As the New Year begins, I’d like to wish you and your loved ones all the best wishes for a happy and peaceful 2023.
2022 was a series of domestic car crashes from Boris Johnson’s unfitness for office, Liz Truss’s attempt to wreck the economy and now likely back to austerity with PM Sunak. It is simply time up for the Tories. Internationally Putin’s brutal war on the Ukrainian people is an outrage and one he must lose. And of course, ongoing issues domestic and global still need a government that can work fairly on the many pay disputes, in particular, and on Climate Change which has left the headlines but has not gone away.
It has been another busy year for me and my office. I’ve received over 10,000 emails from my constituents and taken on 5,028 pieces of casework. I’m bound to thank my colleagues Chris, Holly, Iftikhar, Jacob, Joe and Lucy for their very hard work.
The death of Awaab Ishak and Rochdale Boroughwide Housing
I led a debate in Parliament about the death of Awaab Ishak and what steps must be taken, both locally and nationally, to prevent another tragedy like this from happening again. Over the years I have spoken on many occasions and criticised the government for funding lapses, but this case is simply not about funding. It is about a housing association that did not do its job. We know that some of the factors that led to the death were things that simply should never have happened.
The reality is that blaming ‘lifestyles’ in a case like this is ridiculous. We know that children have much more sensitive lungs. The ventilation in the flat in this case was inadequate, but things could and should have been done about that. When the Ishak family went to a solicitor because they could not get action directly through the housing association, RBH used a legal block which automatically stopped repairs. Most of us would regard a policy like that as ludicrous, but in this case it was more than ludicrous: it was dangerous.
I told the Minister that there needs to be an inquiry into RBH, even though we are two years on from Awaab’s death, I am of the view that RBH is simply not up to the job that we expect of it. There is also the question of whether racism was involved. Things like that have to be investigated.
This is not just a local issue. Mould does not exist just in homes and houses in the Rochdale borough, it is a nationwide problem and we need nationwide solutions. The Secretary of State recently said in the Commons that “2.3 million homes fail the decent homes standard” and something has to be done about that. The Manchester Evening News campaign, Awaab’s Law, calls for an immediate response from the landlord when mould or damp is reported. Over 120,000 people have signed that petition and I applaud the MEN for taking up the case.
We also need to look beyond the immediate legal framework for housing associations. We have to ensure that if they fail to do the job we ask of them, other mechanisms will come in. Public health authorities, the local authority, the Regulator of Social Housing and other agencies all need to be involved. We have to ensure that they are properly resourced to do the job of controlling that we ask of them. We must not give them a legal duty and legal capacity unless we also give them the resource to undertake their role. In the end though, Awaab was failed by senior management in RBH and the Board which has now resigned. We need a very different structure to ensure there is oversight of senior management and that senior managers do their job.
In the end, Awaab Ishak should never have died. That little boy died because of an inadequate care to detail and detail in this case really did matter. We must make sure it never happens again. You can watch the debate in full here.
Ban Trophy Hunting
I signed a Parliamentary motion calling for a ban on trophy hunting imports. Killing animals to display their heads, horns, antlers or hides as ‘trophies’ is cruel, damaging, outdated and unjustifiable. Not only can it be used as a cover for illegal poaching as traffickers pass off illegal wildlife products as legal, it helps push endangered wildlife closer to extinction and brings unnecessary suffering to animals.
The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill passed its Second Reading last month with support from both sides of the House. The Government must now ensure it provides the legislative time needed to deliver the trophy hunting import ban it promised. You can read the full text of the motion here.
Evidence Week in Parliament
In Parliament, I met with researchers from across the UK, discussing issues around housing, food supplies, energy, health and tackling inequality, and how evidence from their latest research could be used to inform future policy and legislations. Evidence Week was a good opportunity to bring together the public, parliamentarians, and researchers to share knowledge and insights.
Redirect 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. Read more.
GP waiting times in Rochdale
New data from the NHS has shown that more people are waiting a month for a GP appointment than at any time since when records began in 2017. 3,060 people in Rochdale faced a wait of 28 days or more to see a GP in October alone. A further 10,674 people had to wait more than two weeks.
People right across Rochdale have told me that they find it virtually impossible to see a GP when they need to, and these astonishing figures really bring that to bear. That means conditions are being diagnosed late and the opportunity for potentially live saving interventions being missed.
