Foodbanks and Universal Credit
I recently set up the new All Party Parliamentary Group on Foodbanks. Today’s meeting was on Universal Credit and its impact on foodbanks. It made for very tough listening.
We heard from a welfare rights advisor from CPAG who told us that foodbanks in ‘full service areas’ for Universal Credit (UC) have seen a 30% jump in demand already. Southwark Foodbank spoke of the dramatic rise in children needing their help after UC was extended to parents. We heard that UC is expected to leave a million children in poverty.
We also heard from some people directly affected. One man was absent and a safeguarding alert is out as he missed a very important meeting yesterday about whether he is being evicted or not. He has mental health issues and we are all very concerned for his welfare.
Another man told us of the difficulties he has faced since being diagnosed with a terminal illness. He should not have faced the delays and barriers to accessing the right help. He is technically still in work, but past the point of being eligible for sickness payments but receives sporadic holiday pay he has accrued.
Those payments have contributed to the insensitive UC administration system failing to understand his circumstances. He spoke movingly about considering suicide due to the terrible situation UC put him in. He has worked all his life and told us that he had to ‘swallow his pride’ to accept foodbank help.
He and another speaker spoke openly of their ‘demoralising’ and ‘degrading’ feelings about going to a foodbank. Southwark foodbank’s manager told us of the stress and anxiety UC has piled onto people seeking their help.
UC was supposed to simplify benefits; it is failing as jobcentres are unable to explain how to enter and use online journals properly or account for childcare costs or fluctuating incomes for example.
UC was supposed to better support people in work but is failing the self-employed and anyone on a zero-hour contract. The Government also axed work allowances, undermining any claims from Ministers that UC helps people into employment.
UC was also supposed to save money. It directly axes things like Severe Disability Premium and other help, hitting over 430,000 disabled people. But UC may not be helping the Treasury at all given that it is heaping new costs on the NHS, councils and courts which the Government is currently choosing to ignore. Sadly, the terrible toll it is taking on individuals was also all too apparent today.
Foodbanks and Universal Credit I recently set up the new All Party Parliamentary Group on Foodbanks. Today’s meeting was on Universal Credit and its impact on foodbanks. It made for...
Today’s Budget was a chance to answer some of the biggest challenges facing our country today, and as a result of Brexit. It should have been time to:
- invest in the largest housing-building programme the UK has ever seen to end the current crisis, in partnership with councils being able to build to meet needs;
- provide the policing and security our communities need; and
- ensure our children and all young people are equipped for a future with a weaker economy outside the EU and with the education funding required.
Instead the Government is frozen in the face of Brexit.
We will see continued pressure on police, with London officers unable to meet existing crime levels or address knife and moped-related crime with a further £400 million cut from the Met by the Home Office.
We will not get the genuinely affordable homes required, and may see councils weakened in relationship to developers with other announcements from the Chancellor. The Coalition and current Government axed over 80% of the Homes and Community Agency resources to build affordable homes and have contributed to the slump in home ownership, doubling of homelessness, rise in rents and crash in house building. The commitments made today tinker round the edges – and come on top of at least seven broken promises on tackling the housing crisis which you can see here.
I am concerned that the Government also suggested after Grenfell that ‘money was not an issue’ in ensuring the safety of tenants in other tower blocks. Southwark Council has seen over £200 million taken from it by central Government since 2010 but has 174 tall buildings. The council – and all Southwark MPs – have asked the Government to help retro-fit sprinklers. Not a penny was announced for fire safety to help our council.
After the London Bridge and Borough Market and other recent terror attacks, the Government also announced that ‘the terrorists will never win’ but are yet to provide a penny of support for the people and businesses who lost out in our area in June. For almost three years, the Treasury has known that Terror Insurance still needs updating to reflect vehicle/knife attacks and their impact but failed to tackle the issue in the Budget.
The Government told us just a few weeks ago that there was no need to pause and fix the failing Universal Credit. Today, the Chancellor says he will try to do that: in 2018. No extra help has been pledged for the people already affected or facing new claims today who won’t see any income till after Christmas. The Government's plans will not solve the main problems either – leaving many people facing continued long waits for help, inaccurate payments and still indebted to landlords.
The biggest revelation in the Budget was the ever-growing cost of Brexit. With jobs going, investment and production falling, research funding rescinding and opportunities falling, the Chancellor admitted to already having set £3 billion aside to deal with Brexit preparations. Now that wasn’t on the side of any bus.
Today’s Budget was a chance to answer some of the biggest challenges facing our country today, and as a result of Brexit. It should have been time to: invest in...
This weekend saw a large number of Remembrance services across our community and country. I was proud to participate in services at City Hall, on West Lane and Old Jamaica Road, on Borough High Street and at the Imperial war Museum.
