Bite the Ballot – Missing Millions Report

Easington MP Grahame Morris has backed the recommendations of a report by Bite the Ballot which highlights the crisis in voter registration, with millions of people missing from the electoral register.

The Missing Millions report calls on the Government to do more to encourage people to engage in politics and join the electoral register with recommendations for changes to modernise, streamline and simplify voter registration.

In 2014, 7.5 million eligible voters were missing from the electoral register, a figure which has risen following the transition to Individual Voter Registration. 16 to 24 year olds remain the largest group missing from the electoral register, and Grahame Morris MP is supporting efforts to register voters in advance of the EU referendum.

Grahame Morris MP, said:

“The Missing Millions report is an important document analysing the challenges to our democracy and setting out clear recommendations about how we can engage, register and encourage more people to participate in civic society and vote.

A complete and accurate electoral register is fundamental to our democracy. Our parliament is shaped by the electoral register with representation linked to levels of voter registration.

In the 21st Century we need to make it easier for people to access their democratic rights and we need to increase the opportunities for people to register. From enrolling at college or university, to receiving your national insurance number, or when accessing government services people should be given an option to register.

There should be no circumstances in which someone eligible to vote is turned away from the polling station and we should use examples of best practice from around the world to introduce a system of Election Day registration in the UK to ensure that every vote is counted.

I hope in the months ahead the Government will work with organisations such as Bite the Ballot and follow the recommendations in the Missing Millions report that seek to increase voter registration and strengthen our democracy.”

The Missing Million’s report and recommendations are available online here

You can register to vote online at gov.uk/register-to-vote

Make Money One Less Worry – Financial Support from Macmillan

Being diagnosed with cancer can be very expensive. Four out of five people living with cancer are on average £570 a month worse off.

Over a third of people with cancer didn’t realise when being diagnosed that cancer would have such a financial impact. Many people face a twofold financial blow – their income drops, just at a time when expenses, such as hospital parking charges, heating bills, and new clothing and wigs are increasing.

Macmillan can help and they offer a range of support, including benefits advice and financial guidance through their support line; there is an online financial support tool; grants; and local face to face services.

If people with cancer don’t get early help, their money worries can get out of control, causing anxiety or affecting people’s ability to recover.

To find out more about how Macmillan Cancer Support can help, please visit macmillan.org.uk/moneyworries

Easington MP backs calls to save the NHS bursary

Easington MP Grahame Morris has today backed calls for the Tories to ditch their plans to scrap NHS bursaries for student nurses, midwives and other allied health professionals.

Under plans announced by the Chancellor in November, bursaries for student nurses, midwives and allied health professionals will be scrapped from 2017. The move, which has been criticised by UNISON and the Royal College of Nursing, risks leaving the next generation of frontline NHS staff with thousands of pounds worth of debt after they graduate, and could lead to even greater staff shortages in the NHS.

On Wednesday 4 May, Labour held an Opposition Day debate calling on the Government to “drop its plans to remove NHS bursaries” and consult on how best to fund and support the future healthcare workforce. The debate was based on a cross-party motion signed by 139 MPs, including the Tory MP and former nurse Maria Caulfield.

The Royal College of Nursing has supported calls for the Government to rethink its plan for student nurse funding and go “back to the drawing board.”

The debate comes as new analysis from the House of Commons Library, commissioned by the Labour Party, shows that the number of nursing, midwifery and health visiting staff working in the NHS has fallen from 6,786 per million people in November 2009 to 6,645 in November 2015.

Grahame Morris MP said:

“NHS staff are the lifeblood of our national health service. However, this Tory government is letting them down.

“The decision of Ministers to cut nurse training places during the last Parliament has left hospital wards dangerously understaffed and patient care at risk, with important tasks being left undone.

“This situation is only going to get worse if Ministers press ahead with their misguided plan to scrap student NHS bursaries and discourage the next generation of frontline NHS staff.

“It’s time Ministers stood up for the NHS, rather than standing by and allowing the staffing crisis to get worse.”

Local MP calls for a public awareness campaign on sepsis

Grahame Morris UK Sepsis TrustGrahame Morris MP for Easington attended a Parliamentary event to raise awareness of Sepsis. A life threatening and relatively unknown condition, which claims the lives of 44,000 people – including 1,000 children – every year in the UK. The event hosted by the APPG on Sepsis and the UK Sepsis Trust was attend by over 40 MPs and Peers, along with a number of patients and their families who have been personally affected by sepsis.