12 years of Conservative failure to train the staff our NHS needs has left it with thousands fewer GPs and patients are paying the price. Meanwhile the Conservatives are protecting the non-dom tax status, allowing people who live in Britain to pay their taxes overseas. Labour will train a new generation of doctors and nurses, paid for by abolishing non-doms. Patients need doctors’ appointments more than the wealthiest need a tax break. Read more.
I met the Diabetes UK Campaign Champions in Parliament and discussed the challenges facing the 1 in 14 people in the UK who live with diabetes, and their campaign to ‘rewrite the story’ on diabetes care and prevention.
Islamophobia Awareness Month
I was pleased to join the Muslim Council of Britain in Parliament to mark Islamophobia Awareness Month. Islamophobia impacts British Muslim communities everywhere and we must work together to call out all forms of hatred.
World AIDS Day
Over the past 40 years there has been huge medical advances in the treatment of HIV. This means, someone living with HIV is undetectable and untransmittable. We must all break down the stigma by spreading this message.
Young Achievers Awards
I presented Anita Okunde with the Young Achiever Award in Parliament. Anita is from Rochdale, and as her MP I was pleased to present her with this award which honours young people who have impacted the lives of others around them.
White Ribbon Campaign
I joined the launch of Rochdale Connections Trust’s White Ribbon Campaign, calling on men and boys to pledge their commitment to end violence against women and girls. I signed this pledge, and you can watch me discuss this with Jenny Miller from RCT here.
I also joined the vigil at Saint Mary in the Baum where moving speeches were made, and male White Ribbon Ambassadors spoke about the importance of everyone working towards ending violence against women and girls. We will remember those women whose names were read.
I joined members of the Hindu community and Labour MPs to celebrate Diwali. The festival celebrates the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. These are dark days in lots of ways for many people, but this was a chance for us to celebrate together and look at brighter times to come.
Ukrainian Human Rights Ombudsman
I met with the Ukrainian Human Rights Ombudsman in Parliament, where we discussed the situation of Ukrainian POWs and human rights abuses by Russian forces, the destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure and what the UK can do further to support Ukraine.
I have written to the Foreign Secretary following reports that Maria Kalesnikava, a political prisoner in Belarus, was admitted into intensive care and underwent surgery. She is serving an 11-year term having led protests against the fraudulent 2020 presidential election in Belarus alongside Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Veronica Tsepkalo. Belarusian officials have not provided any details about the reasons for her hospitalisation. Her family have said she is in a “grave but stable condition” but have not been allowed access to her. Her lawyer has also not been allowed access.
I called on the Foreign Secretary to make representations to the Belarusian authorities to demand that they uphold their responsibility and commitments made in the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This means ensuring that Maria receives all of the medical treatment she requires, and appropriately humane and compassionate care afterwards. It is also vital that Maria’s family and lawyer are allowed to visit her immediately.
APPG for Belarus
The ‘Ice & Fire’ drama group gave a moving performance in Parliament about the struggle for democracy in Belarus and Lukashenko’s cruel oppression. They performed four people’s stories from Belarus in 2020, and their reflections on those events today. Attendees included Lithuanian Ambassador Eitvydas Bajarūnas, a representative of the Belarusian opposition United Transitional Cabinet, a representative of the Polish Embassy, and a number of UK-based Belarusian activists.
Damp and Mould: A Serious Health Hazard
Following the Regulator of Social Housing sending a letter to all registered housing providers, which states that mould should be seen as a serious hazard to health, I told the Housing Minister that we also need regulatory powers, with resources to allow local government to implement those powers. Without that, we are simply using words and not action. Watch.
I raised the fact that North Wales can only obtain the benefits of HS2 if it is properly connected, which means electrification of the North Wales line. I asked the Secretary of State for Wales for a guarantee that that will take place. If not, he must accept that that is a betrayal of the interests of the people of North Wales. I didn’t get. That guarantee. Watch.
When it comes to climate change, the whole world is in this together and there is no one-country solution. I asked Ministers how they can stand before the House without addressing how, if we develop oil and gas domestically, we can dictate to others—in the Arab world, for example, or Germany with lignite—that they should not do the same. Watch.
It is not so many months ago that any international conference such as the G20 would have been seized with the situation in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has now gone off the agenda, but the humanitarian crisis there is moving into absolute tragedy as people are facing starvation. We have a serious obligation given our role in that country in recent years and, frankly, its failure. I asked the Prime Minister to tell us what conversations took place at the G20 summit about Afghanistan, and if he will now reconvene the kind of donor conference that could make a material difference to starvation in that country. Watch.