Sharon Hodgson MP

Working hard for Washington and Sunderland West.

Recent speeches by Sharon Hodgson MP

Following her long campaign on the issue of ticket touting, Sharon spoke in the Digital Economy Bill: Consideration of Lord's Amendments debate on the need for the Government to accept the amendment on banning the misuse of bots and to continue to to address the abuses in the secondary ticketing market. 

You can read the full debate on Hansard here

Read Sharon's contribution to the debate below.

Sharon Hodgson MP (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Gentleman, who I have got to know very well in our time campaigning on this issue during this and the last Parliament. It is a real delight that we have reached this stage and I rise to speak in favour of Lords amendments 246 and 247 on the resale of tickets. It is with great delight that I welcome the news that the Government accept those Lords amendments and that they will make it on to the statute book before this Parliament dissolves.

It goes without saying that we would not be in this position without the concerted cross-party campaigning to put fans first in this broken market. None of that would have happened without the campaigning by me and others over the years. The list is very long, so I hope that the House will indulge me. It includes the steadfast support received from my own party’s Front Benchers, especially in recent years. The shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), made an excellent speech today; I sincerely hope that she will be returned so that she can continue in that vein.

Conservative Members have also given support, including, most notably in the last Parliament, Mike Weatherley, the former Member for Hove and Portslade, who I know is a friend of the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams). Mike Weatherley and I founded and co-chaired the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse. In recent years, the hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) and other members of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, including the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston)—I was going to say the gentleman sitting over there wearing a red tie, but that would have made me sound like David Dimbleby—have worked tirelessly on its investigation into the secondary ticketing market. I sincerely hope that the Committee will pick up on the issue again in the next Parliament, so that all of the inquiry’s hard work is not lost. I am sure that that will happen.

I also acknowledge the Minister’s customary good humour and willingness to listen, which, along with the work of shadow Front Benchers in the Lords and those who tabled the amendments, has ensured that we have reached a satisfactory conclusion. I also thank the Secretary of State, who I am pleased to see in the Chamber. More than three years ago, when she was a Home Office Minister, she met me and the former Member for Hove and Portslade to discuss the fraud aspect of this issue. That proves that Ministers have long memories, so such meetings are worth it.

Matt Hancock

In response to a point raised by the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), we are clear that section 93 of the Consumer Rights Act requires secondary sellers to provide information on ticket restrictions on resale.

Mrs Hodgson

Excellent. I was going to come on to that issue, following on from the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty. I will have to remember not to press the Minister on it, because he has already addressed it. That is welcome and I am pleased that he has put it on the record.

I also commend the sterling work over many years by colleagues on both sides of the House of Lords. Way back in 1997, the Labour peer Lord Pendry, the then shadow Sports Minister, was the first to coin the phrase, “put fans first”, so I cannot claim credit for that, as I did not invent it. He campaigned on the issue way back then, but sadly for him and, indeed, for us, he was not made a Minister in the Government that followed, so he was not able to ensure that this happened 20 years ago. That shows that this day has been a very long time coming.

More recent contributions have been made by Lord Stevenson and Baroness Hayter from the Labour Front Bench, Lord Clement-Jones of the Liberal Democrats and the amazingly talented late Baroness Heyhoe Flint of the Conservatives, who tabled the first relevant amendments in the Lords and who sadly passed away a few months ago. She was a joy to work with. Without this campaign I would never have had the chance to know her and I wish I could have had that privilege for longer.

I also want to give a special mention to the former Sports Minister and Conservative peer, Lord Moynihan, whose renowned tenacity during debates on the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the wash-up at the end of the last Parliament ensured that we got certain measures on to the statute book. Without him, we would not have progressed to where we are now, as we would still be at base camp waiting for the weather to shift. He has been the most amazing ally and expert in this crusade, and all fans across the country who are not ripped off in the future should know his name and thank him.

Having finished the thank yous, I turn to the business at hand. Lords amendments 246 and 247 will take us one step closer to ensuring that fans are finally put first in the secondary market, something has been sorely lacking for years. At this point, I was going to press the Minister on the point that he has clarified, so I thank him again for doing so. Accepting the Lords amendments is a fitting way to end this Parliament, and I am confident that any residual issues will be picked up quickly once Parliament returns following the general election.

None of us know or can predict what will happen come polling day, but if the good people of Washington and Sunderland West re-elect me, and if other Members present are re-elected by their constituents, I will definitely get right back to businesses and pick up where we leave off today, because there are plenty more issues to continue to campaign on. We have taken one step closer, granted, but we are still far from our cross-party vision of a fair market that ensures that fans are not ripped off.

We need to consider the enforcement of current legislation, such as that which is being investigated by the Consumer Markets Authority, as the Chair of the Select Committee mentioned. We need to support the victims of viagogo, who, as the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty mentioned, have been unfairly and ripped off by one of the worst players in this market, which, disgracefully, did not attend the Select Committee when called to do so. We should definitely revisit that question to see whether there are ways to force companies that have their head office overseas to come and give evidence in this place. It seems wrong that they can evade that by saying that they are not based in the UK when all their customers are based in the UK. We should also ensure that the Waterson review’s recommendations are implemented fully and effectively. The list of things that we need to put right could go on, but those are just a few of the many issues that must be picked up in the next Parliament.

Finally, I want to again thank the Minister, the Secretary of State, my Front-Bench colleagues, Members from across the House and our colleagues in the other place for committing so much time to this campaign. For the early part of the past eight years, I felt like a lone warrior, but I have welcomed the momentum and support from Members of both Houses that have built up around the campaign. That momentum cannot slow when the newly elected House returns in June. Fans deserve for us to campaign for them at every opportunity and to put them first. Let us all commit to continue to fight for them until this market is cleaned up, then our work will be done.

Digital Economy Bill: Consideration of Lords Amendments 26.04.17

Following her long campaign on the issue of ticket touting, Sharon spoke in the Digital Economy Bill: Consideration of Lord's Amendments debate on the need for the Government to accept...

Following concerns raised by parents, headteachers and school governors, Sharon secured a Westminster Hall debate on school funding in the North East and the Government's inaction to support schools in the region. 

Read the full debate on Hansard here

You can read Sharon's opening speech below. 

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)

I beg to move,

That this House has considered school funding in the north-east of England.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Betts. I am very pleased to have secured this important debate, albeit on the second last day that Parliament is sitting in this Session. I know the subject of the debate has made many of my constituents very concerned, as well as those of my fellow MPs from across the north-east who, I am pleased to say, are in attendance today in some numbers and those who unfortunately could not be here. They include my fellow Sunderland MPs, my hon. Friends the Members for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) and for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson). My right hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell), who has raised concerns with the Minister following a meeting he had with headteachers in his area, is also concerned about the effect on his constituency. He asked me to convey his apologies, as he really wanted to be here but had to be elsewhere.

I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop), who has done a lot of work over recent months to raise awareness of our collective concerns about the Government’s negligent approach to schools in our region. I have to add, Mr Betts, that he will be sorely missed when he steps down from this place next week, both by us, his regional colleagues, and, I know, his constituents. I am thrilled to see him in his place today.

Labour Members are passionate advocates for the education of children and young people. It is safe to say that “Education, education, education” is a mantra that we still believe in, yet sadly we have seen this Government ride roughshod over our education system and our local schools, by putting them in an unprecedented position. The Government have not only failed to support our schools; they have made cuts that are fundamentally detrimental to the very viability of some schools.

In my contribution this morning, I will set out why that approach to education is so damaging and why there must be an urgent rethink by Ministers. To do this, I will look at three areas: the national situation; how it is affecting schools in my constituency and the north-east; and, finally, how that approach to our education system is affecting the very nature of our schools, whose purpose is to educate our children and address societal issues, such as child poverty and social mobility.

Before I even get to the crux of why I called this debate, perhaps I can already predict what the Minister will say in response. He will probably say, as the Prime Minister said just a few weeks ago, that this Government have protected the schools budget. However, he knows as well as I do that that is not actually the case, because the real issue is the failure to recognise that our schools are facing real-terms cuts, not cash cuts. It is deeply disingenuous of the Government to say that they have protected school budgets. I suppose it is like the Government paying public sector workers the same as they paid them seven years ago and then saying that they have protected their salaries. Oh, hang on a minute—they have done that as well.

These real-terms cuts are mainly down to inflation, but also four other things: the increases in the cost of employers’ contribution to national insurance and pensions; the abolition of the education services grant to local authorities and academies, which has reduced funding by £600 million; the cost of annual pay awards to teachers, which is set to increase by 4.4% by 2020; and, finally, the impact that the apprenticeship levy will have on maintained schools that take on apprentices. Much of this would not be a problem if the Government were not overseeing static funding for our schools, whereby these real-terms cuts now range from between 6.5% and 8%.

