On Friday 19th July, Sharon spoke at the Planning and Highways Committee meeting regarding the proposed application for a gasification plant to be built at Hillthorn Farm. During the meeting, Councillors voted to reject the planning application.
You can read Sharon's speech below
** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY **
I’m the MP for Washington and Sunderland West and the proposed site for this application is in my constituency.
I am here today to represent the views of my constituents, as they have been expressed to me over the last two years.
In my 14 years as an MP no other issue has galvanised my constituents to campaign against something than what is before you today.
Whilst the vast majority of complaints have understandably come from Washington residents, I don’t actually want this plant built anywhere near any of my constituents. In Washington or Sunderland.
I would like to begin by expressing my disappointment that this meeting is being held in Sunderland, rather than in Washington where the proposed site is, and in the middle of the afternoon as that has limited who could attend due to work or care commitments – as well as the distance to travel.
My constituents in Washington are very proud of its heritage and industry.
However, communities feel they are becoming the victim of Washington’s excellence, with industries – such as the waste processing sites cluster in Teal Farm – being akin to the nightmare neighbour next door.
Many of my constituents have told me they are worried that Washington risks becoming the dumping ground of the whole region and beyond!
If this gasification plant is a regional or national necessity, why can’t it just be built well away from homes and schools?
As one constituent wrote to me, and I quote:
“The people of Washington do not want this monstrosity built near to where we live and work.”
As I mentioned, some communities in Washington are already suffering as a result of nearby industries.
Building a waste gasification plant in Washington may attract more of the same problems that residents living near existing industries face such as: vermin, flies and odours.
The applicant has failed to confirm what waste will be used in the feedstock, or how it will be treated.
This is particularly relevant in light of the experience of the residents in Derby, who have had two years of foul smells from the Sinfin gasification plant, despite all the reassurances given by the operator at the planning application stage .
In terms of this application, the Environment Agency are unsatisfied about the technical detail with respect to the odour management system.
Surely the Committee cannot approve an application that fails to satisfy the Environment Agency, and the concerns of my constituents, who will have to live alongside it?
Waste will be coming from across the Northern region, in 110 HGVs a day, which will have significant adverse impacts on both transport congestion as well as recycling rates in the region.
The pollution that would be emitted from the stack and from the transport to and from the facility would also have serious adverse impacts well beyond the immediate locality.
We therefore do not know the short or long-term health and environmental impacts that an approved plant in Washington would have on the local and wider population.
Last year, I held a meeting with constituents and the applicant managing company, Rolton Kilbride, to discuss concerns about the proposed plant’s technology.
They were unable to confirm what technology or feedstock would be used and a year on we are still none the wiser. This is deeply alarming.
What they did say though is that the technology would be similar to one used in Japan; but never one previously used in Europe.
The people of Washington should not be used as guinea pigs for technology used for the first time in Europe.
My constituents are concerned about several matters not just how close the proposed site is to thousands of homes and ten schools all within a mile radius, but also the effects on air quality, public health and impact on house prices.
There is also the very real danger it could pose to any metro extension to Washington.
Therefore in conclusion, knowing the anxiety of constituents and the lack of information from the applicant, could you really approve this application with a clear conscience?
I called the application in to the Secretary of State in August last year, but that should not be used as a safety net for the Council.
Please don’t gamble with the health and lives of my constituents – they deserve their elected representatives to have their best interests at heart at all times and this is too important a decision to get wrong.
On Friday 19th July, Sharon spoke at the Planning and Highways Committee meeting regarding the proposed application for a gasification plant to be built at Hillthorn Farm. During the meeting,...
On behalf of one of her constituents, Sharon secured an end of day Adjournment debate on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in the North East. During her speech, Sharon raised the case of her constituent and the difficulties they have faced when accessing CAMHS.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson MP (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab):
As hon. Members know, it is very difficult to secure an Adjournment debate—the last one took me over a year to obtain—so I was very pleased when this one was granted, especially as it is on such an important matter, as I will outline in some detail tonight. It is especially welcome that business has fallen early tonight, so I do not need to rush or curtail my remarks to leave time for the Minister. This is such an important matter and I know we will both have plenty of time to deal with this issue.
I would first like to thank my constituents for bringing their case to me, and for waiving their anonymity in the hope that their story can help other families and ensure that something like this does not happen again, as it could so easily have had a tragic ending. Going public like this is a very brave thing to do and I sincerely hope that their story, and today’s debate, will spark a change.
In March this year my constituent, Mr Thomas, wrote to me about his daughter Jane, and the
“deplorable treatment when attempting to access CAMHs support”.
Jane, aged 16 at the time—she is now 17—tragically lost her mother as a result of alcohol abuse. Everyone will appreciate the grief that this will have caused Jane and her family, and the lasting impact of that grief after years of watching a parent decline due to alcohol abuse. Many hon Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne), have spoken about their own experience of growing up with similar experiences. I pay tribute to them, and to Jane, today.
Having experienced such loss on top of what she would have seen her mum go through over the years, Jane was understandably struggling with her mental health. Mr Thomas therefore felt that Jane needed professional intervention. Having consulted Jane’s GP, Jane was referred to North Durham child and adolescent mental health services at Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys Foundation NHS Trust. This is where Mr Thomas’s frustration begins.
Jane waited weeks for a CAMHS appointment following the referral, but it was not forthcoming. Mr Thomas went back and forth with the GP to ensure that the referral had been made, and was assured that it had. He was even shown the email confirming that. He then contacted the CAMHS team directly over the phone. As you can imagine, he was surprised to hear that they had no record of any referral regarding Jane. Mr Thomas says that this
“set the pattern of misinformation and incompetence that Jane and I were to encounter.”
