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
On the 19th January, Frank Field MP had the 2nd Reading of his Holiday Provisions (Meals and Activities) Bill in Parliament.
Unfortunately, due to time restraints, Sharon was unable to speak in the debate.
However, if she had, Sharon would have given this speech in the Chamber.
You can read the short debate here: Frank Field MP's Holiday Provision (Meals and Activities) Private Members Bill 19.01.18
Many Members will know that the issue of child holiday hunger is one that I care deeply about and believe we should be doing far more to address.
That is why I welcome this Bill brought before the House today by my Rt. Hon. Friend for Birkenhead – he has been a great ally in campaigning on this issue and this Bill is testament to his passion for this issue.
The main thrust of my speech this afternoon is that the Government must be doing far more to support children and young people who suffer from hunger during the school holidays.
There are many, some in this House and some outside, who believe that when the school gates lock for the holidays, especially the long summer holidays, that it is none of our business how a child eats, or doesn’t in some cases.
For me, this train of thought fails to help us achieve the society we aspire to be: compassionate and caring.
It is shameful that we will allow children to remain hungry during the school holidays, which will have a serious detrimental effect on their health and education thus negatively affecting their life opportunities.
If we are to truly believe that we are giving our children the best start in life, then it is important that this issue is addressed – and this Bill will help take us a step further to achieving that goal.
UNICEF estimate that 10% of children in the UK are living in severe food insecurity and my Rt Hon Friend’s Inquiry into this issue estimated 3 million children are at risk of hunger over the school holidays; we cannot allow this to continue.
Aside from the Bill by my Rt. Hon Friend, there is a clear policy gap when it comes to addressing food insecurity but, for me, the most pertinent issue is the lack of children’s and young people’s voices in any policy development.
That is why, with the support of the Food Foundation and the fantastic Lindsay Graham, I will be chairing a cross-party inquiry over the next year or so into the views of children and young people so that policy on food security can be developed based on their opinions.
This inquiry will not only address this issue, but place children at the centre of policy that affects them. It is very important they are heard.
We cannot allow this to go on any longer and I wish this Bill every success as it passes through Parliament.
It is vitally important and must be seriously considered by ministers on the Government benches, who must help get it onto the statute book.
I implore the ministers to do more on this issue, because over the next year, we will see children again going hungry during the school holidays.
Let us make 2018 the year that we end this societal failure.
There are far too many children experiencing hunger over the holidays and it is shameful that more is not being done.
As Members of Parliament, we all have a duty to introduce policy to protect children from hunger.
It was true 100 years ago and sadly it is still true today.
On the 19th January, Frank Field MP had the 2nd Reading of his Holiday Provisions (Meals and Activities) Bill in Parliament.Unfortunately, due to time restraints, Sharon was unable to speak... Read more
As a local MP for Sunderland, and Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon was invited to speak at the launch of the Sunderland & District Keep Our NHS Public where she set out the national picture when it comes to our NHS, with specific emphasis on the NHS winter crisis.
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Thank you for that introduction. It is a pleasure to be here speaking with you about our NHS.
The scale of support shown for this recently set up campaign group shows just how strongly local people feel about our NHS and its future.
As a Shadow Health Minister, I know all too well how damaging the Tories policies towards our NHS are and it is groups like your own, working alongside the Labour Party in Parliament, that are helping us hold the Government to account for their actions.
In my contribution this evening, I have been asked to talk about the national perspective when it comes to our NHS and there is nothing more pressing right now than the utterly shameful winter crisis that is engulfing our NHS.
This winter crisis is unlike any we have seen before, and the blame lays squarely at the feet of the Health Secretary who has presided over serious underfunding, understaffing and underappreciation of our fantastic NHS.
Labour have repeatedly dragged ministers to the House to hold them to account on this.
In the first week back in Parliament of this year, we had an Urgent Question where our excellent Shadow Health Secretary, Jon Ashworth, took the Government to task on their dismal actions and all the while Jeremy Hunt was staging a sit-in in Downing Street to save his job.
If he put as much effort into saving our NHS as he did saving his own career, then part of me thinks our NHS wouldn’t be in the state that it is currently in.