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that can affect anyone. Young and old, fit and healthy. It arises when the body’s response to an infection damages its own tissues and organs. It can lead to shock, multiple organ failure, and death, especially if it is not recognised early and treated promptly.

In a bid to reduce deaths like these, the UK Sepsis Trust (UKST) and the Sepsis APPG are calling for both the public and healthcare professionals to be more aware of this ‘silent killer’. They are calling for the Department of Health to commit to a public awareness campaign, aimed at both adults and children solely on sepsis.

The UK Sepsis Trust, founded in 2010, brings together leading experts, grass roots health professionals, survivors and persons bereaved; to raise public and professional awareness of sepsis, and provide support for those affected by this terrible condition.

Dr Ron Daniels, Chief Executive of the UK Sepsis Trust, said:

“We hope that the event will allow MPs to learn more about sepsis and take the message back to their colleagues and constituents.”

“An awareness campaign is something we’ve been calling for a long time. It is an absolute necessity that this campaign is dedicated on sepsis and aimed at a both adults and children. A campaign of course is only a part of what is needed. We need to make sure that healthcare professional education is robust and is mandated. We need to have a better measure of outcomes and we have to have some resources available that reward excellent care.”

Grahame Morris MP stated:

“While sepsis is a condition which may not hit the headlines, it is deadly. It is a little known life threatening illness that claims the lives of 44,000 people in the UK every year, including 1,000 children. If timely interventions proposed by the UK Sepsis Trust were adopted across the NHS it could save up to 12,500 lives a year and the NHS money.”

“I was keen to show my support for efforts to tackle the disease and save lives. I want to see sepsis viewed as a medical emergency and have a higher profile among medical professionals and the public. The easiest and most of effective way of doing this is the government committing to a dedicated public awareness campaign for the general population.”

When a Principle is better than a Rule

The real revelation from the Panama Papers, though not a surprise to many, is the in the majority of cases using off-shore accounts to avoid paying tax is legal.

It is the same problem as we have seen in recent months from companies such as Amazon, Google and Facebook, who pay derisory amounts of tax through establishing artificial means to reduce their tax liability.

I have to be careful. The Government usual response to people raising concerns about aggressive tax avoidance is to try and label us as “anti-business”.

I am not anti-business, neither are the small companies in my constituency who ask how an organisation such as Facebook can get away with paying as little as £4,327, while they pay what is due every year.

There is nothing ‘pro-business’ about turning a blind eye to tax avoidance, giving unscrupulous businesses a competitive advantage over those who pay their fair share of tax. Such a system encourages a race to the bottom where you can only succeed if you play the system, which leads to an increasing tax burden on the rest of society.

The Government talk tough on tax avoidance, but have voted time and time again against EU measures against tax avoidance, with the Prime Minister lobbying the EU Commission in 2013 to remove offshore trusts from new, tighter EU regulations on avoidance.

The Government can point to their General Anti-Abuse Rule (GAAR), however, this falls short of what we are trying to achieve.

The GAAR is limited, only tackling the most egregious of schemes and could do nothing to stop Facebook’s recent derisory payment to HMRC. The limited scope of the GAAR means that it is more of an effort to be seen to be doing something rather than seek to address tax avoidance.

At Treasury questions today I asked the Treasury why they had not implemented at General Anti-Avoidance Principle (please see above video).

As you will see, the Minister listed a number of measures all of which have been wholly ineffective in tackling the type of tax avoidance which has concerned the public. They want to persist with a system that allows large mutli-national corporations and wealthy individuals to view the payment of tax as optional.

While they may sound similar, the General Anti-Avoidance Principle is radically different. The usual pattern of behaviour is that the Government decide to clamp down on tax avoidance. They then consult with tax specialists who help draft the legislation, which is usually prescriptive closing a particular loophole. The tax specialists who have helped draft the legislation then go back to their clients to advise them on how to get around the new legislation. Then the process starts again, usually triggered by a scandal such as those we have seen in recent weeks.

The Anti-Avoidance Principle is different, rather than targeting specific loopholes, it seeks to tackle all tax avoiding behaviour. The Anti-Avoidance Principle would disregard any artificial steps taken by a company purely to reduce their tax burden when calculating their tax liability.