Mr Thomas contacted CAMHS again to enquire whether an appointment would be made for Jane, and was told that Jane would not be seen as her need had already been assessed and her case was closed. That exasperated him further, as it referred to an earlier episode and a case from several years earlier, not the most recent case following the death of Jane’s mother. Therefore, it did nothing to inspire confidence.
Jane finally saw a CAMHS practitioner at the end of last year and was making positive progress, but her last appointment was on 4 January 2019. It is now July, and Jane has not had another appointment on the national health service in the past seven months. The initial reason for the delay was that Jane’s counsellor had left to start her maternity leave—something that, of course, she is absolutely entitled to do—but the trust will have been well aware for some time that the counsellor’s maternity leave would need to be covered. There also should have been a period of handover so that the service could continue its work smoothly. That did not happen.
Maternity cover was found after a gap of more than two months. However, just days after starting, that person resigned their position, leaving the trust unexpectedly without any cover. I am told that that was for personal reasons. It was at that point that the trust wrote to Jane Thomas, on 8 March, apologising for the delay in her treatment and suggesting that, if she had any inquiries, she should contact the team at North End House or, if she was in crisis, she could call the CAMHS crisis team. It was then three months since her last treatment.
It was upon receiving that letter that Mr Thomas contacted me to bring all this to my attention. There was nothing in the letter to Jane—I have seen a copy of it—to suggest that she should contact the trust to arrange an appointment or alternative provision; it just said to call if she was in crisis. I therefore wrote to the trust on 18 March, asking them to examine this matter further and advise Jane and Mr Thomas.
On 29 March, I received a reply that said that the trust had
“looked at interim solutions, such as part time staff working additional hours.”
It did not say whether that was actually happening, or whether that would include an offer of support to Jane, only that they were looking at it. That was just one of the many opportunities that the trust had to take another look at Jane’s case, to see what interim solutions were in place for her and to make contact with her directly, perhaps by calling her, as they did yesterday—I will come to that in a moment. But that did not happen.
Yesterday, I spoke to Mr Levi Buckley, director of operations at the trust, in advance of this debate. We had been trying to arrange a call for some time and could not get the dates to match, but obviously that changed once I secured this debate. I was told yesterday that alternative arrangements had been put in place for the majority of patients. He told me that when Jane’s counsellor went on maternity leave in January, all those patients should have had their cases reviewed and reassigned to another counsellor or another support network. However, for whatever reason, that did not happen for Jane, although I am told that it did for all the others. Jane had obviously, and shamefully, just slipped through the net. The trust realised that, no doubt prompted by Mr Thomas, and in March, when the new counsellor started and then left after two days, they contacted Jane to apologise with the letter dated 8 March that I mentioned earlier.
There was no concerted effort at any point by the trust to re-establish contact with Jane, who for all they knew was getting no support at all with her mental health. There was just that one letter. Even after I contacted the trust on 18 March to begin this dialogue, they still made no further contact with Jane until yesterday, when she was called within two hours of my conversation with Mr Buckley, prior to this debate. I understand that Jane spoke to the head of the CAMHS service, who apologised and offered her transitional provision to move her into adult services, as she is 18 later this month. It is, of course, entirely up to Jane what she decides to do.
Having spoken to the trust, they agree that they could have done more to make contact with Jane, who obviously was easily contactable, as they spoke to her without delay yesterday. There have been many opportunities available, since March when I first contacted the trust on behalf of Mr Thomas and Jane, to make that direct contact and arrange counselling provision for Jane, but that did not happen. That means that a vulnerable young person had fallen through the gaps because of incompetence, and even when it had been brought to their attention in March, nothing was done to rectify the situation until yesterday.
It does not need me to point out that this could have been fatal, had Mr Thomas not sought and paid privately for mental health provision for Jane. I understand from my call with Mr Buckley yesterday that the situation at the trust was made more difficult because, after advertising the job twice and getting no applicants, they had had to lower the grade of the position—meaning that the person would require more supervision—in order to attract someone they could employ. This person is due to start in September—nine months after the counsellor on maternity leave left. Mr Thomas emailed me earlier today to say that the
“analogy of too many Generals and no Soldiers would suggest itself”.
In April, when I met Mr Thomas in my constituency surgery, he was very clear that this was about incompetence and bad management within the trust that had allowed his daughter to slip through the cracks. What has most frustrated him about this ordeal is the lack of accountability for what he calls the
“appalling management of the service”.
He went on:
“This CAMHS organisation is poorly led, poorly administered and managed with incompetence.”
Can the Minister please inform the House who should be accountable for these failures?
A freedom of information request made in 2018 to the Care Quality Commission by a concerned parent inquiring into numbers of complaints made against CAMHS went unanswered, with the CQC stating that it did not have full oversight of this organisation and therefore could not provide the requested information. Who does oversee CAMHS? Who should be taking responsibility for the vacancy gap and the real problems that the trust has had in filling the vacancy, and for the impact it has had on vulnerable young people who need access to support? What advice can she give to my constituent, who just wants to help his daughter get the professional treatment she needs, when she needs it, on the NHS? Does the Minister think that trusts should not be able to mark their own homework on such cases? They must surely be held accountable when there are failures and recognise the need for change. I hope that this debate brings about some change.
