As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded in a Westminster Hall debate on Orkambi and Cystic Fibrosis on behalf of the Opposition.
During her speech, Sharon called on the Government to work with the drug company, Vertex, and NHS England to ensure that Orkambi can be available free on the NHS so that the thousands of patients who can benefit from the drug no longer have to suffer.
You can read the full debate here: Orkambi and Cystic Fibrosis
You can watch Sharon's speech here on Parliament TV: Orkambi and Cystic Fibrosis
You can read Sharon's full speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab):
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I thank the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) for his excellent opening speech, and I thank the 114,000 people who signed the online petition to enable us to debate it. As we have heard, the petition received more than 107,000 signatures in just 11 days—probably a record for such a petition—which shows how important Orkambi is to people with cystic fibrosis and their families.
I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) for his sterling campaigning on this issue over a number of years, for his passionate speech and for organising the excellent roundtable in Parliament. I was unable to attend the roundtable, but a member of my staff took extensive notes and briefed me fully. I also thank all hon. Members who spoke in the debate. I was going to list them all, but so far there have been 23, and with me and the Minister that will make 25, so I will save everyone from the roll-call. Indeed, at the start of the debate it was standing room only, which shows the strength of feeling on this issue across the House. We have heard very moving accounts about family members and constituents, and that alone should be more than enough to make the case for Orkambi to be made available on the NHS as soon as possible. Finally, I thank the Cystic Fibrosis Trust for its continued “Stopping the Clock” campaign and for all the work that it does to support people with cystic fibrosis.
As we have heard, cystic fibrosis affects about 10,400 children and adults in the UK today. It affects one in 2,500 people, and one in 25 of us carries the gene that causes it. It is a life-shortening genetic condition, with the median survival for an individual with cystic fibrosis currently at just 47 years. Patients with cystic fibrosis therefore have to spend three to five hours every day on aggressive and indiscrete physiotherapy, and need nebulised treatments and strong antibiotics just to keep well. The medicines tackle the symptoms of cystic fibrosis rather than the root cause. That is why new precision medicines such as Orkambi will change cystic fibrosis care for the better.
Kalydeco is the first precision medicine used in this country for people with cystic fibrosis. It has transformed the lives of those receiving it. Patients report no longer needing a tank of oxygen to support their breathing, and greater health stability, so that they can plan their lives more securely. Some are taken off the transplant waiting list, as their clinical status improves dramatically. However, it works for only one in 20 people with cystic fibrosis. In comparison, Orkambi works for eight in 20 people. About 50% of individuals with cystic fibrosis in the UK have the genetic mutation that Orkambi tackles, so the approval of Orkambi for use on the NHS could benefit about 5,200 people living with cystic fibrosis.
Orkambi has been shown to slow decline in lung function by 42% and cut the number of infections requiring hospitalisation by 61%. It gives patients not only more control over their lives but a greater quality of life. Orkambi is available for patients in nine other countries: Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece and the United States. Yet here in the UK, NICE has deemed it to be cost-ineffective, and at least two and a half years after being approved for use it is still not available for cystic fibrosis patients on the NHS. I welcome reports that, after over a year of waiting, dialogue between the drug company Vertex, NHS England and NICE has reopened, and that last month Vertex announced it had proposed a new portfolio approach to the Government on the funding of Orkambi.
I would be grateful if the Minister would elaborate on that in his response and tell us whether the Government are considering the offer seriously. I understand that some hon. Members may have had an update email from Vertex this morning, although I did not; there may be news on that front. I would also appreciate it if the Minister would acknowledge that, given the example of Orkambi, more needs to be done to change how drugs for rare long-term conditions are assessed by NICE. The longer patients go without those precision drugs, the longer they go on suffering irreversible lung damage. That is why we need urgent change.
Mr Paul Sweeney (Glasgow North East) (Lab/Co-op)
Many hon. Members have referred to the Scottish Medicines Consortium. Of course, healthcare in Scotland is a devolved issue but the issues are the same: there is still a two-year wait to get the matter through. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a need for a closer working relationship between NICE and the SMC? Perhaps sometimes, with collective bargaining, a deal on price could be reached sooner.
Absolutely, I agree. I do a lot of work, as the Minister does and has done in the past, on access to cancer drugs. The same can be said in that context—that it is a postcode lottery not just within nations but between the nations, and that it need not be. The issue could be explored further.
NICE considers all the different benefits that a treatment could give, including living longer, but also having a better quality of life. That is hard to establish for some rare long-term conditions such as cystic fibrosis, making it hard for drugs to meet NICE’S requirements. There is a need for high-quality data on treatments, so that an accurate quality-adjusted life year model can be created. However, that is very difficult to achieve in short trials, particularly for rare long-term diseases such as cystic fibrosis, where “powering” a trial with enough patients is very difficult. People with long-term conditions often score their quality of life more highly than people who have developed acute conditions after being well, often because of differences of perception. If, during trials, people score their quality of life as high prior to treatment, subsequent quality-adjusted life year gains are lower.
The cost of developing a treatment for a rare disease is also high. Understanding the condition, developing an effective treatment and running the required trials in a small population is expensive. Treatments often have no competitors, so there is dampening of market forces, with negative consequences for the consumer or payer. NICE found that Orkambi was important and effective, but that the cost was too high. Vertex must therefore work as a matter of urgency to bring down the cost of Orkambi, so that thousands of cystic fibrosis patients can benefit from the drug on the NHS. The Opposition are committed to ensuring that all NHS patients get fast access to the most effective new drugs and treatments.
In response to the online petition, the Government responded:
“We want patients to benefit from clinically and cost effective treatments.”
What steps are they taking to bring that about? NICE’S guidance on Orkambi is scheduled to be reviewed in July 2019. Will the Government work with Vertex, NICE and NHS England to ensure that the review is brought forward so that thousands of patients can benefit much sooner from the drug on the NHS? It is clear from today’s debate that we need more and better treatments for cystic fibrosis in the UK. Last year, half of all people who died with cystic fibrosis were under the age of 31. It is unacceptable that while pharmaceutical companies, NHS England and NICE barter, people’s lives are at stake. The Government must therefore take responsibility for negotiating an agreement as soon as possible. I hope that the Minister will take on what he has heard today. I hope he will acknowledge how important it is to find a solution that guarantees that the current situation affecting the pipeline of treatments for cystic fibrosis will never happen again, and that thousands of patients will get access to the most effective drugs and treatments as soon as possible.
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded in a Westminster Hall debate on Orkambi and Cystic Fibrosis on behalf of the Opposition. During her speech, Sharon called on the... Read more
As the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food, Sharon spoke in a debate on the Government's proposals to introduce a £7,400 net income threshold for families on Universal Credit and eligibility for free school meals. In her speech, Sharon raised concerns that the threshold would see over 1 million children in poverty miss out on a free school meal.
You can read the full debate here: Universal Credit and Free School Meals
You can read Sharon's full speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab):
These regulations will affect millions of families up and down the country, so it is only right that we are able to discuss them today. The Government consulted from November to January on introducing an earnings threshold that would restrict free school meals to families with net earnings under £7,400 per annum. The consultation received 8,981 responses. However, the Government excluded 8,421 of those responses from their analysis, meaning that fewer than 4% of respondents agreed with the Government. Surely that goes against every rule of public consultations. Talk about statistics being used against vulnerable people!
In 2010, the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions promised in the White Paper on universal credit that it would
“ensure that work always pays and is seen to pay. Universal Credit will mean that people will be consistently and transparently better off for each hour they work and every pound they earn.”
Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab):
I am glad that my hon. Friend has picked out that point. She will have heard the Secretary of State saying that jobcentres would advise people not to take extra work or to get a pay rise because they would end up worse off. Is that not absolutely contrary to the whole principle of universal credit that she has just read out?
