Sharon Hodgson MP

Working hard for Washington and Sunderland West.

Recent speeches by Sharon Hodgson MP

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Sharon speaking in the 3rd Day of Queen's Speech Debates on Defending Public Services

Image copyright Parliamentary Recording unit 2016

During the third allotted day for MPs to debate the legislative programme set out in the Queen's Speech, Sharon spoke about defending two of our country's most important public services: the NHS and the BBC. 

You can read Sharon's speech in Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP Third Day of Queen's Speech Debates on Defending Public Services 23.05.16

Text of speech pasted below:

 6.42 pm

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

I was hoping for a lot more from this Queen’s Speech. I hoped that there would be something to address the ever-growing housing crisis in this country. I also hoped that there would be something on the environment or on the long-awaited and much-promised Bill on wild animals in circuses. But mainly, I hoped that there would be some hope for my region and my constituency. Yet again, however, we heard only scant warm words with the brief mention of the northern powerhouse—the Chancellor’s pet project—which does not even seem to reach the north-east.

I do not think the Chancellor heeded my words on the lack of measures for the north-east in his ultra-shambolic Budget back in April, when I warned him that, despite his ambition to be king of the north, he needed to recognise that there was a lot more of the north beyond Manchester before he got to the wall. Mercifully, his time as Chancellor is almost up. Who knows where ​he will be when winter comes, post-referendum: in No. 10 or in the wilderness on the Back Benches? His legacy for the north-east is, sadly, only more pain and hurt.

Today’s debate is all about our public services, and I want to highlight the damage that is being inflicted on them by this Conservative Government, who are continuing to starve them of proper investment while forcing through damaging and unnecessary legislation. The Tories are now trying to dismantle and ruin two of our country’s greatest and most precious institutions: the NHS and the BBC. These are two public services that we probably all use almost every day and both are central to our national way of life. This Government are hellbent on completely changing the culture and ethos of the two institutions. They have already started the process, but we must not let them complete it.

Since the Conservatives came into office in 2010, the NHS has faced crisis after crisis, all of which could have been avoided if it had been given proper investment and support. Instead, we saw an unnecessary top-down reorganisation of the NHS that disjointed funding streams and placed unnecessary burdens on services through cuts that have been detrimental to our constituents’ experiences of using the NHS. This abysmal mismanagement of the NHS by the Health Secretary and his equally appalling predecessor is compounded by the fact that 3.7 million people are currently on waiting lists, by the understaffing of our hospitals and by patients’ struggles to see their GP. The mismanagement has been acutely felt in the north-east, with the prime example being the underperformance of the North East Ambulance Service NHS Trust. That was the subject of a Westminster Hall debate about two weeks ago in which I and a dozen other north-east colleagues raised our numerous concerns. I hope that the Government have listened to those concerns and will act as soon as possible.

Instead of addressing the issues that the NHS is facing on a day-to-day basis, the Health Secretary took it upon himself to enter into a protracted fight with our junior doctors. They do an amazing job of treating patients in difficult circumstances, yet he has battled with them remorselessly over their pay and conditions. It is welcome that a deal has now been struck between the Department of Health and the junior doctors after everyone was at last brought back around the negotiating table. However, this all could have been avoided, including the recent strike action, if only the Health Secretary had meaningfully listened to the junior doctors’ concerns about the impact the proposed changes to their contracts would have on the NHS.

The Health Secretary must rethink his entire strategy for the national health service and ensure that it does what it was created to do. I want to quote from the leaflet that every home received when the NHS was launched in 1948:

“It will provide you with all medical, dental and nursing care. Everyone—rich or poor, man, woman or child—can use it or any part of it.”

It was Nye Bevan who said:

“Illness is neither an indulgence for which people have to pay, nor an offence for which they should be penalised, but a misfortune, the cost of which should be shared by the community”.​

We should have seen something like that in this Queen’s Speech. But wait—no, that only happens in a Labour Queen’s Speech. That is how we got our NHS in the first place.

The BBC is another of our treasured public services that the Government are trying to undermine. The Culture Secretary is using tactics that can only be described as bullying and intimidation to make the BBC accept a new charter—which is in no one’s interests other than those of commercial media moguls—and he has shown his true colours by going on record as saying that the disappearance of the BBC is a “tempting prospect”. Those are the words of the man who is supposed to be in charge of nurturing and championing British culture and talent.