Hugh Gaffney (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab):
I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this debate to the Chamber, and for explaining the importance of mental health services in the north-east. In Scotland in the last five years, there has been a 50% increase in the number of suicides among 15 to 24-year-olds. We need to do something about this national crisis.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I would encourage him to apply for a debate with the same title, only with “Scotland” at the end instead of “North-East” so that he can explore that 50% increase in greater detail. If he is lucky, he might get a nice long session like me, but I know the Minister will have heard his comments.
Throughout all this incompetence it is Jane who has suffered. If this is an issue of recruitment and retention, which it seems to be, what will the Minister do to ensure that CAMHS staff are both recruited and retained nationally, and specifically in the north-east? Nationally, the number of consultant child and adolescent psychiatrists fell by 4.5% between October 2013 and October 2018, which might account for why it was so hard for the trust to recruit someone, while the Government are on track to miss their mental health workforce target by 15,000 staff. Labour research in January found that the total number of mental health nurses had fallen in every month the previous year. I should be grateful if, in her remarks, the Minister would address the issues that led to this decline in the number of mental health nurses and evaluate the impact that it is having on young people such as Jane.
If an A&E just closed its doors because of a lack of staff and stopped treating people, there would be an outcry—we would not stand for it—so why do we allow it to happen when it comes to mental health? The Prime Minister said she wanted mental health to be a priority, but the Government are nowhere near achieving that goal. Mental health awareness is one thing, but it must be matched by mental health support and treatment services, and that is where the Government are failing, especially with regard to staffing.
According to research carried out by the Children’s Society, more than 110,000 children a year are unable to access mental health support from a CAMHS service, despite being referred for support. Three out of four children with a diagnosable mental health condition do not receive the support that they need, according to similar research conducted by YoungMinds. This is therefore not a problem exclusive to the north-east—or even Scotland, as we have just heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney)—which is why the Government must take action.
I wrote to Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, which informed me that it did not operate a waiting list in County Durham and Darlington CAMHS. However, Jane and other young people, across the north-east and the whole country, are still waiting. It beggars belief that the trust could say that, but it is in the letter that it sent to me.
As I have said, Mr Thomas was left with no choice but to engage a private practitioner. That came at a huge cost to him and his family, but as a loving parent he felt that he had no other option. No parent should be put in that position, and not all parents have the means to step in when the services let them down so badly, as was the case for Jane.
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, mental health trusts have less money to spend on patient care in real terms than they had in 2012. Of course, lack of funding means that trusts are strained and unable to provide vital services. Is that what led to the staffing problems in this trust? Was its inability to fill the vacancies down to the salaries being offered, or was the workload that was being demanded of staff too high? Why did that new person leave after only two days? Will the Minister support Labour’s calls for the ring-fencing of NHS mental health budgets and an increase in the proportion of those budgets that is spent on support for children and young people? Increased funding will relax some of the pressure on services, and will ensure that they can be sufficiently staffed and resourced to improve patient experiences.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, Mr Thomas and Jane were very brave to allow me to share their story with the House in so much detail today. However, it should not have come to this. Jane, having mental health problems, should have been referred to CAMHS, been assessed and then been given therapy appointments as necessary to support her recovery—unbroken, with no seven-month gaps in provision. Instead, she and Mr Thomas have been back and forth and have had to fight, and even pay, for the support that she needs and to which she is entitled.
Mr Buckley, from the trust, informed me that North Durham CAMHS had seen an 18% rise in referrals over the last year. It follows that as the number of referrals rises, the funding must also increase to meet that need. The Government must increase the proportion of mental health budgets spent on support for children and young people: they must make mental health a priority, with actions and not just warm words.
While the staffing crisis and mismanagement at Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust rages on, Jane still has no access to treatment and support on the NHS, although I have been told that she received a call yesterday suggesting that the problem might be resolved shortly. I therefore ask the Minister what she will do for Jane, and young people like her, to ensure that situations like this do not occur in future.
On behalf of one of her constituents, Sharon secured an end of day Adjournment debate on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in the North East. During her speech, Sharon...
During a debate on Ending the Sale of New Petrol and Diesel Cars and Vans Sharon talked about the challenges and oppurtunities of transitioning to Electric Vehicles (EVs) and what the Government needs to do to create an environment in which consumers are able to confidently move away from Petrol and Diesel vehicles.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
It really is a pleasure to speak in this debate today, because it is on an issue of great importance not only to our environmental commitments, but to the continued success of the UK’s automotive industry. As people will no doubt be aware, because I bang on about it, it is also important to my constituency, which is home to Nissan’s UK car plant. Just last month, the plant became the first in the UK to build its 10 millionth vehicle—an astonishing achievement and a real testament to the efficiency of the facility and the dedication of the workers.
Despite that good news, the overall picture for the automotive industry is worrying. A decline in sales of diesel vehicles, continuing uncertainty over Brexit, fears of a no-deal outcome, and the shift towards electric cars and autonomous vehicles are just some of the key factors that have led some in the sector to describe the current situation as a crisis. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, British car production fell for the 12th month in a row in May as output dropped to 15.5%. It is now clearer than ever that we need an urgent resolution to the ongoing Brexit stalemate and one that avoids the UK crashing out without a deal, which would be disastrous for the automotive industry.
While we must recognise the challenge that the transition towards electric vehicles presents to the automotive industry, it is important to see it as a great opportunity. Climate change is rightly back on the top of the political agenda, partly due to recent protests, including last week’s successful “The Time is Now” mass lobby. The deadly heatwave that swept across Europe last week should also focus our minds on tackling this issue. According to scientists, it was at least five times, and possibly a hundred times, more likely because of climate change.