Yes, absolutely. We know that the Government are today reneging on the former Secretary of State’s commitment.
Free school meals are worth far more to a family than £400 a year per child. That might not seem to be a lot to some hon. Members, but to those families it is an absolute lifeline. By introducing a £7,400 threshold for eligibility, the Government are forcibly creating a cliff edge that will be detrimental to families, especially children. To give just one example, someone with three children in their family who earns just below the £7,400 threshold is set to lose out on £1,200-worth of free school meals if they work only a few extra hours or get a pay rise. The Opposition’s proposal would simply remove the huge cliff edge and the work disincentive for families who most need support. It would take away the barrier to working extra hours or seeking promotion. Our proposals would therefore make work pay. The Government’s proposal is in fact the new 16 hours, which they said was a disincentive.
Mike Hill (Harlepool) (Lab):
Is my hon. Friend aware that in Hartlepool, where universal credit is not being rolled out—it is already in—more than 1,000 children are being denied free school meals on the basis of the new proposal?
Yes. We can all cite the numbers from our constituencies. Even Conservative Members need to think about what they are doing to some of the poorest children in their constituencies. In the example I just quoted, the family’s annual wages would need to increase from £7,400 to almost £11,000 to make up for what they would lose by rising above the eligibility cliff edge. That problem did not occur under the old tax credit system, because that provided an offsetting income boost at the point at which free school meals were withdrawn. However, there is no equivalent mitigation under universal credit.
The Children’s Society has been much maligned today and has been cited as giving duff statistics—Conservative Members should be ashamed of themselves. It estimates that the cliff edge will mean that a million children in poverty will miss out on free school meals once universal credit is fully rolled out. They will miss out on something that is crucial for their physical and mental development.
The Government have said that 50,000 more children will benefit by the end of the roll-out in 2022, when the transitional protections are at capacity, but I and many others struggle to understand how that can be the case. Parliamentary questions tabled by my hon. Friends and others have gone unanswered, and the Government cannot just pluck figures out of the air, as they claim so many others have done. At least we can back up our claims with evidence from the Children’s Society, Gingerbread, the Child Poverty Action Group and Citizens Advice, all of which agree that this statutory instrument would take free school meals away from a million future children—[Interruption.] It would. If the SI does not come into force, a million more children will receive free school meals—[Interruption.] Conservative Members can shake their heads all they like.
During my recent Westminster Hall debate, I offered Ministers a solution that would mean that all children in universal credit households would continue to receive free school meals. As somebody asked earlier, I can say that it would cost half a billion pounds—not a huge cost to feed over a million of the poorest children. My proposal would see around 1.1 million more children in years 3 and above from low-income families receiving free school meals compared with under this change.
Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire) (Con):
If we were to maintain free school meals for absolutely everybody on universal credit, does the hon. Lady think it would be right to prioritise those coming from the legacy tax credit system, who could be earning up to £50,000 a year, instead of opening up eligibility and getting free school meals to more children in poverty?
I am running out of time, so— [Interruption.] Perhaps Conservative Members would let me finish before they use up all my time. I was going to say that while I cannot go into the full details, because of the time, I understand from the Children’s Society that that is a small number of people—up to 40,000—and that those people are often in large families with severely disabled children. The large amount of money is down to how much they receive for those children. It is disingenuous to use that as an example and to make out that all those families are receiving £50,000.
The Minister claimed yesterday that my proposal would result in around half of all pupils becoming eligible, increasing the figure to 3.3 severely million children. Even the much-cited Channel 4 FactCheck article states that our proposal would extend to 1.1 million children, making the total 1.8 million children. When we talk about facts, Conservative Members need to get their facts right. Where do the extra 1.5 million children come from?
As the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food, Sharon spoke in a debate on the Government's proposals to introduce a £7,400 net income threshold for families on... Read more
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate following the Second Reading of the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill. During her speech, Sharon highlighted the need for more people to be on the Organ Donation Register and encouraged families to speak about organ donation.
You can read the full debate here: Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab):
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) for securing this very important debate, for introducing this very important Bill and for his powerful and moving opening speech. I would also like to thank the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan), the hon. Members for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), for North Devon (Peter Heaton-Jones), for Dudley South (Mike Wood), for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) and for Hendon (Dr Offord), and my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma), for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) and for Lincoln (Karen Lee) for their excellent speeches.
In particular, I pay huge tribute to my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott). She spoke so bravely and movingly about her daughter Rebecca, who as we heard has been on dialysis for a year awaiting a kidney transplant. I hope from the bottom of my heart—I am sure we all do—that her wait is over very soon and she is successful in receiving that gift of life from a wonderful donor.
This has been an excellent debate and an example of this House at its best, as it often is on Fridays during debates on private Members’ Bills. I would like to thank hon. Members who have previously brought this issue to our attention over the past decade or so, including my hon. Friends the Members for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), for Newport West (Paul Flynn) and for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis).
I commend the Daily Mirror for its fantastic campaign to raise awareness of organ donation since the case of Max Johnson, who we have all heard so much about this morning. He was then a nine-year-old boy in need of a new heart. I understand he is now 10, which is fantastic. I want to thank the hon. Member for North Devon for telling us all about Keira Ball, Max’s donor, who I understand saved four lives. I thank her very, very brave family for taking that brave decision on that most awful of days. I also thank the more than 13,000 people who have now signed the Change.org petition.
I also commend the scriptwriters of “Coronation Street”—of which, it has to be said, I am a huge fan as a northerner—for covering this issue so well. I note that the character Carla Connor this week received a kidney from her half-brother and that all is going well. At their best, soaps can play a huge part in helping to inform the public on such issues. I hope the storyline will touch on the importance of being on the organ donation register. Finally, I pay tribute to the thousands of people who have already participated in the Government’s public consultation on organ donation. I encourage others to do so, if they have not done so already, to let their voices be heard.
The topic of organ donation is understandably an emotional one, but I am pleased that so many people are now engaging in this debate and that we have the opportunity to discuss it in the House today. This debate and the publicity around it may encourage families up and down the country to have that important discussion about organ donation before the inevitable happens. There is no doubt that these discussions need to be had and that we need more organ donors in England. Almost 25 million people are on the organ donation register, but according to the NHS blood and transplant service, 7,000 people are waiting on the list for new organs. For them, it really is a life or death situation, so it is important that as many people as possible sign up to the organ donation register.
Over the past five years, almost 5 million people have joined the register, and in 2016-17 we saw the highest ever deceased donor rates in England. More than 50,000 people are living with a functioning transplant—Max is one of them—thanks to organ donation and transplantation in the UK. These are welcome developments, but we still have a long way to go. We currently lag behind other western countries. Tragically, around 1,000 people die every year—that is three a day—while waiting for a transplant. To save those lives, we need more people on the organ donation register making those decisions with their family’s knowledge, so that when the time comes, more lives can be saved.
Mr Paul Sweeney (Glasgow North East) (Lab):
My hon. Friend makes an excellent case by citing statistics in England, but this is a cross-border issue as well. A great strength of our national health service is that no matter what part of the UK someone comes from, they can benefit from an organ transplant. If someone in Dumfries needs a kidney donation and the donor is from Carlisle, there will be no barrier or border on the route to getting access to that transplant. That is why MPs from all parts of the UK should support organ donation changes in all parts of the UK. That includes the Scottish National party; it is just a shame that SNP Members are not here today. Does my hon. Friend agree?
Yes, and I had not noticed that nobody from the Scottish National party is here. I do not know what the situation is in Scotland, but we still want people there to be organ donors. I am sure that Rebecca, the daughter of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central, would not refuse a kidney, whether from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or anywhere, so that is a very good point.