It was good to see such significant crowds attending each event. It is important we acknowledge the impact of war and the toll wars have taken on our area and beyond, for service personnel and civilians alike and in historic and current conflicts. Southwark has strong ties to our armed forces and I was proud to represent my own family as well as our whole local community in laying wreaths.
Remembrance This weekend saw a large number of Remembrance services across our community and country. I was proud to participate in services at City Hall, on West Lane and Old...
I am delighted to have recently become the first ever patron of the North Southwark Environment Trust (NSET).
NSET is a local charity that derives its funding from a co-operative model of housing and commercial rents and re-invests in Southwark projects improving the environment and involving local people. The charity works across north Southwark in partnership with a wide range of local organisations, from tenants' groups and community festivals, from Pasley Park to Bede House.
I was very pleased to be asked to become the first ever patron after years of working with the charity as a councillor and as MP since 2015. I am proud of its history contribution to improving the public realm and supporting many successful local events, including the Rotherhithe Festival, and community spaces, like outside the Brunel Museum.
NSET plays an important role in promoting community inclusion and is always looking for new and innovative community projects to sponsor. Please see the application form online here: http://www.nset.org.uk/applications.php is you'd like NSET to support your local project!
I am delighted to have recently become the first ever patron of the North Southwark Environment Trust (NSET). NSET is a local charity that derives its funding from a co-operative model of...
Universal Credit universally discredited
Today the Smith Institute launched their report on the impact Universal Credit (UC) in Southwark and Croydon in partnership with the Peabody housing association.
The report was clear in its findings: Universal Credit has dramatically increased rent arrears and debts within local authorities and other housing providers. This is something Southwark Council has stated for some time, as a trial area for the flagship but failing Government policy. Over 4,000 Southwark council tenants now claim UC and their arrears account for an astonishing £5.3 million.
The scale of the problem is vast when compared with Housing Benefit: the average council tenant on Housing Benefit in Southwark is £8 in credit; the average person on UC is in arrears of £1,178 but the Government are choosing to ignore the scale of the issue, despite its equally horrendous impact on foodbank use and in-work poverty. My Guardian article on the wider issues can be read here.
The Government last week had an opportunity to pause and address the problems within Universal Credit. On the Work & Pensions Select Committee I pushed the Minister on the flaws within this system. One of my questions can be watched here and my speech in the Commons debate on UC can be viewed here.
Sadly, the Government chose to push ahead despite the damage they are causing locally and nationally. Tory MPs abstained on the UC vote, refusing to support the flagship welfare policy (only introduced with Lib Dem support in the Coalition, sadly including my predecessor Simon Hughes).
The Select Committee is looking again at UC this week and I will continue to highlight the horrific issues within the system until the Government is forced to face reality.
Universal Credit universally discredited Today the Smith Institute launched their report on the impact Universal Credit (UC) in Southwark and Croydon in partnership with the Peabody housing association. The report was clear in...
Crime and Punishment
Crime is rising up the agenda locally, with many more emails and other correspondence on the matter covering everything from counter-terrorism measures after the SE1 attack, to anti-social behaviour in many parts of Rotherhithe, Bermondsey and Walworth, moped thefts and crimes using mopeds (stealing mobile phones for example).
Since 2010, Southwark has lost over 200 police officers and PCSOs under Lib Dem/Tory Government cuts. The inspectorate of constabulary reported earlier this year that the Met were short of 700 detectives. Too many crimes go unsolved and the growth of terror attacks and knife and other violent crime should mean the police have more resources and powers. Instead the Government is axing a further £400 million from London’s policing.
I met with Sophie Linden, London’s Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime at City Hall to discuss all these issues. The key items raised were:
- The potential merger of Southwark and Lambeth police forces which will leave our area with the highest 999 call volume anywhere in the capital. We already have a greater risk of terror incidents and a far higher volume of tourism and transport hubs serving millions of people but attracting some additional crime. I am seeking greater assurances that these issues were considered in drawing up plans.
- Sadiq Khan’s delivery of two dedicated ward officers to every local ward. This will hopefully improve local intelligence and visibility in the ten wards in Bermondsey and Old Southwark and with it reduce some opportunistic crime.
- The closure of the ‘front desk’ facility at Southwark police station. Rotherhithe station is already shut and Peckham faces closure. The only front counter in the whole of Southwark will be at Walworth police station, open 24 hours a day. I am unconvinced Walworth is either well-located or able to facilitate the larger footfall. It has just two counters, four waiting seats and a queue out the door whenever I have visited. City Hall will provide more information on plans to expand capacity.
- The inability of 101 to help enable more people to report crime by phone. At a recent Rotherhithe policing meeting, people mentioned waiting an hour to get a call answered which is unacceptable and is a side effect of higher 999 call volumes. The Met also want more crimes reported online. I hope the Met will properly assess broadband speeds to ensure this is possible consistently across Southwark. Rotherhithe does not have acceptable access/speeds for example.