As the shadow Public Health Minister, I am hugely concerned by illegal and harmful levels of air pollution across the UK, especially here in the capital. Air pollution damages the health of millions of people and is hugely dangerous for children, babies, older people, and those with existing health conditions. Successfully transitioning to electric vehicles is just one way of combating the climate crisis.
Nissan has been leading the way in developing EVs and the battery technology upon which they rely. The Nissan Leaf, made in my constituency, was the best-selling EV in Europe last year. The plant in Washington is also the only volume car manufacturer making a pure battery EV and has the first UK battery plant. Disappointingly, uptake of EVs in the UK lags behind other European countries, and the Government must be held partly responsible. They have failed to create an environment in which the EV market can thrive. Grants for EVs have been cut, and investment in the charging infrastructure has been insufficient, as we have heard from several hon. Members.
Perhaps most importantly of all, the Government continue to hold an unambitious phase-out date for new petrol and diesel models of 2040. By comparison, Norway’s target is for all vehicles sold to be low emission by 2025, the Netherlands and Sweden are aiming for 2030, and Scotland’s target is 2032. Although opinions vary on what the target should be, many in the industry have told me that the sector could absolutely cope with our target being brought forward to, say, 2035. The Committee on Climate Change recently called for the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to be banned by 2030, so does the Minister agree with the CCC?
If companies such as Nissan are to build on their successes by producing and selling EVs, the right conditions must be in place for consumers to feel comfortable about making that transition. Two of the key barriers to consumer uptake are concerns around sufficient charging infrastructure and the high price of purchasing an EV compared with a petrol or diesel vehicle. Last year, the Government cut the grant for EVs from £4,500 to £3,500, which Labour strongly opposed. We simply cannot expect people, many of whom were encouraged to buy diesel cars not that long ago, to be able to afford new EVs when they can cost up to £10,000 more than a petrol or diesel vehicle. Even if they cost less to run over time, that initial outlay is the barrier.
As for charging infrastructure, Sunderland is well served, as is the north-east as a whole, as the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) pointed out. I attended the launch of our new Fastned charging station in Sunderland just last month, for example. As she said, the current market-led approach could lead to an unequal and inefficient distribution of charging points, and if the Government expect consumers to make the change to electric, they need to set out a national strategic infrastructure plan for charging points and further support individuals with home charging.
Although it is welcome that, as of 1 July, all electric car charge points installed via the official homecharge scheme must now have smart features, that means that chargers installed outside of the scheme will not have to be smart. In order for the electricity grid to ever be able to cope with this new future of high levels of EV charging, the systems in place need to be as efficient and smart as possible, not only in homes, but in workplaces and public locations.
The SMMT published figures today showing that the UK car market is in decline for the fourth consecutive month and that alternatively fuelled vehicle demand fell for the first time in 26 months. It is clear that the EV market in the UK can thrive with the right conditions in place, and the Government should be ensuring that the transition away from petrol and diesel vehicles is seen as an opportunity by all.
During a debate on Ending the Sale of New Petrol and Diesel Cars and Vans Sharon talked about the challenges and oppurtunities of transitioning to Electric Vehicles (EVs) and what the...
During a debate on a Statutory Instrument - Consumer Rights Act 2015 (Enforcement) (Amendment) Order 2019 - Sharon called for further funding for enforcement agencies with a particular focus on the secondary ticket market.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West):
I am going to speak about something slightly different, which is what I think should be in the statutory instrument. As Members probably know—if they do not, it is probably because I have not banged on about it enough—I chair the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse, in which capacity I wish to speak today. I feel strongly that with this SI the Government have missed a great opportunity to address some concerns that have been expressed to me over the years.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 refers explicitly to secondary ticketing. Despite that important legislation, fans continue to be ripped off by secondary ticket touts who sell tickets for huge profits to genuine fans. Some touts do this regardless of whether the ticket actually exists, and without any regard for existing legislation. This leaves people out of pocket, frustrated, disappointed and unable to attend an event that they have saved for and looked forward to. The 2015 Act exists to protect consumers, which is what we are discussing, but it is failing to do so because of insufficient enforcement. Without sufficient enforcement, it becomes a moot Act, if there can be such a thing. That is why I wish to make the case today for more funding for our enforcement agencies, as I believe that enforcement is a significant aspect of the 2015 Act that is missing from this SI. I hope the Government will consider rectifying that.
National trading standards
“delivers national and regional consumer protection enforcement…Its purpose is to protect consumers and safeguard legitimate businesses by tackling serious national and regional consumer protection issues and organised criminality and by providing a ‘safety net’ to limit unsafe consumer goods entering the UK”.
To perform this huge task, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy provides national trading standards and Trading Standards Scotland with just £14 million. With that small amount of funding, trading standards is expected to protect consumers from scams and cyber-crime and to protect UK borders and public safety. Does the Minister agree that £14 million per year for this huge responsibility, which requires investigation, prevention, safeguarding and enforcement, is really not enough to fulfil the task to any acceptable level, and that it must—I know it does—leave NTS officers continually frustrated and overworked? Has the Minister made any assessment of how much funding NTS needs to fulfil its role to the highest standard?
The 2015 Act makes it clear that sellers must provide seat, row and block numbers, as well as the unique ticket ID number, if the event organisers insist on it, yet there are still examples of secondary ticketing sites that do not supply this information. Touts are therefore still able to operate illegally and rip off genuine fans without any serious implications. The legislation exists—we are talking about it—but despite a long-running Competition and Markets Authority investigation, enforcement is still lacking. That means it is up to organisers, venues and promoters to monitor secondary ticket touts, cancel tickets when necessary, and respond to disappointed fans who are denied access with invalid tickets. Such expectations are unreasonable for organisers, venues and promoters. At a recent meeting of the all-party group, an event organiser said:
“We don’t want to be the enforcers, but if agencies aren’t there then we have to step in.”
