I attended the Guarantee Our Essentials event to listen to Ian from the Joseph Resolution Foundation (JRF), Jess from Trussell Trust (TT), and Sir Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee discussing the proposal that the UK Government should introduce an Essentials Guarantee (EG), which would embed in our social security system the widely supported principle that at a minimum Universal Credit (UC) should protect people from going without essentials.
The JRF and TT research shows that 90% of households on UC are going without essentials, UC is now at its lowest level as a proportion of average earnings, 66% of the public believe UC is too low, almost 50% of households have their UC reduced by benefits deductions and caps. Inadequate social security is the main driver of food bank need. The TT gave out 1.3 million parcels between April and September 2022.
The Essentials Guarantee, developed in line with public attitude insights, and focus groups, would ensure that this policy would enshrine in legislation:
- An independent process to regularly determine the EG level based on the cost of essentials, such as food, utilities, and vital household goods, for the adults in a household excluding rent and council tax.
- That UC’s standard allowance must at least meet this level.
- That deductions, such as debt repayments to UK Government, or as a result of the benefit cap, can never pull support below this level.
The JRF and TT analysis indicates it should be at least £120 for a single adult, and £200 for a couple.
The cost of implementing the Essentials Guarantee would be an additional £22 billion a year in 2023-24, assuming full roll out of UC. The devastating effect of people going without essentials has a profound effect on our society, and our economy, and there will be savings to public services as a result of improved outcomes, not costed in this figure.
Stephen Timms said that social security benefits are reviewed every year, but are not updated, and in real terms the current level is the lowest in 40 years. He said that his committee’s inquiry into the level of benefits will be reporting in the near future, and that low benefits are a problem for the economy because people take the first job offered, irrespective of matching their skills, so economic productivity is a problem. Stephen said that during the pandemic the UK Government provided money for a £20 week UC enhancement, and that should have continued. The UC uplift also prevented sanctions. Stephen said that benefits levels are not linked to anything logical, it’s an arbitrary figure, which is actually set at the deep poverty level, not the poverty level. And the gaps for under 25s are bigger.
The event was very well attended, and there was agreement among speakers and attendees to support the EG proposals.
The business in the chamber was the debate on the Illegal Migration Bill. The Labour Party Reasoned Amendment to Second Reading of the Illegal Migration Bill was pushed to a vote at 10pm and was lost by 249-312 votes. The opposition parties voted against the Second Reading of the Bill and lost by 250-312 votes, against the Programme Motion and lost by 248-312 votes, and against the Money Motion and lost by 246-310 votes.
The Child Maintenance Services APPG, chaired by Jamie Stone MP, was held online and the guest speaker was Sir Stephen Timms MP who spoke about his Work and Pensions Committee enquiry into Children in Poverty, which will be published after Easter. He spoke about the themes of the enquiry which were formulated after taking evidence from witnesses at the committee. Gingerbread stated that for CMS, there are 1.9 million families caring for 1.9 million children, and single parent families are experiencing twice the rate of poverty as couples. If CM was paid in full it would lift 60% out of poverty.
Parents receiving CM:
Enforcement had improved but the National Audit Office (NAO) found it could be better. Half the payments are not made, so arrears are continually growing. There is scope for fraud in self-employed paying parents, and no enforcement for receiving parents. Domestic abusers exert control, especially in direct payments, so there is a need for legislation to stop this.
Enforcement is also very slow.
Parents paying CM:
The rates of payment have not been updated since 1998.
The affordability of payments disincentivises paying parents to get work because they will have to increase payments.
After paying, some are left with little money to live on.
There have been suicides among paying parents.
CM calculations are not accurate.
Historic debts and CSA are included in payment calculations.
There is no explanation about how CM is assessed or calculated.
CMS does not encourage settlement between parties, because there are winners and losers, but no compromise.
I look forward to the publication of the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s report.
