Today, Sharon submitted a letter to the Department of Transport’s Call for Evidence on light rail. Sharon has also sent a copy of this letter to the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling.
Please click on the image above to see the letter in full
Washington is the largest conurbation in England without a rail link, despite having a population of almost 70,000. While our Metro is one of our national treasures, residents of Washington do not benefit directly from it, and I believe an extension is well overdue. This is an issue myself and my constituents are passionate about.
The letter provides an outline of numerous reasons that the Metro should be extended;
Incentivise investment and growth, while promoting higher employment rates and more opportunities for not only Washington but Tyne and Wear as a whole
More accessible options for post-16 education at the many colleges, sixth form centres and training campuses around the region, while post-16 education institutions in Washington would become more accessible and attractive to students in the region
Incentivise residents to use a more sustainable mode of transport, helping our environment and congestion in the region, where 70% of Washington residents are currently car-dependent
Proposals suggest re-opening existing transport infrastructure. The disused Leamside Line would easily connect Washington to stations at Pelaw and in Sunderland.
"Despite being left behind so often, Washington has so much potential. I believe that an extension of our Metro to Washington is an opportunity to make the future of Tyne and Wear a prosperous one."
Today, Sharon submitted a letter to the Department of Transport’s Call for Evidence on light rail. Sharon has also sent a copy of this letter to the Transport Secretary, Chris...
Read Sharon's latest Sunderland Echo column below or by going to the Sunderland Echo website.
This week, I opened a Westminster Hall debate on the effect a No Deal Brexit could have on public sector catering. Public sector catering includes schools, universities, hospitals, care homes and prisons; and therefore caters for some of the most vulnerable in our society.
It is estimated that 10.5 million people in the UK rely on public sector catering for some of their food, of which some are completely reliant for all of their meals. Away from all the Brexit arguing, are people, young and old, who will suffer in the event of a No Deal Brexit.
I was therefore clear to the Government that no deal should not mean no meal for millions of people up and down the country who rely upon public sector catering for their meals. Meals in our schools, hospitals and care homes provide important nutritional value to children, patients and the elderly and are catered to their specific needs, such as dietary requirements and health needs.
Any rise in food prices, delays in food deliveries or decrease in nutritional standards or safety of food, in the event of a No Deal Brexit will be detrimental to service users. For example, it could slow down recovery time for a hospital patient.
That is why I called on the Government to ensure that institutions such as schools, hospitals and care homes are given priority in the event of food shortages, and asked the Government to support Local Authorities and public sector caterers in absorbing any increase in food prices in the event of a No Deal Brexit.
When we talk about the impact of a No Deal Brexit on our health and wellbeing, we must also consider the availability of food to the most vulnerable in our society. Brexit shouldn’t be the reason that millions of the most vulnerable in our society can’t eat.
That is why I was proud to stand up in Parliament and speak on behalf of public sector catering services, users and campaigners.
Sunderland Echo website
Read Sharon's latest Sunderland Echo column below or by going to the Sunderland Echo website. This week, I opened a Westminster Hall debate on the effect a No Deal Brexit...
Sharon recently secured a one hour Westminster Hall debate on the effect of leaving the EU without a deal on public sector catering. This followed concerns raised by the sector.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson MP:
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the effect of leaving the EU without a deal on public sector catering.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I start by thanking all the public sector catering providers, users and campaigners who have been in touch with me over the past week to raise their concerns about this issue. I can see a number of them in the Public Gallery today. I am extremely grateful and pleased that they have made the journey here today.
Although a no-deal Brexit in general is deeply concerning to me and many others up and down the country, I tabled this debate because the quality, quantity and safety of the food provided to some of the most vulnerable in our society is often overlooked in the debates around a no-deal Brexit. I therefore wanted to speak up today for the estimated 10.5 million people in the UK who rely on public sector institutions for at least some of their food. Some are completely reliant on such institutions for all their meals. I want to say clearly to the Government that no deal should not mean no meal.
