The death of Awaab Ishak and Rochdale Boroughwide Housing
There is no doubt that the tragic death of two-year-old Awaab was preventable and unforgivable. The coroner recorded his death as caused by respiratory failure, in turn, due to prolonged and severe exposure to mould growth in the home in which he lived.
I would welcome an inquiry into what went wrong and an investigation into Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, the landlord of the home that the family were asked to live in. I have no confidence in the senior management of RBH and its Chief Executive, and some of those on the executive body, need to question their own role and whether they should be there any longer. There needs to be some personal responsibility in this, and for those at a senior level to face the consequences either legally, or in losing their job. But importantly, the law has to got make sure that landlords, both social and private, cannot ignore the health risks of damp and mould.
Mould growth in properties is an issue not just in Rochdale. At a national level, we need a new definition of decent homes that includes classifying mould as a category 1 hazard. That would be an important step in providing protection.
The government must also recognise that there needs to be sufficient funding of local authorities if we are to prevent this kind of tragedy. We must have enforcement and we must have enforcement structures that have the resources to enforce.
The Manchester Evening News has also launched a campaign calling for better regulation of the social housing sector. I applaud the ambitions of this campaign, which is to make sure that no child can ever be put at risk in this way again.
With Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in office, we’re told ‘the grown-ups are now in charge’. It’s true and only fair to note that the markets have calmed down but as I write the government’s first real test comes ahead, whilst for you reading you’ll know what Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Financial Statement has done.
The first test for the Chancellor is will he make cuts in our vital public services and keep wages down for those, like nurses, teachers or pensioners who are struggling with rocketing prices? That would be simply wrong.
The next question, just as important, is will he make ordinary families and households bear a big share of tax increases and cuts to vital public services or will he ask those who can afford it to pick up the lion’s share? The banks have done well as interest rates have put money in their balances. We know the energy companies have had windfall profits shoved into their accounts with no work involved and just a ‘thank-you’ to those market forces which make the consumer cough up more and more. So will the banks and energy giants who can afford to pay windfall taxes, be asked to pay a serious contribution? If not, why not?
The Tories may want to believe that those on high incomes will flee the country if we expect them to pay a fairer proportion at a time of national need, but we know this isn’t the case. Non-Doms, those people who live amongst us for years but choose to pay their taxes at much lower rates in other countries, should be told that the game is up and that they should pay a fairer chunk. Other countries tax unearned wealth which has accumulated over the decades or even centuries. So we should ask the very wealthy to make their contribution.
This isn’t the politics of envy, it’s about the choices a decent Chancellor must make for us to live in a fairer society where the strong help the weak and the better off help those in need.
Deportation decision of members of the Rochdale Grooming Gang
Two members of the Rochdale grooming gang have lost an appeal against deportation after a seven-year legal battle. I have written to the Home Secretary demanding speedy deportation action and demanding an inquiry as to how, these many years on from the men being released from prison, they are still allowed to walk the streets of Rochdale. Read my letter in full here.
A ‘just reconstruction’ in Ukraine
I joined calls for a post-war reconstruction process to ensure the rights that the Ukrainian people are fighting so hard to defend are maintained and strengthened. As is the case all over the world, the active participation of trade unions and civil society in that process is vital – a just reconstruction is one which is led by the Ukrainian people, for the Ukrainian people. Read more here.
I met with Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Ilir Kapiti, Ambassador of Kosovo to the UK. We talked about the development of Kosovo’s economy and the manufacturing sector, as well as tackling corruption which is a high priority for the Kosovo government. Oddly, the last time I met Albin Kurti was when I visiting Serbia and Kosovo as a UK Minister and he, a student leader, very bravely came to meet me to put the case that the then-President Milosevich was making war on civilians in Kosovo.
Hunger displaces millions of people who must search for sanctuary elsewhere, and these crises are caused by a combination of global factors including climate change, conflict and economic instability. For example, in Afghanistan an astonishing 18.9 million Afghans are acutely food insecure and six million are on the brink of famine. Afghans have limited access to basic services and some are having to take desperate measures such as marrying off or even selling their children. In the case of Somalia, UNICEF estimates that a child has been sent to hospital over malnutrition every minute since August 2022. A major cause of the crisis is the worst drought in the Horn of Africa for four decades, and climate change is bound to be a significant cause of this.
I tabled three Parliamentary Motions, calling on the government to combine its security role with greater humanitarian assistance, support international and non-governmental humanitarian organisations and restore the commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of GNI on international aid. You can read the motions here, here and here.