Will my hon. Friend recognise the great strides that the Labour party in Scotland has made in trying to bring in legislation on opt-out organ donation there? It is unfortunate that the Scottish National party blocked the progress of a Bill from Anne McTaggart MSP in the last session of the Parliament, but there is still hope, because a private Member’s Bill is progressing through the Scottish Parliament. We hope to have Labour and cross-party support to see such legislation progress in Scotland, as well as in Wales and England.
Excellent. I am really grateful to my hon. Friend for updating us all on the situation in Scotland because, as I said, I was not aware of it. I commend that Bill and hope that our SNP friends up in Scotland will act on and progress it as soon as possible.
Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab):
I pay tribute to colleagues in Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) and colleagues from across the country. We heard very moving stories from colleagues from North Devon and other parts. We as a House have demonstrated the ability to work together today, and that is so important. One of the great strengths of the debate has been the way that we have focused on families and listened to their stories. For me, that has been a deeply moving experience. I commend to colleagues the importance of continuing to listen to families as the campaign goes forward.
Families are at the heart of this, as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West, who is promoting the Bill, made clear, and I am sure that the Minister will as well. It is important that families’ voices are taken into consideration when these discussions take place.
I know that I am not alone in this House in carrying a donor card and being on the register. Like many other organ donors, I signed myself up because of a direct family experience. My Aunty Ella, who is sadly no longer with us, was one of the first patients to receive a kidney transplant at the fantastic Freeman Hospital in Newcastle way back in 1967. It was pioneering surgery back then, and it is great to hear my fellow Sunderland MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central, also commending the work of the fantastic renal team at the Freeman Hospital who are currently treating and supporting her daughter Rebecca so well. My Aunty Ella lived a full life because of her transplant. In those days, it was perhaps not as long as she would have liked, but she was able to see her children Norman and Stephen —my cousins—grow up to get married. All she wanted to do was to see them grow up, but she lived on to see them give her grandchildren. That is what organ donation is all about: it gives people a future. Just one donor can save up to nine people—as we heard, Keira Ball saved four—and it can give those nine people a future with their loved ones, which is why it is so important.
Of course, there are some concerns among some religious communities. We heard about that earlier from the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord), and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), the shadow Secretary of State for Health, has met representatives of one particular Jewish community to discuss their concerns. There are also concerns among black and minority-ethnic communities, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma). Although they are more susceptible to illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and even heart disease, only 35% of black and Asian people in the UK—where the population average is 63%—agreed to organ donation last year.
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab):
The same applies to stem cell transplants, which I raised earlier. It simply is not acceptable that those who happen to be white probably have an 80% to 90% chance of finding a possible match, whereas for those who come from a certain ethnic background the figure could be as low as 30%. I do not think we would accept that in any other walk of life.
My hon. Friend has made exactly the right point. This does not apply only to, for instance, kidney and heart transplants; it applies to the whole donor register. The Government must listen to the concerns of black and Asian communities, not just during the consultation but beyond, so that we can develop a solution to this problem.
Eleanor Smith (Wolverhampton South West) (Lab):
I hope that the Bill succeeds and that there will be consultation with members of the BME community to ensure the successful delivery of a public education programme to increase awareness.
That is precisely the point. It is a question of education and public awareness as well as the acceptance of the sensitivities that exist among all people, not just members of particular religious or ethnic-minority communities.
Mr Virendra Sharma (Southall) (Lab):
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend while she is making such a strong point. One of my constituents rang me after my speech to suggest first that Members of Parliament could run roadshows, along with members of their local voluntary sectors, to raise awareness and to encourage people to register as donors and secondly that we could encourage the local education system to enable schools and parents’ associations to run awareness sessions. Would that not be the best way of both raising awareness and engaging with communities?
Absolutely. I think that schools are an ideal forum for a number of public health awareness messages on a host of issues to be delivered to young people.
Perhaps the solution to all these concerns has been developed in the two countries where the opt-out system is working well, Wales and Spain. In Wales, the system came into force in 2015. The law sets out that those who live and die there will be deemed to have given consent for their organs to be used unless they have explicitly said otherwise. Before that change in the law came into effect, a public awareness campaign alone resulted in an increase in the number of organs transplanted from 120 to 160. That was not huge, but it was a definite start. NHS organ donation statistics show an 11.8% increase between 2014-15 and 2016-17 in the number of people in Wales opting to donate their organs. That was the highest increase among England, Wales and Scotland. Although there has not been a notable change since the law came into effect, it is worth remembering that—as we heard earlier—Spain took almost 10 years to increase organ donation rates significantly.
Spain has had a soft opt-out system for 39 years. It is considered to be the world leader in organ donation and currently has the highest organ donation rates in the world. In Spain, consent is presumed in the absence of any known objection by the deceased, but family consent is still sought, as it would be here, we hope. In the immediate aftermath of this change in law, there was only a small increase in the number of organ donations and transplants, but there was a dramatic increase after 1989, when the Spanish Government made a big push to reorganise organ donation, as a result of which there was a medically trained transplant co-ordinator in every hospital by 1999.
It is unlikely that we here in the UK will have an identical opt-out system to Spain’s, but these are just two examples showing how an opt-out system can work and improve the lives of thousands of people waiting for an organ transplant. This also gives us the opportunity to learn from past experiences, to ensure we get it right in this country, which I am sure we all seek to do. I know the Government will be working to ensure that that is what happens, and the Opposition are passionate about world-class health services, but, as the NHS Blood and Transplant service made clear, we
“will never have a world-class donation and transplantation service if more than 4 out of every 10 families say no to donation.”
Some 90% of people surveyed by the British Heart Foundation say they support organ donation, but just 33% of those surveyed are on the NHS organ donor register. It is clear from what we have heard today that more people need to be on the organ donor register, and these difficult conversations must be encouraged, so that more lives can be saved.
Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab):
During this debate, I went on to my phone and signed up as a full organ donor. Previously, I was a bit squeamish about giving my eyes, but I have been convinced by the arguments. Signing up only took two minutes; it was simple to do, and every Member could be encouraging our constituents to do so, too, by just going on to their phone and registering now, so we can get more donors before this Bill becomes law.
That would be great. Even the most technophobe of us should be able to manage doing that if it takes only two minutes, and maybe there could be one of those clever apps to make it even easier for all the young people to do this.
Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab):
I have no knowledge of apps, but I do have my donor card here, held proudly in my hand, which I got by telephoning. When I introduced my Bill on this subject many years ago, I was accused, as were the supporters—including Dr Evan Harris, who brought in the Bill with me—of being Aztecs. Does my hon. Friend agree that the tide is now flowing in our favour and this is a piece of legislation whose need has been proven, but whose time is now?
Yes, very good, and I must apologise for not commending my hon. Friend on his Bill when I listed the people who had done work on this over the years. That makes us realise how many people have been pushing for this, and if my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West is successful today, his great achievement will be following in many other Members’ footsteps.
Whether it is clever people with their apps or people carrying the old-fashioned donor card, we in the Opposition and nearly all of us, or perhaps all of us unanimously, across the House this morning are in favour of a change to the organ donation law, to ensure that everybody whose life could be saved by organ transplant can have the gift of life. I therefore urge the Minister today to take the necessary steps to increase the number of people on the organ donor register, and I am sure this Bill will be a great asset in helping her to achieve that goal.
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate following the Second Reading of the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill. During her speech, Sharon highlighted the need for... Read more
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on the Cancer Strategy. In her speech, Sharon called on the Government to address the issues of early diagnosis, waiting times, the workforce and prevention, so that the UK is able to achieve world class cancer outcomes by 2020.
