Levelling down Rochdale
Shockingly Rochdale is the fifth most deprived area in England. Poverty and child poverty are widespread. A child born in the borough will lose more days through ill health and will die younger than a child born on the same day in, for example, Surrey. It is astonishing with that background that Rochdale over the years of this government has seen 30% of its funding to our local Council cut. That compares to an English local authority average of 20% and of course much less for some local authorities often in the most advantaged areas. If you were to ask people in Rochdale what areas of public spending are a priority, health inevitably, education and policing would be high on the list. Police funding has increased in England and Wales this year but what is not a mystery is why Greater Manchester has seen a much smaller increase (3.3%) than North Yorkshire (4%), Rishi Sunak’s police area, or Surrey (4.2%). Low crime Tory areas have been rewarded politically whilst much higher crime areas have not seen the same help. The government’s levelling up rhetoric has to be set against the reality of the big decisions they make and in the big decisions it’s Rochdale and towns like it that lose out.
Rochdale levelling up bid pushed to back of the government’s queue
The government has pulled back levelling up funds which would have improved the gateway into the town centre from Rochdale railway station. These funds would have helped towards new sustainable homes and much needed redevelopment of the routes that lead into Rochdale’s town centre from the train station but this decision means that local communities and businesses will lose out. It was only last year that Prime Minister Sunak admitted on camera to taking money away from ‘deprived urban areas’ yet he’s managed to ensure that parts of his own constituency receive £19m of levelling up funds. Small wonder he’s being accused of ‘levelling up’ favouritism. Labour in government will do things differently by ending this type of contest that pits community against community by transferring power out of Westminster through the Take Back Control Act, so local leaders can harness the skills and assets in areas like Rochdale to drive growth. 📰 Read more.
Update on Awaab’s Law
Amendments have now been made to the Social Housing Regulation Bill which meet much of the Awaab’s Law campaign demands. Time limits for carrying out inspections and work on damp and mould will be enforced and included in tenancy agreements and landlords could be sued for breaching them. The exact timeframes will be set following a consultation period and brought into statute by a secondary piece of legislation. Clear information will also be provided to all tenants on their rights, what to expect with regards to health and safety in their home and how to make a complaint.
The one aspect which isn’t included is the rehousing priority when there’s a health risk. The Levelling Up department say this is something local authorities already have a duty to do, but that doesn’t address the acute housing shortage felt in Rochdale and other local authorities across the country. Instead, the government plan to update the Housing Health and Safety Rating System to make it clear what provisions local authorities have to take.
It is an important step in the right direction, but it isn’t over yet. I will be encouraging MPs on all sides of the house to back Awaab’s Law and to ensure the promises on timescales and rehousing priority are delivered.
Boosting skills training in Rochdale
Over the last decade apprenticeship starts have fallen by 36% in Rochdale as the Tories have given us over a decade of decline in opportunities. Young people and adults in our town and across the country are ambitious for their futures and want to learn new skills to get new jobs, or progress at work. A Labour government will do just that by giving businesses the flexibility they need to train people up with new skills from digital technologies, to the green skills needed to tackle climate change. This builds on Labour’s commitment to embed essential digital and life-skills across the school curriculum and ensure all young people receive professional careers advice and work experience so they leave education ready for work and for life. 📰 Read more.
The government’s anti-strike bill moved one step closer to becoming law which would see the right to strike restricted by imposing minimum service levels and bosses would be legally able to fire employees who ignore a “work notice” ordering them to work on days of industrial action. Small wonder teachers and nurses announced fresh walkouts hours later. I would in their shoes. Let me be clear by saying recent industrial action is the direct result of the political choices this government has made over the years to undervalue and erode the pay of public sector workers. Going on strike is not an easy option. So the question that government should address is this: why are so many people across so many occupations so angry that they are prepared to take industrial action? Those on strike feel they have very few alternatives. The government has broken something that was precious, the commitment of people to their workplace and to those whom they serve because they now have to look at defending their own families. I will support those who feel they have to take industrial action. I want them not to strike but that depends on the government coming forward and agreeing to make the political choice to get into proper negotiations and resolve these disputes.