As the age-old saying goes, you can never trust a Tory with our NHS.
But I think we should now add: “especially Jeremy Hunt.”
Now many people are getting sick of the constant use of statistics to highlight the scale of the winter crisis, but they must never be forgotten and we should never stop repeating them.
The Tories have starved our NHS of resources.
This has meant that this winter alone, 75,000 patients have waited in the back of ambulances for over 30 minutes – often in excruciating pain.
Over one third of England’s children’s care units were 100% full, with not one single spare bed for new admittances.
A total of just over 1000 people have been hospitalised with flu; almost three times more than the 366 admitted during the same period in 2016-17.
Our own analysis has shown that there is a workforce crisis with 100,000 vacant posts across NHS England. Labour have estimated that this means a total of 40,000 nurse vacancies, 12,000 nursing support staff vacancies and 11,000 scientific, technical and therapeutic staff vacancies.
It seems astounding that the Prime Minister has said that the NHS is “better prepared” for the winter than ever before, but are we even surprised or shocked when this Prime Minister is prone to saying “nothing has changed” and sticking her head in the sand.
It beggar’s belief that the Tories believe that the NHS is only facing seasonal struggles and believe the NHS is in good health, when the key targets which help us gauge our NHS’s health are not being met.
It is worrying that right now bed occupancy stands at 95% when it should be at 85% and the gold standard A&E four hour waiting target is at 85% when it should be 95%.
So they are meeting the targets – just the wrong way around!
This whole saga is saddening, but what should shame the Tories (though I don’t think it ever will), is that in the 70th year of our NHS existence, it started the year marred by story after story of ambulances queuing up outside of hospitals and Trusts urging patients not to go to A&E because they were full to capacity and couldn’t cope.
The warning signs have been there for months, if not years.
Back in October, Jim Mackay, Head of NHS Improvement told the House of Commons’ Health Select Committee, and I quote:
“we are running tighter than any of us would really want to … so, it will be difficult – it will be very tight – over the winter”
This is from one of the top people within the NHS and the Tories turned a blind eye and ignored these warning signs.
But Labour has also driven home the need for this winter crisis to be prevented and avoided at all costs, so that patients can have the full confidence they rightly expect in our NHS.
At the General Election, Labour committed to an additional £6 billion being pumped into our NHS to not only prepare the NHS for a crisis such as the one we see now but also make sure our NHS has the money to continue being the jewel in the crown of our public services.
Even back in October 2017, Jon Ashworth was calling on the Government to direct emergency funding towards the NHS with a bailout of £500million to protect those who rely upon an overstretched NHS service.
This was all ignored and ridiculed by the Tories who yet again showed their disregard for the importance of protecting our NHS when they should be doing all they can to ensure our nation’s health is always put first.
But we know exactly what the Tories will say which is that they have moved funding towards the NHS but does anyone really think that an additional £1.6 billion will help address these pressures? It is paltry in comparison to what the NHS needs.
It is also concerning that NHS Trusts who had heard this announced and had probably let out a sigh of strained relief were not informed of their allocation until a month later.
The Budget was announced on the 22nd November and Trusts were not receiving their emergency funding until late December – some only getting it days before Christmas.
It is not surprising that NHS Providers turned around and said this money had come: “very late to be used to maximum effect”.
Chris Hopson, Chief Executive of NHS Providers, also providing a damning analysis of the reality our NHS finds itself in last week said, and I quote:
“For the first time since [targets] were introduced, despite best efforts, last year the NHS missed all four of the long standing acute and ambulance performance standards. The four hour A&E standard. The 18-week elective surgery standard. The 62-day cancer standard. The ambulance response time target.”
This has culminated in NHS staff describing the state of their A&E departments as “third world” or “never seen anything like this”.
This has meant Trusts have had to delay all elective surgeries – which is estimated at 55,000 operations – until the end of January and no sign of when they will be rescheduled for.
This, of course, will have a knock-on effect for future operation schedules and will see patients living in pain for far longer than they should and many even see, god forbid, fatalities.