On top of all this, there are growing concerns about what the new schools funding formula will do to schools’ budgets and to staff retention and the schools estate, which is in dire need of an uplift. We might easily come to the conclusion that what we are seeing is the complete mismanagement and neglect of our education system—a perfect storm, if you like.

Instead of coming to terms with those issues, we have seen this Government shove their heads in the sand and carry on regardless, ignoring what many in society—from MPs across the House to teachers and parents themselves—are calling for, which is support for our education system to ensure that our children succeed in life. As the Public Accounts Committee recently stated in its report on school cuts,

“the Government does not seem to understand the pressures that schools are already under.”

I completely agree with that, and I feel frustrated that Ministers are continually ignoring the concerns of a wide cross-section of society on this matter.

School leaders, who know their budgets the most, were surveyed by the National Association of Head Teachers, with 72% saying that their budgets will be untenable by 2019-20. That is not surprising when the National Audit Office has set out that the Department for Education expects schools to make £3 billion of savings a year by 2019-20. It is safe to say that this £3 billion cut—which is what it is, rather than a saving—as well as the funding pressures that schools face and the lack of action to support them through all these difficulties, is leading to headteachers having to make impossible decisions, some of which will ultimately impact negatively on pupils and their education, and all because of what the Minister is doing, or not doing, as the case may be.

This sorry state of affairs that our schools find themselves in is nothing to do with efficiencies; it is all about impoverishing our schools. Shamefully, this approach will hit children living in the poorest areas the most, such as in parts of my constituency and those of my fellow north-east MPs from across the House. We all have deprived communities in our constituencies. That means that more and more children will be held back in life, when we should be supporting them to achieve social mobility and to achieve their full potential.

As I stated at the beginning of my contribution, I know that this is an issue that many of my constituents and teachers in my constituency are concerned about. That is not surprising, when the total budget cuts by 2019 across the city of Sunderland are expected to be over £16 million, which means an average cut of £470 in per-pupil spend and a loss of 439 teachers across the borough of Sunderland.

In my constituency, the worst hit school is Rickleton Primary School, which will see a budget cut of nearly £150,000. That is well above the average cut for primary schools nationally, which is estimated at around £103,000, which is still a huge cut. The headteacher of Rickleton Primary School, Mr Lofthouse, set out clearly in an email to me, which I have sent on to the Secretary of State for Education, what those funding pressures will mean for his school, from potential staff redundancies to the impact on his pupils’ education, and it is not only Mr Lofthouse. Many other headteachers across Sunderland have expressed similarly grave concerns. Those concerns were reflected in a meeting I held in Sunderland recently with around 30 headteachers and school governors, who all agreed that our schools were at a crisis point. That led me to securing this debate today.

The worries of those headteachers and school governors are genuine and showed just how concerned they were for the education of the next generation. In all my 12 years as an MP, I have never been in such a meeting, with headteachers expressing concerns of such gravity. If the Minister had been at that meeting, he would have had his eyes truly opened to the extent of his actions and the gravity of the situation. One headteacher from Sunderland said that if they did not see any support from the Government for their school, it would mean losing five teachers, which would not be legal under the 30:1 pupil-to-teacher ratio. The true scale of this issue was described extremely well by another headteacher at the meeting, who said that balancing their budget had always been hard under successive Governments—they had always had to deal with cuts—but that these cuts will be impossible to achieve. She ended by saying:

“This can’t be done—no joke, not kidding or exaggerating”.

Following that meeting, a joint letter from headteachers in different parts of our region, some of which are represented by MPs who are here today, appealed to parents to make their voices heard by the Government regarding these plans. I for one am proud to stand with my local headteachers, school governors and parents who are deeply concerned about this issue and urge the Minister to rethink his disastrous plans, which will negatively affect the lives of children and young people not only in my constituency, but across the north-east and in other parts of England.

To help the Minister along, I will read an extract from that letter to parents. It will help him understand what is happening on the ground and the plight facing our schools right now. It is unprecedented for teachers from three boroughs to get together and write to parents in this way. The letter states:

“School leaders in our region have endeavoured to make every conceivable cut to our spending, but are now faced with reducing basic services still further, all to the disadvantage of your child.”

Teachers do not go into this profession to make life harder for children and to make cuts. They do it because they want to help transform the lives of all children, especially those who need extra support the most. What we are currently seeing is the exact opposite, and it is all due to this Government’s shocking failures. As someone who has campaigned during my 12 years as a Member of Parliament to improve the lives of children and young people, especially those living in poverty, I fail to see how the Government’s current actions with our education system will help to alleviate any issues of child poverty and disadvantage in our society.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)

I thank my hon. Friend for calling this debate and the critical point she is making about education in deprived communities and social mobility. The school I went to, Kenton Comprehensive School, has announced that it will cut 24 staff posts, including three teacher posts. The head says that she is making every effort to ensure that that does not impact on the learning experience, but does my hon. Friend agree that at a time when we need to enhance our skills, when the future of every child depends on the education they receive, and when social mobility and social equality are such an issue, it cannot be acceptable to cut education and staff in this way?

Mrs Hodgson

I totally agree. As my hon. Friend knows, education is a critical way of reducing poverty in society, as it equips children and young people with the knowledge and tools to get on in life, but the best schools also inspire them to go on and achieve their dreams. That is crucial in the north-east, where an estimated 132,000 children are living in entrenched generational poverty. That is why the cuts are deeply worrying to those of us representing seats in the north-east. The children we represent do not deserve that.

It is a well known fact that poverty impacts on the attainment of children in our society. That was clearly documented in 2015, when GCSE results were analysed. It showed that 36.7% of disadvantaged pupils received five A* to C grades, compared with 64.7% of all pupils. In this country, there is a strong correlation between parental social background and children’s test scores, particularly when compared with other developed countries, where it is less so. This is compounded by the fact that children in some of England’s most disadvantaged areas are 27 times more likely to go to an inadequate school than children living in the least deprived areas. That is why it is important that schools are used as a conduit to alleviate some of the issues that children in poverty face and to ensure that they get the best possible start in life.

Poverty is not inevitable. We do not need to see poverty in our society. What poverty tells us is that, due to a lack of political will, innovative thinking and a drive to act, we have failed as a society to address the social and economic issues that cause poverty. We have seen none of those things when it comes to school budget cuts. Instead we are seeing further social separation and division. That is seen quite plainly in the Government’s pet project, where they plan to pump millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into grammar schools and the rolling out of more free schools and academies, instead of supporting what parents and teachers are calling for, which is for their child’s current school to be funded properly. That was brought to light just today with the publication this morning of the Public Account Committee report. It called the Government’s free school policy “incoherent” and wasteful, with the Department for Education spending over the odds for schools and new free school places in areas where they were not needed, because there was not demand. Why can we not take some of this wasteful spending—the Public Account Committee is cross-party and it knows what it is talking about—and use it to mitigate the terrible funding cuts that our schools are facing?

In conclusion, for the sake of the children who live in my constituency, but also those of other MPs across the north-east, the Minister must rethink his and his Department’s approach to education without delay. Our education system should be funded fully and fairly, so that it can not only educate our children, but use its power to help improve our society. I hope the Minister will truly listen to this debate and take all our concerns into consideration, especially those of teachers and parents. Investing in education is investing in our children’s and Britain’s future. Those children in the classroom today are our future workforce. They will take our country on to greater things if we only give them the chance. Failing to support them now will be disastrous for our nation’s future and will only store up problems in later years for society as a whole. I hope the Minister understands the scale of what this all means and will go back to his officials following this debate and seriously reconsider his approach to funding our schools. Our children deserve no less.

North East School Funding Westminster Hall Debate 26.04.17

Following concerns raised by parents, headteachers and school governors, Sharon secured a Westminster Hall debate on school funding in the North East and the Government's inaction to support schools in...

As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for School Food, Sharon was invited to speak to LACA's East of England about her work on school food. In her speech, Sharon discussed both childhood obesity and hunger; which can be seen as two sides of the same coin; along with why school food is an important part of a wider package of policy measures to address these issues, and what more can be done to raise awareness of these issues and the working going on in schools to address both issues. 

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

Introduction

Thank you for that introduction, Lin.

I am honoured to be invited here today by your Regional Chair, Lin O’Brien, to talk about an issue which is very close to my heart: school food.

For many years, as the Chair of the School Food APPG, I have campaigned closely with LACA on our shared vision of seeing every child sitting down at lunchtime to a hot and healthy school meal.

I have been campaigning on school food for the best part of 10 years now; after seeing the standard of school food on offer in some of my local schools, but also what it could be like after I went on a delegation to Sweden and saw how they approached their school lunchtime.

