My week in Westminster began at the End Child Poverty Coalition event to discuss new research by Loughborough University, which found that more than one-in-five children in Welsh Local Authorities live in poverty. The rates are highest in Blaenau Gwent (30.3%) and Ceredigion (30%), and lowest in Monmouthshire (21.4%), but even this is more than one in five. I have been a member of the Bevan Foundation for many years, and its Head of Policy, Dr Stefan Evans, said that the research shows that this is a problem in all Welsh communities and should be viewed as a national problem, not an urban/rural or a valleys/cities problem. Across Wales, 27.9% of children live in poverty after housing costs, and before housing costs a staggering 79.8% of children living in poverty live in working households. At UK level, the Coalition is calling for the two-child limit on Universal Credit to be scrapped because of the proven link between this policy and poverty rates in larger families. I have signed EDM 1238, started by Kim Johnson MP, which calls on the Department for Work and Pensions to repeal the two-child limit for all benefits payments.
The Neurological Alliance held its “Back the 1-in-6” Campaign event in Parliament of which I am a determined supporter. The “My Neuro Survey” found that on average 12,000 people in an England constituency, 11,000 in Scotland or Northern Ireland constituency, and 9,000 in a Wales constituency live with a neurological condition. The campaign calls on governments to set up a Neuro Taskforce to deliver change through addressing heath and care workforce shortages, by providing a framework to support collaboration and sharing best practice, which occurred in the Older People’s Housing Taskforce, and the Rare Diseases Framework. The campaign is requesting the UK Government Minister for Health, Helen Whately MP, to meet with the Coalition.
I was honoured to be re-elected vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Industrial Heritage at its AGM. It was an evidence session for the APPG inquiry into the challenges facing preserving heritage buildings, and we heard from speakers Richard McDonald, Senior Regeneration Officer at Wigan Council; Dr Joanna O’Hara, Somerset Council; and Niall Murphy, Glasgow City Council. They highlighted the danger that heritage is at risk, and the importance of social community values, identity, family connections, climate crisis, which extend from old mills and factories, local housing, to water courses. There are legislative challenges, in that the Town and Country Planning Act was enacted in 1990, so is outdated; VAT is 20% for refurbishment, but zero for new builds; and there’s a business rate exemption for empty buildings which completely contradicts attempts to bring back empty heritage buildings into use. There is an ongoing issue with broadening qualifications to include traditional industrial heritage skills, for example architecture, surveyors, tradespeople do not have the skills necessary to work in the industrial heritage sector, and many apprenticeships do not include traditional skills. There needs to be heritage education from primary schools through to lifelong learning.
As a long-time supporter of people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), I attended Takeda’s parliamentary event celebrating best practice across the UK and exploring the future of IBD care. The event brought together national policymakers, clinical leaders, and patient representatives to celebrate success stories from around the UK where improvements to IBD care and NHS services are being spearheaded by clinicians, discuss what more support can be given, and tackle socioeconomic and geographical disparities. Takeda is committed to putting the patient first and support several education and awareness raising GI programmes. Please download the “In My Shoes” App developed by Crohn’s & Colitis UK and visit Takeda to experience what life is like living with IBD.
I attended a confidential meeting of the Ukraine APPG with Ukraine Civil Leaders who are in the UK to meet representatives from Parliament, charities and civil society to give detailed briefings on the extent of the destruction that Putin has inflicted on the people in communities in Ukraine, and the vast sums of money needed to rebuild its infrastructure and society. The Institute of Legislative Ideas (ILI) has produced a “Compensation Road Map”. ILI is an independent legal think tank working in the field of anti-corruption policy in co-operation with public and civil partners. For seven years it has worked on anti-corruption legislation proofing, corruption risk assessment, non-conviction forfeiture and asset recovery. Compensation of damages to Ukraine through Russian aggression would include: Russian Federation assets, private Russian individuals assets involved in the conflict. The ILI estimates Ukraine’s losses from the war are £411bn plus flood damage caused by the dam destruction; frozen assets of RF and its accomplices at £397bn, but after 15 months of war only £12m assets have been confiscated, and 99% of this amount by Ukraine. But the damage increases every hour: 75,000 residential buildings; 2,500 educational institutions; 500 hospitals; 100 energy infrastructure facilities; and 400 cultural and 120 religious buildings. The ILI recommends 5 steps to enable compensation for damage: auditing all Russian assets and synchronise all data; criminalisation of sanctions evasion; improvement and new civil procedures for confiscation of assets of war collaborators; effective management of frozen assets; and global compensation mechanism through a multilateral international agreement. 43 countries have signed an agreement to create a register of Ukraine’s losses from Russian aggression, for an initial three years, located in The Hague. The EU has mobilised more than €200bn euros in Russian Bank assets since the war began, but it is unclear whether this will be used to rebuild war hit Ukraine.
