‘Café Together’ Project in Easington Colliery

Community Cafe 2I would like to thank all the volunteers at the ‘Café Together’ Project in Easington Colliery, Methodist Church.

The community café serves healthy and filling two course meals with vegetable soup and spaghetti Bolognese on today’s menu, all for £1.

The café opens every Thursday lunchtime from 11am to 1pm and during the school holidays they will also be running a ‘Messy Lunch’ on Mondays from 11:30am to 1pm and a ‘Messy Tea’ on Tuesdays from 4pm to 5:30pm, combining good food with arts and craft activities and a film club on Tuesdays.

This is an amazing project that shows community spirit is alive and strong in Easington.

I was delighted to visit the community café and thank all the volunteers, Julie, Martin, Pat, Terry and the Revd Wood-Archer. The food was great and I hope more people will get involved.

For more information please visit – The Café Together Project

 

Unlocking Parliament for East Durham Schools and Youth Groups

School VisitI am always delighted to encourage my constituents to visit the Houses of Parliament, which represent an integral link to our history and remains the home of modern British politics. When school pupils come to visit and their eyes widen at the sight of Elizabeth Tower, hear the chimes of Big Ben and  absorb the bustle of Westminster, I am reminded how lucky I am to represent Easington in Parliament.

Visitors young and old enter the Parliamentary estate through the cavernous Westminster Hall – built 900 years ago by the son of William the Conqueror – stand in the spot where Charles I was tried for treason and look up to see the breath-taking oak roof. As visitors move from Westminster Hall, there is always something to look at, from the walls adorned with pictures to corridors full of statues and busts of famous figures from history. Visitors are then taken into the Commons Chamber to see the famous green benches where Prime Ministers Questions takes place and where every week MPs debate issues and scrutinise laws which affect our community. In the House of Lords people can see the golden throne of the monarch, where Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II so recently announced the start of this year’s parliamentary session.

The Houses of Parliament are the home of our democracy – they belong every bit as much to you as they do to Members who sit in the Commons and debate our laws. As your representative, I want you to have the chance to come and see our democracy in action. That’s what the Parliamentary Education Centre is about and that’s what Parliament is for.

The new Parliamentary Education Centre builds on this great tradition of public engagement and enables Parliament’s Education Services to engage and educate British students as to how Parliament works at the centre of British democracy and its pivotal role in our history.

Opened in July 2015, the centre offers a world-class learning environment at the heart of British democracy that makes use of creative and immersive technology to inspire and connect young people with Parliament and democracy.

School Visit 2The new Education Centre also makes use of three themed learning spaces: the Commons, the Lords and Sovereign, and My Parliament, resources which use interactive technology to explore the history and explain the roles of the three component parts of Parliament.

Within the centre, a virtual Sir Winston Churchill introduces the House of Commons, and portraits of Queen Victoria and King Charles I come to life to explain the often turbulent relationship between Parliament and the Monarchy. This exciting use of augmented reality enhances the engagement and experiences of pupils, so that they have fun whilst learning.

The Parliamentary Education Service, which runs the centre, regularly hosts school groups of all ages, academic ability and teaching needs. The service uses immersive programmes designed to complement each Key Stage of the National Curriculum. To encourage schools from all areas of the United Kingdom to visit Parliament, the Education Service also offers significant travel subsidies for which all schools in Easington qualify.

Programmes such as ‘Chance’s Story’, designed for Year 1 and 2 pupils, tells the story of the 1834 fire which burnt down the original Palace of Westminster and the competition to design its replacement. Whilst the ‘Chamber Chat’, aimed at children in Years 3 to 6, introduces students to the inner workings of Parliament and wider democracy.

Despite all its history, the pomp and ceremony, Parliament is not nor should ever be the exclusive domain of an elite of politicians and monarchs. To this day it is the beating heart of British politics. The most important issues of the time are debated, decisions are made and legislation is passed that changes conditions and lives in Easington, in the North East and throughout our country.

These programmes, tours and visits offer a truly fascinating opportunity for pupils from East Durham to learn more about their county’s history and, hopefully, spark an interest in politics that can last a lifetime.

Demand is high and whilst every effort will be made to arrange a visit, I recommend that schools and group bookings are made well in advance by contacting the Parliamentary Education Service.

Education information

Parliamentary Education Centre

Opened in 2015 by Professor Brian Cox – the centre combines the heritage and history of the Palace of Westminster with themed learning spaces and cutting-edge technology to create an innovative and engaging learning experience.