Cost-of-Living Crisis: Surplus Food
I’m calling on the government to redirect surplus food to those worst affected by the cost-of-living crisis. The government could deliver 100 million meals worth of food that is currently going to waste on our farms and in our fields directly to communities and people that are struggling. No one wants to see good food go to waste, especially at a time when demand is so high. Voluntary organisations in Rochdale and across the piece are under a significant amount of pressure and are seeing an unprecedented level of demand for their services. For a comparatively small amount of money, supporting food redistribution from farms would have a significant impact, with 100 million meals going to those who need it. Good food should be used to feed people rather than being wasted.
Tackling alcohol-related harm
I’m calling on the Prime Minister to take bold action to tackle alcohol-related harm. Tragically, alcohol kills more people each year. Despite this, the last Government Alcohol Strategy was introduced ten years ago. It is the next generation who will suffer hugely from rising alcohol harm, including the impact on children of alcohol dependent parents and those with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).
These harms are not felt equally across society. Those from poorer backgrounds are significantly more likely to feel the adverse impacts of alcohol, despite drinking less alcohol on average. If we address alcohol-related harm, we will properly ‘level-up’ and reduce health inequalities. Read more here.
Breakfast clubs make for better education
Reports have shown that 17.3% of five-year olds in Rochdale are eligible for free school meals, compared to 14% nationally. These reports also show that reception pupils in Rochdale are more likely to be disadvantaged than across England nationally. The evidence is clear. Breakfast clubs raise standards of learning for children, give parents choices and will help us build the economy of the future. That is why Labour in government will offer a breakfast club in every primary school in England as the first step on the road to a modern system of childcare. Read more here.
I attended Remembrance Sunday memorial services in Rochdale, Balderstone and Wardle. Many families have ties and memories to those who serve and served and those who died. We do remember them with gratitude and affection.
It’s great to see that access to Dell Road, and access to one of Rochdale’s beauty spots, has reopened after months of repair work to make the road safe and accessible. It was also good to see the Healey Dell tearoom back in operation.
Kashmir flag raising ceremony
I attended the Kashmir flag raising ceremony outside the Council’s offices. Kashmir is a beautiful place but is sadly divided and whilst this is a stain on the world’s conscience, here in Rochdale we’re not divided and we celebrate the powerful role that the Kashmir community plays.
The International Brigade Memorial Trust
I attended an event which commemorated those who travelled to Spain to support and fight for the democratically elected republic and socialist government against General Franco and his fascist army, who sought and succeeded in a coup.
Western Balkans: Council of Europe
One of the real tragedies of how we operate is that today’s crisis is Ukraine, yesterday’s was Afghanistan and the day before it was wherever. The Western Balkans was once that crisis that was so important and all our energies were directed there. As a Minister, I lived through the crisis in Kosovo, and we cannot go back to those days.
I made the point that the Western Balkans matters to the United Kingdom, and on the importance of the Council of Europe and the European Union pulling together and challenging the baleful influence of Moscow and, to a lesser extent, the growing presence of China in the Western Balkans. Watch.
Public Sector Pay
We clapped for our nurses whilst this government eroded their salaries, so much so that nurses are now working one day a week for free compared to what they should be paid. I spoke in a debate on the proposed strike action in response to public sector pay announcements. Watch here.
Australia and New Zealand Trade Deals
I made the point on how much the Government have been prepared to trade away in a way that we did not see from the European Union. We know that the protections that the EU demanded, particularly for its own agricultural base, were very different from those that the UK obtained. Clearly Britain would have been better off within the EU and with the EU’s negotiating position than with our own. That has to be a fundamental critique of and challenge to the capacity and competence of this government. Ministers couldn’t even attempt to answer this point in the debate. Watch.
Northern Ireland Election
On the Northern Ireland Protocol, I made the point that it is important that we now create trust between the European Commission and the UK Government because, in the end, the protocol must be made to work, which will need compromise on all parts. I told the Minister that he must be prepared to make that effort. Watch.
NHS waiting times
Two years ago, the Health Minister averted industrial action by ensuring comparability between pay for nurses in Northern Ireland and in England and Wales. The Northern Ireland Fiscal Council says that the budget for health will be 2% lower next year than this year. I asked Ministers for a guarantee that there will be money to pay the nurses, without whom there will be no impact on the dreadful waiting lists. Watch.
I asked the Foreign Secretary if he is satisfied that there is the international co-ordination to ensure that British efforts, and the efforts of other international partners, deliver the support that Ukraine needs. Watch.