The Government’s proposals aim to hobble the BBC, and they will put its position as an independent public broadcaster in jeopardy by introducing Government appointees to oversee the organisation. That is a clear attack on the BBC’s independence and its ability to hold the Government to account. Putting Government-approved people on the board would threaten the very existence of the BBC as we know it. Peter Kosminsky, the director of “Wolf Hall” and winner of the BAFTA Best Drama award, has said that

“the BBC’s main job is to speak truth to power—to report to the British public without fear or favour, no matter how unpalatable that might be to those in government.”

Those words remind us exactly why the Government must maintain the integrity that the BBC has come to be respected for, not just in the UK but right across the world.

The BBC is not only one of our main sources of news and information; it also acts as a beacon for British culture and talent and is a true cornerstone of UK plc. From giving that much-needed break to up-and-coming artists on BBC radio stations to the many TV programmes that showcase the greatest aspects of British life—commercially successful shows such as “Strictly Come Dancing” and “The Great British Bake-Off”, informative and incredible documentaries such as “South Pacific”, “Frozen Planet” and the many other David Attenborough documentaries that have taken us into some of the most remote and exotic places in the world—the BBC is the very best of British in everything it does, and we get to enjoy all that for the remarkably good-value price of just 40p a day while sitting in the comfort of our own home. However, the Culture Secretary has persistently put the future of commercial BBC programming in jeopardy by saying that the BBC should focus on broadcasting for the public good. He clearly forgets that all shows broadcast by the BBC, whether commercial or informative, are for the public good. The two cannot be separated because commercially successful programmes help to fund world-class documentaries that are viewed across the globe. My Opposition colleagues and I will do everything in our power to ensure that one of our most treasured institutions is protected, continues to drive creativity in the 21st century, and is accessible to all.

Going back to Peter Kosminsky, he also said in his acceptance speech at the BAFTAs:

“It’s not their BBC, it’s your BBC.”

Never have truer words been said about our BBC. We need to defend it at all costs from the damage that this Government wish to inflict upon it. Our NHS and BBC ​make us proud to be British. When it comes to damaging those two precious public services, the Government will not get an easy ride either from Opposition Members or from the wider public watching today.

Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwin) (Con)

Does the hon. Lady agree that the BBC is uniquely able to tackle difficult issues such as controlling abuse? She may have been following the recent story in “The Archers” relating to Helen Titchener, which showcases the BBC at its best. If the hon. Lady goes on to the “Free Helen Titchener” JustGiving page, she will see that the BBC has been involved in helping to raise £130,000 to support women’s refuges across the country.

Mrs Hodgson

I am so pleased that I allowed that intervention, because it was excellent. I thank the hon. Gentleman for that, and I do agree with him.

The NHS and the BBC are cherished institutions, providing an essential public good. They are the very best of British. The proposals are a damning indictment of this Government’s attitude towards our country and those two great institutions, of which I believe the whole country is immensely proud. That is why we cannot allow them to be dismantled or diminished in stature or performance. On the day that the NHS was founded, Nye Bevan said:

“The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.”

His words apply equally to the BBC in this context, as much as he intended them for the NHS. We need to have faith now, and we need to fight for both of them before it is too late. Otherwise, the NHS and the BBC, which our grandparents’ generation so proudly created, will no longer be there for our grandchildren, who will never forgive us.

 

Third Day of Queen's Speech Debates: Defending Public Services 23.05.16

  Sharon speaking in the 3rd Day of Queen's Speech Debates on Defending Public Services Image copyright Parliamentary Recording unit 2016 During the third allotted day for MPs to debate...

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Sharon speaking in the Performance of North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) Westminster Hall Debate 04.05.16

Image Copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016

As Chair of the Northern Group of Labour MPs, Sharon secured a debate for North East MPs, who after dealing with many constituent cases and reading even more reports in local press over the last few years, were able to raise their concerns directly with the Government about the Performance of the North East Ambulance Service. 

Read Sharon's speech in Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP Performance of North East Ambulance Service Westminster Hall Debate

Text pasted below:

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

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the performance of the North East Ambulance Service.

We as a country pride ourselves on our world-class NHS services, which are the envy of the world. It is therefore always important that we highlight failures and shortcomings to ensure that our services do not fail our constituents when they need them most.