This has included campaigning for universal free school meals, which we now have in the infant stage of school; breakfast clubs; healthier packed lunches, and also; child holiday hunger.

But I am certainly not the first politician, or hopefully the last, that will hold the mantle and champion food in our schools on the green benches of the House of Commons.

The first politician to raise school food in Parliament was back in 1906, when the Labour Member of Parliament for Bradford West, Fred Jowlett, used his maiden speech in the House of Commons to launch a campaign for school meals, that is not just that they should be free to the poor but that there should be provision in schools to start with.

This was after his work on Bradford’s School Board where he witnessed malnourished children falling behind their peers and he argued in his speech that with the introduction of compulsory education, it was down to the Government to provide children with the food necessary to sustain them throughout the day. So they could learn and benefit from the education on offer.

Jowlett’s noble intervention then led to the passing of the Provision of School Meal’s Act in 1906, which established a national strategy for local authorities to provide school meals for the very first time.

I would strongly urge you to go and read the debate, if you can. It is hard to believe that it was debated in 1906, not 2017, as the same arguments for and against are rehearsed and debated today.

It Is sad really that in some ways the case has still not been fully won over 111 years later.

Setting the scene – child health inequalities

The persistent issue of child malnutrition in our society is still as pertinent today in many ways as it was in 1906.

Obesity and hunger are the two manifestations of malnutrition, and we can see them, easily, as two sides of the same coin.

On one side of the coin, we are seeing the prevalence of obesity increasing in both reception and Year 6 that would have been unheard of in 1906.

This is then compounded by the fact that children living in the most deprived areas at both the start of primary school and at the end of primary school are more than twice as likely to be obese than their peers from more affluent backgrounds.

This is all being fed by the fact that children are consuming more sugar and fat than ever before, with little or no healthy food included in their diet. This has been supported today by Public Health England with the announcement of their voluntary guidance for sugar reduction and limits.

According to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, less than one in ten 11 – 18 year olds get their 5-a-day, and also this survey revealed that children’s sugar intake remains at more than the double the latest government recommendation of no more than 5% of daily energy from free sugars.

Even according to the State of the Nation report by the Children’s Food Trust, they found that one in five parents say their children are eating fast food and ice cream once a week.

This is backed up by research by Cancer Research UK which found that UK consumers eat around 100 million ready meals and takeaways each week – with many of them consumed by children.

Not only does obesity have serious ramifications on the health of our children; with an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and bowel cancer, but also it negatively impacts educational attainment, leads to lower self-esteem and negative body image.

Then on the other side of the coin we have hungry children, going to bed hungry, going to school hungry and barely eating at all in the school holidays. For these children, their free school meals, that Fred Jowlett fought so hard for, is their main source of nutrition in their lives.

It seems jarring to think that here in the UK when we talk about a burgeoning obesity crisis that we also have an issue with hunger as well.

But, sadly, we do.

According to the Department for Work and Pension’s own statistics, there were 3.9 million children living in poverty in 2014-15.

And in the same year, the Trussell Trust, reported that the number of people provided with 3-day emergency food parcels reached just over 1 million.

If we were to account for people receiving a food parcel more than once, it would be estimated around 500,000 different people in the UK received food assistance that year – and almost half would be thought to be children.

A report by Kelloggs a few years ago, also showed the scale of the problem we face, when a third of parents reported that they skipped a meal so their children did not go hungry.

This issue is exacerbated during the school holidays, especially the summer holidays, as teachers and catering staff have anecdotally reported that children return from the long summer holidays looking malnourished and having fallen behind their peers in terms of their attainment; only to improve and catch up again after a few weeks of access to free breakfasts and lunches to help aid their learning.

Yet, sadly, many people will argue that when the school gates lock for the school holidays, it is none of our business about how a child eats, or doesn’t’ in some cases, when they are at home.

But our children are at school for 190 days of the year, and for the rest of the year, a total of 170 days, their food is the responsibility of their parents totally. Some may say this is right and how it should be.

We all know that food helps us concentrate and basically it is our fuel and stops us from fainting, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to focus on anything other than how hungry we are; so why is this not seen to be the same for children?

In 21st century Britain children are going hungry for sustained periods of time, that is why inaction and complacency cannot be accepted.

Why is school food important?

Healthy school food is crucial to our approach to childhood obesity and hunger.

Though it must be said: healthy school food is not a silver bullet that will fix everything.

But it should be included as part of a whole array of policy measures to help address health and educational issues facing our society.

Yet, I do believe it can go a long way to address these issues and be complementary to other policy measures being looked at in order to address this crisis.

Back in 2009 when the last Labour Government introduced the universal free school meal pilots in Durham and Newham the analysis was steadfast in showing the benefits of this policy measure.

In both Durham and Newham, they found an uptake of 23% in vegetable consumption at lunchtime with a steep decline in the typical unhealthy packed lunch foods.

For example, there was a 16% decline in soft drink consumption and an 18% decline in crisps being eaten.

Whilst these pilots and the future roll-out were sadly scrapped by the incoming Tory-led Coalition Government, we have thankfully seen improvements in the provision on offer when it comes to school food – especially through the School Food Plan.

The School Food Plan helped to revolutionise the way we look at food in our schools, but also provided school cooks and catering staff – just like all of you – with the support and capacity to do what you all knew to be the case in the first place: improving food on offer in order to help children’s health and educational attainment.  

This is because all of us in this room right now can agree that the school setting is one of the most important vehicles for providing children with the necessary interventions to improve their life chances.

It is where we nurture and educate the future generations; so why shouldn’t we give them the right kind of fuel to achieve that?

There is still a long way to go when it comes to the School Food Plan and ensuring it is implemented correctly, and I know that Sally Shadrack is committed to doing this as the Chair of LACA and so is the rest of the School Food Plan Alliance – who are acting as the guardians of the principles and recommendations of the School Food Plan to make sure it is achieved in full.

The reason this is so important is that, as I’ve already said, for many children, their hot and healthy school meal may be the only nutritious meal they have in a day.

That is why it is imperative we do all we can to make that meal the most enjoyable and healthiest meal we can provide.

Sadly, there are still many children who do not receive free school meals – mainly because they are just over the threshold for receiving them and instead have packed lunches – the majority, 99% of which, have been shown to be lacking in nutritional value – or because their parents feel they are too ashamed to accept free school meals and want to avoid the stigma that comes with free school meals.

This is why I am evangelical about universal free school meals; not only because of the health benefits I have already described to you, but also the social and behavioural impact it can provide as well, especially in reducing the stigma that is associated with those on free school meals.

But it is important that we ensure the UIFSM policy is fully evaluated to ensure it is robust and achieves what we want it to. As the saying goes: what gets measured, gets done. That is why I’m pleased that LACA is conducting their own evaluation of UIFSM and I look forward to hearing the results in due course.

That is why it was welcome, in what was already a much reduced Childhood Obesity Plan, to see that the Government plans to commission Ofsted to look at school food as part of a wider thematic review into health and well-being in our schools.

We’re still awaiting the details of this – though I can assure you I am on the case, and keeping a close eye on what the Government are doing when it comes to this matter.

This is because it is something, we as the APPG, have been calling for over a number of years now and I hope that it provides us with the information we need to continue to raise our banners and advance our campaign for improved school food and better access to it.

What can we all do together?

Whenever I come to speak at LACA Conferences, I always have an ask of you all.

My request is the same every time and that is to write to your local Member of Parliament and let them know about the work you have been doing to improve food in your school and ask them to support measures that will benefit children’s health and education.

Even invite them along to your school to see the situation first-hand – I can assure you politicians love a good photo opportunity! And free food!

Remember, as the School Food Plan outlined, the school catering workforce is bigger than the navy – and the Government must listen to you.

You may not see yourselves as natural campaigners – but your voices should – and must – be heard.

As individuals, with experience on the ground of what is going on, and as a collective that is bigger than the navy – your influence and campaign capacity is endless.

That is why it is important that you harness it. I know that the leadership of LACA under the direction of your fabulous Chair, Sally, is already doing this, but you have to all get behind her and speak to your MPs and make them aware of all the hard work you are doing and what the issues are that we need them to get behind.

As a Member of Parliament myself, having a constituent highlight an issue to me is always important – especially when this happens on mass – so get your friends, family, work colleagues, neighbours to write in as well.

It has been over 110 years since Fred Jowlett introduced his law to begin the long march to improve food in our schools and we have a long way to go yet.

We’re the current custodians of this important issue and we must do what is right by the children in our schools today but also the children that will come after them.

If not, we will fail a generation and see the century-long march falter.

We cannot allow that to happen. The health and education of our children is far too precious to be passive about.

Our campaigning can ensure the next generation reach their full potential.