The Soil Association brief sent to me yesterday reads clearly:
“It is very likely that a No deal Brexit would be disastrous for public sector catering.”
Institutions including schools, universities, hospitals, care homes, meals on wheels and prisons will be adversely affected by a no-deal Brexit. They feed some of the most vulnerable in our society. Without those services, many would simply not eat. High quality public sector catering is so important to the health and wellbeing of millions of people across the country. A drop in standards or the availability of nutritious food because of a no-deal Brexit would be extremely detrimental to service users.
I want to focus on three main concerns today, which I will address in turn: the cost and availability of meals; the quality, quantity and safety of food available to public sector providers; and, finally, workforce retention.
At the end of last year, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, told the Treasury Committee that in the most “extreme” no-deal Brexit, food prices would rise by 10%, but that in a less severe scenario, the increase would be about 6%. Either scenario is concerning to suppliers of public sector catering, which are already struggling to cover the cost of nutritious meals.
For example, the allowance for universal infant free school meals is £2.30. That goes directly to schools and is not ring-fenced. It has not been increased since the start of universal infant free school meals in September 2014. In many cases, the caterers do not receive the full amount. Bidfood has calculated that with 13% inflationary costs and the potential increase in costs following no deal, the meal allowance would need to be increased by 69p to bring the allowance back to where we are now. There are serious concerns about the impact Brexit could have on the provision of school meals in some schools, particularly small rural schools, that no longer receive the small school allowance of £2,000, which ceased about two years ago.
Due to Brexit uncertainty, caterers have reported an overall increase in costs of up to 20% for some ingredients over the past 12 months, with the cost of eggs reported to be up by 14%.
Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate and making the case about food price rises. Is she not also concerned that a no-deal Brexit might lead to trade deals that lower standards, particularly with the US? The National Farmers Union has said that it is concerned about US practices and that trade deals should
“not allow imports of food produced to lower standards than those required of British farmers”,
such as chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-fed beef. We might be pushed to lower standards for cheaper food. That is a huge health and safety issue for our children.
I totally agree with my hon. Friend, and I will touch on the issue he raises later in my contribution. This morning, I sat on a no-deal Delegated Legislation Committee with my shadow Public Health Minister hat on. In that Committee Room, we were talking about the very issues my hon. Friend raises in respect of a no-deal Brexit. The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), assured me that our chicken will still be washed in drinking water and not in any form of chlorine. However, my hon. Friend’s worry is very much taken on board, given that the money will not be there and costs will be cut to the bone—no pun intended.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the prices of raw materials and commodities will go up, but who will absorb the price increases? Social care providers, particularly those with a majority of local authority-funded residents, will not have the capability to accept increased catering costs. Will the Government therefore increase the budgets for public sector catering to cover the shortfall?
Diana Johnson (Kingston Upon Hull North) (Lab)
I apologise for being slightly late for the beginning of the debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing it. In my city of Hull, there has been an attempt to keep school meal prices as low as possible—50p, rather than the normal £2-odd. What concerns me is that there is already pressure on that budget. It has already gone up to £1 because of school budget pressures. What does she think about the fact that there is a public health initiative to try to ensure that children are eating healthily and well, yet the cost may go up even more due to what she has described in her contribution?
That is the worry. As Bidfood worked out, the cost will have to go up by 69p a child just to stand still. In areas that are trying to keep the price as low as possible, that initiative disappears, but in other areas that are already paying £2.30 or £2.40, what will happen? Parents cannot afford to pay much more than that, so the quality of the food, children’s health and the health of the 10.5 million people who rely on this food every day will suffer as a consequence.
If the Government do not cover the shortfall, menus may have to be reduced so that providers do not overspend. As my hon. Friend has just said, that will compromise the nutritional value of the meals given to service users. An increase in the costs of public sector meals could therefore see an increase in poverty, childhood obesity and malnutrition in hospitals and care homes, which could have serious implications for the health and wellbeing of service users.