Strains on services are part and parcel of life in the NHS, but in recent years the pressures have been exacerbated by the Government’s policies. Ever since the Conservatives were elected to office in 2010, the NHS has struggled due to their mismanagement. In particular, the Health and Social Care Act 2012 implemented a costly, top-down reorganisation, which was neither needed nor wanted. It led to a disjointed funding model and resulted in my local ambulance trust, the North East Ambulance Service, running an expected budget deficit of £3.5 million for 2015-16. It comes as no surprise that I have received a growing number of complaints and concerns about the NHS in recent years, which is why this northern group of MPs decided that we had to call for the debate.

All the services that the NHS provides are important, but when someone suddenly falls ill in an emergency such as a stroke or a heart attack, or has a fall or an accident, it is understandable that they have high expectations of our ambulance service. The important work that paramedics do in our region day in, day out is undeniable, but, as the cases that my constituents have brought to my attention and those that have been reported in the press show, patient safety is in jeopardy. That is mainly due to waiting times, which, as the cases I will outline illustrate, have increased and are causing distress to many of my constituents.

For red 1 and red 2 cases—potentially life-threatening incidents—the trust remains below the national standard. Although that is reflected across the country—only two ambulance trusts in England met red 1 standards—it is concerning that, in our region, that failure has continued for the past three years, despite the fact that our response time of eight minutes is higher than the national average. That is exacerbated by the fact that red demand calls have increased by 21.3% in the past 12 months. The performance targets for the fourth quarter of 2015-16 were breached, leading to the trust’s third consecutive quarter breach.

I called this debate to give myself and my fellow north-eastern colleagues the opportunity to raise cases and concerns directly with the Government to ensure that our constituents receive the very best standard of service, which they rightly expect. It is right that we raise concerns with the Government, who are ultimately responsible for the service and can ensure that something is done about the problems we raise. I will touch on some of the many cases ranging from 2012 to 2016 that my constituents have brought to my attention, and I know that other Members will do the same.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab)

​I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for securing this extremely important debate. I am very concerned about the management. That was highlighted to me when I wrote a letter to the North East Ambulance Service about ambulance services in Teesdale. I got a letter back headed, “Ambulance services in Weardale”. The worst thing that happened was to Violet Alliston, whose partner rang three times in an hour. No ambulance came, and she died. That is obviously totally unacceptable.

Mrs Hodgson

I thank my hon. Friend for that very sad example, which I fear and predict will be one of many—perhaps not all with such a tragic ending—that we will hear this afternoon.

The correspondence I have received about ambulance waiting times in my constituency makes it clear this has been a persistent problem since 2012. I was first told about the problem with waiting times by the league chairman of the Wearside football league after he raised concerns with the North East Ambulance Service directly about numerous incidents. In his correspondence, he said that waiting times for football players who had broken their leg had continually gone over 70 minutes. In one case, after a player broke their leg, the league chairman called 999 at 11.40 am, but he was called back and informed that no ambulance was available and that he should take the player by car. He rang 999 back and complained that that went against what trained first aiders were told about not moving people with broken bones. An ambulance then arrived at 1 pm—80 minutes after the initial call—and the young man was taken to hospital.

Ever since that case, I have received a range of correspondence from other constituents highlighting failures and shortcomings in ambulances going out to emergencies. An issue particular to my local area—I do not think it is replicated in other parts of the region, although we may hear differently when other colleagues speak—is that ambulances struggle to get to certain parts of my constituency due to confusion in finding the address. That has been repeatedly brought to my attention by my constituent, Mr Walker, who for the past two years has highlighted the difficulty that ambulance crews have getting to the Usworth Hall estate in Washington. When a shocking murder took place in the area in 2014, the ambulance did not arrive for more than an hour and the man died.

An example of that failure happened when a woman was in labour and her sister-in-law had to deliver the baby because the ambulance went to the wrong street. The children of the woman in labour had to search the streets for the ambulance. When they found it, they guided it by foot, as they were not allowed on board, for more than a mile to where it should have been.

I could give many other examples. It has been a persistent issue for the residents of Usworth Hall, who, through Mr Walker, have highlighted their concerns and their exasperation at those problems. On each occasion, I forwarded their concerns to the North East Ambulance Service, which looked into each issue. To its credit, it has tried to address them. That was highlighted in a letter to me in July 2014, in which it explained that it had set up an electronic flag system for all residents in Usworth Hall and had a duty manager from its control room go out and survey the area for problems. However,  ​Mr Walker contacted me again at the beginning of April and informed me that an ambulance was parked outside his house one evening. When he went out to speak to the staff, he found that they were lost and supposed to be in another street.