And I know that’s what we all want to see.

Thank you. 

LACA East of England Conference 31.03.17

As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for School Food, Sharon was invited to speak to LACA's East of England about her work on school food. In her speech, Sharon...

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on HIV Treatment and raised concerns with the ramifications of the Health and Social Care Act on local HIV services, along with concerns over public health budget cuts and issues with PrEP. 

You can read the speech here: Sharon Hodgson MP HIV Treatment Westminster Hall Debate 28.02.17

Speech below:

3.32 pm

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I thank the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) for his excellent chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group on HIV and AIDS, for securing this important debate and for his comprehensive opening speech. It was a tour de force.

I also thank the other hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. I thank the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) and my hon. Friends the Members for Hove (Peter Kyle) and for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) for their excellent and knowledgeable speeches and interventions. They will all have given the Minister much to think about.

We have come a long way since the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, but that does not mean that we should be complacent in our approach to the disease now. Across the UK, an estimated 101,200 people were living with HIV by the end of 2015; 87% of them had a diagnosis, and 96% of those diagnosed were accessing treatment. Although they are a minority of people in the wider population, they are a significant minority that we cannot let down when it comes to their care and treatment.

The number of people receiving HIV care in 2015 in England was just over 81,000. That is a 73% increase in the number of people accessing HIV care since 2006. In part, that is welcome, as it means that more people are accessing care that can improve their lives, but it also provides us with reasons to ensure the future quality of care provided, and that is the crux of why we are here today to debate this issue.

As the APPG highlighted, it is understood that since the passing and implementation of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, there have been growing complications with the commissioning and provision of HIV services across the healthcare system. In the rest of my contribution, I will touch on the Health and Social Care Act’s impact on HIV services, but I will also expand into other areas, such as the cuts to public health budgets and the worrying trend of decommissioning of HIV services, and finally I will touch on issues regarding PrEP.

Since the passing of the Health and Social Care Act, there has been a significant fragmentation of our NHS and wider health services. During the passage of the Act, Opposition Members felt that it was an unnecessary top-down reorganisation. The case of HIV services proves exactly how that fragmentation is causing consequences for the future of vital services. The creation of CCGs and the devolution of public health to local authorities have fragmented HIV services across various bodies, with no coherent commissioning and oversight. Currently, services are failing to maintain the standard that patients expect. That is down to commissioning responsibility not being clearly defined under the Health and Social Care Act. Although the coalition Government argued that the Act would ensure the streamlining of services, the opposite has clearly been the case for HIV services.

I therefore want to push the Minister on what she is doing to look into the APPG’s recommendations, especially about joint commissioning for support services by NHS England and CCGs, along with co-commissioning of HIV and sexual health services by local authorities and ​NHS England. Another issue that the Minister must look at—I raise this repeatedly with her—is public health funding. The cuts to services further exacerbate the problems that HIV services face because of commissioning responsibilities being unclear, which is pushing services to walk away from their responsibilities.

I know that the Minister will reference the funding going into regular HIV testing and the promotion of safe sex, along with the HIV innovation fund, but the impact on funding cannot be ignored. Last week, the National AIDS Trust published a report showing that in England, there has been a 28% decrease in the expenditure between 2015-16 and 2016-17. That is on top of the cuts to HIV support services, or decommissioning of said services, in Lambeth, Southwark, Oxfordshire, Portsmouth and Bexley. Although public health budgets are only one part of the funding streams for HIV support, treatment and care, they are nevertheless an important part of the pathway, as cuts to sexual health services more broadly are detrimental to HIV care. The £200 million in-year cut and 3.9% cut year on year will only have a negative impact on the future of all sexual health services, including those for HIV. The Minister must seriously address that false economy, or risk seeing a public health crisis that could easily have been avoided.

Thangam Debbonaire

I thank my hon. Friend for the excellent speech that she is making. I want to add my support for what she has just said, and perhaps go a bit further. Does she agree that the Minister needs to address the fact that the failure to address preventive services will only store up costs and problems further down the line, and that when there are cuts to public health grants, those services need to be ring-fenced or protected in some other way so that we are not storing up problems for the future?

Mrs Hodgson

I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention. I agree with her absolutely. The whole point of preventive services—HIV and sexual health services are preventive—is to save money, and lives, further down the line. We regularly debate preventive measures for other health issues with the Minister in this Chamber.

There is still a question mark over the future of HIV services, not only because of the cuts that we are seeing now, but because the future of public health budgets after 2018 is not guaranteed. There are also issues with the devolution to local authorities of business rates, which will be used to fund public health spending. The Government have still not published details of how they aim to ensure that public health will continue to be prioritised when that comes into effect. I hope that the Minister will be able to offer clarity today

PrEP is a highly effective way of protecting someone who does not have HIV from contracting it. As the UK PROUD study showed, it was 86% effective in preventing HIV transmission and, if taken correctly, it has closer to a 100% success rate. That is why it is important that this drug treatment is supported as much as possible. While the announcement on the feasibility study is welcome, questions remain that the Minister must answer. Nearly four months since the trial was announced, we are still none the wiser as to when it will begin, other than that it will begin early in the 2017-18 financial year. I welcome that in her letter to the APPG yesterday the Minister ​said that the trial would begin in the summer, but I hope she will offer further clarity on when we will know more. There remains an issue with the drug Truvada, which is used in PrEP. For the trial to reach the 10,000 people that it plans to, a generic version of Truvada will need to be used. I am interested to know what conversations the Minister has had with Gilead, and how co-operative it has been to ensure the success of the trial.

Finally, I want to ask the Minister about the concerns that many PROUD participants will run out of their supply of PrEP this week, and that between 350 and 4,000 individuals at the highest risk of HIV will run out of supplies. That is a matter of urgency, and the Minister must address it as a matter of priority. We cannot allow the people who take this drug treatment to be put at risk. Therefore, I hope the Minister will go away today and look at the matter immediately.

These issues are highly important to many people who live with HIV or within those communities where infection rates are more common than in others, as we heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Hove and for Bristol West. I was shocked and surprised to hear that there is four times the normal rate of those people in the community of my hon. Friend the Member for Hove. I am well aware why he is here today to speak for his constituents.

The Government’s mismanaged approach to the NHS’s structures and to wider health services is seeing services fall through the gaps and people’s lives affected, which is exacerbated by short-sighted cuts. It is important that we recognise the work that has already gone into addressing HIV in our society, but accept that we still have a long way to go. We cannot squander these opportunities, as we could see yet another public health crisis due to complacency and failure to step up and address this issue. I hope the Minister has listened carefully to all the contributions to the debate and the seriousness of it, and will go away and do the right thing by the tens of thousands of people living with HIV or at those risk of contracting it, and support them. They should not be let down.

HIV Treatment Westminster Hall Debate 29.03.17

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on HIV Treatment and raised concerns with the ramifications of the Health and Social Care Act on local HIV...

In her capacity as Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on the UK's Rare Diseases Strategy and the need for an implementation plan to be drafted - which at the time of the debate, was being refused by both the Department of Health and NHS England. Sharon raised concerns that this deadlock between the two was having an impact on the lives of patients with rare diseases and their care, support and treatment, but also the need for specific recommendations in the Strategy to be worked on. 

You can read Sharon's speech here: Sharon Hodgson MP Rare Diseases Strategy Westminster Hall Debate 28.03.17

Speech pasted below:

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Pritchard.

I welcome this important debate and I thank the hon. Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) for securing it and for his excellent introduction to it, although I am sorry that I missed the start of his speech because it started four minutes early before my hon. Friends and I were in our places.

I also thank other hon. Members for their contributions this afternoon, including the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), the spokesman for the Scottish National party, who all made excellent and insightful speeches.

As others have said, here in the UK one in 17 people will be affected by a rare disease at some point in their life, which equates to approximately 3.5 million people in the UK. It cannot go unsaid that those 3.5 million people have a wide range of symptoms, which vary from condition to condition, some of which we have heard about this afternoon. It is clear that there are common experiences that people with these conditions all share. As Rare Diseases UK has estimated that it takes on average four years for a patient to receive a diagnosis, it is clear that there are many missed opportunities to help those people living with rare diseases. Each and every person who suffers from a rare disease deserves the necessary support to live a fulfilling life.

That is why it was welcome that in 2013 the coalition Government published their UK-wide strategy for rare diseases, which was seen as heralding a new era in the treatment and care of rare disease patients across all four home nations. The 51 recommendations are all to be welcomed, as they each take us a step further in addressing concerns about the care and treatment of rare diseases, and the strategy’s aim is to make sure that no one gets left behind just because they have a rare disease. It is an aim that Labour welcomes wholeheartedly.​

Most of my contribution to this debate will focus on the issues with the implementation of the strategy, but I will take a moment to mention some of the positives. It is welcome to see that the National Institute for Health Research has launched the Rare Diseases Translational Research Collaboration—I will use the acronym, RD-TRC, as it is much easier to say—which aims to empower patients to engage and become involved with research and research funding decisions. To date, the NIHR has invested £4 million in the RD-TRC, and the programme is expected to continue for another five years, with a £5 million investment.