I attended the launch of Dan Cardan MP’s Ten Minute Rule Bill, which advocates maintaining the right to contact in care settings in England. We heard from people who have suffered when they were denied contact in hospitals and care settings. Dan has worked with Tracey Crouch MP, Daisy Cooper MP, and Liz Saville-Roberts MP to create a Bill that would allow an essential care supporter to have ability to maintain contact with close relatives and friends in care settings. Rights for Residents, John’s Campaign, and Residents and Relatives Association fully support the Bill. Support is not an optional extra, and is absolutely vital for dignified care. It must be recognised in law, and I was in the Chamber to listen to Dan introduce the Bill.
There were two All-Party Dog Advisory Welfare Group (APDAWG) events in Parliament this week. I was proud to be re-elected a vice-chair at the AGM of the APDAWG with Dr Marc Abraham re-elected as chair. Marc laid out the next twelve month’s important activity including working with parliamentary colleagues and government to provide solutions to reduce the number of dog attacks in the UK. This issue and many other issues affecting dog welfare, such as illegal breeding and puppy imports, greyhound racing, illegal ear lopping, and puppies bred to design, affects all our constituents, whether dog owners or not, and there is cross-party support for dog welfare and human health, and we need to make the necessary changes to improve these matters without delay.
The APDAWG also held its #DogBiteReform third evidence session on its enquiry “Dog Bite Problem”. Wayne David MP’s constituent Emma Whitfield, mother of Jack Lis who was tragically mauled by an American XL Bully, gave video evidence and we heard from a panel of experts in the room, including experts from canine, human, and forensic fields. We discussed possible practical, workable, and efficient solutions to reducing dog bite attacks and fatalities in the UK, including dog licensing, improved dog bite education in schools, regulation of dog trainers and behaviourists, centralising the microchip database, and much more.
I attended the Active Travel event hosted by Brompton Bikes and met its managing director Julian Scriven. There were other stakeholders present and we all spoke about the benefits of active travel, but that the impact of UK Government cuts has severely set back progress on sustainable modes of transport across the UK. In March 2023, UK Government announced a funding cut of £200 million to the active travel budget in England which will undermine progress to ensure people can access cycling and its economic, social, and environmental benefits, a will make it impossible to reach UK Government net zero targets. Brompton Bikes was created in 1975 by Andrew Richie who wanted an easy way to travel around cities. Brompton now exports to 47 countries and are the biggest manufacturer of bikes in the UK employing over 800 in their Greenford factory where all bikes are made by hand. In 2011, Brompton Bike Hire was set up, and data shows that one in four people who hire a Brompton go on to buy one within 12 months, so change to active travel. It is crucial that people who want to cycle are given the support and opportunity to do so, and funding for cycle infrastructure is vital.
I dropped into the Tempo Time Credits event to learn about the Tempo project that provides a platform for businesses and organisations to recognise and reward the invaluable work of a volunteer. Tempo’s vision is to help generate resilience in communities, from the bottom up, giving those on the outskirts of society the opportunity to show their value through volunteering and rewarding them for it. The Time Credits Programmes are uniquely designed not only to ensure that volunteers feel valued for contributing even the smallest amounts of time but also to enable people to have their time valued in ways that are meaningful to them.
As chair of the APPG for Sepsis I met with UK Sepsis Trust, and the APPG secretariat, to make plans for events to promote World Sepsis Day, which is on 13th September.
As a vice-chair of the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) APPG, chaired by John Howell MP, I attended a meeting to discuss Ombudsmen. We heard from ombudsmen about their role in the dispute resolution landscape in the UK and how should different organisational mechanisms (public and private), internal complaints procedures, ombudsmen services, and pre and post legal issue dispute resolution processes fit together. The meeting was organised by CIArb who act as secretariat for the APPG for ADR.