Paramedics understandably do not have the local knowledge that residents have, but sat-nav equipment is provided to help ambulances get to the right destination at the right time.

Mary Glendon (North Tyneside) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend think that those delays could be because of the shortage of paramedics and the fact that, as the service has admitted, it uses volunteers and private contractors to provide ambulances? That exacerbates the problem of people not knowing how to get to where they need to be.

Mrs Hodgson

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I will come on to the shortage, which is running at about 15%, and the stress on paramedics, to which she alluded.

If the sat-nav equipment continues to fail, and if my interventions on behalf of my constituents and the ambulance trust’s action do not rectify the situation, there needs to be a serious investigation into what is going wrong. We cannot have our ambulances driving round lost on estates looking for the right street.

My most recent piece of casework is from February and is deeply concerning. It concerns my constituent, Mrs Ellen Sherriff. I feel that using the words emailed to me by my constituent’s husband, Mr David Sherriff, can help to highlight the situation and the distress that can come from having to wait hours and hours for an ambulance to arrive. I hope that you will allow me a moment to read out Mr Sherriff’s words, Mr Bailey. He said:

“Ellen became unwell at 10.35am yesterday morning with severe head pain on the right-hand side. She felt like she was going to pass out. I checked her blood pressure which was very high, so phoned 111 at 11am and spoke to a call handler who told me he was sending an emergency ambulance and not to be worried if it arrived with blue lights.

Two and a half hours later no one had come. Ellen remained unwell and could not stand any light.

I phoned 999 and was told the ambulance that was coming had been diverted to Cramlington but that we would be next unless a more urgent call came in.

At 2.40pm, a patient transportation ambulance arrived with two ambulance men. I asked why it had taken so long. They said given the circumstances Ellen should have been seen earlier. They had no equipment, not even a blood pressure machine. They said they couldn’t risk moving Ellen in case they caused the bleed in her brain to become life threatening and they would send for a paramedic. They would also remain here till he arrived. They also complained to the control room regarding the wait.

They sat outside until 5.30pm, 6 and a half hours after I first phoned. When the paramedic first arrived he examined Ellen and said she should have been in hospital 5 hours earlier.”

It was not until 6 pm, more than eight hours after the initial phone call, that my constituent, Mrs Sherriff, was admitted to hospital, where it was discovered that she did indeed have a bleed in the brain and that she should have been there much sooner.​

Until Friday, Mr Sherriff was still awaiting a response to his complaint, which was sent in February. Perhaps the prospect of this debate ensured that he eventually got it. The trust has admitted errors in the handling and categorising of Mrs Sherriff’s condition, meaning that it was continually not treated with the urgency required. The trust has apologised and said that a “reflection and learning session” has been given to the original call handler, but this case could easily have had a tragic ending.

Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab)

I thank my hon. Friend for securing the debate, which is important to all of us. Does she agree that the issue is not only with the ambulance service? Last summer, in the middle of the night, I took a relative to the university hospital in Durham. In the morning, when I came outside, I counted 12 ambulances stood outside the hospital and unable to discharge their passengers and get patients admitted. The whole system in the north-east is now simply not working.

Mrs Hodgson

My hon. Friend makes a valid point—we often hear about the queues of ambulances at accident and emergency. Patients have waited hours and hours for the ambulance to come, but when they get to the hospital, they sit in a queue outside. I have raised that with my local hospital. There is a huge breakdown in the system. Something is going seriously wrong, and it is completely unacceptable. Mrs Sherriff, a patient who had a suspected bleed in the brain, had to wait for more than eight hours before getting to A&E. That is truly shocking, and all those cases mentioned highlight concerns that the Government and the North East Ambulance Service must address.

I have one more issue to discuss before concluding, and that is to do with the numbers of qualified paramedics, which my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) mentioned in her intervention. When waiting times are going up and demand is rising, we clearly need to look at workforce retention and recruitment. Our paramedics do an amazing job, but they cannot be in two places at the same time.