You can read the full debate here: Cancer Strategy
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab):
I thank the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for leading the debate and for her excellent speech, and I thank the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) for securing the debate. He is not in the Chamber, but I also want to thank him for the excellent contribution that he has made to the work of the all-party parliamentary group on cancer for many years. His expertise and passion about this matter are what has made the APPG so successful.
I also thank the other Members who have made excellent speeches about this important issue. I thank the hon. Members for Bosworth (David Tredinnick), the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey), with whom I co-chaired the all-party parliamentary group on breast cancer—he raised the important issue of breast density, which, as he said, is an issue on which we really do need to make progress—the hon. Members for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Jack) for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan), the Scottish National party spokesman. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher), for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), and for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), and my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee). She is no longer in the Chamber, but she made a powerful and emotional speech about her daughter, who would be so proud of her bravery today—as, I am sure, her grandchildren will be. I hope that the whole family were watching the debate today. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris), who, I think, has fought cancer twice.
Grahame Morris (Easington) (Lab):
It is an absolute pleasure to see my hon. Friend in his place. Long may he stay there.
Cancer is, understandably, a very emotional topic. One in two people in the UK will be affected by cancer in their lifetimes, and, as we have heard from almost everyone who has spoken today, we have all been affected in some way ourselves. When my children were very small, I lost my mother-in-law to breast cancer. That is one of the reasons why I joined the all-party parliamentary group on breast cancer, and I am vice-chair of the group to this day. It is this emotion that encourages us and gets us all to come together to tackle cancer.
Over the years there has been a steady improvement in cancer survival rates in England. However, we still lag behind the improvements of our European counterparts, and the number of new cancer cases continues to rise year on year. If these trends continue it is estimated that by 2020 some 2.4 million people in England will have had a cancer diagnosis at some point in their life. That is why the Government must take urgent steps so that cancer diagnosis care and outcomes in England can be improved.
The cancer strategy was a welcome step forward to achieving the best cancer care and outcomes in the world, and Labour is fully committed to delivering, and helping to deliver, that strategy in full. However, as has been mentioned, there are some concerns across the House about the progress of the strategy. I am pleased that some of the targets have already been met, but I am under no illusions—many are no closer to being reached than they were almost three years ago. Will the Minister today commit to publishing a detailed progress update on each of the 97 cancer strategy recommendations by the end of this financial year, so we are all able to celebrate success but also focus our attention on more pressing challenges where needed? There are many challenges that the Government must face before achieving world-class cancer outcomes, but I will touch on only a few today: early diagnosis; waiting times; the workforce; and prevention.
On early diagnosis, we know that if a cancer is diagnosed early, treatment is more likely to be successful, but for cancers such as ovarian cancer and lung cancer it is often too late. The National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service found that over a quarter of women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed through an emergency presentation. Of those women, just 45% survive a year or more, compared with over 80% of women diagnosed following a referral by their GP. I should state at this point that I am chair of the all-party group on ovarian cancer. Similarly, research by the British Lung Foundation found that more than a third of lung cancer cases in England are diagnosed after presenting as an emergency. As a result, the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation found that, if caught early, a person has up to a 73% chance of surviving five years or more. However, the current five-year survival rate for lung cancer is just 10% and, sadly, one in 20 lung cancer sufferers was not diagnosed until they had died. Cancer survival rates have doubled over the last 40 years, but those are shocking statistics. I therefore ask the Minister what his Department will be doing to ensure that cancers are detected even earlier, so that patients are no longer pushed from pillar to post trying to find a diagnosis.
Unfortunately, we know that once a patient has been diagnosed, they then have an agonising wait for treatment. Even if it was a wait of just a week it would be agonising, but the 62-day target between urgent GP referral and treatment has not been met now for two years, meaning that patients are having to wait much longer than they should for treatment. Since the target was first breached in January 2014, over 95,000 people have waited for more than two months for treatment to start. Cancer patients should not be expected to wait so long. I therefore ask the Minister, what his Department is doing to address this issue.
It is no secret that the NHS and the NHS workforce are under extreme pressure due to underfunding and understaffing by this Government. I want to place on record the fact that Labour Members do not take the NHS workforce for granted. We are incredibly grateful to them for their hard work, support and kindness to patients and their families. They are doing an incredible job despite the circumstances we currently find ourselves in, and we should never stop thanking them for the work they do to diagnose, treat and care for patients. The cancer workforce really are the backbone of the cancer strategy.
The improvement of early diagnosis and waiting times relies on an efficient cancer workforce, so the Minister must make these concerns a top priority if the targets in the cancer strategy are to be fulfilled. A report by Macmillan Cancer Support found that more than half the GPs and nurses surveyed in the UK say that, given current pressures on the NHS workforce, they are not confident that the workforce are able to provide adequate care to cancer patients. That is deeply worrying. The NHS workforce should be suitably equipped to diagnose, support and care for cancer patients, during and beyond cancer.
Through my work with the all-party parliamentary group on breast cancer, I have heard—as I am sure the Minister did during his time as the group’s co-chair—of the overwhelming support that a cancer nurse specialist can bring to breast cancer patients and their families. As we have heard, however, patients with secondary breast cancer are unlikely to have access to a cancer nurse specialist. Research from Breast Cancer Care shows that 42% of hospital trusts and health boards in England, Scotland and Wales do not provide dedicated, specialist nursing care for people with secondary breast cancer, even though they often have complex emotional and supportive care needs. Patients with secondary breast cancer are subject to a postcode lottery when it comes to having a cancer nurse specialist. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that every cancer patient has access to a clinical nurse specialist?
There is no doubt that, if the cancer workforce had the time, resources and support they so desperately need, the recommendations in the cancer strategy would be achieved. I know that that is something the cancer workforce plan, published in December last year, aimed to address. Will the Minister update the House on the progress of the plan, and outline how much funding the Government will be granting to ensure that the proposals in the plan soon become a reality? The NHS cancer workforce care for and support their patients every day, and we really need the Government to support the workforce, too.
Finally, I move on to the first issue raised in the cancer strategy: prevention. The World Health Organisation estimates that a third of deaths due to a cancer are the result of the five leading behavioural and dietary risks: high body mass index; low fruit and vegetable intake; lack of physical activity; tobacco; and alcohol. The subject of alcohol was raised by my amazing hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West. Tobacco was identified as the most important risk factor, responsible for approximately 22% of cancer deaths. Taking all five risk factors into account, it is estimated that between 30% and 50% of cancers could be prevented.
The Government’s tobacco control plan—which the Minister thankfully pushed to be published in his first weeks in the job—and the childhood obesity plan are welcome steps towards reducing the high rate of preventable cancers, but they will not go far enough if the Government continue to slash public health budgets. Will the Minister therefore commit to strengthening public health budgets so that fit and healthy lifestyles can be encouraged across all our communities and help to contribute to cancer prevention? I know that, like me, he is passionate about making sure that England is one of the world leaders when it comes to cancer outcomes, but we are currently lagging behind. However, with the right funding and support from the Government, the cancer strategy has the potential to achieve that. I hope that he will take on board all that we have heard today and go back to his Department with an action plan of how best to move forward so that we can really achieve world-class cancer outcomes in 2020.
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on the Cancer Strategy. In her speech, Sharon called on the Government to address the issues of...
As Member and former Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Basketball, Sharon spoke in a Westminster Hall Debate on the Future of Basketball. In her speech, Sharon raised the issue of lack of funding for Basketball.
You can read the full debate here: UK Basketball
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) for securing this important debate, and for his excellent and entertaining speech; I do not think that we have heard rap quoted in here before. He recently took over from me as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on basketball, and he is doing a sterling job; he has already done a lot more in that short time than I hoped to do to raise the profile of basketball in Parliament, and this debate is an excellent opportunity to do so.