Does the Minister agree that this is not an acceptable expectation for organisers, venues and promoters?
As the House knows, I have been working on this issue for a long time now, and I am convinced that ticket touts will continue to operate outside the law until there is a sustainably funded agency to ensure that the existing legislation—this legislation—is enforced. That is why the SI is deficient. Recently, we saw two English teams fly to Madrid for the champions league final. I have to admit that I am not a fan of either team—I do not know whether you are, Madam Deputy Speaker—but many fans flew over, too, paying out for their flights, transfers and accommodation, on top of as much as £5,000 per ticket, going up in some cases to £10,000 per ticket, only to be told, just hours before the game, that the tickets they had purchased from secondary ticket sites did not exist and were cancelled. I can only imagine the sheer disappointment, anger and frustration that those fans went through, even though the 2015 Act should have made it impossible for that to happen. Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence: it is something I hear about all too often from the excellent campaign groups Victim of Viagogo and the FanFair Alliance.
If the Government want to protect consumers—which is what we are here to do—they must invest in our enforcement agencies to ensure that the existing legislation is totally adhered to. I know that what I have talked about is slightly outwith the scope of the SI, and I am so grateful for the House’s indulgence and to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to talk about the funding of national trading standards, but I hope the Minister has heard what I have had to say, even though I have sneaked it in as I have done, and will look into the issue as soon as possible.
During a debate on a Statutory Instrument - Consumer Rights Act 2015 (Enforcement) (Amendment) Order 2019 - Sharon called for further funding for enforcement agencies with a particular focus on the...
On behalf of the Opposition, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate entitled Invisible Disabilities and Accessibility Challenges.
You can read Sharon's speech below
Mrs Sharon Hodgson MP:
This has been a fantastic, high-quality debate. It is a shame that the attendance was a bit—[Interruption.] Yes, it is quality over quantity, which is what we tend to find at the moment. Perhaps other things are going on and focusing minds elsewhere. I would like to begin by thanking my hon. Friends the Members for East Lothian (Martin Whitfield) and for Newport West (Ruth Jones) for securing the debate and for their excellent and passionate opening speeches. They both mentioned Grace and her “have a heart” campaign. That is a fantastic example of a lived experience-led campaign, and they are often the most powerful and successful. I join my hon. Friends in commending Grace and her campaign, which I wish widespread success.
At this juncture, I also want to mention the Changing Places campaign, which I have been involved with in my constituency on behalf of a constituent whose son has spina bifida. I was shocked to find out how few facilities there are across my constituency; no doubt the same applies to all constituencies.
I thank all hon. Members who have taken part today, including the hon. Members for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) and for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant)—[Interruption.] I am going to crucify all these constituency names with my Geordie accent. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders)—I just about managed that one—and the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson), as well as the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley), who spoke for the SNP. I thank them all for their excellent speeches.
Members may have noticed that I am not a Department for Work and Pensions shadow Minister—I am shadow Public Health Minister—but I am happy to be closing this debate on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova). I do chair the all-party parliamentary group on dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties. Those are also, of course, invisible disabilities; I shall come back to that aspect later.
As we have heard, in the last census, one in five people in the UK reported having a disability or limiting long-term health condition. The vast majority of disabled people have hidden impairments not immediately obvious to others—neurodiversity, Crohn’s disease, colitis, dementia, arthritis, or mental distress and energy impairment conditions such as myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME, and chronic fatigue syndrome, to name but a few.
According to Scope, nearly half the British public are not aware that they even know someone who has a disability. People with invisible impairments face attitudinal barriers in every part of their lives, from accessing public toilets to using disabled parking bays, but I will concentrate mainly on education, access to social security and employment.
People with invisible disabilities often face significant exclusion and stigma in education. For example, the lack of awareness of autism in schools affects autistic students at every level. As a result, fewer than half of children and young people on the autism spectrum say that they are happy in education. SEND provisions are woefully inadequate and have been devastated by brutal cuts to our schools and sixth forms, worth £2 billion per year.
What assessment has the Minister made of the impact funding cuts have on children with autism and their ability to stay in mainstream schools? The issue is about accessibility and access to the curriculum. Autistic children are sometimes forced to wait for more than a year for the SEND support that they need, and just one in 10 parents is satisfied by the education, health and care plan for their child. As I know, children with dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties experience that, too: my son is severely dyslexic, and as I mentioned earlier, I am the chair of the APPG on dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties.
Earlier this year, our group released a report entitled “The Human Cost of Dyslexia—the emotional and psychological impact of poorly supported dyslexia”. It outlined the ways in which missed or poorly supported dyslexia during education has made such children feel stupid, unvalued by society, guilty—as if the problem was their fault—and disinterested in education. The implications can lead to under-achievement at every level of education, in careers and work life thereafter and, at the extreme end, to disengagement from society. That is reflected in the fact that there are proportionately more people with dyslexia in the criminal justice system than among the general population. The same can be said for a number of SEND conditions.
Unfortunately, the issues faced by people with invisible disabilities during childhood do not disappear but actually worsen in adulthood. The employment gap between disabled people and non-disabled people is 30.1 percentage points and has remained just above 30 percentage points for the past decade. This is something that the last Labour Government were trying to tackle. We had the Valuing People Now partnership boards—before he had to dash to a meeting, my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) told me that he chaired the successful board in Gateshead—but, sadly, the coalition Government scrapped them in 2012. Three years later, in 2015, the Government pledged to halve the disability employment gap to 15 percentage points. [Interruption.] The Minister is getting frustrated.