- Moped related crime has rocketed across London. The Met’s specialist programme, Operation Venice, has drawn on serious and organised crime units to crack down and is seeing progress in some areas. Officers have discovered and removed four mopeds in Newington ward alone recently. I will be asking manufacturers like Vespa to do more to protect people who buy their vehicles but will also be seeking clarification on police powers. When I joined the recent emergency shift not one pursuit of a moped was permitted and this is part of the problem.
- Knife crime has also risen sadly again, with two more attacks on Walworth Road recently. Southwark has the highest knife crime rate in London. Shockingly, the prosecution rate is a mere 15%. The punishment for knife crime is not being meted out. It is the second anniversary of 15 year old Mohamed Dura-Ray’s murder. His family join the long queue awaiting justice. The Deputy Mayor agreed to hold a Southwark event to discuss the London strategy to tackle knife crime with local police, community organisations, schools and more. Please let me know if you’d like to attend.
Crime has a devastating effect on families across Southwark. But our police are being robbed of the ability to help prevent, tackle and solve crime by a Government unwilling to listen and completely out of touch with communities like ours.
Crime and Punishment Crime is rising up the agenda locally, with many more emails and other correspondence on the matter covering everything from counter-terrorism measures after the SE1 attack, to...
Lib Dems undermined access to justice and human rights
Yesterday's Daily Mirror covered the awful results legal aid cuts have had on families and individuals. The full article can be read here and it was great to see The Mirror show how this policy affects so many people unable to access justice either as swiftly or even at all under changes made since Labour left Government in 2010.
The legal aid changes were labelled ‘Tory cuts’ in The Mirror but were administered by the Lib Dem/Tory Coalition. No 'Liberal' worth their salt should have been undermining access to justice but these cuts would not have been possible without Lib Dem support, including Commons votes and at Ministerial level.
The array of old faces reappearing as frontbenchers at Lib Dem conference includes Cable, Davey and Swinson. It does not include the former Lib Dem Justice Minister and my predecessor Sir Simon Hughes. Hughes oversaw the legal aid cuts which left hundreds of thousands of people without the support they need, including local people I've seen who need help to escape violent relationships or secure custody of their children. Cuts that Amnesty say have created a two-tier legal service with only the wealthy able to afford full justice. Cuts that the Children’s Commissioner stated in 2014 were leaving the most vulnerable children in our society without access to justice and undermining human rights.
The Lib Dem Justice Minister's response to the Children's Commissioner's severe warning? He announced a 'review' - but Hughes' commitment was printed on Lib Dem press office paper and not from his Government department. It was never honoured and should be a stain on real liberals' collective conscience.
The Mirror is right to castigate Tory-led cuts. But the, albeit limited, exposure of former Lib Dem Ministers at their conference this week is also reminding voters of this guilty party's role in Coalition and with policies like slashing access to justice, trebling tuition fees and introducing the bedroom tax. People in Southwark and beyond still await apology and redress.
Lib Dems undermined access to justice and human rights Yesterday's Daily Mirror covered the awful results legal aid cuts have had on families and individuals. The full article can be read here and it...
Last night, I voted again against leaving the EU. My short comments below were designed to flesh out some of the reasons why (in the limited time MPs get to speak – which could be just 3 minutes).
Over summer I spent a lot of time discussing the Bill and Brexit with people across Bermondsey, Walworth, Rotherhithe, Borough and the Elephant, especially those who voted to Leave. I remind them I made a promise in both 2015 and 2017 to all constituents: I will never support anything in Parliament that could harm our community. It is a simple promise made in replacing a Lib Dem who voted for policies that did severe damage to local people left paying the Bedroom Tax, denied access to justice under legal aid cuts, or paying extortionate tuition fees. But it equally covers Brexit: the biggest issue facing our country and which would leave the whole UK worse off.
- I also met further constituency employers about the Bill. Businesses like ABTA (the Association of British Travel Agents) who highlight that it is EU not WTO rules that cover transatlantic flights and fear the Bill may not keep UK-US flights airborne.
- I met organisations like the British Toys and Hobbies Association who fear the UK could: lose trade we currently do within the EU; lose our place as global leader in this sector; and be flooded with counterfeit toys from new deals outside the EU.
- And met employers who worry the Bill does not answer fears about future workforce issues. The Bill and leaked Home Office proposals pose new concerns for employers and taxpayers. The Government wants a new expensive registration and visa system. The NHS alone would have to foot the bill for 54,000 new visas for existing staff. The taxpayer would pay for this, but loses doubly: also funding extra civil servants to administer the new system. And businesses would lose out by paying for employees’ visas and being less competitive with rivals within the EU and facing lengthy delays to get visas for new recruits. It often takes over 6 months for my constituents to get visas currently.