There are a number of benefits derived from a general anti-avoidance principle. It would create certainty for everyone as they would know any artificial steps in transactions will not work, creating a fair and level playing field for all businesses. It will ensure that businesses and their advisers are focuses on making money rather than avoiding tax, to the benefit of the economy as a whole, and it will give HMRC the freedom to tackle abuse directly.

If the Government want to get tough on tax avoidance, they have the power and capacity to do so, and there is a ready-made method via the general anti-avoidance principle that can achieve this aim and command confidence from the public.

Pubs Code and the Adjudicator

Due to time constrains I had to shorten my comments, below is the full speech I had hoped to make during the debate.

I must start by commending the hard work and dedication of campaigners which make up the British Pub Confederation.

We have had years of consultations, investigations and inquiries.

However, without your efforts I do not believe we would be here today, just a few weeks away from the introduction of a new Pub Code and adjudicator.

These changes have been a long time coming, and unfortunately too many viable pubs, and working men’s clubs, within our communities have called last orders because of unfair and unsustainable rents, ties and profit share arrangements.

This has left tenants unable to secure a fair income, even in successful pubs, as well as some struggling on less than the minimum wage despite many hours of work.

The repercussions of pub closures are felt across communities who not only lose vital community assets, but the jobs and contributions that businesses make to the local and wider economy.

The pub and brewing industry contributes £22 billion to the UK economy, as well as sustaining nearly a million jobs, particularly for young working adults.

And there is a multiplying effect with successful pubs not only directly employing staff but also supporting jobs throughout the supply chain, in retail, agriculture and brewing.

The Pubco Business Model has weakened, not strengthened the industry.

The hope is that the new Pub Code and Adjudicator will address the inherent unfairness in the exploitative practices of the Pubco model.

It should be a step which strengthens the industry ensuring tenants will receive a fair living and reward for their work, viable pubs remaining open, and hopefully we can halt the decline which has seen significant numbers of pubs close over the last 20 years.

As we approach the introduction of the Pub Code, I note that the industry and the government are keen to “draw a line under the past”, emphasise that “things have changed”, and that “all sides have to work together to move forward”.

I am yet to see this change.

Pubco’s are working hard; not to deliver fairness for tenants, but to circumvent the Pub Code and legislation before it comes into force.

The Government cannot be complicit in such behaviour.

However, the decision to appointment Paul Newby as the Pubs Adjudicator has not endeared them or won any trust from tenants.

Concerns remain that loopholes contained within the draft Pub Code will undermine the legislation and must be removed from the final version of the Code, if we are to fulfil our promise to tenants.

The Government will undermine the fundamental principle of the Pub Code – that tied tenants are no worse off than free of tie tenant – if they allow Pubcos to force tenants to relinquish long term leases, should they opt for a Market Rent Only option.

This undermines the assurances offered by BIS that tenants taking the Market Rent Option should not be subject to discrimination by the Pubco.

The Government must make it clear that if a tenant choses a Market Rent Option they will be entitled to the same length of agreement, terms and conditions as their old tenancy.

Otherwise, the right to trigger the Market Rent Only option will be undermined, and such tenants would be discriminated against by the very nature of the agreement.

The other area of concern is the Market Rent waiver in exchange for investment.

I note that one of the concerns Pubco’s are keen to emphasis is the risk to investment by the Pub Code.

I understand campaigners have acknowledged that where there is real substantial investment, a limited waiver could be acceptable if entered into willingly by both parties, but not something forced upon tenant to allow a Pubco to void their responsibilities under the Code.

And, it must be real investment – not the continuation of the current system, in which Pubco’s are trying to portray tenants’ investment as investment from the company.

The Minister will be aware of the issue given that the BIS impact assessment highlights the FSB survey which found that 68% of their members had not received any investment from their pub company in the last 12 months”.

Risks are placed firmly at the feet of tenants, with lease terms and conditions often stipulating they are liable for repairs, maintenance and improvements.

And, where investment is received from the pub company, tenants are often required to invest themselves.

This so called investment from the pub company is then usually recovered through higher rents during the course of the lease.

I believe most reasonable people would see this more as a loan, rather than an example of investment.

Any real investment usually occurs when a pub is vacated as money is required to ensure the property can be leased to a new tenant.