I met some amazing young carers who had made their first journey to Westminster to speak to members of the APPG for Young Carers and Young Adult Carers. It was an absolute pleasure to meet these wonderful young adults who care for members of their families. To mark Carers Week 2023, the APPG has launched its first ever parliamentary inquiry focused specifically on young carers and young adult carers. The inquiry will explore the impact of caring on life opportunities for young carers and will recommend what the UK Government and other partners should do to help the life chances of young carers and young adult carers. The inquiry is supported by 11 youth advisers, including two inquiry co-chairs, from across England and the secretariat is Carers’ Trust. The online call for evidence was opened at the event and it closes on 23rd July. The deadline for evidence from young carers will close on 31st August. There will be evidence hearings in September and the report will be published in November.
There was a vote to approve the Committee on Standards motion report on Margaret Ferrier MP, which was carried by 185 to 40 votes.
I attended an event about the importance of clean air in our communities organised by Afzal Khan MP for Manchester Gorton, which featured a short film made by GPs and people from his constituency.
I was honoured to be re-elected a vice-chair at the AGM of the APPG for No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF). Kate Osamor MP was re-elected chair. After the AGM we had a confidential discussion about “Domestic Abuse and NRPF – how can we increase protections for migrant women?” Speakers included from Latin American Women’s Rights Service, Elizabeth Jimenez-Yanez; Asmita Sood from Southall Black Sisters (SBS); Apsana Begum MP, chair of APPG on Domestic Violence and Abuse; and speakers with lived experience of Domestic Abuse and NRPF.
To celebrate World Oceans Day, I attended the Women’s Institute (WI) and Marine Conservation Society event to tackle micro plastic pollution. Micro plastics are plastic particles of 5mm or smaller and can enter the environment from synthetic textiles, tyre and brake wear, City dust and plastic hurdle spillage. Once in the environment they are extremely difficult to remove and have been found in human food chains, biodiversity and wildlife, human blood, lungs, and affect health of human cells. However, this can be reduced by: fibre capture washing machine filters; and tyrewear. Alberto Costa MP has introduced a “Microplastic Filters (Washing Machine) Bill” which I support. It would require all washing machines in UK from 2025 to be fitted with microplastic fibre capture filters which capture fibres before they travel to wastewater treatment plants, and receives its Second Reading on 23rd November 2023. The WI’s End Plastic Soup campaign began in 2017, and its “In a Spin” report found at least 9.4 trillion micro plastics were released through the domestic washing process every week, and the WI became the secretariat to the APPG on Microplastics in 2020. In 2021 they published a report including six holistic recommendations informed by 20 relevant stakeholders to tackle microplastics in UK. The WI Wash Clothes Well: only wash clothes when needed; fill washing machine to maximum which produces less friction between clothes; low temperature helps reduce microplastic fibres and CO2 emissions; do not flush dryer lint down the drain, put in bin; avoid sensitive wash cycles.
I attended the Carers UK Week event and met some amazing adult carers. We heard from AgeUK, Carers Trust, Carers UK, MNDA, Oxfam, Rethink Mental Illness, and the Lewy Body Society. Research from these stakeholders has found that millions of people in the UK are providing unpaid care or support to a family member, friend or neighbour. The value of the unpaid care is a staggering £162bn per annum. 50% of the public have provided unpaid care, 75% of people who provide unpaid care do not identify themselves as a career, 20% of people over 65 are caring. These stakeholders are calling on UK Government to: establish a cross-departmental Ministerial Group to better identify unpaid carers, and ensure they get support; deliver an England national strategy, and deliver existing plans in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; improve NHS legislation to place a duty on NHS to identify carers and promote their health and wellbeing; improve funding of social care, review Carers Allowance, implement the Carers Leave Act and enhance rights to flexible working.
I attended the launch of Emma Lewell-Buck MP’s Healthy Start Scheme (Take Up) Bill which, she presented in the Chamber on 14th June. The Bill would ensure that families eligible for this scheme are automatically registered to receive it. The scheme is a lifeline for many pregnant women and families with young children providing access to fruit, vegetables, milk and vitamins which helps children get the best start in life. Uptake in England is only 64%. Sustain estimate that 200,000 families are missing out on £68 million pounds of nutritious food. In Wales there will be an estimated cash shortfall of £2,481,681 in 2023. The Department for Health and Social Care knows which families are missing out but is failing to come up with a solution. Emma’s Bill would widen take up but allow families to opt out if they wish.