I have always loved basketball. I know that I do not look like a basketball player—we have lots of them in the Public Gallery—but I played in high school, and I still love to watch the sport; I know that that is hard to believe. I always hoped that through the work of the all-party group, one day the sport would be as large as others, even football, and that it would be everywhere: on our TVs, on the news channels, in our local communities and in our international sports arenas. However, that cannot be achieved unless basketball receives fair and sustainable funding so the sport can grow from the grassroots up.
Basketball is the second most popular sport behind football for 11 to 15-year-olds. According to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, it is more popular than riding a bike, so why does the funding stay so low? All young people could benefit from basketball as a sport. It gets them active, but as shown in the results of the all-party group’s 2014 inquiry, which I chaired, it can also serve as a great tool for representation and aspiration, especially among children from deprived communities.
Basketball is perceived as very cool, and it is. It has street credibility globally, and due to its strong affinity with music and lifestyle, it is a sport that can resonate with young people. It can be played with very little space, equipment and money, making it truly representative. More than 300,000 young people aged 16 and over play basketball at least twice a week. It appeals to men, women, boys and girls—one in six participants are female—and is popular among players from less wealthy backgrounds. Somewhat uniquely, basketball is the only team sport in which more than half of registered members—58% of adult basketball participants—are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. That is followed by cricket, which is still some way behind at about 30%.
We have all plugged our local teams. My local team, the Newcastle Eagles, are absolutely amazing. I do not wish to gloat or be biased, but allow me to remind Members that they are the top team in the British Basketball League, having won the BBL championship seven times and the BBL cup six times. I was there for some of those games, cheering them on. Not only are the Newcastle Eagles a fantastic team, they do so much work for the local community and hold partnerships with Northumbria University. Little Dribblers, Mini Eagles, Hoops 4 Health and the School of Excellence are just some examples of what the Eagles Community Foundation, launched in 2006, helps to do for the local community. The primary school programme Hoops 4 Health works with 7,000 young people every year, encouraging them to play and get healthy. It is a great way to introduce children to the sport. They can also play in the Eagles’ central venue league on weekends. The Eagles are a great example of what all BBL clubs do, week in and week out.
Despite all that great work, since 2009, basketball nationally has received just £102 in funding per adult participant. That is less than half as much as the next highest comparable sport, netball, which receives £205. Why is that? I know that netball has its own attributes; I used to play when I was younger, although I preferred and was better at basketball. It is cooler, as well. Why must funding be shared so unfairly? Sport England’s February 2017 funding round awarded £4.73 million to Basketball England, and just £1 million to British Basketball. Wheelchair basketball funding was not announced until October 2017, when it received £300,000.
Based on Sport England’s active lives survey, just under 1% of the population—0.7%, to be exact—participated in basketball at least twice during the 28 days prior to the survey. Although that might seem like a small percentage, basketball placed 10th out of the top 25 sports by participation— only 8% of participation was in team sports—placing it ahead of other sports such as netball, rugby and hockey. [Interruption.] I will wind up, but before I do, I will make one point about funding. Those sports receive far more funding than basketball. Hockey receives more than £9 million in funding although only 0.3% of the population participate, meaning that hockey receives 50% more funding from Sport England than Basketball England, British Basketball and wheelchair basketball.
I had more that I wanted to say, but others want to participate, and I am being told to wind up, so I will leave it to the Minister to do the sums. I hope that she will consider what is being said today and fix the unfair funding, so that basketball becomes a national sport in this country.
As Member and former Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Basketball, Sharon spoke in a Westminster Hall Debate on the Future of Basketball. In her speech, Sharon raised the... Read more
In her capacity as Chair of the School Food APPG, Sharon secured a debate on the Department for Education's current consultation around future eligibility for free school meals under Universal Credit. In her speech, Sharon raised concerns with the proposed £7,400 threshold and the Government's estimated 50,000 children who will benefit from changes to eligibility and moved on to provide a solution for the Government, and reasons why this solution should be introduced.
You can read the full debate here: Free School Meals Eligibility and Universal Credit Westminster Hall Debate 06.02.18
You can read Sharon's opening speech, pasted below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered future eligibility for free school meals and the pupil premium.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. With the support of my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Ruth George), I called this debate because of our serious concerns about the Department for Education’s consultation, “Eligibility for free school meals and the early years pupil premium under Universal Credit”. Those concerns arose following my oral question on universal credit and free school meals to the new Secretary of State last week, when, unfortunately, he completely missed my point.
The Government are disregarding the concerns of many in this House and outside it that their actions will push more children into poverty. Labour Members know that poverty is not an inevitability, but a symptom of failure to harness political will, think innovatively and take bold steps forward. This whole issue encapsulates that neatly. In my contribution, I will focus on the concerns flagged up by the consultation’s proposals and discuss what should be done to mitigate those concerns and why.
In my letter to the consultation, I said that I am a huge supporter of rolling out hot and healthy universal free school meals for all children—I always have been. That will be no surprise to hon. Members, who know that I have banged on about my support for wider access and the provision of free school meals for more than a decade now, and I will continue to do so until all children receive a hot and healthy meal in the dinner hall.
In the current transition to universal credit, all families claiming the new benefit are entitled to free school meals, which is great, but the Department’s consultation aims to roll forward that reform by rolling back one of its most progressive measures. By removing the universal entitlement to free school meals under universal credit and introducing a £7,400 threshold for eligibility for free school meals, the Government are forcibly creating a cliff edge that will be detrimental to families, especially children. That seems utterly ludicrous
As the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), wrote when the White Paper on universal credit was published in 2010:
“At its heart, Universal Credit is very simple and will ensure that work always pays and is seen to pay. Universal Credit will mean that people will be consistently…better off for each hour they work and every pound they earn.”
The Opposition do not disagree at all with the principles that he set out, but sadly, the reality has failed to live up to the promise made eight years ago. We all know lots of the reasons behind that, which ultimately led to him resigning, but that is a whole other story.
The proposals set out in the consultation are diametrically opposed to that 2010 vision and what it was meant to achieve, especially around making work pay. To give one example of how the proposal will be detrimental: someone with three children in their family who earns just below the £7,400 threshold is set to lose out on £1,200 in free school meals if they work only a few hours more or get a pay rise. The family’s annual wages would have to increase from £7,400 to almost £11,000 to make up for what they lost by rising above the eligibility cliff edge—a problem that would not occur under the working tax credit system because the legacy benefits system provides an offsetting income boost at the point that free school meals are withdrawn. Under universal credit, however, there is no equivalent mitigation.
Another example, provided to my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak and me by the fabulous Dr Sam Royston of the Children’s Society, is that a single parent with no housing costs and one child would be £26 better off per week under the old working tax credit system than under universal credit. The Minister may think £26 per week a meagre amount, but for many outside this place it can determine whether or not they can eat or heat their home. The child of the single parent in Dr Royston’s example is not entitled to free school meals either under working tax credits or under the proposed universal credit rules, so it may seem that they will be no worse off, but the only way they can be so entitled is if the transitional plans are made permanent, so that all children in a family that claims universal credit receive free school meals.
Dr David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
My hon. Friend will be aware—as I am, since I represent a rural area—that one of the problems with free school meals is how many parents will not claim them because of stigma. Does she agree that changing to universal credit will only make that worse.
Yes. One of my reasons for supporting universal free school meals is that the stigma would be removed. It was proved in the excellent school food plan commissioned under the former Education Secretary, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), that that was one of the benefits of universal free school meals. The poorest kids, who are entitled to them anyway, are the ones who benefit the most.