Work has also been done by Public Health England on data recording, to bolster diagnosis and early intervention, and we have also seen Health Education England collaborate with the National School of Healthcare Science to produce two educational videos for healthcare professionals, in order to raise awareness of the problems faced by families who have a child with an undiagnosed condition and the importance of considering whether it is a rare disease. All this work is to be welcomed and should not go unnoticed.

Yet the sticking point in all of this, and the reason why we are here today to debate this issue, is that the Government are digging their heels in and not getting on with drafting an implementation plan, while the other home nations’ health departments are making significant strides. That betrays not only those patients living in England who wish this strategy to be properly implemented but the strategy itself, which stated that all four home nations must see the vision behind the strategy become a reality by 2020. It also undermines all the excellent work that I mentioned previously to implement the recommendations.

The strategy was published in 2013 and we are now just three years from the date set for the vision to be realised. However, the all-party group that the hon. Member for Bath so ably chairs has discovered that the Department of Health does not intend to publish an implementation plan, believing that it should be published by the NHS. Yet the NHS has said that it does not intend to do this either, as it does not have responsibility for other arm’s length bodies of the Department of Health. I want to ask the Minister why. I want to know why we are seeing patients and their families caught in this dispute between the NHS and the Department of Health. This situation cannot continue; there are people suffering right now who need this strategy to be implemented correctly.

I have briefly mentioned the report by the all-party group on rare, genetic and undiagnosed conditions on the lack of an implementation plan, but I know that it covers other issues as well, and I will take a moment to touch on some of them. One of the main issues raised was the lack of communication between organisations responsible for implementing the various aspects of the plan, and the failure to provide patients, families, doctors, industry experts and patient organisations with updates on progress of the strategy. That is deeply worrying, as it is important that people are made aware of the issues that affect them so personally. Therefore, it is not surprising that the all-party group heard from more than 300 patients that widespread disillusionment and disappointment had become the common feeling about the strategy, despite the optimism felt when it was published five years ago. The sting in the tail is that there are ​implementation plans for the strategy across the UK, with the exception of here in England. I share the frustration of the many others who are affected by the Government’s complacency. The Department’s rationale for not providing updates on progress is that patient organisations can disseminate information to patients and families, but it sadly fails to grasp that those organisations and charities are often very small and do not have the resources to pull together updates and send them out.

Also, issues that have not been worked on since the strategy was published have been identified, including prevention and identification of rare diseases, improving care pathways and failing to implement structures that would facilitate collaboration between the four home nations. In his response, I would be grateful if the Minister could provide us with an update on those points and tell us what his Department plans to do to see the recommendations through.

The strategy is now five years old, and although there has been work to see it realised, it has not gone far enough. The failure here is that the Department for Health in England is not fulfilling its duty to draft an implementation plan to realise the visionary goals in the strategy, which undermines the work already under way and hinders any future work. The Minister must set that right, and I hope he plans to do so today. He has the power to rectify the situation and he cannot be complacent when it comes to supporting people living with rare diseases.

We are not talking about a handful of people; many of our own constituents are being failed by the Government, and all they ask for is that the Department for Health do what Departments in the other home nations are doing and provide an implementation plan to enable the strategy to be fully realised and make the impact it was intended to have. I once more thank the hon. Member for Bath. I hope that the debate will make the Minister think again about the Government’s opposition to taking responsibility for a plan, and that he will honour the whole vision of the strategy, instead of cherry-picking from it.

Rare Diseases Strategy Westminster Hall Debate 28.03.17

In her capacity as Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on the UK's Rare Diseases Strategy and the need for an implementation plan to be drafted...

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke during a secondary legislation committee on the approval of the Draft Draft Local Authorities (Public Health Functions and Entry to Premises by Local Healthwatch Representatives) (amendment) Regulations 2017. These regulations allow for the continued mandation for health visitors to undertake universal health visitor reviews. Whilst they were not opposed, Sharon did raise concerns about the watering down of who can do health visitor reviews and pressed the Government to keep an eye on this concern raised by health visitors themselves. 

You can read Sharon's speech here: Sharon Hodgson Draft Local Authorities (Public Health Functions and Entry to Premises by Local Healthwatch Representatives) (amendment) Regulations 2017

Speech pasted below:

6.06 pm

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. The Opposition are pleased that the Government have finally brought these regulations before us, especially with the end-date for the mandation of health visitor reviews being so close—it will be in five days’ time, to be exact. I welcome a lot of what the Minister said.

The regulations are welcome as they continue the mandation of health visitor reviews, which are an important part of an early intervention strategy. We will therefore not seek to divide the Committee. However, I have concerns about health visiting and what the regulations will do that I wish to raise with the Minister and on which I seek reassurance.

This year marks 155 years since the start of health visiting, which has had a range of different guises over the years, in 1862. It is important that we protect this long and proud career and give it the support it deserves. It is therefore concerning to see in the provision relating ​to regulation 5B of the principal regulations a potential watering down of who can do universal health visitor reviews, allowing other qualified health professionals to conduct reviews instead of health visitors. That is concerning when there is anecdotal evidence that health visitors are being told to delegate to other professionals, but are doing so only because they are so overstretched and busy with their huge workloads. That does not mean other health professionals cannot be complementary to the reviews, but the core reviews must be done by health visitors, because they are the specialists and it is their job to do it after being trained to undertake that role.

A health visitor’s role should not be diminished. I hope the Minister agrees and will assure me that she will closely monitor that issue, as I certainly will, to ensure that health visiting is not a diminished profession and that we do not see a reduction in the quality of health visitor reviews. I look forward to her response.

Draft Local Authorities (Public Health Functions and Entry to Premises by Local Healthwatch Representatives) (amendment) Regulations 2017 27.03.17

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke during a secondary legislation committee on the approval of the Draft Draft Local Authorities (Public Health Functions and Entry to Premises by Local...

A week after International Women's Day and over a week away from Mother's Day, Sharon secured a debate on the effects of Maternity Discrimination, and raised issues with this form of discrimination's impact on society and our economy, along with the work of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and the Women and Equalities Select Committee, and what more the Government should be doing to tackle this discrimination in the workplace. 

You can read Sharon's speech here in Hansard: Sharon Hodgson MP Effects of Maternity Discrimination Westminster Hall Debate 15.03.17

Speech pasted below:

9.30 am

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the effect of maternity discrimination.

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I am very pleased to have secured this debate on an important topic for many women and a key campaigning area for the Labour party: maternity discrimination. I thank all hon. Members who have turned out this morning to contribute to it.

Maternity discrimination is an issue that cannot be ignored. It is only right that action be taken to ensure that this persistent issue in our society is ended once and for all. It is a welcome point of reflection for us all that this debate comes exactly a week after we celebrated International Women’s Day and just over a week before mothers’ day. I felt it was important to secure the debate between those two dates, to press the Government to do more, but also to raise awareness of the many women beyond these walls who are met with blatant and unnecessary discrimination.

Many people—some of whom may even be in this Chamber today, although I hope not—think that maternity discrimination is not a concern that we should focus on, possibly because it does not feature on their radar at all. But it is real, it is happening and it is becoming ever present in our society. Action is needed. That is clearly documented in the Women and Equalities Committee report from last August, which highlighted the fact that pregnant women and mothers are now reporting more discrimination and worse treatment in the workplace than 10 years ago. By some estimates, that discrimination is double what it used to be. According to the Government’s own figures, one in nine women—54,000 in total—are forced out of their jobs each year because of being a mother or becoming pregnant. If that statistic applied to the women elected to this place, it would mean 21 of our fellow female MPs being forced out of this House. If that happened, we would be up in arms and raising merry hell on the Floor of the House. Well, if it is not acceptable for women in this place, it is not acceptable for women in any workplace.

A hundred years ago, women got the vote for the very first time, as part of a campaign to see women become part of public life so that they did not have to abide by the whim of a man and could be fully integrated into society, taking their rightful place as both actors and influencers in how our country should look and act. However, a century on, women still face many hurdles, and all because of their gender.​

I will touch on three key themes in my speech. First, I want to set the scene by expanding on the ramifications, both economic and social, of maternity discrimination in our society. I will then move on to the work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Women and Equalities Committee. Finally, I will look at what the Government are doing—or not doing—to end maternity discrimination.