At this point, I want to place clearly on the record that I am not apportioning any blame or criticism at all to any paramedic or ambulance crew. They do an amazing job, under very difficult and trying circumstances, day in, day out, and they should not be placed in situations whereby, once allocated, they race through traffic to a call, within the appropriate time allowed, only to be faced with stressed and sometimes angry people, who say, “Where’ve you been? I’ve been waiting four, five, six or seven hours.”

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. I have an example from my constituency. A young lad, a teenager, had a road traffic accident, getting a compound fracture of the leg, but it took three hours for an ambulance to get to him.

When I met the ambulance chief executive, she told me that the problem is that the organisations that do employment and support allowance assessments are poaching qualified paramedics from the ambulance  ​service, creating a great hole. There is a role there for Government, perhaps, to talk to the whole organisation, to see what can be done to put a stop to that.

Mrs Hodgson

My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which I will touch on, although he made the case well. We have to look at the slippage, to where in the rest of the health service the paramedics are haemorrhaging, and why. I will say more about that in a moment.

Paramedics are there to treat people and give them emergency—perhaps life-saving—healthcare, but before they can even start to treat them, they might first have to calm the patient and relatives down, because of something that was completely out of their hands. It is therefore no surprise that, nationally, there is a shortage of qualified paramedics, and all trusts are struggling to fill vacancies so that they can operate at full capacity. The North East Ambulance Service has a 15% shortage, and is plugging the gap with private and voluntary organisations, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside mentioned. The service has said, however, that it will be up to full establishment in a year, but how many more people will wait for hours and hours before we get to that stage?

Something therefore needs to be done about the recruitment and retention of paramedics, especially since evidence has shown that more staff are leaving the profession than ever. Also, mental health charity Mind reported that 62% of blue-light emergency service workers have experienced a mental health problem and, worryingly, one in four has considered ending their own life. It is shocking to think about the stress that those people are working under.

It is no surprise that research conducted jointly by Unite, Unison and the GMB revealed at the end of last year that more than 1,500 paramedics had left the service in 2014-15, compared with 845 in 2010-11—still a high number, but a little more than half the later figure. Of paramedics surveyed as part of other research by the three unions, 75% had considered leaving the profession due to stress and pay.

Action therefore needs to be taken on recruitment, which is why I welcome the work of my local university, the University of Sunderland, which in partnership with the North East Ambulance Service has launched a diploma programme in paramedic practice. It will pair theoretical study with practical training over two years, and it will help to address the shortages faced by not only our regional trust, but other trusts around the country. That innovative work by my local university, alongside that of the outstanding paramedic practice degree at Teesside University, which is seen as a beacon of best practice in our region, if not the country, is important and will help.

It is, however, unsustainable not to address strategically the staffing shortages and the increasing demoralisation of a workforce who are haemorrhaging away, because that is clearly having an impact on waiting and call-out times for emergencies. That is why I hope that the Minister will address those concerns, and outline what the Government are doing to deal with recruitment and retention. How will she work with my local ambulance service trust to ensure that it reaches the target of being fully operational by this time next year? How will the ambulance trust ensure that those who are recruited  ​into the field are retained and do not slip off to work for other parts of the health service, so that we do not see further shortages down the line?

It is important that our emergency ambulance services are up to the standard that we all expect. That means working collaboratively among ourselves, as the local Members of Parliament who represent our constituents and their concerns, and with the Department of Health, NHS England and the North East Ambulance Service Trust. Our constituents deserve the best standards in our NHS, and it is up to the Government seriously to address pressures on our NHS services, especially the case of the workforce in the ambulance service.

I hope that the Minister has listened carefully to my concerns, and will listen to those that my colleagues from the north-east who have attended the debate today express. I look forward to hearing what she has to say at the end of the debate.

Performance of North East Ambulance Service Westminster Hall Debate 04.05.16

Sharon speaking in the Performance of North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) Westminster Hall Debate 04.05.16 Image Copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016 As Chair of the Northern Group of Labour MPs,...

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Sharon speaking at a business event on apprenticeships and social value 29.04.16

Image copyright Henk Geertsema ACIM, 2016

Sharon was invited to speak at a business event in Sedgefield titled 'Competing for Social Value in Procurement Contracts', along with Labour MEP, Jude Kirton-Darling, about stretching social value by businesses and companies when recruiting apprentices. Sharon spoke about the need to address the issue of young people being left in a constant cycle of check-list training courses or short-term apprenticeships with no prospects of a job at the end of it, and the despondency both can have on the life chances of young people and the need for businesses and training providers to recognise the social value they can have in creating a diverse and skilled workforce. 