The affordability of food post Brexit, especially in the event of no deal, is an incredibly alarming issue. That is the case for all our constituents, but even more so for those who rely on public sector catering for their food. General food shortages due to panic buying or an impact on deliveries due to fuel shortages are of particular concern, especially for public sector catering in hospitals and care homes. The Government should communicate openly and factually about the food challenges ahead and encourage the food industry, caterers, institutions and organisations to do so too.
One person wrote to me to say that the Government had given them
“no real guidance, other than to stockpile food”.
One local authority caterer told Food for Life that it had invested more than £1 million in stockpiling ingredients, including 250 tonnes of meat. However, the caterer is concerned, as that food will only last for a short period. Not every caterer has the capacity to stockpile food. What advice have the Government given to suppliers and caterers? Is advice being updated clearly and regularly?
The Federation of Wholesale Distributors has expressed concern about the continuity of food supplies to schools and hospitals in the event of a no-deal Brexit. It has suggested that food supplies should be triaged and prioritised for those most in need, but that could happen only with Government intervention. Is that something the Minister has considered? Concerns have also been raised with me about products being diverted to more lucrative customers, rather than being prioritised for vulnerable people. Will the Minister address that point too?
The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 does not deal directly with food—probably nobody ever thought that we would be in this position—nor does it identify responsible agencies with a food remit. Has the Minister had any conversations with his Government colleagues about including food in the 2004 Act, particularly for vulnerable people?
The meals distributed in schools, universities, hospitals, care homes and prisons each day are crucial to those who eat them. Caterers are already beginning to remove higher quality produce from menus, with some school caterers considering a move from hot food to cold meals. That could result in a reduction in the nutritional value of meals, which would be detrimental to children or to service users in the case of the other provisions.
Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
My hon. Friend does amazing work on schools through the all-party parliamentary group, and through the children’s future food inquiry, which I am pleased to be involved in. She will know that there is real concern about children living in food poverty. Indeed, the Food Foundation assessed towards the end of last year that around 3.7 million children are living in households that would have to spend 42% of their annual income to meet the guidance of the “eatwell plate”. That is simply unaffordable and if food prices rocket because of Brexit, it will become even more so. Does she share my concern that we are reaching crisis point?
I am really grateful that my hon. Friend has made that point. The average person spends 17% to 18% of their income on food, but people living on benefits and in poverty spend around 42% of their money on food, and that is at today’s prices. We do not need a mathematician to work out what a vulnerable position people will be in if food prices go up. Even the 6% increase would have a detrimental effect.
Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
Does my hon. Friend agree that there must also be a concern about food banks, and especially about schemes such as FareShare and organisations such as the Pickle Palace in my constituency that provide low-cost meals and “pay-what-you-can” food for people on low incomes.
That is another very good point. Often, those who supply local authority caterers are some of the best for supplying food banks and FareShare. When they have to trim and trim again, that will be one of the charitable aspects of their operations that will sadly have to go. Again, that will have a knock-on effect on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.
My hon. Friend is being very generous. I am involved in something called Feeding Bristol, which is an offshoot of Feeding Britain—an organisation that aims to eradicate food poverty. We were discussing this matter at a meeting last week. Food prices going up will create an affordability issue, and if people stockpile and panic-buy food and the supermarkets run dry, donated food to hostels and food banks will dry up completely. Not only will people be more likely to have to go to food banks because they will be unable to afford food—and they might not be getting such good quality food through public sector catering—but food banks will run out as well.
I hope that the Minister acknowledges the picture being painted of the potential knock-on effects. I appreciate that this is the worst case scenario—a no-deal, catastrophe scenario—but, given that there is no deal on the table that the majority of the House can vote for, a responsible Parliament has to prepare for it. These doomsday scenarios could become the reality for many people’s lives, despite none of us in this room wanting that to happen.