Facilities

Covers three parts of Parliament in themed learning spaces.

  • Commons – House of Commons introduced by Sir Winston Churchill
  • Lords and Monarchy ­­– House of Lords and the Sovereign including a 3D model of the chamber and portraits of Queen Victoria and King Charles
  • My Parliament – participation and engagement.

Tours – Education Service also runs tours of Parliament.

Subsidised travel

School Visit 3Eligibility – All schools in Easington are eligible for a ‘Band B’ subsidy for actual travel costs this amounts to 50% of receipted Travel Costs with a maximum claim of £800

Applying – On booking an Education Visit, eligible groups will receive confirmation of their booking and a subsidy application form. After the visit has taken place, the group co-ordinator should complete and return the subsidy claim form together with necessary proof of actual travel costs. This form and accompanying documents must be completed and returned to the Parliamentary Education Service no later than 90 days after the Education Visit.

I appreciate that logistically schools and youth group in East Durham find it difficult to visit the Houses of Parliament. I hope the above information regarding the new Education Centre, the facilities on offer, and subsidised travel will help more young people from our constituency to have the opportunity to visit the home of our democracy.

I look forward to welcoming more school and youth groups to Parliament soon.

Constituency Advice Surgery

Community House

My next Constituency Advice Surgery will be on Tuesday 2nd August at the East Durham Trust.

Tuesday 2nd August, 11am – 12:30pm
Constituency Advice Surgery
East Durham Trust,
Community House,
Yoden Road,
Peterlee,
SR8 5DP

If you require any further information please call the Constituency Office on 0191 526 2828

Supported Housing Debate

Opposition Day Debate – Supported Housing
Wednesday 21 July

Grahame M. Morris (Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government)

Before I move the motion, I take the opportunity to welcome the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and members of his team to their posts.

I beg to move,

That this House notes that the Government intends to cut housing benefit for vulnerable people in specialist housing, including elderly people and people who are homeless, disabled or fleeing domestic violence; believes that this will have harmful effects on current and future tenants of these specialist housing schemes; further notes that there is already a significant shortfall in this type of housing provision across the country; notes that charities, housing associations, councils and others have made Government Ministers aware of the damaging impact these cuts will have on tenants and the financial viability of these schemes and that the Government’s proposal to mitigate these cuts with discretionary housing payments will not compensate for these cuts; notes that the Government’s own evidence review into the impact of its decision, commissioned in December 2015, has yet to be published; notes that the Government has postponed the implementation of these cuts for new tenants to April 2017 but plans to fully roll out its planned cuts to housing benefit in April 2018; and therefore calls on the Government to exempt supported housing from its planned housing benefit cuts and to consult fully with supported housing providers to identify ways in which all vulnerable people who need supported housing can access it.

Six months ago my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) led an Opposition Day debate on the Government’s decision to cap housing benefit support for vulnerable people in specialist housing. The decision will affect elderly citizens, our armed forces veterans, those with disabilities, people with learning difficulties and people with mental health problems. It will hit homeless people and it will jeopardise the safety of people fleeing domestic violence.

Following pressure from the Opposition Benches, and concerns raised by Members on the Government Benches, there was an interesting debate last week led by the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous).

A campaign has been mounted across the country by community groups and housing providers. I was pleased that the Government agreed to delay the implementation of the cap, but I press Ministers now to go one step further. They must reverse their decision to slash housing benefit for a huge range of vulnerable people living in supported housing.

What kind of country would we be in if we abandoned the most vulnerable in our society?

What kind of message will it send, not just to the country and to vulnerable people but to observers around the world, about the priorities of this Government?

What credibility will be left for the outgoing Prime Minister’s repeated assertion that the Government would not balance the books on the backs of the poorest?

Unless Ministers reverse that destructive decision, that is precisely what they will be doing. I am willing to give way to the Secretary of State if he is prepared to stand at the Dispatch Box, say that he will reverse the decision and make the announcement that we are all hoping for. To implement that decision would be a damning legacy for the former Prime Minister and a broken promise to those who can least afford it.

The decision is not just detrimental to the most vulnerable members of society; in purely financial terms, it makes no sense.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend not agree that it is becoming more difficult for people to get housing benefit, and that in some instances, it might not be adequate?

Grahame M. Morris

Indeed, that is the case. The groups I originally listed are some of the most vulnerable in society—they are people who should be protected and who require supported housing. If the Government proceed on their intended course, some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people will be further disadvantaged, and the cost to the taxpayer and the Exchequer will be greater.