And this crisis is not over yet, as John Appleby of the respected think tank the Nuffield Trust said two weeks ago:
“the sobering reality is that winter for the NHS has hardly started”.
This is troubling. This is worrying. This is shameful.
We cannot allow this to continue.
That is why KONP is such a valuable local group which will help campaign to raise awareness amongst local people about our NHS and engage residents in defending our NHS before it is run completely into the ground and totally privatised.
Labour are committed to giving our NHS the support it needs.
In its 70th year we shouldn’t be seeing this precious public service being run into the ground but instead seeing investment that sees it through another 70 years and another 70 years after that.
People may say that this is an often misquoted line, attributed to Nye Bevan, but the thrust of it remains true.
“The NHS will last as long as there’s folk with faith left to fight for it.”
I am up for that fight, as I know all of you are too.
So let’s go from here and fight for our NHS.
Let us protect it and defend it at all costs.
Not just for those people who rely upon it now but for those future generations who will rely upon it too.
As a local MP for Sunderland, and Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon was invited to speak at the launch of the Sunderland & District Keep Our NHS Public where...
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke on behalf of the Opposition in a debate on blood cancer. In her speech, Sharon raised issues around psychological support and care pathways for blood cancer patients, the need to improve research into drugs and address issues with the appraisal support.
You can read the full debate here: NHS Blood Cancer Care
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
It is a genuine pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) on his good fortune in securing this debate just before the launch of the report by the all-party group on blood cancer, which will take place afterwards. That was very opportune and well done. He made an informative and heartfelt opening speech, and I am sure that he can secure no finer legacy in memory of his mother than what he is achieving in Parliament today. I am sure his whole family are proud of him.
As we have heard throughout this debate, blood cancer is the third biggest cancer killer in the UK, and the fifth most common cancer, with more than 230,000 people living with the disease. For those people and their families—some of whom are here today or watching the debate—action is needed to improve the treatment and support on offer. That includes some of my own constituents who contacted me prior to this debate, and it is for them that we are here today. There is much that we can do to improve treatment and support, as so eloquently put by the hon. Member for Crawley, and others who have spoken today, including my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher), and the hon. Members for Gordon (Colin Clark), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), who all made excellent speeches.
Blood cancer patients need to see their GP many more times before being referred to hospital than those with other cancers. Indeed, 35% of blood cancer patients had to see their GP three or more times before being referred, compared with only 6% of those with breast cancer, and 23% of those with all other tumour types. Such figures must be the fire beneath that spurs us on to do more, otherwise we will be failing the 230,000 people who live with this disease. Today I want to pick up on three key issues: first, patient experiences, and specifically the “watch and wait” principles of treatment and support; secondly, the improvements needed in research and access to treatments; and finally I will discuss post-stem cell transplant care.
Each year, 5,000 people with slow-growing blood cancers do not start treatment straight away, but instead are placed on a regime called watch and wait. That means that patients are monitored until they reach a point where treatment must start. It can take many years for that to happen, which can add much pressure to a patient’s life, including the psychological struggles that they might face. That is understandable: it must be excruciatingly difficult for someone to live with a cancer, including a blood-borne one, yet not receive any treatment, even though they know they have the disease.
To help fully understand this struggle, I want to read from a case study that was sent to me by Bloodwise, and written by the blogger who writes the “Diary of a ‘Fake’ Cancer Patient”. It states:
“About a month after diagnosis, I went to pieces and sat in front of my consultant panicking, crying and generally not coping.”
Reading the full case study is harrowing but heart-warming at the same time. That may sound peculiar, but it shows the scale of the struggle that blood cancer patients face under “watch and wait”, and also that when support is offered they can lead as normal a life as possible, and have the support to cope with the disease and the situation in which they find themselves. That is why Labour supports calls for tailored psychological support for patients who are on watch and wait, and it would be welcome if the Minister addressed that point when he replies to the debate.