Does the Minister share my concern about a reduction in the safety and nutritional quality of food served to those using public sector catering, especially given that those meals are, as we have heard, the main source of nutrition for millions of people—10.5 million people, day in and day out, up and down the country? Equally, public sector caterers must provide food that meets specific health or cultural needs, such as kosher, gluten-free, vegetarian or allergy-specific food. There are many other examples. For some, it could be a matter of life or death. For others, a failure to provide nutritionally complete meals would slow down their recovery and increase the risk of malnutrition, or result in a deficiency in other nutritional values.
I received a message from the National Association of Care Catering that reads:
“We have 60 plus residents in our home, so have to provide 60 meals three times a day, with the average age of 86, how do we ensure regular supply?”
That is of great concern across the industry. Even where contingencies can be made, it may involve people eating very bland or repetitive menus, which I know goes against the entire ethos of public sector catering.
Finally, the workforce are crucial to public sector catering. Have the Government engaged with the catering sector to understand the challenges that a disorderly Brexit might pose to its workforce and services? The public sector employs a considerable number of EU nationals, and I am told that some are already returning home. The threat of a no-deal Brexit will only make the situation worse, thereby posing a threat to the services that the sector provides, and having an impact on safety.
Although new members of staff can, of course, be recruited, it takes time and money to train them. A workforce gap in the event of a no-deal Brexit would limit the effectiveness of public sector catering, which is already facing all the challenges that I have highlighted. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the public sector catering workforce are trained, equipped and funded to provide vital services in the event of no deal?
Public sector catering is fundamental to the care provided in schools, universities, hospitals, care homes and prisons. A delay in food deliveries, an increase in the cost of food and a decrease in nutritional standards or safety could be detrimental to service users and, in some cases, a matter of life or death. When we talk about the impact of no deal on our health and wellbeing, we must also consider the availability of food to the most vulnerable in our society, which a number of my hon. Friends have spoken about.
What about those who cannot afford to stockpile or lack the capacity to do so? What about those who are in hospitals, care homes or prisons? They cannot stockpile food in their little bedside cabinet. I do not have time to discuss this issue fully now—thankfully others have mentioned it—but we must remember that a surge in food prices could mean a reduction in donations to food banks from public sector caterers, some of whom are very generous to not only food banks but to holiday provision. I know that Bidfood supports holiday clubs. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) spoke in glowing terms about Bidfood’s support for her holiday clubs at the last APPG meeting. All of that will have implications for families already living in poverty.
Brexit should not be the reason that millions of people go hungry, and I hope that after the debate the Minister will have considered another aspect of a no-deal Brexit that perhaps the Government had not already considered. I hope that he will urgently relay what I have said back to his Government colleagues. In closing, I reiterate that no deal should not mean no meal. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
Sharon recently secured a one hour Westminster Hall debate on the effect of leaving the EU without a deal on public sector catering. This followed concerns raised by the sector. ... Read more
Sharon Hodgson MP's report - Feb-Mar 2019 number 114
Click on the picture above to read Sharon Hodgson MP's report - News from Westminster - Feb-Mar 2019 number 114
Sharon Hodgson MP's report - Feb-Mar 2019 number 114 Click on the picture above to read Sharon Hodgson MP's report - News from Westminster - Feb-Mar 2019 number 114 Read more
Sharon Hodgson, Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West and Shadow Minister for Public Health has finally received a response to her letter to the Prime Minister, sent 6th February 2019.
Richard Harrington MP, Minister for Business and Industry, replied on 22nd February 2019. A copy of that letter can be viewed here:
Click on the image above to download the letter.
Unfortunately the Minister is unable to provide any further information regarding what our trading arrangements will be when we leave the European Union (EU) and refused to rule out a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit, which would be hugely damaging.
There are just 29 days until we are due to leave the EU, and businesses such as Nissan still have no clarity about what customs arrangements will be in place the day after.
In the letter, the Minister urges Sharon to vote for the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, but we still don’t know what exactly that will be when it comes back to Parliament. It’s been 95 days – more than three months – since the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration were agreed and thus far no changes have been agreed with the EU.