The Government’s proposal does not make financial sense, and it leaves the providers of supported housing in an invidious position. I know that housing providers—I have met many of them—breathed a collective sigh of relief when the decision to cap support was delayed pending a review, but they are still left in a very precarious position, with the sword of Damocles hanging over the services they provide.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne pointed out in a debate in the House on 27 January, unless the Government reverse this pernicious proposal, 156,000 units of supported and sheltered housing may have to close.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have received a letter from the New Charter housing group, which operates social housing in the Tameside part of my constituency. New Charter hits the nail on the head when it says that, as a result of this proposal, it

“will not have the income to sustain the provision of supported housing” and “will inevitably see the closure of some schemes.” It adds: “Many of these supported and sheltered schemes” in Tameside will “become financially unviable”.

Is that not exactly what will happen up and down the country if these cuts continue?

Grahame M. Morris

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point in a very concise way. [Interruption.] A member of the Government is saying from a sedentary position, “They don’t know,” but the situation is absolutely clear. The point I am trying to make is that housing providers need certainty over their income stream before they can plan for new provision—that is a reasonable point, which I am sure is not beyond the understanding of Ministers with a financial background.

Maria Caulfield (Lewes) (Con)

Is it not important to do this review, with housing benefit being rolled into universal credit? There is scaremongering that there are going to be cuts, but people do not actually know what the outcome is going to be, so let us have a constructive discussion during the review and give some certainty to the sector.

Grahame M. Morris

With respect, I must point out that Government decisions should be based on evidence. Before embarking on a plan and a policy, it would be sensible to look at the evidence objectively and scientifically. If the hon. Lady wants expert opinion, I am happy to give her that and to quote the chief executive of the National Housing Federation, David Orr, who met the then Housing Minister on 18 December last year. He said—this is an expert in the field—that the impact of the local housing allowance cap will be
“stark and make it extremely difficult for any housing associations to develop new supported housing.”

He also said: “providers across the country will be forced to close schemes.”

There is plenty of evidence of that, and I am sure that Members on both sides of the House have had representations from housing associations and housing providers.

Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)

Does the hon. Gentleman understand that a research project is now looking at this evidence? That conflicts with his motion on the Order Paper, which says:

“the Government intends to cut housing benefit for vulnerable people”.

That is pure scaremongering.

Grahame M. Morris

It is a matter of fact. It is a kind of chicken-and-egg situation: surely you review the evidence before you announce a decision and then put it on hold.

I believe the review was started in 2015—perhaps the Minister can correct me if I am wrong—so why are we still waiting for the results?

Why did the Chancellor of the Exchequer make an autumn statement that had huge implications for some of the most vulnerable people living in supported housing, without looking at the evidence first?

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Grahame M. Morris

I will give way this once, and then I would like to make a little more progress.

Richard Fuller

I do hope the hon. Gentleman will talk about the 20 years prior to this review, when there was no review.

For many years under the Labour Government, there was no review of what was happening with the additional housing benefit for people in supported housing or of how it was being spent. Does he remember that in the last debate on this issue, many people said they did not know where that money was? They did not know how much money was being spent, what it was being spent on or whether it was effective. Are the Government not therefore absolutely right to conduct this review and then to come forward with their proposals? Is he really not just scaremongering?

Grahame M. Morris

We have to deal with the position we now find ourselves in. Demand for supported housing has changed and increased dramatically. One million people rely on food banks, which certainly was not the case 10 years ago. We have a huge problem with people suffering from mental health problems and learning difficulties. We have a debt to our armed services personnel—our veterans—many of whom have post-traumatic stress disorder and need supported housing.

There are therefore new factors that we need to take account of, but, if I may be so presumptuous, it is surely the job of the Government to commission the studies. [Interruption.]

Well, indeed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne and my noble Friend Lord Beecham—or Jeremy Beecham, as we know him—in the other place have tabled a series of questions and got the answer that Ministers do not know.

That is a bit of an indictment of Ministers, who are supposed to compile an evidence base on which to make decisions.

Looking again at the advice of professionals, we see that the National Housing Federation estimates that a staggering 80% of the total planned new build will not be built.

Richard Fuller

indicated dissent.

Grahame M. Morris

The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head, but this is—[Interruption.] In practical terms it means that 9,270 specialist homes will not be built—[Interruption.] I will tell the hon. Gentleman why that is, because he is chuntering.