There are real concerns about the waiver for investment, and the loophole in chapter 12 of the Draft Pub Code where new tenants can be asked to sign such a waiver.

This risks making the Market Rent Option an artificial right, open to abuse by Pubcos, who would refuse to let pubs to those unwilling to sign the waiver.

It would also create a perverse incentive where existing tenants are forced out and replaced with tenants who have been forced to forfeit their rights.

The Government need to show they do not support such actions, and implement a number of safeguards to ensure any waiver is limited, reasonable and agreed willingly by both parties.

Waivers should be restricted to tenants who have been in a substantive agreement for two years and there should be no option of waivers for investment for new tenants.

The Adjudicator should also have the power to void waivers following a complaint and inquiry so action can be taken in circumstance where promised investment does not meet the waiver criteria.

Failure to address these concerns could effectively nullify the Pub Code and lead to new exploitative practices.

Despite the calls to work together and draw a line under the past, Pubco’s have been busy working hard to find ways to circumvent the Pub Code.

Actions included:

Pressuring tenants to take up rent reviews, in advance of any scheduled review, before the implementation of the Pub Code.

Coercing tenants to give up long leases and take up new five year contracts with no market rent option and no renewal rights.

Bribing tenants to sign up to new agreements without a market rent option, through reducing rents.

Seeking to force tenants onto five year non-renewable tenancies, and threatening to only offer such agreements, to avoid their tenants having their legal rights to trigger the Market Rent Only option.

And, this is from an industry that is telling us that they want to move forward and work together, while at the same time finding new ways to exploit their tenants.

The Government must make it clear that any attempts to circumvent the legislation will dealt with by the Pub Code and that there will be serious repercussions for any Pubco seeking to engage in such practices.

The Pub Code is about redressing the balance of power and the exploitative practices of Pubcos, and if they continue to seek new ways to exploit their tenants, we will have to assess the powers and duties of the Pub Code and the Adjudicator.

The actions of Pubco’s, in the past, and today, will require a diligent and effective Pubs Adjudicator, who commands the confidence of tenants.

After all, it is tenants who have been exploited over the years and they are looking to the government to appoint someone impartial and willing to give them a fair fighting chance.

This cannot be Paul Newby.

I do not call into question Mr Newby’s integrity, but it is difficult for tenants to have confidence in an individual who has received a significant income from acting on behalf of Pubcos.

From the outset there will be a perceived lack of fairness.

It was for this reason, the majority of us thought the Adjudicator would be someone from outside the pub sector, a person with no real or perceived conflicts of interest and could command confidence from across the industry.

Again, this is not Mr Newby.

He has acted personally on behalf of at least three Pubco’s he must now regulate, and his company has work on behalf of all six large pub companies.

Mr Newby has personally acted for pubcos against tenants campaigning on pub valuation related cases.

Mr Newby has not even commenced his job and we already have to ask about his intention once he leaves to role of adjudicator.

If he returns to the industry in which he has made his career his decisions are inevitably going to be influenced as there will be a need for him to maintain good relations with the Pubco’s.

I am concerned that every decision in which he agrees with a Pubco is going to be questioned, whether his judgement is fair or not, because of his long standing connection to large Pub companies.

Mr Newby should never have placed in this position.

What is more concerning is that throughout the entire appointment process, BIS seems to have been oblivious as to the reaction such an appointment would cause.

The Minister seemed shocked at the dispatch box a few weeks ago that anyone could question the appointment.

Was it not obvious to the Minister that a man with such close connections to the Pub Companies may not be seen as impartial?

If the Government insist on the appointment of Mr Newby, they will be purposely undermining the Office of the Pubs Adjudicator from day one.

The Pub companies see Mr Newby as their man, and worse still, tenants agree.

I am worried that the Minister cannot see that this situation is simply untenable.

I believe if the Minister truly wants the Pub Code to work, she will need to appoint an adjudicator that can command confidence across the industry.

She should apologise to Mr Newby and re-run the recruitment process.

The pub and brewing industry make an immense contribution to our local communities and our economy.

The drive behind the Pub Code and the role of the Adjudicator is to strengthen the industry, and should be seen as a step towards addressing the decline and number of pub closures over the last twenty years.

We need to get this right first time, otherwise we will be here again in the not too distant future calling for reform of the Pub Code and Adjudicator.