Laura Smith (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab)
As a teenager, I was entitled to free school meals, but because of the stigma I did not take them. I used to refuse to queue up for my token, so I went without, which resulted in my developing a very controlling relationship with food and a lot of problems at home. I totally support my hon. Friend’s proposal, because free school meals for all children will mean that they all get a healthy meal and the stigma will disappear.
I totally agree. The same system should apply for all children who are entitled to universal credit, although wider access is another debate.
Michelle Donelan (Chippenham) (Con)
I completely agree about the stigma; I raised the same point with the Minister the other day in the Chamber. However, does the hon. Lady agree that there is another way? Instead of enfranchising everybody, we could have an auto-enrolment scheme that was linked to the benefits system, rather than a system of people self-declaring as eligible.
I agree about auto-enrolment: parents should not have to apply. However, the point that I am trying to make is that any family eligible for universal credit should automatically get free school meals through auto-enrolment. If the cliff edge is brought in, it would be detrimental to that vision that we probably all share.
Dr Dan Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con)
I absolutely agree. Administering the cliff edge will mean huge costs. We should learn from the current system for free school meals for infants.
I am aware that many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, so I had better get back to setting out my concerns. What we want to prevent is families avoiding pay rises or working more hours for fear that they will lose out. That is not making work pay, and it is not what the system was intended to do when it was set up. If the Minister and his Department, alongside the Department for Work and Pensions, were truly in favour of making work pay, they would at the very least have made provision to avoid that issue—even keeping the status quo would work. They have known about the problem for seven years; I have banged on about it for years, and so have my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak, since before she was an MP, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) and other hon. Members. Sadly, it seems that the Government are keen to power on without even considering the impact of their policies on a child’s life. It would be welcome if the Minister set out how he believes the threshold and its implications are consistent with the Government’s aim to make work pay.
Another concern about the consultation is the figure of 50,000 more children who we keep hearing will benefit from free school meals by 2022. On the surface, it is welcome that the Government have estimated that more children will be receiving free school meals under their plans, but it is deeply concerning that analysis by the Children’s Society has found that more than 1 million children living in poverty would miss out on a free school meal because of the cliff edge. In the consultation document, the Government say that 50,000 children will benefit by the end of the roll-out, when the transitional protections are at their capacity. Herein lies the crux of the problem: the document also states that 10% of children—113,000—will lose out on free school meal entitlement. That is because children will fall off once the transitional protections come to an end, as they move from primary school, where they will have the protection when it comes in, to secondary school, where their entitlement will end.
I would therefore welcome clarity from the Minister about how he will protect children who risk losing their free school meals when they move from one stage of their education to the next. If he cannot give us answers in this debate—that would be a shame, but I am aware that time will be an issue—I would be more than happy to take him up on his offer to meet me if he is still happy to do so. I am very grateful that he made that commitment.
I want to offer the Minister a solution, which I have already touched on. It makes total sense for the current transitional system to be made permanent so that all the children in a family on universal credit receive free school meals. That would not generate any extra bureaucracy, it would be fairer and it would help make work pay. It would be exactly what the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green intended when he envisaged and enacted the policy. It would negate any of the concerns that I have mentioned and that other hon. Members may mention. It would push the cliff edge to a much higher earnings threshold and overcome the fear of deductions from earnings, which turn the Government’s proposals against making work pay. We do not want people to refuse pay rises or extra work for fear that they will lose three lots of free school meals.
That is not the only reason to maintain the status quo. Free school meals also have significant benefits for a child’s life. I will never miss an opportunity to sing the praises of the universal principle of free school meals. As several hon. Members have already mentioned, they reduce stigma. In its response to the consultation, School Food Matters quoted the comments of a headteacher about how universal infant free school meals had reduced stigma:
“Despite being in an affluent London borough, 27% of the children at our school are currently entitled to free school meals but nearer 40% have been entitled to free school meals within the past 6 years.”
That is what matters for the pupil premium. The headteacher went on to say:
“This is a clear indicator that many of the families are only just about managing.”
This shows that if the Minister goes ahead with the current proposals, we could see more and more of the “just about managing”—the JAMs, who the Prime Minister referred to in her first speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street—being left behind. Would that not go against what this Government are all about?
The Minister knows that I have a keen interest in supporting children from low-income families by giving them healthy meals, both in term time and in the holidays. We had the excellent private Member’s Bill promoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) and I know that the Minister is considering pilots with regard to it, which is very welcome. By implementing my proposal, the Government would ensure that those children have access to a healthy meal that would benefit their education, their health and their wellbeing.
The evidence is out there and I am sure that the Minister has a copy of the school food plan lying around in his office; if he has not, I have a spare one, or I am sure that I get John Vincent or Henry Dimbleby, its writers, to send him one. I advise him strongly to go away and read it, as it is excellent from cover to cover, especially chapter 11, which is about the benefits of free school meals. In said chapter, there are references to the evaluations of the free school meal pilots established by the last Labour Government under Ed Balls, which showed that there was a 23% increase in vegetable consumption, a 16% decline in the consumption of soft drinks—because there were no packed lunches—and an 18% decline in the consumption of crisps. Those pilots also benefited a child’s education, with children in receipt of a free school meal in the pilot areas on average two months ahead of their peers outside the pilot areas and 2% more children reaching their target levels in maths and English at key stage 1, while at key stage 2 the impact was between 3% and 5%. If we want to close the attainment gap, there is nothing better than to start by making sure that the kids are all fed.
The hon. Lady says “there is nothing better”, but potentially there is: breakfast. All the studies show that disadvantaged children perform a lot better once they have had a breakfast, and in fact children in middle-class families and higher-earning families, where the parents are busy and going off to work, often suffer as well, because they are not getting that important breakfast, which is, after all, the most important meal of the day.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
Yes—for the last time.
On the benefits of universal free school meals, I will just add that when they were piloted, the most marked academic improvements were among children from less affluent backgrounds. That is a very important point to make.
I think the Minister is a common-sense kind of guy; I have found that in my dealings with him in all-party groups that we have worked in together over the years. So I am sure that, on hearing the figures that I have cited, he will agree that the reason for all of this work is that children are more attentive and ready to learn, because they have a healthy meal in their tummies that is fuelling their learning.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I am just about to finish.
The proposals in the consultation would jeopardise all of that, because those children would have to go back to bringing in packed lunches and only 1% of packed lunches meet the nutritional requirements that our fabulous school food does now. It has been improved beyond recognition.
I will give way to the hon. Lady very quickly.
I know that the hon. Lady is just coming to the end of her remarks, but I just wanted to pick her up on one thing. She is making compelling arguments for the benefits of free school meals and breakfasts. I think that many of us would support her in wanting to make sure that children are well fed at school. However, she has not touched on the costs of doing those things, the trade-offs, and the choices that might have to be made to ensure that a generous supply of free school meals is available.
The hon. Lady might not be aware, because I do not think that she was a Member at the time, but after the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath commissioned the school food plan, he agreed with all 17 of its recommendations. He put money to 16 of them straight away and the 17th one was for universal free school meals; he accepted the arguments for that recommendation and said he would provide money for it when it could be found. Money was found for universal infant free school meals, under the coalition agreement with Nick Clegg, and those meals were introduced.
The point has already been made; it has been proved. The money can be found, because universal free school meals more than pay for themselves, and the benefits that we get from them outweigh the initial costs, including the amount saved on administration because they are universal. There are a whole host of arguments around this issue, but in a sense I am detracting from what this debate is about, so I will conclude.
I hope that the Minister has been listening intently; in fact, I am sure he has, because he has looking at me and I have seen he is. I hope he will do the same with other speakers. The new system was presented as a way to eradicate poverty, but instead the introduction of the measure that we have been discussing could cement poverty in our society, and at worst there could even be a rise in poverty among “working poor” families. If that happens, we would go through all these changes for naught, and children would be just as badly off in the future—maybe even worse off—and that would be at the behest of the Government. I am sure that is not what they want, so I hope that the Minister will look at this issue seriously and perhaps think again, for the sake of the children out there who we are all here to support.