Richard Fuller

I’m sceptical.

Grahame M. Morris

Sorry, he is sceptical.

The reason is that providers need certainty; without certainty they cannot proceed. Often, they are raising funding for these schemes—I can see the Minister for Housing and Planning nodding in agreement—and they need certainty when going to the market. Where there is uncertainty, they cannot raise the necessary funding. On that basis, as responsible organisations—they are a mixture of local authorities, housing associations, charities, charitable trusts and so on—they cannot reasonably go on to build the supported housing units I think everyone in the House agrees we need.

There is another effect as well.

That situation, in turn, has a knock-on effect on the construction industry. The jobs that would have been created, and that I think we all want, will not now happen. This is an important sector, and we should be growing it, not allowing it to contract. At a time when house building outside London remains in the doldrums, that will be another setback for the industry and the economy.

How on earth can Ministers expect supported housing providers to continue, when they know that spending cuts and other policy decisions have already hit people living in supported housing schemes?

Supported housing provides vital help for tens of thousands of people across this country. It is mark of a decent, civilised society that services such as this exist in the first place. They play a crucial role in providing a safe and secure home with support so that people can live independently and others can get their lives back on track. As I mentioned, that includes supporting ex-servicemen and women to find a stable home, including those suffering from post-traumatic problems, mental health needs and physical disability needs.

I remind the House of the armed forces covenant, which sets out the relationship between the nation, the Government and the armed forces. It recognises that the nation as a whole and this House in particular have a moral obligation—I call it a debt of honour—to members of the armed forces and their families. It establishes how they should expect to be treated and how we should expect to treat them.

I am an eternal optimist—I am a Sunderland supporter and we have escaped four times—but if Ministers do not do a U-turn today, they will be breaking that covenant with our veterans and those who have given so much in service to their country.

In addition to ex-servicemen and women, many older people also rely on supported housing to maintain their independence. These elderly citizens have worked all their lives and paid their taxes, only to find in the autumn of their lives that their Government are turning their back on them. Personally, I think that that is morally indefensible and a betrayal of a generation that gave us the welfare state and the national health service.

I know that some of my hon. Friends are going to address the issue of victims of domestic violence, who are another important group. Over time, a number of Members—not just Opposition Members, but Government Members—have raised concerns about the closure of homes for victims of domestic violence. I understand that at least 34 such establishments have closed, and I am advised by housing associations that all eight in my own region are at risk of closure, including that in my own constituency.

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con)

The hon. Gentleman is talking about domestic violence refuges, but this Government committed £40 million in the autumn statement for services for victims of domestic abuse, which is a tripling of funding compared with the previous four years. Does he not welcome that?

Grahame M. Morris

I welcome the Government’s commitment to providing that specific support, but the problem is that the hostels, establishments and places of safety are disappearing. Places of safety are needed, mostly for women, but also for some men, who have suffered violence and threats of death. It would be a terrible indictment of the Government if they allowed such establishments to be closed.

Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)

On the £40 million, which has yet to be allocated, and the £10 million gift before the election, the bids for money to be allocated to Refuge were submitted with sustainability plans for the future based on housing benefit at its current rate. The Government signed off on every single one of those plans, but then, dishonestly, went back on them.

Grahame M. Morris

I am grateful for that instructive intervention.

Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC)

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing up the important issue of domestic abuse services. I am sure that he will agree with the concerns expressed to me by De Gwynedd Domestic Abuse Service and many other agencies that arrangements for abuse sufferers under the age of 35 when they are moving out of refuges may well put victims at risk.

Grahame M. Morris

I completely agree. This is a very real concern that affects the constituencies of Members on both sides of the House. I shudder to think what the consequences will be if these facilities are allowed to close. It would be simple for the Secretary of State to announce from the Dispatch Box that he will do a U-turn on supported housing. The whole House and the country would breathe a sigh of relief if he did that.

Homeless people are another defenceless and vulnerable group who can and do benefit from supported housing. Supported housing for homeless people with complex and multiple needs, such as mental health problems, can help them to make the transition from life on the streets into a settled home. It can help them with education, training, life skills and normal socialisation. It also helps homeless people in desperate circumstances to stabilise their lives, and it can assist them into employment and a stable future. In short, it brings dignity back into homeless people’s lives and enables them to participate fully in society once again. It can also provide huge savings for our criminal justice system.