I called into the Cat Theft event hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Cats, and met representatives from Pet Theft Awareness which is an organisation dedicated to highlighting the growing threat of pet abduction within the public and Parliament. The Cat Theft Report 2022 consists of FOI requests about cat theft sent to all UK police forces from 2015-2021. Very little data previously existed before this report collated it from the forces that responded. The report found that during 2020-21, cat theft soared by 40% to an all time high of 560. But only 2 cases resulted in prosecution in 2021, which equates to 0.035%. The UK Government has decided to exclude cats from the pet abduction offence in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, so cats will still be treated as inanimate objects under the Theft Act 1968, and their sentience is not recognised.
I joined the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) Earth Hour UK event. On 25th March every year, millions of people around the world take time out of their busy lives to reflect on what nature means to them. Earth Hour is one of the largest movements for the planet, and gives us a chance to take a moment in solidarity, coming together to look after each other and our one shared home. We need to reset, recharge, and re-evaluate how we can continue standing up for our world every day. This year WWF UK are focusing closer to home on the amazing nature across the UK featured in the BBC series Wild Isles with Sir David Attenborough. The series focuses on the beautiful nature in the UK, and the need to protect the biodiversity, because unfortunately the UK is in the bottom 10% of global countries, where biodiversity is concerned.
The Urgent Question (UQ) on HS2 was very well attended, and I stood hoping to be called by the Speaker. I was the penultimate person to be called, and I asked the Minister whether he accepted the Welsh Affairs Committee cross-party recommendation that HS2 is reclassified as an England-only project and Wales will then receive £5 billion Barnett Consequentials which will allow the Welsh Labour Government to continue to expand public transport services so that people in Wales will receive the same benefits from HS2 as those in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland? The Minister did not give a direct answer.
The APPG Western Gateway (WG) meeting was held so that members could have a confidential preview of WG’s 2050 vision to transform rail for South Wales and Western England, which will be launched at an event in Bristol on 23rd March 2023.
I attended the AGM of the APPG Western Rail Link, and was re-elected a vice-chair. Tan Dhesi MP for Slough was re-elected chair. The APPG has been campaigning for many years for a rail link to join Reading to Heathrow Airport, removing the necessity for passengers flying from Heathrow to take the train from West of the UK to Paddington in order to get the Heathrow Express from Paddington to Heathrow, or for passengers to get off the trains from the West of England or Wales at Reading, and get a bus from Reading to Heathrow. Unfortunately, this service doesn’t often link up as planned, and causes huge waiting times between rail and bus journeys. The proposed rail link will be 6.5km between GWR main line and Heathrow, taking 26 minutes, and will create 42,000 new jobs, with £1.5 billion savings to business. 20% of the UK would have access to Heathrow via one rail interchange, saving 30 million road miles per year, reducing congestion on M4, M3, and M25. It was announced by UK Government in 2012 as a nationally significant infrastructure project. It has widespread stakeholder and business support, and it has been fully costed, but is awaiting final planning approval and funding. Public consultation took place in 2018. A platform has already been built at Terminal 5 at Heathrow. The project stalled during Covid, but now is the time to resurrect the campaign so that passengers from the West who want to travel the world can enjoy direct travel to Heathrow.
The AGM of the APPG on Autism was well attended, and I was re-elected a vice-chair. The Rt Hon Sir Robert Buckland MP was elected chair. Autism is a lifelong disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world. There are over 7000,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. Without support and understanding they will miss out on education, struggle to find work, and become isolated. The National Autistic Society (NAS) transforms lives, changes attitudes to create a society that embraces autistic people. The Moonshot Vision is central to everything the NAS wants to achieve, and is the answer to the question “what does a society that works for autistic people look like?”. It consists of two parts: future realities and milestones along the way.