Widening the free school meals programme
As the cost-of-living crisis continues many families in Rochdale and across the country are struggling with the reality of food poverty and are unable to meet even their most basic needs. Things like Free School Meals, the National School Breakfast Programme and the Healthy Start scheme are a vital lifeline but too many children and families can’t access these services and the government is missing an opportunity to firmly address the reality and impacts of child food poverty. I joined a group of cross-party MPs and several public health experts in writing to the Prime Minister, urging him to scrap the rule that prevents children from households with an income of more than £7,400 a year from getting free school meals, even if their family is very poor. The letter also calls to increase the number of children and young people entitled to a free lunch at school by including all families receiving Universal Credit. This can be funded by imposing new levies on producers of unhealthy foods and drinks, similar to the sugar tax on fizzy drinks.
Forced installation of prepayment meters
Forced installation of prepayment meters is cutting off people’s heat and power, including some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Labour is right to call for immediate action to halt this back door way of preventing people heating their homes. The government, regulator and energy companies must get a grip on this problem and tackle the hardship millions are facing. Energy bills in Rochdale and across the country are too high and our energy system is too weak after thirteen years of Conservative failure. Labour in government will cut bills once and for all, with our plan to make Britain a clean energy superpower by 2030, and to deliver GB Energy, a publicly owned energy company producing cheaper, cleaner, homegrown power. 📰 Read more.
Labour’s plan to ease pressure on household energy bills
Households in Rochdale and beyond are still looking at a 40 percent increase in their energy bills come this April. People are telling me they already feel the financial pinch but given that temperatures have recently fallen below zero I know many will be feeling the added pressure, except for energy company shareholders who continue to enjoy record profits.
BP and Shell, two UK registered energy giants, post record (windfall) profits of £23 and £32 billion for last year. These are truly mind-boggling figures equating to nearly £1000 for every person in the UK. Of course the companies will argue that they operate globally, and that’s true, but even then they have profits bigger than the budgets of many smaller nation states. And with money comes power. So BP can announce that it will renege on the promise to cut oil and gas production by 40% by 2030 as their contribution to the fight against global warming. And there is precious little this government will do about it. Instead they will both pay far less tax in the UK as government rewards them with tax breaks for investing in the search for new fossil fuels and they’ll pay a lower rate of tax than they would if they were declaring their UK income in Norway.
We have got to look at why these energy giants are posting record profits. It’s simply not because their top executives are working harder or even coming up with great new ideas. It’s simply because they can charge higher prices as world energy prices shot up on the back of the Russian war in Ukraine. So who pays for this? It’s their customers here in the UK and elsewhere. In other words it’s you and me. And that’s why Prime Minister Sunak and friends are neglecting their day job, especially when the government’s finances are low, if they continue with the nonsense that a proper windfall tax will harm the UK. It’ll harm their friends probably but they can afford it. Tax the energy giants like the Norwegians do. It’s practical and its fair. 📰 Read more.
Combat air pollution and saves lives
64,000 people in Britain are dying prematurely from dirty air. Many others will be suffering from other illnesses such as lung cancer and heart disease and even those with allergies will be affected. All this can be avoided and a Clean Air Bill would help towards that by ensuring the human right to breathe clean air is put in place, and in turn, prevent deaths and health complications whilst protecting the environment and mitigating climate change. Exposure to road air pollution caused by idling vehicles in drive-throughs in fast food outlets also needs to be looked at. Recent research has shown levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter were peaking at many times the UK legal air quality limits for emissions within the drive-throughs. This doesn’t just affect road users but also employees and local residents. The government must prioritise enforcement of the law and the fast-food industry to come up with solutions to reduce this exposure. There can be no time to waste, which is why I’m backing proposals which would establish in law the right to breathe clean air. 📰 Read more.