There has already been a steep rise in rough sleeping since the coalition Government came to power in 2010. That has been caused by a number of factors, not least the combined impact of rising rents, cuts to housing benefit allowances, which have affected younger people in particular, and reductions in services that local authorities can offer to vulnerable people on the brink of homelessness. Unless the Government have a rethink about the housing benefit system, there will be a further rise in homelessness. The inherent cost to the Treasury and society must not be pushed to one side. Are Ministers seriously suggesting that, in the sixth richest economy in the world, this country cannot provide that vital assistance to homeless people?

I have heard Ministers waxing lyrical about the importance of mental health provision, and I absolutely agree with them. It should be a priority and they have said that it must be a higher priority. People with significant mental health needs often have to utilise supported housing—the hon. Member for Waveney made this point in an Adjournment debate last week—to stabilise their lives and live more independently. If the Government’s rhetoric about prioritising mental health means anything, Ministers must not proceed with the plans to slash housing benefit for supported housing.

People with learning disabilities also need supported housing. I declare an interest, because I have an association with Mencap and Golden Lane Housing. In fact, I met the previous Minister, the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), who is in his place, to discuss some specific points. If Ministers are really serious about helping people with learning disabilities and learning difficulties to maximise their independence and to exercise choice and control over their lives, they cannot possibly countenance these cuts.

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con)

I remember that meeting, which made it clear why this review cannot be rushed. Many unique and different challenges have to be supported through supported housing, and it is right and proper that the Government do not rush this. Crucially, support in the short term remains in place. That view has been echoed by Denise Hatton, the chief executive of the YMCA, who has said:

“It is positive that the Government has listened to the concerns of the sector and we welcome the fact it has taken appropriate action to protect supported housing.”

We cannot rush this, because that is how mistakes will happen.

Grahame M. Morris

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and for the courteous way in which he met the delegation from Mencap. As a basic principle, however, surely we should compile the evidence and assess it before making a decision, but the Government have made an announcement, and that has introduced uncertainty. That is why schemes have been cancelled and why housing providers are giving notice of their intention to close facilities. A basic principle needs to be applied. The amount of time that the review has taken—I think it is of the order of 19 months or so—is another issue. Does it really have to take that long to have an impact study on which the Government can base their policy?

I will make progress because a lot of right hon. and hon. Members want to take part and I do not want to stifle their contributions. In my opening remarks, I said that these cuts make no financial sense. I remind Ministers that the Government’s own Home and Communities Agency has found that supported housing provision has a net positive financial benefit of about £640 million for the UK taxpayer every year.

Rather than cutting provision for supported housing, the Government should now expand and improve it.

The National Housing Federation has calculated that there is a current shortfall of 15,640 supported housing placements, so there is already considerable pressure on the sector. I have mentioned some of the reasons for that.

Local authorities, housing associations, charities and other providers in this sector really want to deliver the supported housing that the people of this country need, but delivering this ambition is virtually impossible because the Government have made the operating environment so uncertain.

Incredibly, in last year’s autumn statement, the then Chancellor introduced the cap on housing benefit to local housing allowance levels without the Government actually knowing what its impact would be. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne highlighted this point when he spoke at this Dispatch Box in January. Before the debate, he had asked Ministers for evidence about the impact of the decision. Specifically, if memory serves, he asked the Minister—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Marcus Jones)

Not me.

Grahame M. Morris

Perhaps I am mistaken and it was one of the Minister’s colleagues.

My right hon. Friend asked how many elderly people, how many women fleeing from domestic violence, how many people with mental health problems and how many young people leaving care would be affected, but, incredibly, the then Minister for Housing and Planning was not able to provide an answer. If the Government do not know how many people in supported housing are in receipt of housing benefit, how can we expect them to make a decision? It is absolutely vital to have such information to hand to make an informed decision. Ministers did not know what a profound impact their decision would have on providers and on the people who depend on these services, and it seems that they still do not know, unless they are just not answering questions on this.

To be fair, Ministers did commission an evidence review, but that was back in January 2015. Even though the review had not reported on its findings at the time of the last autumn statement, the then Chancellor still ploughed on regardless. Six months ago, my right hon. Friend was assured that the review would be ready later this year. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), teased us in the Adjournment debate last week by suggesting that the review would be published imminently.

Did Ministers know what the impact would be when the Chancellor included this decision in his autumn statement?

They did not know what the impact of their decision would be—that is for sure—when the issue was debated in this House six months ago.

That raises the question: what is happening, and when will we know?