You can read Sharon's speech below:

Firstly, I want to thank Stephanie and Rachel for inviting me to come and speak to you today.

Social value has become a much more important part of public procurement in recent years, with businesses and organisations who bid for public contracts now needing to consider how they can improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of their local area.

This is something I have worked on in recent months with Rachel Lumsden, Stephanie Smith and other experts and organisations within my local authority area in Sunderland, especially when it comes to the social impact of apprenticeships for young people.

In latest guidance by the Government to authorities and businesses on procurement of contracts, it stated that contracts worth £10 million or more, and last for 12 months or longer, should support the upskilling of their workforce and the wider community, along with working towards the Government’s ambitious, but noble, target of creating three million apprenticeships by 2020.

Organisations here in the room today may never be competing for contracts worth £10 million or more, but this doesn’t mean that the principles of ensuring that we work towards upskilling our workforce - a value held across the board within the business community – is not still worth pursuing and I know that many here today, will agree and already champion this belief.

However, there is always more that can be done and this is what I wish to talk to you all about today.

Apprenticeships unlock success

It is undeniable the impact that a high-quality apprenticeship can have on the lives of young people in providing them with skills for life, along with the chance to earn whilst they learn and move on in life with a sustainable career path – something we all wish for our children.

As a region, we pride ourselves on our strong manufacturing and industrial heritage and the entwined appreciation for just how important an apprenticeship can be to getting on in life.

It is important that when a business provides an apprenticeship to a young person, that we don’t, after six months, see them tossed out on to the street with no job to go into and that they have just been making up the numbers to ensure targets set out by the Government are met.

This is something I know all too well from personal experience, when during the 1980s, I saw my two brothers go through a turnstile of training programmes, they were called YOPs and YTSs back then, but when it came to the end of the six-month period, they were told: ‘There’s no job here for you’ and they would end up on yet another scheme, and see this repeated time and time again.

My youngest brother did four YTS’s and went from an eager 16-year-old dreaming of being a mechanic to an angry disillusioned 18-year-old on the dole with no prospects. It took a number of years to recover from that and he eventually got his chance when thankfully his best friend’s dad, who laid marble floor tiles as a sub-contractor in airports and shopping malls, gave him a job labouring for him.

This was just the break my brother, probably aged 20 or 21 by then, needed. He went from strength to strength, learnt the trade, became a floorer himself and is now a director of the company. Now, that’s the difference giving a young person a chance makes to their life. If only those 4 companies which let him go after 6 months had given him a chance! Their loss!

This is why I am passionate about the recognition of the social value and impact that businesses can have on the lives of young people.

If we take the message that came out of National Apprenticeship Week last month, of: the positive impact apprenticeships can have on our economy, but also on a more personal level with the social mobility that can come with undertaking an apprenticeship, it is understandable just how far we have come since the 1980s.

We can’t just celebrate apprenticeships for one week alone though, we need to do this day in, day out, by actively working towards improving the quality and access to apprenticeships on offer to our young people. 

That is why there is still more to do, and this is a message that I hope will come out of today.

For many young people in our region there is no hope of them securing an apprenticeship, with the Government’s requirements that young people must have a Grade C in English and Maths.

Whilst it is important that we continue to aspire to pushing the outcomes of young people achieving an A* to C in the core subjects, we have to realise that this is not always possible for all young people, especially some with SEND.

There are many skilled apprenticeships which understandably need to have the grades in order to complete the work needed of them to a high-standard, such as using high level thinking, maths skills such as algebra etc, or complex concepts.

But should a young person aspiring to do an apprenticeship working in an office, with the functional mathematical and literacy skills to do the job, be excluded from this life changing apprenticeship that is open to their peers.

Or excluding a young person who is good with their hands from an apprenticeship as a construction worker or a welder, because they didn’t get their C in Maths and English, although may have plenty other GCSE A – C, I think this is wrong when they can learn all the functional skills needed to do this job whilst working on site.

For many young people applying what they are trying to learn in the classroom to the actual life scenarios they are now in can make the penny drop to help them develop skills they never thought they would have, with some then reaching the magic C in English and Maths during their apprenticeship. Others will bring their Maths and English up to the functional level. They just need the chance, their break.