I attended the newly constituted APPG for Trade Justice, whose aim is to explore how trade has a real life impact, including how trade interacts with food standards, farming and animal welfare, environment and climate change, jobs and workers’ rights, sustainable development, human rights and the rule of law, digital rights and online harm, public services, health and the NHS. I was elected a vice-chair. Members of the APPG received a briefing about the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), and its need of revision to face the challenges of the 21st century. The ECT was designed in the 1990s, with 50 signatories, but the ISDS in the treaty has been used by fossil fuel companies to sue governments for billions when governments try and curb dangerous global heating projects. The EU has been leading reform, but some member states have withdrawn completely from the ECT, and the European Commission advocates a full bloc withdrawal. The UK needs to withdraw from the ECT, or risk the UK Government being sued when it rejects applications for fossil fuel projects by multinational companies.
I called into the Payment Choice Alliance (PCA) drop in and learned about the campaign by the Payment Choice Alliance to empower voters to make their own payment decisions. Businesses are going cashless, and ATMs are declining. The PCA’s mission is that everyone should have the right to choose cash or card, banks should provide a free cash deposit and withdrawal machine, and better technology should be available that gives everyone opportunities to use their cash when they choose.
I bobbed during the newly created Department for Science, Innovation and Technology Oral Questions, and raised the superb R&D facility being built as part of the Global Centre of Rail Excellence being developed in Onllwyn in Neath. I spoke about the GCRE becoming the UK’s first net zero rail testing facility, rail innovation, testing and verification for mainline passenger and freight railways, developing next generation for the rail sector, and asked the new Minister Michelle Donelan MP if she would reconfirm her Government’s commitment to deliver £10 million for research and development at the GCRE. The new Minister stated that she was happy to meet me to discuss in detail the point I was raising. I have emailed Ms Donelan and formally requested a meeting.
I spoke in the Westminster Hall debate about Local Housing Allowance (LHA) secured by the Honourable Member for Arfon, Hywel Williams MP. I stated that Wales is facing a housing crisis because there is a shortage of affordable properties that people can purchase or rent. The shortage forces many low-income families to move into a property they cannot afford, risking financial hardship, or into a property in poor condition, or seek assistance from homelessness services. Research by the Bevan Foundation found 51 properties advertised for rent in Neath in February 2023, but not one was covered by the LHA rate, which the UK Government has frozen since 2020 at 2018-19 private rental rates. The UK Government is responsible for determining the rate, and it must ensure that it covers the cost of renting a property. The chancellor could have used his Spring Budget to increase the rate, but he didn’t. He has not provided housing security, increased mental and physical illness amongst people struggling to pay their rent, or put food on the table, and put added pressure on local authorities trying to deliver frontline services.
The House was sitting on Friday for Private Members’ Bills (PMB) and I was in the Chamber to support the Report Stage and Third Reading of the PMB to Ban Trophy Hunting. I have been an officer of the APPG to Ban Trophy Hunting, chaired by Sir Roger Gale MP, for many years, and have been part of the campaign to ban the import of trophies taken by animal hunters into the UK. The founders of the campaign were my dear friends, Eduardo Goncalves, author of many books about the disgusting cruelty of trophy hunting, and the late Sir David Amess MP, who championed animal welfare throughout his time in Parliament. Despite the Bill having cross party and UK Government support, a few Conservative backbenchers had tabled 26 wrecking amendments in a tactic to prevent the Bill passing its stages in the Commons. The amendments were in the names of Sir Christopher Chope MP and Sir Bill Wiggins MP. If all or any of the amendments had been pushed to a vote, the Bill would have run out of time. The amendments’ proposers spoke about the false statistics produced by the campaign and highlighted in Eduardo’s books, and that trophy hunting was beneficial because the vast sums of money that Trophy hunters pay to kill defenceless wild animals helps to conserve lands in Africa. The Government Whip Rebecca Harries MP negotiated a compromise with the rebels that the UK Government would accept two of the amendments which would allow the Bill to pass without a vote. I intervened on the Bill’s sponsor Henry Smith MP to state my constituency’s support for the Bill and commend Eduardo for founding the campaign and revealing the sordid world of killing sentient animals for entertainment. I also intervened on Sir David’s successor Anna Firth MP who was making a very emotional speech about Sir David to say how kind Sir David was to me since I became an MP in 2015, and how he encouraged me to become involved in animal welfare campaigns. The Minister Trudy Harrison MP pledged UK Government support, and that Bill passed through its Report and Third Reading stages, and has progressed to the Lords where it will proceed through similar stages.