‘’It is hugely concerning that a Government Minister is unable to provide any more clarity on what our trading arrangements will be once we have left the EU in just 29 days’ time.
Businesses such as Nissan are absolute desperate for some certainty over Brexit, and the Government’s ongoing inability to provide it is hugely damaging.
Although there is also no confirmation that ‘No-Deal’ will be taken off the table in this letter, I am glad that Parliament will now have the chance to vote against it. The Government should urgently confirm that when that vote happens, they will be voting against leaving the EU without a deal, which would be disastrous for the country and our region.’’
Sharon Hodgson, Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West and Shadow Minister for Public Health has finally received a response to her letter to the Prime Minister, sent 6th... Read more
Sharon Hodgson, Member of Parliament for Washington & Sunderland West and Shadow Minister for Public Health has issued the below statement regarding the decision of 7 Labour MPs to leave the Party today:
‘This is a very sad day in the history of our Party and whilst I respect and understand why the 7 have reached their decision, for me the Labour Party is my Party in the same way my family is my family and I can’t envisage any circumstances that would make me leave.
I stood on a very strong and popular manifesto in 2017. A manifesto that would have changed the lives of the people I represent for the better. I respect the efforts of Jeremy Corbyn, who is trying to find a way through Brexit looking after and protecting the jobs and living standards of the people of Washington, Sunderland and the wider UK.’
Sharon Hodgson, Member of Parliament for Washington & Sunderland West and Shadow Minister for Public Health has issued the below statement regarding the decision of 7 Labour MPs to leave...
As the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food (APPG), Sharon has today written to Sean Harford, National Director of Schools at Ofsted about healthy eating in schools.
In 2015, Sean wrote to Sharon to say that Ofsted was committed to giving wellbeing, health and healthy eating a more prominent place in inspections. However, four years on, the new draft Ofsted inspection framework and handbooks do not mention healthy eating, school food or food education.
Sharon writes to Sean Harford, National Director of Schools at Ofsted about healthy eating in schools
As the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food (APPG), Sharon has today written to Sean Harford, National Director of Schools at Ofsted about healthy eating in schools.... Read more
Sharon Hodgson MP, Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West, participated in the British Obesity Society's podcast "Fat Chat".
Photo Credit: NK-Photography, 2017
During the podcast, Sharon spoke about her personal experiences with her weight and health, and also explained how her own experiences have influenced her in her role as Shadow Minister for Public Health.
You can listen on iTunes here
You can listen on SoundCloud here
The podcast is 28 minutes.
Sharon Hodgson MP, Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West, participated in the British Obesity Society's podcast "Fat Chat". Photo Credit: NK-Photography, 2017 During the podcast, Sharon spoke about her... Read more
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Westminster Hall debate ahead of World Cancer Day 2019 on behalf of the Opposition.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I start by thanking the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) for securing this timely debate, and the other hon. Members for their excellent contributions: my hon. Friends the Members for High Peak (Ruth George), for Lincoln (Karen Lee) and for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney), and the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant), and for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford).
World Cancer Day gives us an opportunity to come together and celebrate how far we have come in cancer diagnosis, treatment and care. It also gives us a chance to reflect on what more needs to be done to fight cancer. The Minister and I have previously worked closely together as co-chairs, as we often say in debates, on breast cancer, as I also have with the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire. That shows that all the main parties’ spokespersons are committed to working together on this issue.
Cancer is a very emotive issue, as we have heard in this debate in some passionate contributions. One in two of us will be affected by it in our lifetime. Most of us in this room will be here today because of the personal effect that cancer has had on our or our family’s lives. In the UK alone, more than 360,000 people are diagnosed with cancer every year. That figure is expected to rise to more than half a million cancer cases every year by 2035. That is equivalent to one new case every minute. That makes the Prime Minister’s commitment to diagnose three in four cancers at an early stage by 2028 all the more ambitious.