When it comes to making policy, Ministers are old hands at making policy in an evidence-free zone. The use of evidence to develop policy seems to be an alien concept to the Government, but I would have thought it was in the natural order of things. This is something of a travesty. Although the Government’s evidence review seems to have ground to a halt, Ministers cannot claim to be completely ignorant. After all, the providers of supported housing have made their feelings known. I am sure that Ministers—even those in the new ministerial team—have met housing associations, charities and providers. We have met them regularly, and they have made their views absolutely plain.

I have mentioned the views of David Orr. He has said that housing

“providers across the country will be forced to close schemes.”

He has described the difference between supported housing and general needs social housing and explained why rents in supported housing are higher. He has pointed out that “the uncertainty about the future approach is already leading to supported housing under development being delayed or cancelled because of the long lead times involved in investment and development.”

Julian Knight (Solihull) (Con)

The hon. Gentleman is being most generous in giving way. He mentioned an “evidence-free zone”, but all I have noted so far from his speech are continual references to David Orr of the National Housing Federation. There are more voices in this industry than his. Is not the process the Government are going through about taking on those voices, and about gathering and discussing the information? There is not therefore an evidence-free zone.

Grahame M. Morris

I am grateful to the Minister—[Interruption.] I am sure it is just a matter of time. This is a terribly confusing time.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

He is absolutely right that there is a plethora of housing providers. I have met and received evidence from Mencap, Golden Lane Housing, Rethink Mental Illness and Changing Lives, as well as various housing associations, such as North Star and the Durham Aged Mineworkers Homes Association, and the National Housing Federation itself, all of which have raised concerns about supported housing in particular sectors. I have not listed those supporting members of the forces, but there is a similar thread and strand bringing this all together.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab)

Before my hon. Friend finishes his long list, which could possibly be even longer, may I remind him that the YMCA is desperately concerned about these proposals? We should place that concern on the record. I cannot believe anyone in this House wishes to destroy all the good work that the YMCA has undertaken.

Grahame M. Morris

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out what an important role the YMCA plays in providing supported accommodation for young people, particularly those leaving care and those in the younger age bracket.

It is important that we look at the evidence. I do not think that the sums add up. Ministers seem to be drawn to an evidence-free policy, but surely it should be obvious to them that a local discretionary scheme will not work.

Ministers have previously said that discretionary schemes can assist in mitigation, but that does not alleviate the uncertainty. Providers of supported housing need certainty in the rental stream to fund the cost of managing these schemes and to service the loan charges incurred in developing them in the first place. Any reasonable person—let alone a Minister—will know that people cannot rely on a fluctuating income stream to service the cost of a loan. If Ministers persist with this ham-fisted plan—let me call it that—existing supported housing schemes will close, new supported housing schemes will be cancelled and some of the most vulnerable people will be left to fend for themselves.

The new Prime Minister once talked about the Conservative party as the “nasty party”. When she spoke on the steps of No. 10, she said she wanted

“a country that works for everyone”.

The Government have an opportunity today to prove that the Prime Minister meant what she said just seven days ago, but if the newly appointed Ministers refuse to listen to reason and proceed with these callous cuts, they will be demonstrating that the Conservatives have not really changed and truly deserve their label as the “nasty party”.

I commend the motion to the House.

Grahame Morris MP supports campaign for a Living Wage in the Water Industry

Living Wage Water IndustryI am delighted to show my support for “Making Waves for the Living Wage,” a nationwide UNISON campaign calling on all UK the water companies to sign up as accredited Living Wage employers with the Living Wage Foundation.

I know from my meetings with constituents that being paid less than the Living Wage is a big problem for many workers in Easington. Failure to pay the Living Wage results in people being unable to provide for themselves and their families.

Research from the New Policy Institute found that less than 10% of employees in the water industry were paid below the Living Wage in 2014. I know that when I pay my water bill each month – and it isn’t getting any cheaper – I expect to see it spent on decent wages for vital staff in the water industry.

The UNISON campaign “Making Waves for the Living Wage” has resulted in six major water companies signing up as living wage employers including my local water company, Northumbrian Water.

I believe that every employer in the water sector including customer call centre operators, catering staff, cleaners and security guards need to be paid the wages they need to live on.

This is a vital campaign and I am proud to support every effort to make the water industry the leading sector paying the National Living Wage.

EASINGTON MP WELCOMES LATEST ONE-YEAR CANCER SURVIVAL STATISTICS AT APPGC RECEPTION

MP says earlier diagnosis is key to improvement.