Cats Protection and Dogs Trust held a Pet-Friendly Housing event in Parliament to call on the UK Government to reform the private rented sector (PRS) to make it fair to pets and owners. Both charities welcome the proposals in the Renters (Reform) Bill to give tenants the right to request a pet in their property, which the landlord must consider and cannot unreasonably refuse. Pets are part of the family, and any legislative changes must be fair and equitable. A survey by these pet charities found that 46% of landlords say they will allow pets, but only 9% of owners advertise their properties as pet-friendly. Damage to properties is sited as main reason for not allowing pets, but only 20-21% of properties were damaged, and 73% of landlords reported no problems. 94% and 98% of tenants say that their cats and dogs respectively have a positive impact on their lives. In June 2022 the UK Government published “A fairer private rented sector” which pledges to give tenants the right to request a pet in their property, which will be in the Bill. The Bill will amend the Tenant Fees Act 2019 so that landlords can require insurance to cover any damage caused by pets living in their property, but this could put added financial burdens on pet owners who are already struggling with the cost-of-living crisis; more properties out of reach and more pets being relinquished. Dogs Trust recommends using its Pet CV3 which shows tenants the steps they have taken to be responsible pet owners. The benefits a pet friendly private rented sector include: tenants feel more at home; tenants stay longer; fewer pets are relinquished from homes to organisations such as Cats Protection, Hope Rescue, and Dogs Trust. Both charities have been working with landlords, letting agencies and property industry since “Lets With Pets” was set up by Dogs Trust in 2009, and “Purrfect Landlords” by Cats Protection in 2018.
At the APPG for Archives we discussed “Campaign for Records – Democracy and Rights in the Digital Age”. The availability of evidence is vital for justice, for truth, and for democracy. Record keepers (archivists, records managers, conservators) keep information safe for the public, which can be used as facts to improve trust in government and maintain democracy. Government cannot be held to account if there are no recorded accounts or these cannot be accessed. The transparency and availability of public records is key to increasing trust in government and counteracting conspiracy theories, as recent events in the USA have made clear. The Information and Records Management Society and the Archives and Records Association (ARA) have combined to create the Campaign, because outdated legislation, multiple loopholes, lack of intellectual investment by record makers, and lack of resource to prepare for digital records are putting public records at risk. We were briefed by Gary Tuscan vice-chair of ARA’s Chief Archivists in Local Government Group; Reynold Leming, chair of Information and Records Management Society; and John Baines, National Association of Data Protection Officers.
I was honoured to be re-elected as a vice-chair at the AGM of the APPG for Steel and Metal-Related Industries meeting. We discussed the South Wales Industrial Cluster (SWIC) with guest speaker Dr Chris Williams, who coincidentally lives in Neath. Chris is Head of Industrial Decarbonisation Wales, with 30 years’ experience in the steel industry. Chris told us how the Cluster impacts on steel. South Wales is home to a significant industrial base including the UK’s largest integrated steel works, one of 7 oil refineries and one of only 4 Nickel refineries in Europe. There are also several other energy intensive manufacturing plants and industries within diverse sectors including steel recycling, cement, paper, glass, mineral wool, and chemicals, food and general manufacturing. The SWIC was set up in 2019 and plans to achieve: net zero industries by 2040; retention of 113,000 jobs and an increase in jobs overall; unlocking £30bn investment opportunities in the region; growing the £6bn Gross Value Added from South Wales industry. SWIC’s holistic to decarbonisation has three objectives: through a just transition, deliver internationally competitive and sustainable low carbon industries; exploit significant renewable power capabilities available in South Wales to develop world leading infrastructure to decarbonise our industries; create a globally-recognised agile region that is innovative, opportunity driven, highly skilled, and capable of exploiting the huge clean growth opportunities that net zero offers South Wales.
The main business in the Chamber were the Official Opposition Day debates, which were topics that are devolved to Wales. The first debate was on Mental Health Treatment and Support, and the UK Government laid an amendment. The opposition didn’t vote on the UK Government amendment, and it was won by 278 to nil. The main motion was lost by 185 to 40 votes. The second debate was Accountability and Scrutiny of Teesworks which was initially raised in the Chamber a few weeks ago by Andy McDonald MP for Middlesbrough. The motion was defeated by 166 to 272.
My week ended back in Neath at the Launch of the new E-bikes Project at the Canolfan Maerdy Fun Day in Tairgwaith. Also in attendance was Cllr Sonia Reynolds and the HM Vice-Lord Lieutenant of West Glamorgan, Mr Philip Hunkin. It was a fantastic day for all and credit is due to the amazing volunteers who made it happen.