Our NHS workforce do a fantastic job every day in caring for us and our loved ones, but as we have heard, there are chronic staff shortages across the NHS. There are vacancies for 102,000 staff, including 41,000 nurses. That makes it harder and harder for them to do the jobs that they want to do. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln, who as a former nurse powerfully made the point about the effect that the lack of the bursary has on the situation. Cancer Research UK has also pointed to the chronic shortages in the diagnostic workforce, with over one in 10 positions unfilled nationally. This is a worrying trend, as more people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer over the years and the NHS cancer workforce are already struggling to keep up with demand.
We covered a lot of this ground with the Minister in the debate earlier this month, in which we also discussed the long-term plan. The Minister said that,
“we must ensure that we have the right staff with the appropriate skills and expertise to ensure that patients receive the best care.”—[Official Report, 8 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 60WH.]
I agree with him. Therefore, will he tell the House when he plans to publish the workforce implementation plan and when the budget for Health Education England will be set? Patients have a right to the best possible care and it is crucial that the NHS workforce are able to provide that. That is why I believe the Minister should consider it—as he probably does—a top priority.
It will be World Cancer Day on Monday, and I am proudly wearing my wristband. We must recognise the contribution the UK in particular has made to cancer diagnosis, care and treatment around the world. For example, Cancer Research UK has played a role in developing eight of the world’s top 10 cancer drugs. More than a quarter of the clinical trials that Cancer Research UK funds involve at least one other country. Cancer Research UK’s international grand challenge scheme brings together researchers from the UK, Europe and around the world on three five-year programmes, to take on some of the toughest challenges in cancer research. Cancer is an international challenge, which is why we should all unite together against cancer.
It is not just about surviving cancer. As we have heard today, it is about living well with cancer. According to Macmillan, 70% of people with cancer are living with one or more other serious health condition, often as a result of cancer and its treatment. Similarly, a third of people who have completed their treatment in the last two years say that their emotional wellbeing is still affected. As we have heard, during and after treatment, the cost of cancer can be a major issue with regard to not just loss of earnings, but travel and transport costs, and the increasingly expensive parking charges.
I have supported Macmillan’s Cost of Cancer campaign for over 10 years now. It is sad that we still need to debate and discuss this, but it is still a major issue. The issue of parking could be very easily solved. The cost of cancer also includes access to benefits, as we heard from my hon. Friends the Members for High Peak and for Lincoln. That can also be solved easily by some joined-up action across Government. That is why, when thinking about cancer, we must not forget about after-care, advice and support, especially when it comes to further symptoms that could become secondary cancer. In this regard, I believe that it is vitally important that GPs are aware of all symptoms of secondary cancer, so that it can be picked up as soon as possible.
Finally, in this World Cancer Day debate, I want to pay tribute to all the NHS cancer workforce for all the hard work they do, day in, day out. Whether diagnosing, treating, caring or advising, they do a difficult, but fantastic job, which we are all very grateful for. I also pay tribute to the scientists and researchers who discover the groundbreaking new treatments and information. Finally, I thank the campaigners and volunteers. We cannot beat cancer alone, which is why we must all come together to do so. As always, I look forward to working with the Minister to do just that.
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Westminster Hall debate ahead of World Cancer Day 2019 on behalf of the Opposition. You can read the debate here... Read more
Sharon Hodgson MP has today written to Lord Hall, Director-General of the BBC, regarding the consultation on TV licence fees for over 75s.
Click on the above image to see Sharon's letter
In Washington and Sunderland West, based on 2017/18 figures there are approximately 5,120 households with someone over the age of 75, and therefore eligible for a free TV license.
However, if the free TV license is linked to pension credit, 3,150 households in Washington and Sunderland West could cease to qualify. If the age eligibility is raised to 80, 2,160 households in the constituency could cease to qualify.
The consultation closes on Tuesday 12th February 2019, and constituents can participate here.
You can also participate in the Labour Party's campaign to protect the over 75 TV licence here.
Sharon Hodgson MP has today written to Lord Hall, Director-General of the BBC, regarding the consultation on TV licence fees for over 75s. Click on the above image to see... Read more