The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson):
Does the hon. Lady not welcome the fact that just short of 1 million more disabled people were in work in the past five years alone and that for the first time ever, which I emphasise, more than half of disabled people are now in work? We have made significant progress. There is much, much more to do, but we are in a significantly better position than we were in 2010.
I am sure the Minister will be making all those points in his contribution.
The Government pledged to halve the disabled employment gap to 15 percentage points in 2015, but the 2017 Conservative manifesto set a new target to get an extra 1 million disabled people into work by 2027, which is a much downgraded commitment. If that is not the case, will the Minister please clarify the Government’s target and update us on the progress on closing the employment gap? The National Audit Office released a damning report concluding that the DWP lacks any clear measures to support disabled people into work. [Interruption.] It is about accessibility. I cannot see how it is not about this debate.
What will the Government do to ensure that clear measures are put in place to support disabled people, including those with invisible disabilities, into work? A recent TUC survey found that more than two thirds of respondents say there is more stigma for disabled people when their impairment cannot be seen by others in the workplace.
For example, people with autism often face significant stigma and difficulty in work. According to the National Autistic Society, just 16% of autistic adults are in full-time employment, compared with 80% of non-disabled people who are in work in the UK. The vast majority of autistic people face a hostile environment in the labour market, and there is an appalling lack of understanding of autism among jobcentre staff, disability employment advisers and some employers. The same goes for the police and the criminal justice system, which can lead to autistic people being wrongfully arrested when their only crime is being autistic. What will the Government do to ensure better understanding of autism across society?
The Government’s Disability Confident scheme lacks any credible performance measures to ensure that employers support disabled people into work, and it is possible to reach level 3 accreditation without actually employing a single disabled person. Is that something the Government will review?
People with fibromyalgia, which as we have heard is an invisible disability affecting up to 1 million people in the UK, also fall victim to barriers in the labour market. Under this Government, fibromyalgia sufferers face a lack of proper understanding of their condition, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, as well as a lack of vital in-work support. Only 63% of people with musculoskeletal conditions are in work, with many forced out of work by the difficulties of daily life due to their invisible disability.
The Access to Work scheme could play a vital part in ensuring that employers provide valuable reasonable adjustments in the workplace for people with invisible disabilities. However, a survey conducted by Versus Arthritis found that just 59% of respondents with conditions such as fibromyalgia and only 41% of employers are aware of the scheme. What steps can the Minister take to ensure that employers are aware of the scheme and to encourage take-up?
As we have heard during the debate, assessments for PIP, employment and support allowance and universal credit are failing people with invisible impairments such as mental health problems and mental distress. The Time to Change campaign has reported that 90% of people with mental distress have experienced stigma, including in employment and in accessing social security support. The current assessment framework fundamentally discriminates against people with mental distress, and I am sure that we will all have constituents who have experienced this and felt overwhelmed by the process. The process begins with an arduous written assessment, which is 34 pages long in the case of PIP. That is followed by the collation of medical evidence, which can involve travelling extensively, liaising with different health services and facing huge expense. Finally, there is an often invalidating and often humiliating face-to-face assessment.
In 2013, an upper tribunal panel said that the design of the work capability assessment substantially disadvantaged mental health claimants, as it relied upon the self-reporting of a disability. In 2017, the Government changed the eligibility criteria for the PIP mobility component, to exclude certain people undertaking journeys who are facing “overwhelming psychological distress”. These changes, which were ruled to be unlawfully discriminatory by a High Court and which will take years to complete, prove, once again, the DWP’s shocking disregard for people with mental distress. Some 220,000 people are owed back payments by the DWP, but thus far the Government have only reviewed 10% of cases. When does the Minister expect to have reviewed all these cases?
It is clear from this debate that people with invisible disabilities face stigma in all areas of their lives. That is due not only to the chronic lack of knowledge and awareness of invisible disabilities across society, but to the Government’s cruel loopholes that discriminate against people with invisible disabilities. I hope that the Minister will take on board everything he has heard today. I know he probably is not happy with what he has heard from me, but there we are.
On behalf of the Opposition, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate entitled Invisible Disabilities and Accessibility Challenges. You can watch Sharon's speech here You can read the debate here...
During a debate in the House of Commons on TV licences, Sharon set out why TV licences for over 75s are so important to the elderly and called on the Government to take responsibility and ensure that TV licences for over 75s remain.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West):
I welcome the opportunity to debate free TV licences for over-75s. My mam, who I know will be watching, as a lot of pensioners do—I am sure lots of people besides our mams will be watching the Parliament channel—is very passionate about this issue because she is turning 75 in January. To her, this is personal, as she keeps telling me. She feels it has been done deliberately to give her a hard time. It is also personal to the thousands of pensioners who will be worse off if the free TV licence for over-75s is revoked, curtailed or means-tested.
In March, I hosted and addressed the National Pensioners Convention in Parliament for its rally on the BBC’s consultation. I share all of their frustrations about these proposed changes, because I know—I heard this at the rally, from the pensioners—how important their TVs are to their everyday lives. That is why I contributed to the BBC’s consultation in February this year. I have received notification that my letter will be included in the consultation document, so I hope all my points will be taken on board by the BBC and, in turn, listened to by the Government.