As I said, this place would be a lot worse off if the statistics on maternity discrimination were replicated in this, the mother of Parliaments. However, maternity discrimination has a far broader impact on our society than some may first expect. The financial costs identified affect not only society, but businesses, the Government and the women themselves. A report last year by the EHRC found:

“The cost to employers of women being forced to leave their job as a result of…discrimination…was estimated to be around £278.8 million over the course of a year.”

Much of that cost was incurred owing to recruitment and training to replace the woman who was forced out of her job, lost productivity from being down a member of staff and statutory maternity payments if the woman was on leave when she left work. For the Government, maternity discrimination means not only lost tax revenue from women not working, but increased benefit payments when they seek support because they have been forced out of work. The cost to the Government is between £14 million and £16.7 million a year.

The financial losses that women themselves face have been estimated to range from between £28.9 million and £34.2 million. Some 20% of women reported significant financial losses as a result of failing to get a promotion, receiving lower pay increases or bonuses than they would have secured were they not pregnant, or even demotion for becoming pregnant. Pregnancy and children are costly—there is no doubt about it—but the costs incurred by women are unjust, unfair and discriminatory. The gift of pregnancy should never be a cost to a women’s potential or her economic worth.

It is not only the economic costs of women being forced out of the workplace or facing discrimination for becoming pregnant that are a problem, but the social and equality issues that arise. Women’s position in society has come on in leaps and bounds from the time when they were not able to vote, could not work once they were married, had to stay at home or had to defer to a man for every major decision made in their life—as late as the 1970s, women had to have a male guarantor for a mortgage. However, the specific issue of maternity discrimination highlights the fact that the position of women in our society is still tentative. There is still a long way to go.

Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate and on her excellent speech. Does she agree that such discrimination also happens later on in life? We should recognise that women also face discrimination during the menopause. That point was very well made to me on Saturday by the Wales TUC women’s committee, which is doing a survey on that very subject.

Mrs Hodgson 

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that period in women’s lives. I will not be able to touch on it in my speech, but it is very important. There is a real lack of knowledge about what women have to go through during the menopause. I am probably not long off that period myself. People have no idea what women may have to go through, but we hear all the horror stories. A little understanding from employers would make all the difference. I know that I would probably be a better employer after I have gone through it; unfortunately, men do not have that luxury, so they rely upon us to tell them. That is definitely an important aspect of the matter, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising it.

Some may argue otherwise, but for me and many other women—especially on this side of the House, but across the House, too—equality is a cause worth fighting for, because it creates not only a fairer society, but a stronger and more resilient one. Maternity discrimination holds us back from achieving that goal of an equal society. We need renewed vigour to tackle the problem, so that we can fully realise our country’s potential, with everyone having a fair chance in life and not having to face discrimination for being who they are. It was therefore welcome that this time last year the EHRC and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills published their findings on the prevalence and nature of maternity discrimination in our society, so that we could fully understand the scale of the problem, which was indeed damning. The research showed that, of the women surveyed,

“77%...had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy; maternity leave; and on their return from maternity leave.”

Such experiences included facing harassment or negative comments related to their pregnancy, struggling to secure flexible working from their employer to manage the demands of pregnancy and subsequent childcare, or, for 9% of women, feeling that they had to leave their job because they were being treated poorly or unfairly.

What women are documented as facing because of pregnancy and impending motherhood is worrying and deeply shocking. Even case studies from Maternity Action’s helpline have documented these shameful occurrences. One woman became so stressed with her working environment, where she was being singled out by her manager and treated appallingly, that she was signed off sick with stress before her maternity leave had even begun. As we all know, when someone is pregnant, stress is the last thing she needs. She is told to have a calm and radiant time, which was hardly the case for that mother. It goes without saying that no woman should face such hurdles in life or feel pressured into choosing between having children or having a career that progresses at the same rate as the careers of their male counterparts.

Following the forensic light shone on the issue by the EHRC, the Women and Equalities Committee, under the excellent leadership of the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), who I am thrilled to see in the Chamber today—I look forward to her contribution —undertook to investigate maternity discrimination further. In August last year, that inquiry produced some excellent recommendations for the Government to look at and act upon. Sadly, however, it took until January of this year for the Government to respond to the inquiry’s findings.​

Included in the recommendations in the Select Committee’s report were further calls for action around the health and safety of pregnant women in the workplace, such as placing a duty on employers to conduct an individual risk assessment for new and expectant mothers, all the way to identifying issues around casual, agency and zero-hours workers, who do not have the same pregnancy and maternity entitlements as women classed as employees.

Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) (Lab)

In an economy that increasingly relies on temporary contracts, more and more women are unable to access any kind of statutory maternity leave, because they have no right to it. That is because they are classed as workers rather than employees. Does my hon. Friend agree that much more needs to be done to provide those women with better access to maternity rights?

Mrs Hodgson

I totally agree. On the issue of workers and employees, there is clearly a need to tidy up the law so that women who work in these areas of the labour market are protected and guaranteed the same rights as those women who are classed as employees, so I am very pleased that my hon. Friend has raised that issue. Indeed, Maternity Action has pushed for action on it and recently made a submission to the Matthew Taylor review, which aims to look at working practices in the modern economy, and to the Select Committee on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy inquiry, “Future World of Work”. I hope that the Minister will be able to shed some light on progress on this issue.

It is safe to say that when the Government eventually responded to the Women and Equalities Committee report, the response was far from pleasing. Although the Government’s commitment to zero tolerance of discrimination against expectant or new mothers in the workplace is to be welcomed, as is the announcement of a consultation on protecting pregnant women against redundancy, sadly the wider response failed to see words leading to action. The Government’s response can easily be seen as a mixture of defending the unacceptable status quo and kicking the issue into the long grass, as if it was something that should be thought about on another day. The Government are failing to realise that this is happening right now.

I am not just making a party political point. The likes of Maternity Action have analysed the Government’s response and reaction to each of the recommendations and have come to the same conclusion: that the Government see this as an issue for another day. I have a lot of time and respect for the Minister who is responding to this debate—she knows that—but I find the Government’s response disappointing to say the least. That is why I hope she can offer me some reassurances when she responds to this debate.

I would like the Minister to consider two things ahead of her response. First, when will we see the details of the consultation on protecting pregnant women from redundancy? Two months on from the Government’s commitment to consult on this issue, we are yet to see publication of the scale or time frame. I hope that information will be forthcoming following this debate, and sooner rather than later. Even better, the Minister could announce further details in her speech today.​

My second ask is that the Government take another look at the excellent recommendations in the Select Committee’s report and heed the words of the right hon. Member for Basingstoke, who said that the Government’s response was

“a missed opportunity for the Government to demonstrate the urgency and bite on this issue that we found lacking”.

I could not have put it better myself. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will commit to re-evaluating the Government’s response to the Select Committee report and their own wider actions when it comes to maternity discrimination.

To conclude, we have come a long way in the march for women’s equality. I know that this point will not be lost on the Minister, but it bears reiterating: as the current standard bearers, we in this House have a duty to uphold the work done by the women who came before us. Failing to end maternity discrimination would betray our crusading predecessors, who campaigned to improve the position of women in society. As women here today, we have the power to make the changes possible for women who face discrimination in the workplace for being pregnant or being a new mother. However, we must also stand up for the women who will come after those facing these challenges now, and ensure that in the future no woman faces discrimination in the workplace for doing what is only natural—having a child.

I hope that the Minister will heed this call to arms and take it back to her officials, knowing that we in this House and many more women beyond this Chamber are willing her on to make the changes needed and improve the standing of women in the workplace. She alone has the power to do that. I hope she realises that and does not squander this incredible position she has to enact change.

Effects of Maternity Discrimination Westminster Hall Debate 15.03.17

A week after International Women's Day and over a week away from Mother's Day, Sharon secured a debate on the effects of Maternity Discrimination, and raised issues with this form...

As part of the Budget Resolution Debates following the Chancellor's 2017 Budget, Sharon spoke in the debate allotted to discussing education and skills. In her speech, Sharon discussed issues around Nissan, the wider manufacturing sector and the need to boost skills as part of the process of leaving the EU; with one example through the creation of a Materials Catapult.

You can read Sharon's speech here in Hansard: Sharon Hodgson MP Budget Resolutions Debate: Education and Skills 14.03.17

Speech pasted below:

5.32 pm

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)

I want to focus on the need to boost skills and jobs in our country, especially in manufacturing, following last week’s Budget. That is especially pertinent as we begin the process of leaving the EU.

It is unsurprising that, in a constituency-wide Brexit listening exercise I conducted, Nissan, which is based in my constituency, dominated, especially in terms of trade, investment, jobs and skills. Last week’s Budget was the perfect opportunity for the Chancellor to lay the foundations for strong economic growth that is resilient to any storms we may weather during the EU negotiations, but, sadly, we were left wanting. The announcements we did get on skills did not go far enough, and they must be placed in the context of the Government’s wider approach to education and skills.