It would be of great interest to hear from the Minister whether the Government plan to look at the perceived pitfall in the cancer strategy regarding the recovery package, and the failures to take into consideration the unique characteristics of blood cancer, as well as the use of terms such as “beyond cancer” and “post- treatment”, which can be alienating to blood cancer patients. As we know, blood cancers are very different to solid tumour cancers, and that determines the kind of treatment on offer to patients. For blood cancer patients, treatment is not about surgery or radiotherapy; it is about drugs to help to fight their cancer, and importantly, about access to said drugs. It is therefore crucial that innovation and the development of new drugs is encouraged to help improve patient outcomes. The Government must continue to commit to ongoing research to help save lives, and capitalise on our world-leading position as blood cancer research pioneers.
Lots of this work already happens, including charitable investment and collaboration between public bodies. One such example is IMPACT—a £4 million clinical trials programme that is jointly funded by Anthony Nolan, Leuka, and NHS Blood and Transplant services. By 2020, this exciting and much welcomed project will have established 12 clinical trials involving approximately 1,500 patients. It will play an invaluable role in achieving the vision set out in the Government’s life sciences industrial strategy and—most importantly—it will help to save lives. It is of utmost importance that the Government continue their commitment to this work.
We must also consider how the cancer drugs fund works, and how the temporary collection of data to make appraisal decisions can, for some rare blood cancers, lead to insufficiency in collecting robust data, and therefore to negative appraisals for drugs. I have raised concerns in the past about the way we appraise drugs—indeed, I worked with the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire when we were both co-chairs of the all-party group on breast cancer, and we carried out work on some breast cancer drugs, including Kadcyla. It is therefore disappointing, yet not surprising, that we find similar situations when it comes to blood cancer drugs with, for example, the drug ibrutinib being given to patients with mantle cell lymphoma. That drug received a negative appraisal, and later a positive one. That causes unnecessary distress and anxiety for patients, and it is important that such problems are addressed. I hope that the Minister will give us some steer on when the Government plan to rectify these matters.
Finally, I will touch briefly on the need for support for those living post transplant, and the care that should be on offer to them. It is estimated that by 2020 more than 16,000 people will be living post transplant, and they will therefore be more exposed to physical and psychological effects, such as graft-versus-host disease, depression and prolonged duress stress disorder. Although stem cell transplants can save a person’s life—that is fantastic—it is important that when someone’s life is saved, they can live it to its fullest. Sadly, only 54% of those who need psychological support actually receive it. That is down to the commissioning of post-transplant services not working for all patients, especially at the 100-day cut-off after a transplant, when responsibility for services moves from NHS England to CCGs, and therefore leads to gaps in the care and support provided. Is the Minister aware of that, and will he commit to looking at how that gap can be filled so that patients receive the best post-transplant support possible?
This debate has been incredibly important, and I am sure it has given the Minister a lot to think about. I hope that when he gets back to his office, he will look at this issue in depth and read the APPG’s report following its launch today—I am looking forward to that—so that all the 230,000 people living with blood cancer can be confident that the Government are doing their utmost to give them the best chance of living.
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke on behalf of the Opposition in a debate on blood cancer. In her speech, Sharon raised issues around psychological support and care pathways...
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke on behalf of the Opposition in a debate on junk food advertising and childhood obesity. In her speech, Sharon highlighted the affects junk food advertising has on children and high obesity rates in the UK. Sharon called for a ban on junk food advertising before 9pm watershed to tackle this issue.
You can read the full debate here: Junk Food Advertising and Childhood Obesity Westminster Hall
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I thank the hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) for securing this important debate, and for sharing her knowledge in her passionate speech. I also thank the other hon. Members who have spoken this morning for their eloquent speeches: my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda), the hon. Members for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Angus (Kirstene Hair), my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), who spoke for the Scottish National party.
The UK has one of the worst obesity rates in Europe, with almost two in every three people either overweight or obese. I am, as hon. Members can see, one of those two. I am back on a strict diet post-new year, with no sugar or alcohol for the foreseeable future—if any hon. Members see me with either or both in my hand, please take them off me—and I hope that by August there will be a lot less of me.
I commend the honesty of the hon. Member for Strangford. I have been on a similar journey to him healthwise, and I hope to share his success weightwise. It is hard though—if it were easy, nobody would be overweight. We have not all got metabolisms as good as a horse, as the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire attests to. However, I started life as a skinny kid and was a slim teenager. I am proud to say that I was a size 10 when I got married, but I still ended up overweight as time went by. Therefore, I worry greatly when I see the stats, as I know we all do, for this country’s children.