The Government have the opportunity to enforce the legislation passed with the overwhelming support of parliament.

Close the loopholes,

Protect tenants being brow-beaten into giving up their rights,

And, restore confidence in the Adjudicator’s office by appointing someone who can command support from all sides of the industry.

Future Funding for Supported Housing

Due to time constrains I had to shorten my comments, below is the full speech I had hoped to make during the debate.

I would like to thank North Star Housing Group and their Chief Executive Angela Lockwood who provide specialist and supported housing within my constituency.

They have underlined the difficulty they and other providers in the specialist and supported housing sector are experiencing due to the uncertainty caused by the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement when he announced that housing benefit in the social sector will be capped at the relevant local housing allowance.

The Minister will now be aware of the impact of this statement which has caused immense uncertainty and put at risk vital supported and specialist housing for some of the most vulnerable people in our society, such as the elderly, the homeless, those living with mental illness or learning disabilities, and women fleeing domestic violence.

I would be appalled if this was a considered policy decision brought forward in the knowledge of the impact it would have on supported and specialist housing.

For this reason, I hope the Chancellor would acknowledge his error of proposing a policy without consultation, evidence or an impact assessment and correct his mistake through exempting supported housing from these cuts.

We need urgent action as the Chancellor’s statement is already having an impact.

The building of thousands of vital supported homes are already being delayed or scrapped due to the uncertainty caused by the Chancellor.

If pursued, the National Housing Federation have stated that 82,000 specialist homes would become unviable, which is 41% of this type of housing.

A recent survey by Inside Housing revealed that 95% of supported housing providers have stated they would have to close at least some of their schemes, with one in four stating they would have to close all their supported housing.

The extent of these figures is worrying, particularly in my area, where there are 6450 supported and specialist units across County Durham supporting a range of people from the elderly, those with mental, physical and learning disabilities who are able to maintain their independence, people recovering from substance abuse trying to rebuild their lives, or women fleeing from domestic violence.

The short term financial savings the Government are hoping to achieve will quickly evaporate, as supported and specialist housing helps to reduce crime and eases pressure on already overstretched health and social care services.

Rather than adding to the deficit, the Homes and Communities Agency has found that investment in supported housing saves the taxpayer £640 million annually.

This has been one of the failures of the Government’s deficit reduction programme which is solely focused on short term cuts.

A little forethought and cross-departmental co-operation between the Home Office, Health and Communities and Local Government and we could be discussing how extending investment within supported housing could be a positive deficit reduction measure that would improve the lives of people accessing these facilities as well as easing pressure on vital public services we all rely on from the police, NHS to local government.

However, the agenda the Government wants to pursue is cuts, irrespective of their wider costs, either to the deficit or to the health and well-being of the individual.

Even on these crude measures, supported and specialist housing have already shouldered a considerable burden with the National Audit Office finding that between 2011-15 funding for housing related support decreased by 45%.

The sector is at a tipping point and further cuts will simply make these much needed services unviable.

I am particularly concerned as in my constituency we risk losing the only Women’s Refuge within East Durham, at a time when we need spaces in such units expanding rather than being lost.

The Women’s Refuge in my constituency is a new facility consisting of seven units. It was built with the support of a government grant, meaning that a short term housing benefit cut risks undermining previous government investment.

The scheme is very modern being only eight years old, it is well used, always full and oversubscribed. Again, based on the success of this scheme, I would have hoped that the government would be examining ways to replicate successful services to support more women and children fleeing domestic violence.

The rent is £245.81, this includes essential service charges and all running costs for communal areas, such as the children’s playroom, all security costs, which the Minister will acknowledge is vital for such services, as well as everyday expenses such as heating and lighting, cleaning, water rates and laundry facilities.

The Local Housing Allowance rate is extremely low in East Durham, just £97.81 for two bedroom accommodation. The annual deficit for this facility would be £46,176 rendering it unviable.

I imagine this problem will be mirrored in many areas where the housing market leads to a low local housing allowance rate, meaning vital services such as women’s refuges will not be able to operate in such areas.

There are no alternatives if this scheme closes.

The government would be forcing women and children to remain in abusive and violent households, resulting in a greater demand on emergency NHS services and police. I cannot calculate the human costs to the health and wellbeing of an individual forced to remain in such circumstances and at a time when two women a week, one every three days is killed by a former or current partner, I simply cannot believe the government would want to potentially cut off their only escape route from a violent and dangerous partner.