APPG on CancerBy 2020, almost half of the UK population will receive a cancer diagnosis during their lifetime. Cancer survival rates in the UK are among the worst in Europe, not least because many people are diagnosed too late when their cancer is advanced. Grahame Morris MP and the APPG on Cancer believe that this must change.

Over the past year the percentage of people in England surviving at least one year from their initial cancer diagnosis has risen from 69.3% to 70.2%. However, this is still well behind comparable international rates – in Sweden, for example, one-year cancer survival is around 82%.

At the event, Grahame Morris MP was presented with the cancer survival rates in Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield Clinical Commissioning Group that showed that 60% of local people with cancer will live for a year after diagnosis. This is lower than the national one-year survival rate for England of 70%.

Speaking at the event Grahame Morris MP said:

“As the MP for Easington, I will be engaging with the CCG leadership to discuss how we can ensure more local people survive cancer. Being diagnosed early is of utmost importance because it leads to a lower chance of dying from the disease. Every cancer patient deserves to be diagnosed as soon as possible and then receive support throughout their treatment and after it has finished to help them deal with the consequences of their illness.”

Easington MP Grahame Morris marks Srebrenica Memorial Day

Srebrenica Memorial DayTo mark Srebrenica Memorial Day, Grahame Morris MP honoured those who were murdered during the genocide 21 years ago.

Mr Morris signed the Remembering Srebrenica Book of Pledges, promising to play his part in ensuring that the lessons from the genocide are learnt and community cohesion is strengthened in East Durham.

Today marks the 21st anniversary of the worst atrocity on European soil since World War Two when over 8,000 men and boys were murdered just because of their faith. The Charity Remembering Srebrenica, which organises memorial events across the UK, says that this year it is time to act to counter the rising threat of Hate Crime in the UK.

Grahame Morris MP said: “Srebrenica Memorial Day reminds us all that a shocking genocide took place only 21 years ago and this should never be forgotten. I strongly encourage everyone to take this day as an opportunity to remember the victims and survivors of Srebrenica, but also to work together to make our own community a place of safety that welcomes and cherishes diversity.”

Srebrenica Memorial Week takes places from 10th – 17th July, with hundreds of local commemorative events taking place across the country arranged by schools, faith groups and community organisations, as well as UK and national events taking place in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast remembering the victims of the genocide.

 

 

Don’t Give Up the Fight for Fairness

WASPI3I was delighted to meet WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) campaigners from the Easington constituency during today’s mass rally of Parliament.

I fully support their campaign the importance of which has even engendered some cross-party cooperation between the Labour Party and other opposition parties  – (The Strangeness of Parliamentary Procedure – State Pension Equalisation).

The issue is a simple one of fairness.

In 1995, the then Conservative Government brought forward legislation to equalise the State Pension Age between men and women. These issues are always sensitive due to the significant impact they can have on those affected, particularly as they are approaching retirement.

The 1995 plan would have seen the State Pension Age for women rise from 60 to 65 over a ten year period between 2010 and 2020.

The timescales were such that they gave sufficient time for people to plan for their new circumstances, and legislation was already in place that would have seen the equalised State Pension Age rise from 66 to 68 in gradual stages over the period 2024 to 2046.

The Government should have simply allowed the issue to rest as the UK had made the arrangements that kept the State Pension affordable and sustainable for the long term. There was also a clear timetable that allowed people to plan and make provisions if they were to wait longer for their pension.

However, in 2011, the decision by the Coalition Government to accelerate the increase in the women’s State Pension Age left many without sufficient notice of the changes to plan for their new circumstances, with the Government only writing to those affected in 2012 and 2013.

The previous Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith MP promised to look at transitional provisions to help those hardest hit by the State Pension changes. Five years later and we are still waiting for the Government to make good on this promise.

WASPI 2Labour have repeatedly called on the Government to deliver on its promise to look at transitional arrangements but they have failed to engage. Instead, the Government have took steps to stop this matter being reviewed further.  In March 2016 the Government announced that John Cridland would lead an independent review of the future of the state pension age, but refused to allow the review to consider the existing State Pension Age timetable up to April 2028, rather than using this opportunity to look again at what more could be done to help those women set to lose out.

The decision to accelerate the increase in the State Pension Age is a political choice by a Government wedded to the failed policy of austerity, which has left working people paying for the cost of a banking crisis they did not cause.

This is an issue which affects everyone.

The Government have now legislated for periodic reviews of the State Pension Age to be carried out every five years.

