to complete a Bakerloo Line Extension feasibility study. In the first phase of this extension, the line would reach Lewisham Station and in the second phase the National Rail line via Catford to Hayes would be converted to support London Underground.
Whilst there is a very long way to go, I will follow developments and do all I can to make sure residents finally have a greater ability to travel around London.
Greenvale Special School
Last month I was invited to visit Greenvale Special School. The school alongside SeeAbility provides sight tests to children with more profound disabilities. They do a fantastic job! I was told that the NHS Special Schools Eye Care Service, which does so much for so many could be under threat. Therefore, I along with the group of cross-party MPs wrote to the Government to highlight our concerns.
Last week I learnt that eye testing services are planned to continue in 83 special schools until 1st August 2023. Whilst this is good news, NHS England as well as the Department for Health and Social Care must recognise where ongoing services are desperately needed in day schools.
Borough of Culture
December marked the end of Lewisham’s year as the London Borough of Culture. Just before Christmas, I attended the Revel Puck Circus at Beckenham Place Park which was hosted by WeAreLewisham. My family and I loved it! The acrobatics, break dances and contemporary performances were breath-taking.
Lewisham’s year as the Borough of Culture has been a resounding success. I was so pleased that the area I call home was able to tell the story of its past as well as its present through so many forms such as public art, dance, music, and talks to name a few.
Lewisham Council is commended for all their hard work this year. Our Borough is richer for it.
Thank you for reading this newsletter.