In her capacity as Chair of the School Food APPG, Sharon secured a debate on the Department for Education's current consultation around future eligibility for free school meals under Universal... Read more
During the 2nd Reading of Tim Loughton MP's Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Private Members Bill, Sharon made a personal speech specific to a section of the Bill which would called for a review into providing birth and death certificates for stillborn babies before the 24 week gestation threshold. In her speech, Sharon spoke about her experiences 20 years ago of giving birth to her stillborn daughter, Lucy, and not receiving a birth or death certificate for her.
You can read the full debate in Hansard by following this link: Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Private Members Bill 02.02.18
You can read Sharon's speech pasted below:
It is an absolute pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), whom I am proud to call my friend. The work we have done together on the all-party group on baby loss is an exemplar of cross-party working at its best.
I welcome this Bill, presented by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), and support all four parts of it wholeheartedly. However, this morning I will speak about just two, one which I will discuss briefly and another which is of great personal significance to me. First, I welcome the measures in this Bill that would legislate to equalise civil partnerships and open them up to heterosexual couples. As we all have, I have had many constituents contact me about that in recent weeks, and I am happy to support the measures the hon. Gentleman proposes.
Now I come to the main topic I wish to talk about this morning. I remember, when the hon. Gentleman sent an email around notifying us all of his intentions with this Bill, being really hopeful when I saw the provision to register stillbirths who are born under 24 weeks’ gestation. I hope the hon. Gentleman does not mind my quoting his email, in which he said:
“Currently a child born to a mother who goes through the whole process of labour but is stillborn after 23 weeks for example, is treated no differently to a miscarriage…Both are traumatic and we need to do more to support families affected in this way but the failure by the state to acknowledge that a child born this way ever existed effectively surely just adds insult to injury.”
When I received that email and read that paragraph, initially it floored me, because it was me he was describing. That was exactly my experience with Lucy, my third child, and I am sure I used similar words to describe how it all felt in my intervention in the baby loss debate in 2016.
Lucy was born at 23 and a half weeks, and sadly she was stillborn. I mentioned Lucy for the first time in Parliament during the powerful baby loss debate during Baby Loss Awareness Week in 2016. That was 11 years after I had been elected. I said at the time how much I admired—and I still do—my fellow officers of the all-party group on baby loss, who led the debate that day. The year before, the hon. Members for Colchester (Will Quince) and for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) had spoken in detail about their loss in a groundbreaking Adjournment debate, which I watched from the safety of my office because I was too scared to be in the Chamber because I knew how emotional I would get listening in the Chamber. The fact that they were on their feet talking about it just astounded me, because I had never felt brave enough or strong enough to do what they did. I still find it very difficult, even now, all these years later, to talk about it.
Thank you very much. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman was trying to calm me down, but he has probably made me worse! As Members can all see, I feel very strongly about this issue, so I felt that, even though I knew I would end up in floods of tears, I had to come along and take part in this debate and express how strongly I want to support this legislative change, and why.
If Lucy had been born alive at 23 and a half weeks, she would have been incubated immediately and rushed in the waiting ambulance, with flashing blue lights, to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, where they have the regional centre of excellence for special care baby units for very premature babies. She would have had the very best world-class care. She would have had a birth certificate and she would have been celebrating her 20th birthday this year. But sadly she was stillborn, so there were no flashing blue lights, no incubator and no birthday parties, ever. And as I found out to my horror, there was no birth or death certificate. As I held her in my arms and had to come to terms with what had just happened, I also had to come to terms with the fact that, officially, she did not exist, and that I would not be getting any certificate of her arrival or death. She was three to four days short of the required 24-week legal age.
Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab)
It is very clear that Lucy does exist. Lucy does exist in my hon. Friend’s memories. It is very important for so many constituents that the all-party group on baby loss and the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) are raising this issue today. My hon. Friend is very brave to be able to talk through her personal experience. As ever with the many issues that we cover in debates these days, it is important for people outside the House to understand that MPs share these experiences, as we share mental health issues and other forms of loss in our families. I congratulate my hon. Friend on her speech. The all-party group is doing a fantastic job of campaigning. I hope we can hear a little more from my hon. Friend because the issues she is covering are really valuable.
Thank you so much. I appreciate all the support that everyone is giving me to help me to get through this moment.
As I was saying, Lucy was three to four days short of the 24-week legal age required to be considered eligible for a death certificate. I was horrified and further traumatised when I then saw it entered in my records as a miscarriage. Because she was pre-24 weeks, she did not even get the dignity of being classed as a stillbirth, although that is what I always say she was, if and when I do talk about this tragedy—which is not very often, as Members can tell.
We went on to have a lovely blessing, given by the amazing hospital chaplain in the private room to which I was moved after she was born. We named her Lucy during the blessing and spent a number of hours with her before she was taken to the chapel of rest. Twenty years ago, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead did not have any cold cots—I sincerely hope it does now; I will try to find out—so we could not spend the night with her, even though I was kept in overnight, heavily sedated.
We had a very small family funeral service. My children were two and three and a half at the time, so they were not even there, just our parents. The service was organised by the chaplain and the Co-Op, which funded and organised everything. That was such a touching thing to do, although I know that is not always the case—my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) campaigns on that very topic, and I support her in that. Lucy was buried in a tiny white coffin in the same grave as my nana and granddad.
I tell the House all that to highlight that to the chaplain, to the Co-Op funeral service and to us, her family, she existed. She was a baby who sadly was born dead. Her heart was beating throughout my labour, up until just minutes before she was born. She just could not make the final push into this world. Because of that, and because of a matter of a few days, she does not officially exist in any records, other than in our memories and our family records. Even the entry on the deeds for the grave is my name, as if I, or in this case a bit of me, was buried there. Her name is not on the deed for the burial plot because although buried there, she did not exist. I hope that Members can appreciate and understand how hard this was to deal with and to understand at the time, when I was dealing with what was, and still is, the worst thing I have ever had to experience in all my life.
There must be a way to square the circle in cases such as this, with the whole 24-weeks viability argument. Babies born too soon and before 24 weeks now survive in much greater numbers than ever before. To my great delight, I have met some of them at events in Parliament and it is amazing—each one is a miracle. Surely there is a way to recognise the 22-week or 23-week babies who did not quite make it to their first breath. That is why I welcome wholeheartedly what the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham is trying to do with this Bill. I hope that the Government will look favourably on it.
During the 2nd Reading of Tim Loughton MP's Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Private Members Bill, Sharon made a personal speech specific to a section of the Bill... Read more
Following many constituents contacting Sharon about their PIP assessments, Sharon spoke in a debate on this matter and raised a few of the recent cases brought to her attention but also how the Government must rethink their heartless policy.
You can read the full debate here: Personal Independence Payments Westminster Hall 31.01.18
You can read Sharon's contribution pasted below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Laura Pidcock) for securing this important debate and for her passionate speech.
Our welfare state was founded by a Labour Government, based on the principles of protecting the most vulnerable in our society and providing a safety net for everyone, rich or poor, should they ever need it. Yet under this Government we have seen our welfare state eroded into a completely dehumanising and cruel experience. Yesterday, the Minister refuted my claims that the welfare system we see today is cruel; if it is not cruel, then what is it? These people have been put through the wringer and squeezed remorselessly—and all for nothing, as we now know.
I am like other hon. Members: rarely does a day go by when distressed constituents are not reaching out to me about their PIP assessments. The dread and anxiety that comes with an impending PIP assessment are overwhelming. That is not surprising, given the life-or-death situations constituents find themselves in. A survey by the Disability Benefits Consortium found that one third of those who have had their funding cut in the middle of a benefits shake-up said they were struggling to pay for food, rent and bills.