The Rt Hon Chris Skidmore MP secured a thirty-minute debate in Westminster Hall debate on the Energy Charter Treaty ECT. For thirty-minute debates, there are no other speakers apart from the proposer and the UK Government Minister, but members can make short interventions with prior permission from the proposer. I contacted Chris in advance, and he kindly gave me permission to make an intervention. Chris made the case for the UK to withdraw from the ECT as soon as possible. I made the point that if the UK cancels oil and gas projects it could face legal claims under the ISDS mechanism of the ECT of up to £9.4 billion.
Chris Skidmore MP was re-elected chair of the Environment APPG at its AGM, and I was re-elected one of the vice-chairs. The Green Alliance was confirmed as the secretariat for another 12 months.
I supported the World Down’s Syndrome Day event hosted by Rt Hon Liam Fox MP who has been campaigning on behalf of Down’s Syndrome families for many years. It is nearly a year since the ground-breaking Down Syndrome Act became law, and people from all over the UK have contributed to the UK Government’s call for evidence from which the guidance will be drafted.
I supported the Fair Game event for South Wales MPs, sponsored by Jess Morden MP Newport East to listen to guest speakers: Niall Cooper, CEO of Fair Game; Mike Baker, Director of Advocacy, Fair Game, and it was hoped that John Scales former Liverpool player would attend, but unfortunately, he couldn’t make it. Fair game are a grassroots organisation who have engaged with football clubs across the UK and in South Wales. Their aim is to indentify problems, consult experts, to provide long term solutions. They believe that clubs are the hub of communities and should be helped to be sustainable, and offer men’s, women’s, children’s, and walking football. However, well run clubs are never rewarded. The speakers told us about the need to reform financial and governance structures in football to make the game work for supporters at all levels following the White Paper on Football Governance and the Fan Led Review. The speakers told us that the White Paper is supposed to improve the game, but there is pressure to weaken the proposals. That the equality standards and environmental proposals were in the review but are not in the White Paper. That there should be financial distribution from the top clubs down across the bottom pyramid clubs.
Meg Hillier MP hosted an event in Parliament to launch a report published by IPPR, Praxis, and Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, GMIAU on the impact of the long, costly, 10-year route to settlement, of which most people are subject to No Recourse to Public Funds. The report interviewed 300 people on this route, and found that: more than 50% struggle with affording bills and food; over 20% faced housing problems, and sofa surfed, or were rough sleeping; 41% borrow from family or friends to pay the costs of the application; 75% wouldn’t be able to pay the cost of permanent residency even if they fulfill all the demoing criteria, because they can’t afford the fee; and 28% stated that the 10-year route made it harder for them to keep their job. For people who do not meet the 5-year criteria, they have to pursue the 10-year route, but have to reapply to the Home Office every 2 and a half years, which costs £13,000 for an adult, and £11,000 for a child under 16. The applications are complex and there is very limited access to legal aid. If an applicant loses their immigration status, due to making a mistake in the application (38%) or not affording the fee (37%), they have to start the 10-year process again. The majority of people are women, mothers, carers, and from black and ethnic minorities. The process for applicants causes 66% to have mental health problems, There is a need for an urgent review of this process in the context of a wider immigration review because people have to save any money they have to pay the fees, and have no money, food, clothes. The costly fees are paid to the Home Office for “administrative charges”, but the majority of applicants’ status do not change during the two and half year interval between applications, so it is a “tick box” exercise. The real costs are estimated to be a third of the fees. The 10 year route is killing people and the UK Government must find a better, more humane method for people who have lived in the UK for over 10 years (60 %) or 20 years (20%), to be granted settled status.