As we have heard this morning, a pattern now emerges at a very early age. In 2016-17, almost a quarter of reception children aged between three and four were overweight or obese. In the same year, for pupils in year 6, it was more than a third. An obese child is five times more likely to grow up into an obese adult. I did not start as an obese child, and hon. Members can see where I got to, so it is important that the Government do all they can to ensure that child obesity rates are reduced as a matter of urgency.
As we know, obesity is linked with several health issues: lung and liver disease, heart attacks, strokes, seven or more types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes, all of which could be prevented with healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle. According to Cancer Research UK, continued eating and drinking patterns—alcohol is also a major factor in cancer—could lead to being overweight and obese and could cause an additional 670,000 cases of cancer in the UK over the next 20 years. Diabetes UK also warns that there are now 12.3 million people at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. If overweight and obesity levels were to be reduced, three in five cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented or delayed.
Obesity comes at a high financial cost too. Obesity and its related health problems cost the NHS in England an estimated £5.1 billion a year, projected to reach £9.7 billion by 2050, if the Government and the people themselves fail to take any action—as we have heard in the debate, people need to take action for themselves. That is why this debate is so important. If we do not do anything about obesity today, the children of tomorrow are the ones who will suffer.
There are many ways to address obesity. No one intervention is a silver bullet, but it is the Opposition’s belief that action on advertising and marketing can make serious inroads.
Ten years ago, Ofcom’s restrictions on junk food advertising came into effect, but over that decade, our viewing habits have changed, as we have discussed. At that time, the Ofcom report said:
“Advertisements of high fat, salt and sugar products should not be shown in or around programmes specifically made for children...For the avoidance of doubt this measure will remove all HFSS advertising from dedicated children's channels”.
Ten years on, as we all know, that is incredibly outdated and out of touch with the way children watch TV. Children are likely to watch TV with their family or watch programmes that are not on specific children’s channels, such as “The X Factor”, “Britain’s Got Talent”, “Hollyoaks” and other programmes.
A report by the University of Liverpool found that 59% of food and drink adverts shown during family viewing time were for high fat, salt and sugar products and would have been banned from children’s TV. The same report also found that, in the worst case, children were bombarded with nine junk food adverts in just a 30-minute period and that adverts for fruit and vegetables made up only 1% of food and drink adverts shown during that family viewing time. Ofcom’s restrictions on junk food advertising are therefore totally obsolete and in need of a serious update to protect children from the bombardment of junk food advertising from multinational companies.
Many of the charities and organisations that provided me with briefings for this debate called for junk food advertising to be restricted until the 9 pm watershed on all channels, which was something I was pleased to commit to in the 2017 Labour party manifesto and am proud to remain committed to. I hope that the Minister will hear the calls today from hon. Members across the House and will see why an update of the restrictions is necessary.
Children must of course also be protected from other forms of advertising, such as billboard and bus shelter adverts, as well as subtle advertising in films and in made-for-purpose games, which are so prevalent there is a name for them—advergames. “Newsnight” last night noted that there are major concerns with the regulations around confectionary firms and their marketing to children. There seems to be a loophole in the law with regard to advergames, which needs to be closed.
There are also genuine games that are very popular with children although they are not aimed at them, such as Candy Crush—I have to admit to having tried that one myself—which embed advertising in the game and have been shown to drive children's food choices. Sponsorship has also been shown to have a huge impact on brand awareness and purchasing decisions among children. Products high in fat, salt and sugar are often found to sponsor sporting events or teams of which children are a key part of the audience. For example, Cadbury is the official snack partner of the premier league.
The current restrictions do not encapsulate those areas, and in our digital world it is important that our restrictions advance to protect children. Will the Minister commit to holding a cross-Departmental meeting with colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to discuss the urgency of addressing junk food marketing to children across those forums?