The introduction of free TV licences in 2000 for those aged over 75 was one of the many great achievements of the last Labour Government. That is why I and many of my colleagues opposed the Conservative Government’s outsourcing of this social benefit to the BBC as part of its 2015 royal charter. As we have heard, the cost to the BBC is roughly equivalent to the total it currently spends on all of BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, CBBC and CBeebies, so I strongly disagree with what the Prime Minister said at last week’s Prime Minister’s questions in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham). She said that
“there is no reason why the BBC, with the money made available to it, is not able to continue that.”—[Official Report, 1 May 2019; Vol. 659, c. 203.]
I am incredulous that the Prime Minister really believes the BBC can fund all of this without detriment. Even to try to do so would be extremely detrimental to the content the BBC is able to offer, and risks causing immense damage to the quality of the service that we all currently enjoy.
I agree with BECTU—the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union—which has said, in opposing the proposals to scrap or limit free TV licences:
“as a welfare benefit, meeting the cost of free licence fees should be the duty of the government”.
It is a disgrace that the Government not only feel able to wash their hands of the responsibility for providing this welfare policy, but are now refusing to rule out breaking the commitment they made in the 2017 Conservative manifesto to maintain free TV licences for the over-75s up to 2022. More than 5,000 households in my constituency are eligible for a free TV licence as they have someone over the age of 75. I am sure that those households will feel let down and unable to trust the Conservative Government if their free TV licence is taken away.
Alex Sobel (Leeds North West):
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. The BBC is under a lot of pressure in respect of new services, and has introduced BBC Sounds, on-demand services and social media services. These services are less likely to be used by the over-75s, but the Government expect the BBC to introduce these services and take away the benefit for over-75s or take the costs. This cannot stand. Does she not agree that the Government need to pay for this, because the BBC needs to continue to innovate?
Exactly. I am pleased that my hon. Friend has made that intervention to make that point. The BBC needs to innovate, move forward and get better. This move would be to its detriment. It would be a huge backward step in terms of what the BBC would be able to provide in the future, and it just makes no sense.
As we have heard over and over again from Members in all parts of the House, the BBC is much more than just entertainment. Loneliness is blighting the lives of people across the country, with four in 10 people saying that their television is their main source of company. If the Government were serious about tackling the issue of social isolation, they would not be continuing their devastating programme of austerity cuts that affect the most vulnerable in our society. If free TV licences are ended, curtailed or means-tested, millions of older people, who suffer disproportionately from social isolation, will have to pay to keep the little company they have. I feel as though the Minister, his Parliamentary Private Secretary and the Whip are suffering social isolation today in this Chamber, because, as you will notice, Madam Deputy Speaker, they are the only ones here—here because of their roles. I do not think we could have any fewer Conservatives in the Chamber and be allowed to continue!
As with so many of the Government’s policies, this is yet another cruel attack on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. The Government must be honest with the country: austerity is not over. That is proved by the fact that the Minister said in her opening remarks that this policy change was dreamed up under the original austerity plans of Osborne—or rather, the former Chancellor—and it is just being implemented now. If austerity is really over, why can the Government not just drop this hugely unpopular and unfair cut?
As we have heard, the licence fee concession was guaranteed to be safe until at least 2022 in the Conservative manifesto. The Government are shirking their responsibility, breaking their promises and punishing pensioners. They must stop passing the buck, accept their basic moral duty, and stick by the manifesto commitment on which all Government Members were elected. That is probably why the majority of them are not present to front this up—because they cannot. The Government need to properly fund TV licences for the over-75s, and they need to do it now.
During a debate in the House of Commons on TV licences, Sharon set out why TV licences for over 75s are so important to the elderly and called on the...
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
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
As the Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on Appropriate ME treatment in the House of Commons.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab):
I start by thanking the hon. Members for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) and for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) and the right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) for securing this important debate. I thank all hon. Members who spoke; it was great that so many did so. Due to time, I shall not list them all.
I thank the charities—MEAction, Action for ME, the ME Association, the M.E. Trust and ME North East—and all the patients who have been in touch with me to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences of living with ME. The ME Association estimates that approximately 250,000 people in Britain are affected by ME; we have heard plenty of moving stories about those individuals today. However, an article published in the British Medical Journal in July 2018 reported that 90% of cases are thought to go undiagnosed, and that people with ME are substantially undercounted, underdiagnosed and undertreated. As we have heard, patients are often passed from pillar to post with dismissals and misdiagnoses, and sometimes left waiting over a year for a diagnosis. I am sure the Minister does not need me to tell him that that does not meet NICE guidelines of diagnosis within four months of the onset of symptoms. The Government should therefore do more, and considering that they are not doing much for patients with ME at the moment, I do not think that that is too much to ask.
The Government do not fund research and clinical care for people with ME at the rate they do for other serious prevalent diseases. As we have heard, the average spent on research for a person living with ME is just £1 a year. According to Action for ME, that represents just 0.02% of all active grants given by the mainstream UK funding agencies. I am therefore concerned that the Government recently confirmed in a written answer that ME research funding is lower now than it was even in 2013-14.
Current treatments of graded exercise therapy and cognitive behaviour therapy have been found to be harmful to patients with ME, and continue the narrative of disbelief and neglect of them, which we have heard about from a number of hon. Members. NICE has already recognised that its guidelines are outdated, and that patients do not receive the full picture on recommended treatments. NICE is updating its clinical guidance on the diagnosis and management of ME, but that is not expected to be published until October 2020. Patients and their families have already waited long enough, so will the Minister work with patients, charities, researchers and NICE to ensure that treatment and care for ME is appropriate?
We have heard today why funding for biomedical research into ME is so desperately needed. According to MEAction, the only year in which the Medical Research Council invested any meaningful sum in biomedical research was 2012, when £1.5 million of funds were ring-fenced. However, no funds have been allocated for biomedical ME research since then.