The new Department for Business and Trade DBT held an Expert Showcase event in Parliament. Andrew Mitchell, Director General of UK Exports and Trade, spoke about the Export Academy, Export Finance, Export Credit Agency, and introduced speakers. The Welsh representative was the very famous Welsh Expert Exporter Stephen Davies, CEO of Penderyn Whisky, who spoke about the growing export success of Penderyn and their increasing range of products that are seen all over the world. Stephen said that they started the company 20 years ago, and now have 100 employees in North and South Wales, and are opening a new factory in Swansea in the near future. His challenge is to find partners across the world to grow the exporting branch of the business. The UK Government Trade Minister Kevin Hollinrake MP spoke about his Government’s policy to race to a trillion exports by 2030s, with an export strategy and a 12-year plan. Richard Graham MP spoke about being one of the UK Government’s Trade Envoys. I learned about the support available to exporters and potential exporters for Neath businesses from the Welsh Government representative Tony Hicks and Mia Rees DBT, and I shall be meeting the two regional Trade Advisers, Jan Morgan and Trygve Rees, that cover the Neath area in the near future to find out the range of support available to businesses in Neath.
I was re-elected as a vice-chair at the AGM of the APPG for Multiple Sclerosis, and Charlotte Nichols MP was elected as the new chair. There are nearly 140,000 people with MS in the UK and 5,680 people in Wales. It will be the 70th Anniversary of the MS Society this year, and the APPG plans to spotlight some of the challenges that face people with MS today, and the opportunity offered by cutting edge research. The APPG will discuss findings from My MS My Needs 4 treatments and services for progressive MS. There will be a round table event on mental health support with the MS Society and other MS charities in May. And there should be reform to the welfare system reducing barriers to accessing support and benefits for MS sufferers.
At the beginning of the APPG for Drugs Alcohol & Justice (DAJ) meeting we held a minute silence for our vice-chair Baroness Marsham who had recently passed away. Then we took part in a roundtable discussion on drug & alcohol treatment and recovery in prison, chaired by my dear friend Dan Carden MP, and coordinated by my friend Richard Hanford.
The speakers were:
Mike Trace, CEO, Forward Trust (formally Addictive Diseases Trust ADT) which was launched in 1991 with its first intensive drug rehab programme in HMP Downview funded from charities and donations. The prison service commissioned an independent study of their Substance Abuse Treatment Programme in 1994, and the graduates reported unanimously that the treatment had altered their lives and stopped them reoffending and also improved their personal relationships. In 1995 Lord Justice Woolf commended the programme in Parliament, which helped to secure future funding.
Jessica Scott, Criminal Justice Manager, Humankind.
John, a prisoner who turned his life around following 30 years of repeat offending to obtain money for drugs, but the ADT programme he completed in Downview (which he calls Brownview!) prison in 1991 stopped him reoffending.
Stephen, a prisoner who stopped 20 years of reoffending to get money for drogs every time he was released through completing a Restorative Justice (RJ) programme.
Mike spoke about universal truths, that there is a high proportion of drug and alcohol offending, and early intervention is crucial. There’s a cohort of 200,000 repeat offenders. The Morgan Report 2011-12 is still the only national review that has been produced. For 40 years there was a scattergun approach, but in the 1999 UK Government budget, funding was provided for treatment programmes to stop drugs and alcohol addiction in every prison. There were 120 prisons and there were 100 programmes operating by 2010, but unfortunately these ceased in 2012. The MOJ transferred the programmes from the MOJ to the NHS budget, and all the learning of the previous decade was lost. The wing drug dealers have increased in the last decade, and the MOJ is not creating an environment where prisoners choose to have treatment. Services are massively stretched. The Carol Black Report includes recommendations that are excellent, but the report has been stalled since it’s been with the current UK Government Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab MP.