Recent figures I obtained through a Parliamentary Question to the Department for Education found that 42% of young people in the North East by the age of 16 were not achieving at least a Grade C in English and Maths.

Many of those young people may get the required grades the following year, or the year after that, yet what is deeply concerning is that because of this block imposed on the entry requirements for an apprenticeship we are seeing some young people being placed onto remedial course after remedial course, so that training providers can tick a box to say they are supporting young people to achieve their needed qualifications – and in some cases, no real progress is ever made. With the young person becoming increasingly disillusioned and losing all hope of ever getting the chance to get on, get a break, to start their life as an adult.

This harks back to what I mentioned earlier with my brother’s experiences in the 1980s, and the danger of creating a despondent and disengaged generation of young people who are being locked out of achieving their true potential because they have not been given the opportunities to do so. Not able to even get over the first hurdle.

What can businesses do

That is why it is up to businesses, such as yourselves here today, to tap into this idea of social value and ensure that young people are given the opportunities they need in life to change their lives for the better.

To do this, there needs to be scrutiny and creativity driving forward how we look at the way we recruit apprentices and always keeping in mind the idea of: ‘what am I giving back to my local community?’

One way of doing this is by looking at the processes undertaken by training companies and holding them to account on how they are recruiting and training the apprenticeship workforce in our region, and who better to do this than those who use their services – that is all of you.

Secondly, speak to them and find out more about their recruitment procedures and have the important discussions about how making social value a central ethos to your apprenticeship recruitment is important to you and your organisation and challenging them to do more.

These are two important ways of taking this issue further.

Conclusion

There is so much more we can do to ensure we unlock the doors of opportunity to the widest possible cross-section of society, and allow those young people in our local area to have the best chances in life through the social mobility an apprenticeship can have on their life.

Thank you for listening. 

Sharon speaks at business event on apprenticeships and social value

Sharon speaking at a business event on apprenticeships and social value 29.04.16 Image copyright Henk Geertsema ACIM, 2016 Sharon was invited to speak at a business event in Sedgefield titled... Read more

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Sharon speaking in the Backbench Business Debate on Record copies of Acts 20.04.16

Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016

Over the past few months, Sharon has campaigned on protecting the Parliamentary practice of printing the Acts passed in the Houses of Parliament on vellum. This came about after her work as Chair of the Art, Craft and Design in Education APPG and was approached by Patricia Lovett, a calligrapher and user of vellum, about the possibility of Parliament ending the use of vellum. This debate was the chance for Members of Parliament to officially record their opposition and concern with the decision which was taken by the House of Lords earlier this year. 

You can read Sharon's speech in Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP Backbench Business Debate on Record Copies of Acts 20.04.16

Text of speech pasted below:

5.41 pm

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

I congratulate the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) on securing this afternoon’s debate, and on spearheading the opportunity for this House to voice its concerns about the decision taken by the House of Lords and the House of Commons Administration Committee to end the centuries-old practice of printing Acts of Parliament on vellum.

My involvement came about after the issue was brought to my attention by Patricia Lovett—calligrapher, illuminator, vellum-user, and vice-chair of the Heritage Crafts Association. She was concerned about the impact on an important heritage craft in this country. It was our shared hope to see this decision reversed when the matter was first considered back in October, when the Administration Committee recommended that the Commons agree to the renewed request by the Chairman of Committees in the Lords that we print record copies of public Acts not on vellum, but on archival paper. This House, however, was never consulted on this, and neither was the sector on which the change would have the greatest impact—nor indeed were the wider public, who might have an interest in the future of this heritage craft.

It was with great dismay that, two months ago, we were informed that the printers had been given a 30-day notice to cease printing on vellum, with no public announcement or dissemination of this decision to parliamentarians; I found out from Patricia Lovett, as I said. That led to my point of order on 9 February, in which I raised my concerns about this shady back-room deal between the Commons authorities and those in the Lords.

After the points of order raised by the hon. Member for North Wiltshire and me, the Minister for the Cabinet Office intervened with the welcome news that the money necessary to continue printing on vellum would be found from Government coffers. Although I genuinely thank the Minister for his support for our campaign, I really think that printing, preserving and protecting our own archival history through our own budgets is a matter for Parliament.