Not only will this policy cause immense harm and suffering to some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society, but moving people from cost-effective supported accommodation into more expensive health and social care settings will result in additional costs for the taxpayer and place greater strain on public services already operating at breaking point.

I understand the Discretionary Housing Fund has been highlighted as one way to make up the short-fall.

However, this is a totally unsuitable funding mechanism for specialised housing schemes.

What is needed is certainty and the ability to plan and manage services which cannot be achieved if there is a question mark over whether an individual will or will not be funded.

The Discretionary Housing Fund is already over-subscribed and housing providers cannot rehouse vulnerable people not knowing from one six month period to the next if their rent will be covered.

As we have seen with the bedroom tax, Discretionary Housing payments do not provide a long term solution, with less than 25% of people hit by the bedroom tax receiving support.

The government have made available an additional £70 million in 2018, however, how does the Minister know if this figure will be sufficient.

Ignoring the fact that supported and specialist housing providers have stated they cannot operate using this funding model, the government have no idea or basic information regarding the number of people in supported housing in receipt of housing benefit.

I am pleased that research is now being conducted but despite commencing in December 2014, the completion of this research has been delayed.

Can the Minister give any indication when this research will be completed?

I hope the Minister can acknowledge that it is not acceptable to announce a policy without the most basic information on costs and the numbers affected.

The evidence individual members have been receiving has been overwhelming and I hope we can arrive at a sensible decision to ensure these vital supported and specialist housing services are not only exempted from the Local Housing Allowance but are supported in a way that they can reach more people in need.

We need this issue addressing as a matter of urgency, projects are being delayed or scrapped and there are contracts up for renewal for the commissioning of support services which cannot proceed while uncertainty remains.

I am not immune to the Minister’s need to tackle the rising cost of housing benefit, and while we share the same aim to reduce these costs, we fundamentally disagree on how it should be achieved.

I am perplexed as to the reasons why the government solution is always to penalise and punish the poorest and most vulnerable in society, while doing nothing to address the underlying causes.

The rising cost of housing benefit is a result of escalating housing costs driven by ever increasing private sector rents, and the lack of any alternative as successive governments have sold off and failed to build and replace affordable social housing to rent.

We will not address the housing crisis by penalising the vulnerable or cutting funding for supported and specialist housing.

The simple way out of the crisis is to build, but, build properties over all types of tenures, not just starter homes at costs which are out of reach to many.

We need to build homes which are affordable to buy but also social housing with affordable rents, on a scale we have not seen for over half a century.

While the government continue to tinker at the edges of the housing crisis, which is leading to ever increasing housing benefit costs, we always run the risk of ill-conceived and dangerous policies such as the bedroom tax and now the attack on supported and specialised housing services.

I hope on this occasion the Minister will see the error of his ways, or should it be the error by the Chancellor, and will correct this mistake by ensuring supported and specialised housing providers are exempted from housing benefit cuts, and are supported in providing the vital services which we need in all constituencies across the country.

Too Much Information launches in Parliament

Alex Marshal, Grahame Morris MP and National Autistic Society Ambassador, Robyn StewardEasington MP Grahame Morris attended an event organised by The National Autistic Society who recently launched their Too Much Information campaign. Grahame is backing the charity’s new campaign to improve public understanding of autism.

As part of the campaign, the charity has released a report (Too Much Information: why the public needs to understand autism better) which revealed how poor public understanding of autism is pushing autistic people and their families into isolation.

According to a survey of over 7,000 autistic people, their families and friends, and professionals:

  • 87% of families say people stare and 74% say people tut or make disapproving noises about behaviour associated with their child’s autism
  • 84% of autistic people say people judge them as strange
  • 79% of autistic people and 70% of family members feel socially isolated
  • 50% of both autistic people and family members sometimes or often don’t go out because they’re worried about how people will react to their autism

This is why the National Autistic Society is calling on the public to find out more about autism so they can respond to autistic people with more understanding.

More than 1 in 100 people are on the autism spectrum. This means that someone sees, hears and feels the world in a different, often more intense, way to other people. Autistic people often find social situations difficult and struggle to filter out the sounds, smells, sights and information they experience, which means they feel overwhelmed by ‘too much information’ when out in public.