Jessica Scott, prison support service manager at Humankind Charity, which was registered in 1984, whose aim is to focus on vocational preparation programmes for young and unemployed in County Durham, and has worked with youth and adult offenders since the late 1980s. In 2019 it merged with Blenheim CDP Charity and EDP joined them in 2020. Humankind has 1400 staff and 100 volunteers providing services to over 85000 people, including substance misuse, clinical services, employment training, education, housing, and health and wellbeing. Jessica spoke about the 7 North East Prisons she oversees. Humankind offers psychosocial support. Detox and alopharma given at the start of a sentence. The drug espranol is used as a blocker, and buvidal is given by injection which is prescribed for a week or a month and which allows ex-prisoners to work normal hours when they get a job on release, without having to go to a pharmacy every day to get methadone. Naloxone, an opiate reversal, is given out when prisoners are released, and is now available as a nasal spray, which helps them to avoid using needles. Peer mentors are brought into prison, because it’s more effective for former prisoners who have recovered to encourage prisoners who are trying to recover. In June they will open a reconnect hub outside HMP Durham to help former prisoners not succcombing to the drugs and alcohol culture on release. This service will be available all hours to former prisoners whenever needed.
Stephen spoke about reoffending over 30 years and what turned his life around was RJ. But if prisoners choose RJ there is retribution from the prison wing gangs who pick on the vulnerable and don’t like their drugs trade decreasing because prisoners want to be cured. He saw so much self-harm and suicide in prison that he had to change. It was RJ that succeeded where other programmes failed.
John is a graduate of the ADT (now Forward Trust) programme and now delivers the programme. He was on the first ADT programme in 1991 in Downview, and delivering the programme keeps him sane, and is therapy for him. He told us about the Minnesota 12-step programme.
As a vice chair of the APPG for RJ I was very encouraged to listen to Stephen’s positive experience of RJ, and I was delighted that Dan Carden MP said he would like his APPG to work with us to promote RJ.
I also signed EDM 950, about women’s drug and alcohol treatment created by Rachael Maskell MP, who is another good friend and a member of the APPG DAJ.
As a vice chair of the APPG Music I attended the superb event “Whose Song is it Anyway – Women in Music” Launch with Dr Hayleigh Bosher, Brunel University, London, hosted by the chair of the APPG and my dear friend Kevin Brennan MP, who is himself a very talented singer songwriter and a founder member of the group MP4, which is made up of 4 cross-party MPs. The event was made up of speeches, round tables, and artists who performed live.
As a vice-chair for the APPG Music, I always enjoy our meetings. This We had an update from UK Music, about BBC cuts, the increasing cost of US visas, copyright consequences for AI, and plans to consult with Parties ahead of their manifestos for the next General Election. We had a presentation from BPI, the record label’s voice in the UK for Universal, Warner, and Sony. The UK is the third largest recorded music market in the world. The BPI set up the Brit School in Croydon, and East London Arts and Music in Bow. The UK Government started the free school funding process in June 2022, and the BPI has bid to set up a Northern Brit School in Bradford for 16-19 year olds for an immersive creative environment in cross disciplines including music, tech, performance, dance, production, film, digital design but also maths and English GCSEs. There is support from Tracy Brabin MP, the Leader of Bradford Council, CEO of Bradford MDC, and Bradford will be the City of Culture in 2025.
I attended the Entain and SportAid drop-in event to meet some of the athletes sponsored by these partnership organisations. SportsAid is a national charity founded to help Great Britain’s brightest sporting prospects who aspire to be the next Olympic, Paralympic, Commonwealth and World Champions, by providing grants to help with training and competition costs, and mentoring by professional athletes. Entain is one of the largest sports betting and gaming groups, which supports grassroots and professional sport across the UK through its Entain Foundation. SportsAid and Entain have been partners since 2019, and have provided 200 British budding stars with financial awards. The partnership has been extended to 2024, and will support an additional 100 athletes in their sporting careers. I met up with my friend Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, chair of Sport Wales, who is a former national, commonwealth and paralympic athlete, and an amazing advocate for all sport.