If we don’t take a stand now and the Government are allowed to treat the WASPI campaigners in this way, what will stop them changing the rules for your State Pension at future reviews?

It is a system designed to create pension uncertainty and affect just enough people in every pension cohort to stop changes being opposed.

We cannot give up on this fight for fairness as it is a fight not only to protect the WASPI campaigners but each and every pensioner in the future.

Tax Justice: Labour Sets Out the case for Country by Country Reporting

Lab FB amendment photo 1

At some point you have to decide whether you want to stop tax avoidance, or just be seen to stop tax avoidance.

There are few better examples than the Government’s support for General Anti-Abuse Rule (GAAR). The GAAR is a limited measure which does nothing to stop the types of tax avoidance which has hit the headlines by companies such as Facebook, Starbucks and Google. However, it is a convenient piece of legislation for Ministers to point to in order that they can be seen to be taking action against tax avoidance.

A much more radical and comprehensive approach would be to adopt General Anti-Avoidance Principle which rather than targeting specific loopholes, it seeks to tackle all tax avoiding behaviour. However, Ministers refuse to take the comprehensive action we need and dismiss such suggestions when raised in Parliament – (When a Principle is better than a Rule).

The key to stopping tax avoidance is openness and transparency. When the Chancellor hailed the £130 million deal with Google, the taxpayer has no way of knowing whether this is a good deal.

I suspect it wasn’t in view that the French authorities are demanding £1.2 billion in back taxes, and have taken the matter seriously enough to raid the Google offices in France.

We need greater tax transparency.

I will be supporting an amendment to the Finance Bill, which is backed by organisations such as Oxfam, ActionAid, CAFOD, Christian Aid, campaign group Tax Justice Network and private business led Fair Tax Mark, calling for public country-by-country reporting (CBCR).

CBCR will be in operation in the UK as of this year, meaning multi-nationals of a particular size will have to provide information to HMRC. However, this information will remain confidential.

The simple ask is that CBCR information given to HMRC should be included in a multinational’s annual report to Companies House, thereby putting this information in the public domain.

The Government have stated they are not entirely opposed to the idea, but would prefer to introduce it multilaterally, rather than unilaterally.

This concerns me as such statements are usually code for not taking action. It allows the Minister to look supportive, while placing an insurmountable barrier to ever taking real action.

It seems to be just the latest example of the Government wanting to be seen to be stopping tax avoidance, rather than supporting the changes needed that would actually stop tax avoidance.

Ending China’s Yulin Dog Meat Festival

YulinThis week I joined animal welfare campaigners calling for the end of the notorious Yulin Dog Meat Festival.

A petition with over 11 million signatures from around the world was presented to the Chinese Embassy in London, urging them the stop the mass slaughter and consumption of dogs at the Yulin festival due to be held on the summer solstice (21st/22nd June).

Every year up to 20 million dogs, including stolen family pets, are killed for human consumption.

There are many dog markets and slaughter houses across China, but the annual meat festival in Yulin in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, has come to symbolise the immense cruelty of this trade.

This is not an issue about cultural differences.

The Yulin dog meat festival has no historical or cultural tradition. The festival was launched in 2010 by Yulin’s dog meat traders as a commercial event to boost flagging sales.

Yulin officials originally endorsed the event, expecting it to attract tourists, however, it has instead been a PR disaster, earning domestic and international condemnation for the mass slaughter of dogs.

The barbaric festival starts much earlier than the summer solstice, with thousands of dogs poisoned or grabbed off the streets. They are then transported, in some cases over thousands of miles in crammed wire cages, denied food, water and comfort. This excruciatingly painful journey results in many of the dogs dying during transportation from illness, dehydration and heat stroke.

Those dogs stacked at the bottom of the truck become drenched in urine and faeces, while those piled in the middle of the cargo can suffocate to death.

Conditions worsen for those who survive the journey, with dogs unloaded violently and routinely thrown around the truck leading to bodily injury. At the slaughterhouse, the animals are beaten to death in view of each other, due to a misguided belief that a painful, anxiety ridden death means better tasting, adrenaline-rich meat.

Across China, most people don’t eat dogs, and the issue has become increasingly controversial, with violent clashes between dog thieves and angry dog owners. In 2015, nearly 2 million Chinese citizens registered their support calling for a legislative proposal to ban dog and cat slaughter for meat.

This trade is cruel, not cultural, and I will stand with all those from across the world and in China who want to see the end of the Yulin festival and the abhorrent abuse of dogs which such events condone.