In the Westminster Hall debate in June last year, I called on the Government to consider funding research, because it is long overdue. Will the Minister commit to doing that today, or will the Government continue to leave it up to the charity sector to do so? Projects such as Invest in ME Research, which has four PhD students researching ME, have been financially supported by patients and their families via crowdfunding in excess of £870,000. That is fantastic, but it should not be left to patients to crowdfund research. More funding for research will enhance healthcare professionals and clinicians’ understanding of ME, which will improve the patient experience and debunk the myths of ME being a primarily psychological condition, as we have heard about today. Clinicians must have access to up-to-date research and information so that they can give patients the best possible care and advice.
In some areas, however, that is not the case, as Jennifer Elliot, the CEO of ME North East, has brought to my attention. Jennifer told me of the diminished services available to patients with ME in the north-east region. There are no services at all for young people with ME in the entire north-east. Adult services in Sunderland are closed to patients altogether, and have been for some months, with no date for them to be reinstated. For 20 years, ME North East has been doing all it can to help and support ME patients but, with a severe lack of funding, it is now at crisis point. I am sure that other regions have similar stories, as we have heard today, so will the Minister please consider the loss of services in his response? Will he ensure that the services are reinstated and supported financially by the Government?
Finally, we must ensure that the stigma of ME is tackled. Funding and research will help, but it cannot be right that, as found last year, more than one in five families caring for a child with ME have been referred for child protection proceedings due to school absences and a lack of understanding by the school, as we have heard. I am pleased that the vast majority of those accusations are dismissed in less than a year, but the added stress and burden to families with children suffering with ME can be overwhelming. We therefore need more funding for research, so that we can understand, care for and treat ME, and break down the stigma.
As the Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on Appropriate ME treatment in the House of Commons. You can watch Sharon's speech here You...
In a Westminster Hall debate, Sharon raised the concerns of constituents who have got in touch with her recently about leaseholds. Sharon has recently written to constituents to ask them to get in touch if they have been affected by leaseholds.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West):
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) on securing this important debate. I would like to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) in speaking about leasehold issues that relate to the protection of homebuyers.
An estimated 12.4% of homes sold in Washington and Sunderland West were sold as leasehold in 2016. I realise that my constituency does not have the largest number of leasehold homes—certainly not as many as the constituencies of some of my hon. Friends—but the issue is still important to my constituents. That is why I recently began a consultation on leasehold homes in which I asked constituents to get in touch with me about their experiences. I only launched the campaign three weeks ago, but 30 constituents have already written to me with their concerns, in some cases in detail. I do not have time to go into the details of each, but I would like to share the themes that have become apparent from their emails.
Most homebuyers were not aware what a leasehold was when they purchased their home. There is a serious lack of knowledge about what leasehold and freehold are; I feel that developers have a duty to inform prospective buyers about the difference between the two and what it means for them. As we have heard, solicitors also have a part to play. It makes a person wonder who they act on behalf of—the buyer or the developer—especially when the developer includes free conveyancing as part of the sale. Solicitors should always act in the best interest of their client, who in this case should be the buyer, not the developer. I have to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), who is not in her place at the moment, that this abuse should be referred to the Law Society. I hope that the Minister will make that recommendation; I am sure it is in her power to refer dodgy solicitors to the Law Society.
Does the Minister agree that if we are to protect homebuyers, we should educate them to know the difference between leasehold and freehold so that they can make the best decision for themselves and their families? That should certainly be the case for first-time buyers, and financial education lessons in schools have an important part to play in achieving that.
Notwithstanding the issue of educating the population as a whole, there should be complete transparency from very early on in the sale about whether the property is leasehold and what that means. Two of my constituents have told me that they were not informed that their property was leasehold until the very day of signing the contract. Another has told me that they were not aware that their property was leasehold until nearly 15 years after the original purchase—probably when they tried to make alterations or build an extension. Because of the lack of knowledge about leaseholds and the lack of information available to homebuyers, there is a lot of confusion and variation when it comes to buying the freehold.
Many leaseholders were told that they could purchase the freehold at a later date, perhaps when they had saved enough money. However, when some constituents inquired about purchasing the freehold, they found that the goalposts had moved and the price was much further out of reach than they had expected. Some have even been informed that the freehold is now not for sale—in some cases because it has been sold to a third-party company without the leaseholder’s knowledge.
Not only is the cost of buying the freehold out of reach for some of my constituents; so is the cost of ground rent, which can increase year on year. Then there are the admin fees that homeowners have to pay when asking the freeholder’s permission to make changes to their own property. One of my constituents was charged £400 by the freeholder to build a conservatory on their own property. Another constituent expressed great frustration that they are charged £100 for a yes or no decision on basic things, such as replacing a kitchen, bathroom or even a window. It can sometimes take more than eight weeks to hear back on whether that is a yes or a no.
I know that some leaseholders out there listening will now be horrified and will be deterred from making queries to the freeholder, for fear of being charged some of these exorbitant fees. Too many leaseholders are locked into a state of being regularly over charged by freeholders, being unable to afford their ever-increasing ground rent, or never being able to afford to buy their freehold due it to being linked to some sort of escalator that was hidden in the small print of the contract, which their solicitor never pointed out to them. I share the concerns of my constituents who feel like they have been ripped off by leasehold contracts and I call on the Government to launch an inquiry into the scandal as soon as possible.
In a Westminster Hall debate, Sharon raised the concerns of constituents who have got in touch with her recently about leaseholds. Sharon has recently written to constituents to ask them...