The main business in the chamber was the first day of the Illegal Migration Bill, with six-hour protected time for the debate. There were many amendments and new clauses spoken to in the debate, and some were pushed to a vote by the proposers. The votes started at 10pm, and the opposition voted for amendment 76, and lost 244-308; abstained on SNP New Clause 6, which was lost 67-307; supported New Clause 24, which was lost by 248-301; and voted for New Clause 25, which was lost by 196-306.
The GWR event was supported by Network Rail Wales, Western Gateway, Transport for Wales, Crosscountry Trains, and was hosted by Rt Hon Theresa May MP. Many parliamentarians turned up to hear about the future plans for rail in Wales and the borders by the organisations. GWR unveiled its new timetable starting next month with extra mainline services on most routes.
I attended the Parliamentary drop-in on reform of the Dangerous Dogs Act, hosted by my old school friend Wayne David MP. Emma Whitfield, the mother of 10-year-old Jack Lis who was tragically killed by a dangerous dog in November 2021, was at the event and bravely spoke about the effect that Jack’s death had had on her and her family. There were also a number of experts at the event who spoke about how the Act does not work, and the need for reform – Dr Sam Gaines, Head of Companion Animals, RSPCA; Claire Calder, Chair of the Dogs Control Coalition, and Head of Public Affairs, Dogs Trust; Dr Marc Abraham OBE, chair of the All-Party Dog Advisory Welfare Group; and Vanessa Walden, co founder of Hope Rescue Centre, Llanharan. Over the last 12 months, 12 people across the UK have died after being attacked by a dangerous dog. I opened the debate on Breed Specific Legislation which specified proposals to reform the Act, with input from the expert speakers who attended the event, on behalf of the Petitions Committee on 6th June 2022.
The APPG for Restorative Justice met to receive a presentation from the Youth Justice Board UK, and to discuss progress on updates from the APPG Advisory Group, from its chair Jim Simon, and review the evidence gathered for the work streams on health and social care, and education, emanating from our Inquiry Report published in September 2022.
I met with Robbie and Gwen from Uplift UK who will be the new secretariat for the relaunch of the Climate Change APPG, which will be chaired by Caroline Lucas MP. Barry Gardiner MP and I have agreed to become vice-chairs. Uplift UK’s mission is to support and energise the movement for a just and fossil fuel-free UK. At the meeting we discussed plans for raising the importance of climate change, and how the UK Government needs to take a more progressive stance to reach its climate change targets. The Welsh Labour Government was the first government to set up a climate change department, led by Minister Julie James MS for Swansea West, and Deputy Minister Lee Waters MS for Llanelli. I suggested that the APPG should visit the Global Centre of Rail Excellence, which is being developed in Neath, which will be the first net zero test facility for rail in the UK.
The business in the chamber was the second day of the Illegal Migration Bill, and many more amendments and clauses were debated for six hours. The votes started just before 8pm. The opposition supported amendment 189 to exempt Afghan Nationals from the provisions in the Bill, but this was defeated by 242 to 309 votes. We voted against New Clause 11, and lost 242 to 302 votes; supported amendment 288, and lost by 248 to 299 votes; supported New Clause 21 and lost by 249-301; snd supported New Clause 27, but lost this by 248-301.
I was pleased to be re-elected a vice-chair at the AGM of the Motor Neurone Disease (MND) APPG. Andrew Lewer MP was re-elected as the chair. We listened to a presentation from the MND Research Institute about funding streams and research trials for new medicines being developed to arrest the progression of MND.