HSBC and the Garzweiler coal mine
HSBC played a significant role in the expansion of the Garzweiler opencast coal mine in Germany by granting a secretive multimillion-dollar loan to the energy company involved. This is in contravention of HSBC’s stated commitment to withdraw financing from clients that are expanding the production of thermal coal. News reports show that HSBC told the company, RWE, not to publicise the bank’s involvement which indicates that they were fully aware that providing these funds runs against its own stated policies and commitments. I tabled a Parliamentary motion calling on the bank to stand by its own climate commitments and halt funding to organisations involved in the expansion of coal mining. ✍️ Read the full text of the motion here.
Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy addressed both Houses in Westminster Hall last week. His speech to Parliamentarians reminded us of the cost of freedom and the value of support provided by the UK and NATO allies. We stand united in support for Ukraine, as we did a year ago.
Along with Rochdale’s Mayor, Cllr Ali Ahmed, I wrote to the Mayor of Lviv in Ukraine. Rochdale is twinned with Lviv and we expressed our support for and solidarity with the people of Lviv in the face of the ongoing Russian aggression. The letter will be delivered by Tom Hashemi who is cycling from London to Lviv to raise funds for the Mines Advisory Group. Ukraine faces the monumental task of clearing from its territory the world’s largest minefield. Also needing to be cleared is a huge amount of other explosive material that has littered Ukrainian territory not only since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, but since the very beginning of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in 2014.
I joined members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in writing a letter of support for all Belarusian political prisoners. It is vital that they know they are not forgotten and that their names are known across Europe by many people who are, in many different ways, seeking justice for them in Belarus.
I joined a group of over 70 cross-party MPs and Peers in writing to Foreign Secretary condemning Israeli plans to forcibly evict and forcibly displace over 1,000 Palestinians in Masafer Yatta. This would constitute a grave breach of international law and the forcible transfer of protected persons in occupied territory constitutes a war crime. The Palestinians in Masafer Yatta have lived there prior to the military occupation and before Israel declared a military zone.
Only a clear and decisive message that should such evictions take place at Masafer Yatta or indeed elsewhere in the West Bank, means it cannot be business as usual with the United Kingdom. It is precisely because the Israeli government is not held accountable for its illegal actions and violations of international law that it continues to pursue such policies with ever increasing vigour. It is time for a line to be drawn to put this to an end.
Support for Myanmar’s persecuted health workers
This month marks the second anniversary of the military coup in Myanmar. Over the past 730 days the citizens of Myanmar have faced increasing brutality at the hands of the junta. The early days of democracy have been superseded by autocracy, punctuated by the most serious human rights violations, including forced displacement, arbitrary detention, sexual violence, and extra-judicial killings, which may amount to crimes against humanity. While the eyes of the world have refocussed elsewhere, attacks on civilians have continued and worsened. Multiple military bombardments on schools and hospitals have gone unreported in the world’s media while the government health system has collapsed in its entirety. Where doctors and nurses led the initial wave of resistance against the military, they face targeted and violent persecution, driving them away from their communities and into hiding. While many continue to provide care – often beyond their trained roles – in underground clinics as part of an increasingly organised “parallel health system”, they do so at great risk of retribution. To date, 624 healthcare workers remain in arbitrary detention, while at least 55 have been killed. The global community must prioritise their needs before even more lives are lost. The right to health – and the right to life – must be at the heart of that conversation. 📰 Read more.
For 75 years the people of Kashmir have been promised the right to self-determination. In recent years even the most basic rights of people in Jammu and Kashmir have been ripped up. The United Nations and the world community must work to bring an end to the suffering of the Kashmiri people and bring about the right to self-determination they were promised those years ago. 📺 Watch my video message.
Holocaust Memorial Day
Friday the 27th of January was Holocaust Memorial Day when we remember all those who died in the Nazi Holocaust. I commemorated in particular Jakub Wygodzki.
Jakub was an active citizen in Lithuania, a medical doctor serving the wider community and was a leader of the Jewish community. He served as a member of the Lithuanian parliament. He was killed by the Nazis in 1941 because he was Jewish. Each year on this day I recall his life and memory by lighting a candle in his honour.