Not only do we watch TV and use the internet differently, but we also shop differently. Our sedentary lifestyles mean that we now rush into supermarkets trying to buy the quickest or cheapest products. As soon as we walk through the door, we are tempted with promotions, such as buy one get one free or three-for-two offers. Such discounts make up for more than half of all food sold in the UK, a higher proportion than in any other country in western Europe. We all love a bargain, but research has shown that 76% of purchases were unplanned and decided on in store, which shows the power of such promotions.
That trend is increasingly prevalent among families from poorer backgrounds who are not able to afford more expensive, nutritious and healthier food, or lack the skill to cook it. It is therefore no wonder that children aged five from poorer backgrounds are twice as likely to be obese, and that those aged 11 are three times as likely to be obese. Following what the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire said, we also need affordable, healthy and nutritious products available on promotion to change habits.
I am sure the Minister will uphold the Government’s pledge to tackle childhood obesity, but their efforts are dwarfed by multinational corporations’ spending on junk food advertising. In 2016, the 18 highest-spending crisps, confectionary and sugary drinks brands together spent more than £143 million advertising their products. I recently met an advertising executive who has turned gamekeeper since having a damascene conversion—he now campaigns against added sugar and obesity. He told me how much effort multinational corps put into marketing specifically to children. It is not accidental, but a deliberate, well-thought-through and lucrative strategy.
Eighteen months ago, the Government launched their much-depleted childhood obesity plan, which left much to be desired. Will the Minister update us on the current situation of the childhood obesity plan? Will he commit to looking beyond it and going further by introducing the initiatives that have been suggested today, such as a 9 pm watershed on junk food marketing, which were sadly dropped from the original plan?
All of the arguments we have heard this morning point to the fact that essential Government action is needed to ensure our children grow up in a healthy environment so they can be fighting fit for the future. I hope the Minister will take these suggestions back to his Department and think about how they can be implemented into a serious drive to reduce childhood obesity over the next 10 years. Childhood obesity must be addressed. We cannot have a soft-touch approach. We must do this for future generations of children, and make a promise to them that they can be some of the healthiest children in the world.
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke on behalf of the Opposition in a debate on junk food advertising and childhood obesity. In her speech, Sharon highlighted the affects...
Sharon spoke in a Backbench Business Debate secured by Yasmin Qureshi MP on Hormone Pregnancy Tests, or also known as Primodos, which was used in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and the adverse affects it had on women and their babies. In her speech, Sharon joined cross-party calls for a judge-led public inquiry into this scandal.
You can read the full debate here: Primodos Backbench Business Debate 14.11.17
Read Sharon's contribution to the debate pasted below:
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), who opened the debate so powerfully, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), who has been a strident campaigner on this issue for more than six years and knew all about it before it had even reached my consciousness. She gave an excellent, if rather too short, speech. I thank all other Members for their passionate and thoughtful contributions; because of the time constraints, I hope they will please forgive me for not naming them all. Ultimately, thanks must go, as others have said, to Marie Lyon, the chair of the Association for Children Damaged by Hormone Pregnancy Tests. I am sure that I speak for all of us in the House today when I say that she has the utmost respect and admiration of Members from across the House.
I want to touch on not only the science that was used to come to the conclusions in the review, but what is missing and what should have been considered before any conclusions were drawn. I will then highlight why this is a matter of injustice and why it is important that answers are found so that we can finally conclude this sad chapter.
The main sticking point of the review’s conclusions is that the expert working group found that the science did not support a causal association between HPTs during pregnancy and adverse outcomes. My focus will be on the science used and the historical documentation that we are aware of, but which seems not to have been considered—we heard about some of it in the excellent speech by the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey). I will not deviate into the important argument about “possible” and “causal”, as that was covered comprehensively by other Members, including the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead.
I must make it clear from the outset that I am no scientist—I am sure that Members are aware of that—and my speech is not a critique of the integrity and expertise of the specialists involved. However, the conclusions arrived at in the report and the conversations I have had with many of those who have been involved in the campaign show a need for us to be critical of what was concluded by the expert working group. That is our duty as Members of Parliament, especially when it comes to what is such an important matter for so many women and their families, and also because a great deal of public funds were invested in the review over the past few years.