As a vice-chair of the Parkinson’s APPG I attended the Parkinson’s World Day event with the former chair and my very dear friend Baroness Anita Gale. The theme for World Parkinson’s Day which was on 11th April is “finding the bright and the brilliant”. There are currently 145,000 people living with Parkinson’s in the UK, which will increase to 172,000 by 2030. The most common symptoms are freezing, tremor, painful muscle cramps, difficulty speaking, anxiety and depression. Parkinson’s is the fastest growing neurodegenerative condition in the world, but the health and social care workforce is already under resourced and overstretched. In Wales there are currently just over 25 whole time equivalent Parkinson’s nurses. Areas for improvement across the UK include: specialised multidisciplinary working; standardised practice; communication and information sharing; medicines management and educating the workforce. Heath and Social Care is devolved to Wales and Parkinson’s UK Cymru are raising issues with the Senedd and Welsh Government, led by Rachel Williams, Policy Campaigns and Communications Manager Wales.
I spoke in the Westminster Hall Debate about the Spring Budget in Wales which was a 90 minute debate secured by my friend Ruth Jones MP for Newport West. I raised issues about the cost of living crisis that the people of Wales are suffering after 13 years of Tory policies, and the urgent need for the UK Government to reform Local Housing Allowance and Universal Credit. Local Housing Allowance (LHA) was introduced in 2008, and is the amount of housing benefit or the housing element of Universal Credit (UC), available to people who are renting from private landlords, which is based on the area in which the person lives, and the number of bedrooms they require. LHA rates have been frozen since 2020 at 2018-19 rates, and research by the Bevan Foundation found that in my Neath Constituency there were 51 properties advertised to rent in February 2023, but not one property was fully covered by the LHA rate. People are faced with the choice of putting food on the table, or paying their rent, risking homelessness. The Chancellor could have used his Spring Budget to increase the LHA rates, but he didn’t. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation recently launched its research on an Essentials Guarantee which would reform Universal Credit to ensure people can afford the essentials, food and non-alcoholic drink, electricity and gas, water, clothes and shoes, communications, sundries such as cleaning materials, during hard times. This was calculated to be £120 a week for a single person over 25, which is £35 more than UC, and £200 for a couple over 35, which is £66 more than UC, from April 2023. The Trussel Trust support these proposals and its data show that inadequate Social Security is the main driver of food bank need, having given out 1.3 million food parcels between April and September 2022. Universal Credit urgently needs reforming because it is not preventing widespread poverty, but yet again the Chancellor didn’t address the inadequacy of UC in his Spring Budget. He could have at least reinstated the £20 per week uplift that was implemented during the Covid pandemic. I finished my speech by urging the UK Government to reclassify HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail as England only projects so that Wales will receive Barnett Consequentials, and I asked the Minister when his UK Government will pay the outstanding £10 million for the R&D department of the GCRE. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive any commitments for reform of LHA, nor UC, and no answer to the GCRE monies.
The business in the chamber was the debate on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill (no2), which started at 2pm and was voted on at just after 6pm. The Official Opposition had tabled a Reasoned Amendment which was pushed to a vote and was defeated by 211-289 votes. And the Second Reading of the Bill was not opposed.
I became very emotional at the Marie Curie led Day of National Reflection which aims to bring together communities, and organisations across the UK to remember family, friends, colleagues who have died, support those who are grieving, and give communities a space to talk openly about death and dying. Whether sudden or expected, the death of someone we care about can be completely devastating and recent times have reminded us that no one should have to go through it alone. Marie Curie was a steering group member of the independent UK Commission on Bereavement established to explore challenges and solutions to better support bereaved people across all four nations.
The Commission made 4 recommendations:
Governments in all four nations must commit: 6p per person to develop resources and evaluate cross sector collaborative initiatives which must reflect needs of communities across the UK and prioritise underserved population groups; 79p annually per person to transform bereavement services over the next 5 years, particularly focusing on racialised, ethnic and other marginalised communities; conduct a review of the information flow from death registration to relevant public bodies; and the UK Government should establish and deliver a cross departmental strategy for bereavement that recognises support following bereavement as a human right. I spoke about the sudden death of my brother James just before Christmas, which has left me devastated.