That is what happened to my constituent Deborah. Since failing her PIP assessment six weeks ago, she has been living on biscuits. Despite the cold weather in the north-east—it has been freezing—she has been unable to put her heating on. Sadly, Deborah, who suffers with severe mental and physical health problems, has been through this once before, so she knows the physical and psychological effects it can have on claimants and their families. Deborah does not want to go through that again, nor should she.
Another of my constituents, Kelly, applied for PIP on behalf of her 17-year-old daughter, who has anti-myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein disease: a rare neurological illness. Kelly’s daughter has limited movement in her spine and 50% lung function, due to a severe spinal scoliosis, and now has titanium rods running the length of her spine. Kelly was told that her daughter did not qualify. Susan, who has severe osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia, is in constant pain and can barely walk. She was told she did not qualify. On behalf of my constituents, I ask the Minister exactly how disabled and affected by their disabilities people have to be to qualify for PIP.
The system in place now is not what our predecessors imagined when they founded the welfare state. They expected kindness and compassion for those who need support during difficult times. Yesterday, the Department for Work and Pensions tried to play the compassionate Conservative card and announced that everyone receiving PIP will have their claim reviewed. What does that bittersweet announcement mean for the constituents I have mentioned today and the many others across the country who have already had their payments stopped? Will the Minister provide some clarity on whether and when the Department will consider those claims again?
Given the suffering that my constituents are already going through as a result of PIP, they simply cannot wait any longer. I ask the Minister, please, to confirm today how long this complex exercise is expected to take. I hope, given what we have already heard and will no doubt continue to hear for the rest of the debate, that the Minister will finally put an end to the pain and suffering that so many have had to endure as a result of the Government’s heartless policies—that has to be said—and give people a chance to live with dignity.
Following many constituents contacting Sharon about their PIP assessments, Sharon spoke in a debate on this matter and raised a few of the recent cases brought to her attention but...
During the Remaining Stages of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, Sharon spoke about a range of issues, including the provision of charging points; ensuring as open access as possible to charging points, and; the growth of smart charging.
You can read the full debate by following this link: Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill 29.01.18
You can read Sharon's contribution to the debate, pasted below:
I am last, but by no means least, I hope. We still have the Minister’s closing remarks to come, so I am not altogether last.
As colleagues will know—if they do not, I am going to tell them now—the Nissan plant is in my constituency of Washington and Sunderland West. [Interruption.] Yes, it is. Many will also know that the Nissan Leaf is manufactured there. If I know Nissan, I am confident that it will have been following this debate closely, and I have no doubt it will get in touch with my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) to discuss her Leaf experiences further. As she said, it is very important that consumers who make the leap to a Leaf—do you like what I did there?
Is it all like this?
No, I am just trying to lighten the mood. It is very important that such consumers have a good experience if society is ever to make the transition to electric vehicles that we all hope to see.
I rise to raise briefly some points about three areas of part 2 of the Bill—clause 10, clause 9, and clauses 11 and 12—each of which I will address quickly. From speaking with Nissan, I know it is welcome that the Bill intends to impose requirements on large fuel retailers and service area operators “within a prescribed description” to provide public charging points. However, it is important, for all the reasons we have heard expressed so eloquently tonight, that this prescribed description is as ambitious as possible and is used in such a way as to deploy the electric vehicle charging infrastructure to its maximum potential. I therefore hope the Minister will elaborate further on how the Government plan to make sure that the expansion of this infrastructure is done in a sustainable, sensible and joined-up manner that does not hinder future growth.
Another aspect of ensuring that this important infrastructure works in the right way is ensuring that electric vehicle charging is open access and not restricted to members of charging schemes only or, as we have heard, to people with certain types of plugs. It is important as this infrastructure rolls out that it does not become a patchwork of varying payment methods, membership schemes and plug points, but instead is accessible to all to help encourage more people to make the move or the leap to electric vehicles. Will the Minister assure me that this will be considered as the Bill progresses to the other place?
The last point I want to touch on is smart charging as it is considered in the Bill. Smart charging is a new and exciting innovation and, as the Minister will be aware, Nissan has been pioneering work on vehicle-to-grid technology, where an electric vehicle’s battery can support the grid network at peak times when it is not charging. The Bill makes positive commitments in this area, but it would be welcome if the Minister committed throughout the Bill’s progress to ensuring that the continued development of these new technologies is supported.
Overall, this is a very welcome Bill that I know will have significant effects on Nissan in my constituency and on the wider electric vehicle industry. I hope that as the Bill progresses we will see further strengthening to make sure that, as we go into the future, electric vehicles become more and more accessible to drivers and, as we so desperately need to be doing right now, that this helps to reduce pollution. With those few remarks, I will end, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
During the Remaining Stages of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, Sharon spoke about a range of issues, including the provision of charging points; ensuring as open access as possible... Read more
Ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day, Sharon spoke in a debate on the proscription of Hezbollah, where she raised her concerns about the anti-Semitic language used by this organisation.
You can read the full debate here: Proscription of Hezbollah Backbench Business Debate 25.01.18
You can read Sharon's speech pasted below:
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) for securing this important debate. It has been excellent.
I think that it incredibly important for the Home Secretary to take a clear look at Hezbollah, its activities and the positions that it takes. As we know, it is involved in a number of terrorist activities and has made clear its desire to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, but the main concern that I wish to raise today concerns its anti-Semitic language. Let me take a moment to read out some of the comments made by leaders of Hezbollah to emphasise how shocking they are.
Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, has been quoted as saying—I read this out with deep discomfort—
“the Jews…are a cancer which is liable to spread…at any moment.”
He has also said:
“If they all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”
Such views are expressed not just by Nasrallah, but by his deputy. Naim Qassem has been quoted as saying:
“The history of Jews has proven that, regardless of the Zionist proposal, they are a people who are evil in their ideas.”
I am sure that Members on both sides of the House agree that those comments are utterly deplorable and should be challenged at every opportunity. Such language should not be allowed to continue, because it feeds into a terrorist ideology that calls for the destruction of Israel, but also of the wider Jewish people. We have heard it in the past, and we stood up against it then. We should stand up against it now as well, because the use of such language in our society should not be tolerated, whether it is used here or elsewhere in the world. There is absolutely no place for it.
What is especially pertinent when we recommit ourselves to standing up to this hate-filled language is that, as we speak, many people are gathering near Parliament Square to remember the holocaust at the Holocaust Memorial Day service. I was torn today: I wanted to take part in both events, but I chose to come to the House and make my speech. Only a week ago, colleagues stood here in the Chamber and movingly marked that auspicious day.
The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is the power of words. The aim is to explore how language was used in the past and is used in the present. It reminds us never to be complacent. Right now, an organisation that calls for the annihilation of one of our allies and a whole ethnic population is lawfully allowed to be supported in this country, and last year, as we have heard, its flags were flown on the streets of our capital. Hatred should not go unchallenged, wherever it may raise its ugly head.
The British Government must stand strong with resolve and say, “Enough is enough, and we will not stand for their hatred and terrorist activity.” We can all agree that Hezbollah is a dangerous organisation that commits terrorist crimes across the world in the name of its warped view of Islam and that repeatedly vocalises hate-filled language towards a group that it wishes to exterminate. There is no room for its deep-seated hatred—none at all. Therefore, in response to this debate, I hope the Home Secretary—although not present—will ensure that she listens in full to the concerns raised from across the House today.
Ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day, Sharon spoke in a debate on the proscription of Hezbollah, where she raised her concerns about the anti-Semitic language used by this organisation. You can... Read more