These are all issues which the advocates of Brexit should have had the answers to before the Government irresponsibly triggered Article 50. Big Ben might not be bonging but the clock is now ticking on leaving the EU and Ministers still don’t have a clue.
In June voters may have shorn the Government of its majority, but didn’t dent its arrogance, as we see from Henry VIII clauses and attempts to dominate Bill committees. But we shouldn’t be surprised at this authoritarian streak from a Government that tried to:
- rig electoral registers;
- inflate the number of unelected Lords whilst reducing elected MPs;
- cut funding for opposition political parties;
- gagged charities from speaking up about the impact of Coalition and Tory policies;
- and had to be dragged through courts to allow MPs to even debate Brexit, let alone scrutinise any detail.
And look at the people who try to justify this shoddy approach. They’re the same people who told us this would be easy. The same people who said we needed to ‘take back control’ but now say Parliament should adopt 40 years of legislation without scrutiny. And the same people who said they wanted the UK ‘Parliament to be sovereign’ who now try to impose a tinpot Maybot dictatorship over the Commons having ignored voters’ rejection of a hard Brexit in June.
It wasn’t just hard Brexit rejected though, it was ‘neglexit’ – the Government’s complete neglect of a positive domestic agenda, instead offering:
- More foodbanks for working people;
- Less chance to own your own home;
- Cuts to schools and social care;
- Longer NHS waiting times.
- A Government bereft of ideas, dominated by men with 1950s mindsets.
In failing to respect June’s result, in continuing to fail to have positive policies for British people, and in banging the drum for the hardest of possible Brexits and all the damage it would cause, Ministers and their backbenchers appear to be fighting amongst themselves on how best to lose the next general election.
Last night, I voted again against leaving the EU. My short comments below were designed to flesh out some of the reasons why (in the limited time MPs get to...
Recess is a fantastic time for young adults, who are on their summer holidays from school, to come into my office and gain some work experience. I try and accommodate everyone who asks and am so grateful for their fantastic input! Below is a blog from Joseph from Elephant and Castle who came in last week to gain some experience before going on to study Politics in sixth form.
Knife Crime by Joseph
Knife crime is on the rise and not much is being done to stop it. In Southwark alone the amount of knife crime incidents in the last year has risen by 48%. The latest Metropolitan police statistics show that there were 254 knife crime with injury incidents in the last year. It is clear to see that knife crime is a major concern for our community and it needs to be tackled.
It was reported recently that Southwark has the worst record in London for solving knife crime cases. The current conviction rate for Southwark knife crime cases currently stands at 15.4%. This statistic is horrifying as it means that the majority of people who commit these crimes are never brought to justice and face no punishment. This also includes murders, which means that parents who will suffer for the rest of their life as a result of losing their son or daughter will also have to live with the pain of knowing that justice was not served and their child’s murder was left unsolved.
These tragedies are occurring more and more often, there must be an explanation for this. Well, there is really only one real explanation to why knife crime is on the rise and why conviction rates are falling. The Metropolitan police simply do not have the resources to solve these tragic cases. This is because since 2010 when the Conservatives regained power to run the country, instead of making citizens feel safer they have made citizens feel less safe and have placed crime along with other youth issues to the back of their priority list. Under the Conservative government the number of police officers have been cut by 20,000, while in Southwark the number of police PSCO’s in local areas have been reduced by 200. Crime has increased because there is no longer a police presence in the local area due to police cuts by the Tory government, and the conviction rate has fallen due to the lack of resources in the Metropolitan police due to cuts by the Tory government.
It is clear that to see that knife crime is not on the government’s agenda and so it is clear that the best way to tackle knife crime is to place it on the government’s agenda and make it the government’s priority. The job of the Tory government is to represent the people and so we, the people must make it clear that we want more police officers on our streets, more opportunities made available for us young people so that we do not need to result to crime to make a living, and regular engagement with the youth in the local community. Our local MP Neil Coyle will continue to question Prime Minister Theresa May on this issue to ensure that knife crime is placed on the government’s agenda, while we, the local community must get in contact with the local council, and ensure that crime is placed on their agenda. I believe that once knife crime is given priority there will be a change.
As a young person in the local community I think there are two main ways to solve knife crime. Firstly on a practical level I think that there needs to be more police officers in local areas to prevent knife incidents and ensure safety among citizens. Secondly, I think that there needs to be more opportunities and education provided for people, such as more youth clubs and events to push people young and old away from crime but towards a brighter future. There needs to be an understanding among the community that no matter where you come from, no matter who you are, there is a place for you in society and that not everyone will become a millionaire but that there is an opportunity to move away from a life of crime to a happier, more fruitful life.
Recess is a fantastic time for young adults, who are on their summer holidays from school, to come into my office and gain some work experience. I try and accommodate...