In 2015, a YouGov poll found that over 99.5% of the people in the UK had heard of autism. However, just 16% of autistic people and their families said that the public had a meaningful understanding of autism. This means that while lots of people have heard of the word autism, very few actually understand what it means to be autistic.

The charity has also released a short film, shot from the point of view of a child on the autism spectrum experiencing ‘too much information’ as he walks through a shopping centre. It shows how painful and overwhelming it is for the boy – and how much more difficult it is when people make nasty remarks or throw judgmental glares at him and his mother. The film concludes with the words: ‘I’m not naughty: I’m autistic’.

The Marshall family, whose son Alex plays the little boy in the campaign film, also attended the event in Parliament on Monday. Alex is a ten-year-old autistic boy, and he and his parents share the National Autistic Society’s passion to improve public understanding of autism.

Alex’s mum and dad, Ben and Kathryn Marshall, said: “When Alex was filming, we were watching him from the balcony and there was a woman who gave this look, a little glance. Everybody watching with us said, ‘That’s the look!’ We all knew it. It was that split second of contempt which says, ‘why can’t you control your child?’

“That’s why we’re so thrilled to be involved in the Too Much Information campaign and get the chance to help people realise how big a difference they can make to families like ours, by simply showing a little understanding rather than throwing us a judgmental look.”

Easington MP Grahame Morris, said: “The National Autistic Society’s important report shows why we must work harder to improve public understanding of autism. No-one should ever feel so misunderstood that they sometimes can’t leave their home.

“That’s why I’m pleased to support the Too Much Information campaign and am encouraging my constituents to learn a little bit more about autism.

“A basic understanding of autism could help open up the world for autistic people and their families in our community and across the UK.

 

Tracks 4 Change

Tracks 4 Change is a new songwriting competition for young people.

It is an opportunity for you to write about the issues that affect your life, to get your voice heard and win an amazing prize!

At the last General Election there were 3,000,000 newly eligible voters. Tragically 2,000,000 of those new voters chose not to exercise their democratic right, because they thought their vote would make no difference.

Tracks 4 Change seeks to encourage young people to think again by inviting them to raise the issues that concern them, in a song.

The winning track will be performed LIVE on the main stage at Bestival 2016.

To enter you must be aged between 16 – 22 on the 12th April 2016, a UK resident and be registered to vote.

Entries must be submitted by Friday 20th May, and for more information please visit www.tracks4change.co.uk

You can register to vote online at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

Grahame Morris MP pledges to help charity raise awareness of screening in East Durham during Bowel Cancer Awareness Month

Bowel Cancer ScreeningAs April marks Bowel Cancer Awareness Month Easington MP Grahame Morris is supporting a call by leading research charity Bowel Cancer UK, urging more people to take part in bowel cancer screening and help save lives.

Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK, affecting both men and women. Every year over 41,000 people (one every 15 minutes) are diagnosed with bowel cancer and 16,200 people die of the disease.

Bowel cancer screening can save lives but at the moment in some areas of the UK only a third of those who receive a test complete it. Thousands of people are missing out on the chance to detect bowel cancer early when it is easier to treat.

Grahame Morris MP said, “As the local MP, I am totally committed to improving uptake rates for bowel cancer screening, both locally and nationally.”

I would urge my constituents who are sent a bowel screening test to use it. Taking part in bowel cancer screening is the best way to get diagnosed early. If you are over 60, take the test when you receive it in the post. If you are younger, tell the people over 60 in your life to take the test. Early diagnosis really can save lives.”

Deborah Alsina, Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK, said, “I’d like to thank Grahame for supporting our campaign during Bowel Cancer Awareness Month to raise participation levels for bowel cancer screening.

One in 14 men and one in 19 women will be diagnosed with bowel cancer during their lifetime but it is treatable and curable, especially if diagnosed early.”

The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme can detect bowel cancer at an early stage in people with no symptoms when it is easier to treat. Since its launch 10 years ago, it has been proven to save lives. If you’re registered with a GP and aged 60-74, you will receive a test in the post every two years. You carry out the simple test at home in private and it comes with step by step instructions. The test looks for hidden blood in your poo, which could be an early sign of bowel cancer.

Visit Bowel Cancer UK’s website to find out how you can get involved in their campaign for Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, bowelcanceruk.org.uk.