Since 2010, we have seen the further education budget cut by 14% in real terms. That is a cash reduction from £3.18 billion in 2010-11 to £2.94 billion in 2015-16. That is compounded by the fact that the non-apprenticeship adult skills budget has been depleted by 54%. However, that negligent approach by the Government has not scuppered the innovative work by great employers in my constituency. Only last Friday, I was honoured to open Unipres’s new training academy, which will help to boost the skills of our local workforce by offering much-needed apprenticeship opportunities in engineering and manufacturing. It goes without saying that manufacturing is symbiotic with the north-east. We are the country’s makers and builders—I am pleased that Stoke colleagues are not here to shout me down—due in part to the innate talents of the people in our region and the skills we inherently have within us to manufacture with high quality and high productivity.

I like to call my constituency the manufacturing hub of our region, perhaps the country, with the likes of Nissan, BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Unipres, Rayovac and Gestamp, to name but a few, all based there. The manufacturing presence in our region will only be strengthened with the creation of the IAMP—International Advanced Manufacturing Park—which will be based not only in my constituency but that of my neighbour, ​my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr Hepburn). However, the success of the IAMP and manufacturers in my constituency—from the large, some of which I have mentioned, right down to small and medium-sized enterprises such as AdFab Ltd, Washington Components, and PFF Packaging—depend on the Government strengthening their approach to skills and jobs. This is especially important with Brexit on the horizon.

There is one way in which Ministers could easily help to bolster our manufacturing, not only in the north-east, but across the country—through catapults. I am not talking about the ancient war machines but instead “a network of world-leading centres designed to transform the UK’s capability for innovation in specific areas and help drive future economic growth.”

A number of catapults have been started across the country, yet there seem to be none for materials. This means there is no support for the innovation and development of materials such as steel, ceramics, glass and plastics, all of which are crucial to the dominant industry in Sunderland—the automotive sector. If we were to see a catapult for materials like the industry-supported proposal by the Materials Processing Institute in Redcar that received cross-party endorsement in January from the all-party parliamentary group on steel, this could have a positive impact on the whole of the manufacturing industry. However, it would especially help the Nissan supply chain, which Nissan has said needs re-powering.

Anna Turley

I appreciate my hon. Friend mentioning the fantastic institute in my constituency. Does she share my concern at a story on WalesOnline last week saying that Swansea is predicted to receive £80 million for a steel science centre that would almost directly duplicate the work that is happening at the MPI in Redcar and could then impact on the Nissan supply chain that she mentions?

Mrs Hodgson

I do not want to take anything away from Wales, especially with colleagues from Wales in the Chamber, but duplication does not make any sense, especially when there is so little funding around, and we definitely do not want to take any support away from Nissan. I am pleased that my hon. Friend made that point.

Currently, only a minority of parts used to build a Nissan car are made here in the UK, through a 38,000-strong supply chain workforce across the UK, with 27,000 of those jobs based in the north-east.

Graham Evans

What an exciting constituency the hon. Lady represents! My understanding is that one of the reasons Nissan decided to stay in her constituency is the cluster of battery technology companies. Is that true?

Mrs Hodgson

Yes—I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman makes that point. Electric battery technology is going from strength to strength. I was very pleased to see that there was an announcement on electric vehicles and battery technology in the Budget.

However, we see a predicament looming on the horizon as we begin to leave the EU—WTO tariffs. Ministers have given countless reassurances that we will strike a deal with the EU that does not mean we have to fall back on the 10% WTO tariffs. Yet only this weekend ​this was blown out of the water when a leaked document showed the Prime Minister’s willingness to fall back on those terms, regardless of the economic impact they may have. That was then reiterated by the Foreign Secretary on TV, also over the weekend. This would be catastrophic not only for the country but for my constituency and the businesses there. In the case of Nissan, falling back on to WTO tariffs and crashing out of the customs union would cause significant delays on products coming into the country that they rely on.

Another issue is that overseas parts currently used to build Nissan cars would have to be reduced significantly to meet the WTO rules of origin. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has said that cars need to have 50% local content to meet the rules of origin and be classed as British-made, and that could prove a major problem for Nissan. This is where the materials catapult comes into play. Not only would it reinvigorate the supply chain with innovation, especially in skills and jobs, but it could act as a way to mitigate the issues arising from the potential impact of WTO tariffs on manufacturing. I cannot make this point strongly enough the House: this catapult could also mean potential jobs growth. If we take the case of reducing overseas content in Nissan cars, it could significantly boost the UK supply chain and create tens of thousands of new UK jobs, which could seriously transform the manufacturing sector in the UK. Catapults could help in part to achieve the resilience I have talked about, and I hope the Government will listen and look again at the potential of a materials catapult.

Budget Resolutions Debate: Education and Skills 14.03.17

As part of the Budget Resolution Debates following the Chancellor's 2017 Budget, Sharon spoke in the debate allotted to discussing education and skills. In her speech, Sharon discussed issues around...

As part of Teach First North East's 5 year celebrations, Sharon spoke at their awards ceremony about the issue of child poverty in education. You can read her speech below.

sharon_at_teach_first.jpg

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INTRODUCTION

Thank you for inviting me to speak today. It is an honour to be here to celebrate 5 years of Teach First here in the North East.

For me, just like everyone in this room, I see education as a crucial route out of poverty, whereby we unlock the potential of children by believing in them and offering them opportunities they might never have had, so that they can reach their full potential.

As the second President of the United States, John Adams, said: “Before any great things are accomplished, a memorable change must be made in the system of education … to raise the lower ranks of society nearer to the higher.”

Adams was speaking about his new fledgling country’s education system, in its widest sense, but what resonates with me in this quote is the belief that a memorable change can have such an impact on our lives, acting like a catalyst that can change the course of a child’s life for the better, if done the right way.

The facilitators of that change are teachers and everyone who works within the school environment. Each and every one of you here today can have a substantial impact on the lives of the children in your schools. That power must never be forgotten and must be realised at every opportunity available.

Whilst I am not standing here today to tell you how to do your jobs – teachers get enough of that from politicians already – what I am here to do is recognise the amazing work done day-in and day-out by teachers and how it is vital that this work is used to help alleviate poverty in our society.

Poverty is a multi-faceted and complex issue, where one fix will not address all the causes of poverty.

It goes without saying that to end poverty in our society, we need to address a whole host of issues, from low pay, to housing, to worklessness, and education should not be singled out as the silver bullet.

But what education can do is provide a vehicle out of poverty, if linked together with strategies in other places, but one thing education can do on its own is provide children, who endure poverty everyday of their childhood, with the sanctuary to escape it while still living in it, as teachers you can’t change that, but you can allow them to realise their potential and their worth without being burdened by the weight of poverty on their shoulders, in the knowledge that this gift of education can be their escape to a better, more prosperous and fulfilling life.

Regardless of what is going on down in Parliament or in government to address these issues, each and every day that a teacher walks into their classroom, they are doing what we all say we must do: break the cycle of generational poverty by inspiring children and teaching them that they have far more to offer in life, than what they may presume.  To make them believe that their future really is in their hands, that it doesn’t have to be like their past or their present.

I see this often when I visit schools in my constituency just down the road in Sunderland or when I visit schools up and down the country, but also in documentaries, such as “Educating Essex” or “Educating Yorkshire” – which show the lengths by which teachers go to transform the lives of children.

One clear example that sticks out for me, is from Educating Yorkshire, where we see Mr Burton help Musharaf, a pupil with a severe stammer, to overcome his impediment which has the triumph of Musharaf speaking in front of the whole school in assembly for the first time, with confidence and with no stammer.  

I don’t know about you, but when I watched that episode, and saw the final scenes, I was deeply moved and also humbled at the power of our education system to transform lives for the better and of course, I shed a few tears.

This power to transform a child’s life through education can be a valiant fight against poverty in our schools.

Today, there are three things that I want to talk to you about: the current state of poverty in the UK and how poverty affects education; what I have been doing during my time as a Member of Parliament, specifically around hunger – which is an all too real part of poverty in our society, and finally; how education and our schools can be a driver to alleviate poverty.

Current State of Child Poverty & impact on education

It has been estimated that in 2014-15, 3.9 million children were living in poverty – an increase of 200,000 on the previous year. As a percentage, this means out of all children in the country, 28% are living in poverty.

Here in the North East, there are approximately 132,000 children living in poverty.

These are all big numbers – unfathomable to many. But if we were to look at this matter on a micro-level, say the classroom, these figures would translate into 9 children in each classroom living in poverty.