In the report’s consideration of the scientific detail regarding HPTs, it is argued that there are inconsistencies in the conclusions drawn from the evidence used. Take, for example, the fact that of the 15 studies that looked at heart defects, 11 favoured a link, and of five studies into limb reduction, all found a link, yet those studies were deemed to show “insufficient evidence” of the drug’s harm. Even information I requested recently and got just this week from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in the lead up to this debate is at odds with the conclusions of the review, including graphs that plot birth defects against the availability of HPTs. Even to my untrained eye, they show a possible link. In one graph on all malformations, it is clear that birth defects increased during the period in which HPTs were on the market, and shortly afterwards. They began to decrease soon after HPTs were taken off the market.
Further, in the briefing I received, the MHRA said that for every 100 babies born in the general population, around two to four are expected to have a birth defect, which means that 14,000 babies a year would be expected to be born with a birth defect. That is just generally. Using those figures, the MHRA concluded that for the more than 1 million women who took HPTs, as many as 19,000 babies would be born with a birth defect, irrespective of any additional risk from HPTs. Yet let us compare Primodos to thalidomide, for instance. More than 30 million thalidomide prescriptions saw 600 children affected in the UK, which is a rate—I have had help with these numbers —of 0.002%. Some 1.2 million Primodos prescriptions were sold and 800 children were affected, which is a rate of 0.06%. That shows a much higher prevalence caused by Primodos compared with thalidomide. It also shows how little meaning a comparison of HPT adverse reactions has against today’s prevalence of birth defects in the general population, and it is hardly a defence of disproving a link.
As I have said, I am no scientific professional, but I believe that the red flags that arise when reading what the evidence says and what conclusions were drawn from it are not ones that only an expert in this field would see. This reflects the arguments that were raised last week by Dr Neil Vargesson—that the report does not provide definitive evidence that the drug was safe. As others have said, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that a link cannot be ruled out.
That leads me on to my next point, which is to touch briefly on the historical perspective and cover-up of the evidence. We have got to use that word—it is the only word we can use—as this is something that should have been considered by the expert working group.
One such example was in 1975, when the UK regulator knew of a potential five-to-one risk that the drug could cause deformities, but that evidence was apparently later destroyed. This is a running theme—I do not have time to go into it all—through the chronology of this scandal. We see multiple examples of suppressed information regarding the adverse effects and delayed notification of those effects to medical professionals who administered the drugs.
It is also deeply concerning that this drug came into the market in 1958, with no studies on its effects at all until 1963. Five years passed before it even underwent teratogenic testing. It was still officially in circulation until 1975, but we are aware of cases of its use up until 1978. All the evidence uncovered should have been considered as part of the review. The question is: why was it not?
With any scandal such as this, it is important that those affected have the trust and confidence of any review or inquiry undertaken. In this instance, that has not been the case. The victims feel that the review has muddied the waters even more and that their views have been ignored. I have been told many harrowing stories, many of which we have heard today, and how, time and again, they have been ignored. These women did not ask to be given HPTs. Nor were they ever made aware of the effects that they could have on them or their unborn baby. They were just given them—sometimes out of a supply in a drawer on the doctor’s desk. There were no warnings, no explanations, no discussions.
A great injustice has been inflicted on these women. It is up to this House to put pressure on the Government of the day, here and now, in a fully cross-party, non-partisan way, to make things right. It is paramount that a judge-led public inquiry be conducted—one that is independent and can fully examine all the materials and documentation available and insist that all information be made public, including that which has been withheld so far. I hope that this debate helps us to take that one step further to achieving that.
In closing, may I quote the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), the then Minister for Life Sciences? In October 2014, when he instigated this review, he said that the review would
“shed light on the issue and bring the all-important closure in an era of transparency”.—[Official Report, 23 October 2014; Vol. 586, c. 1143.]
Let this debate and the following actions by the Minister ensure that what was promised in 2014 is actually achieved.
Sharon spoke in a Backbench Business Debate secured by Yasmin Qureshi MP on Hormone Pregnancy Tests, or also known as Primodos, which was used in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s...