These 9 children in your classroom will be living in difficult circumstances – I know, I was one of them – be it poor housing conditions, to a dysfunctional family environment, to looking after family members or their siblings or dealing with many of the other difficulties life throws at them without having the resilience to deal with them.

Poverty for these 9 children can also manifest itself as not having uniform changes or nice clothes for mufti-days, or money to go on school trips or to events that the school puts on, to even not having money to buy the ingredients for cookery lessons.

The persistence of poverty in our society has a knock-on effect on the education of our children.

It is a well-known fact that the most disadvantaged children are falling behind those from more affluent backgrounds.

This was clearly shown in 2015, when GCSE results were analysed and showed that 36.7% of disadvantaged pupils received 5 A* to C grades, compared with 64.7% of all pupils.

Compound this with the fact that England has a stronger correlation between parental social background and children’s test scores than many other developed countries, then it is clear that schools are a prime place for us to help alleviate some of the issues children in poverty face.

There are many more facts out there that show that poverty is impacting on the lives of children and their educational attainment. Such as the fact that only 5% of children eligible for free school meals – seen as a key determiner of poverty – gained 5 A grades at GCSE.

Or the fact, that a child living in one of England’s most disadvantaged areas is 27 times more likely to go to an inadequate school than a child living in one of the least disadvantaged.

The list of facts and figures could go on. This is one of those examples where the facts really do speak for themselves and instead of some Government heads being buried in the sand, they should be facilitating progress and improving the lives of the worst off children in our society. 

What can we do?

This is why I have been a key supporter of poverty proofing the school day, and have spoken on this matter often in the past and also worked to introduce policies that can help alleviate poverty.

This has included campaigning to introduce universal free school meals – I’ve partly succeeded and we now have Universal Infant Free School Meals, the story behind that is a speech in itself – this is so important because these meals provide children with the necessary nutrients at lunch time to help improve learning, behaviour and wellbeing.

What some people don’t realise is this meal can often be the only nutritious meal a child has in a day. With this fact in mind, this can mean that children who rely upon their free school meals can go without during the school holidays when they do not receive their free school meal. The impact this has is well-documented by teachers who see malnourished children who return from the long summer holidays having fallen behind only to improve and catch up again after a few weeks of access to free breakfasts and lunches to aid their learning.

This issue is commonly known as child holiday hunger, and is an issue which I have campaigned on for a number of years now, in my capacity as Chair of the APPG on School Food.

Some out there think that, when the school gates lock for the school holidays, it is none of our business about how a child eats, or doesn’t in some cases, when they are at home.

But children are at school for 190 days of the year, and the rest, a total of 170 days, their food is the responsibility of their parents totally.  Some may say this is right and how it should be.

But what I say, is that when children in 21st century Britain are going hungry for sustained periods, then inaction is simply not acceptable.

If we are to seriously address child poverty through education, then we cannot do it with hungry children, especially when all the hard work that goes into improving children’s life chances is reversed, if they are too hungry to learn, all because some say it is none of our business to get involved.

I have also campaigned on school uniform policies, which can be a source of contention in schools where it can be used as stealth selection or cause bullying amongst pupils, to even more inane issues which get overlooked, such as not having the right stationary, books, equipment or ingredients when a child comes to a lesson to learn.

These are only a few of the things I have campaigned on, and what we can do to help eradicate poverty from the school environment and the impact it has on a child’s attainment.

But for teachers directly, you are in the perfect position to inspire, lead and nurture children to be the best they can possibly be.

Remember the example I gave earlier from Educating Yorkshire – you too can be your own Mr Burton and change a child’s life – I’m sure you’re doing it already. It just takes passion and determination – something I know you all possess already to be here.  

Teach First is a perfect example of how we can help change the lives of children in the most deprived areas, where poverty is the most apparent.

The driving force of the charity is that every child deserves the best education possible and that a child’s socio-economic background does not disadvantage them, and you place high achieving graduates in schools where they can relish the chance to really improve the lives of children and young people.

That is why I want to thank everyone at Teach First and all of you here today for doing that – it cannot be under-valued the impact that charities such as yours are having to help raise the attainment of children in the most deprived areas of our country.

Conclusion:

I truly believe that poverty is not an inevitability – we don’t need to see poverty in our society. What poverty tells us is that we have failed as a society to address social and economic issues which cause poverty, due to a lack of political will, innovative thinking and a drive to act.

But schools and teachers are the perfect conduits for allowing us to end this issue once and for all, as long as you are supported by policymakers who create an education system and environment conducive to such work and not one that encourages more social separation and division.

Each and every person here today has the power to change a child’s life – just like Mr Burton did with Musharaf – and Mr Ridley and Miss Brown did for me - and I hope when you go back to your classrooms following today’s celebrations that you will continue to do what I know you all do anyway: inspire children, regardless of their background, to dream big and be the best they can possibly be and not allow their background to limit them.

I started with a quote, and I will end with another, this time from the inspirational former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, who in her final speech as First Lady said:

“We can be whatever we dream.”

Remember that when you go back to your classrooms and to those 9 children who live in poverty – they may not know it, but you do.

Help them realise their dreams.

Thank you. 

Sharon speaks at Teach First North East's 5 year celebration

As part of Teach First North East's 5 year celebrations, Sharon spoke at their awards ceremony about the issue of child poverty in education. You can read her speech below....

During National Apprenticeship Week, Sharon was honoured to open Unipres' new Training Academy. 

You can read Sharon's speech below. unipres.JPG

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Thank you for inviting me to be here today to mark the opening of a fantastic new facility that will kick start the careers of young people wishing to enter into engineering, for generations to come.

High-quality apprenticeships are a vital way to help young people take their first steps into working life, and offer many young people the chance to earn and learn at the same time. That is why I am always delighted when local businesses in our community provide young people with these opportunities; Unipres has a long history of doing so.

We all know it, but young people are the future. Companies like Unipres who invest in the future are not only doing right by young people in the area, but by themselves as a business, as they build a strong and sustainable future.

Today's opening is about just that. It’s about creating a space that will strengthen Unipres’ team, and one that will also create so many opportunities for young people in and around Sunderland.

Nationally we have seen a real push for apprenticeships, and this has spurred on the more forward-thinking companies to look at new ways of growing their own talent.

That is why it is excellent to see Unipres tap into this national issue with the opening of their training academy, which will not only prepare themselves to manufacture more than just car parts, but also invest more in the workforce here in Sunderland.
Businesses are fuelled by people – while machines and facilities are one part of the picture, critically it all relies upon people, skilled people, to drive business and to innovate and create.

Sunderland has that, based in part on what I believe to be the innate abilities of the people of Sunderland when it comes to manufacturing and engineering, and also the dedication of local businesses to invest in the workforce in our area.

Combine both of our natural skills and industry-led training and you have a recipe for success, and today’s opening celebrates that.

Unipres working hand in hand with the city's college and the city council to deliver this Training Academy will be a great success for our City, and I am proud to have this initiative based in my constituency.

Sunderland College, and the FE sector at large, has faced incredible scrutiny from Government over the last year or so, but its role in bringing through talented young people who are ready to take the reins from the leaders of today, cannot be underestimated.

It is heartening to see a local business that has a commitment to this city is also reflecting a commitment to localism in its work with the education sector, and I am sure it will yield a strong partnership for many years to come. We have some tremendous assets in the city, and we must encourage them to work together to deliver bigger, better things for the next generation.

The automotive sector presents a huge opportunity for Sunderland. Despite the challenges that lie ahead as we begin our exit from the European Union, we still have a strong unique selling point as an attractive and flourishing automotive hub.

What this academy does is give Sunderland a vote of confidence, which will send a clear message to other businesses that may be looking at this part of the world. What this message says is: we are open for business.

Pair this message with the planned developments, such as the IAMP not far from here, then there is a world of opportunity out there for our City.

But the Government must make sure that this work done at a local level is supported and sustainable by ensuring what goes on nationally complements this work, but also local work is not hindered as we enter the negotiations to exit the EU and then leave the EU.

As the local Member of Parliament, I am fully committed to supporting the manufacturing sector here in Sunderland – as I am sure we all are in this room today.

Today is a fantastic step for the UK automotive sector, the North East, and especially for Sunderland. It’s a credit to Unipres, and to the skills of the team at the company, who have helped create the level of confidence needed for this fantastic business to continue with its investment in our great City.

I am both proud and delighted to be here today at the opening of Unipres’ Training Academy. Congratulations and I know it will go from strength to strength.

Sharon opens Unipres' new Training Academy

During National Apprenticeship Week, Sharon was honoured to open Unipres' new Training Academy.  You can read Sharon's speech below.  CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY Thank you for inviting me to be here...

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