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Matthew Hancock)

Let me make it clear at this stage of the debate that this is very much a matter for the House. Although we on the Treasury Bench offer our support, it remains a matter for the House.

Mrs Hodgson

That saving grace is very welcome.​

Many of us from different parties might be described as strange bedfellows in this debate, but we have come together on this issue because we agree that the continued use of vellum is part of recognising our heritage and traditions. The Palace of Westminster is to undergo a potential £7 billion refurbishment to conserve this place for future generations to use, visit and admire; how can anyone argue for a saving that is so small by comparison, without considering what we would lose?

Our most important documents have been printed or written on vellum, from the Magna Carta to the Domesday Book and a piece of important north-east English history, the Lindisfarne gospels. All these historical manuscripts have been preserved for posterity because they were printed on vellum. They have lasted through the ages due to vellum’s durable qualities, which have ensured that future generations can appreciate and respect our shared history. Surely the legislation that we make here is worthy of this small additional cost. These are the laws of our land, and they should have the status and respect that is implied when they are printed on vellum. As Paul Wright from William Cowley said on the Jeremy Vine show last year, “If it is precious, put it on vellum.”

The crux of my concern about the change is the debate about the costs of printing on vellum. Both the Administration Committee and the Chairman of Committees in the House of Lords have claimed that ending the use of vellum would save Parliament, and the taxpayer, an average of £80,000 per year, but that figure has been disputed. William Cowley has said that, according to its books, the sale of vellum to Parliament is worth £47,000 per year. My question is: where does the proposed saving of £33,000 come from?

There is also concern about the use of archival paper. As we have heard, vellum manuscripts have lasted for centuries, and archival paper has not been proved to have that kind of longevity. There is talk of 250 years and of 500 years, but it must be borne in mind that those are estimates, not facts. It is a fact, however, that vellum lasts longer, and I therefore cannot support a switch to the inferior medium of archival paper.

Parliament is an important beacon of our history and heritage, and the fact that Members of either House can so easily dismiss a centuries-old practice is deeply worrying. We should remember that William Cowley is our last remaining vellum maker here in the UK. If it were to lose its contract with Parliament, that could be detrimental to the future of this heritage craft, and those who wished to buy vellum would have to look to other countries. It would not be just our medals that we would be buying from France. That is why I hope that today we can finally save vellum for good.

Record copies of Acts (Vellum) Debate 20.04.16

Sharon speaking in the Backbench Business Debate on Record copies of Acts 20.04.16 Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016 Over the past few months, Sharon has campaigned on protecting the...

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Sharon speaking in the teenage pregnancy Westminster Hall Debate 19.04.16

Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016

As Shadow Minister for Children, Sharon responded to a debate on teenage pregnancy in Westminster Hall, highlighting the important work done to reduce the under-18 conception rate, the multi-agency and co-operative work seen under the last Labour Government with their Teenage Pregnancy strategy between central and local government, and the need to improve sex and relationship education in our schools as part of statutory PSHE Education.

You can read Sharon's speech in Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP Teenage Pregnancy Westminster Hall Debate 19.04.16

Speech pasted below:

5.29 pm

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

It is an honour, as ever, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I thank the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) for securing this debate, which allows us to acknowledge the achievements made in addressing teenage pregnancy rates and to recognise that there is still a lot more to do, as she did so eloquently in her speech. I also want to acknowledge the excellent contributions of the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), who brought important perspectives from Northern Ireland and Scotland respectively.​

Research shows that 61% of children born to teenage mothers are at a higher risk of infant mortality and that, by the age of 30, teenage mothers are 22% more likely to be living in poverty than those who gave birth at the age of 24 or over. I know that that is not universal, but those are the statistics. The fact that 21% of women aged between 16 and 18 who are not in education, employment or training are teenage mothers shows that teenage pregnancy is not only a cause but a consequence of the educational and health inequalities in our society. That is why we cannot sit by and ignore this situation, especially given that we still lag behind western Europe on our teenage pregnancy rate. Although it was welcome news that England last month achieved the long-held target of a 50% reduction—it actually achieved 51%—in the under-18 conception rate between 1998 and 2014, this is no time to be complacent. We must ensure that the positive work that has been done does not go to waste and that the trends do not flatline or worsen.

Although the overall rate has gone down for England, there are still wide-ranging variations—not just between regions but within them. For example, my own local authority, Sunderland City Council, has seen a 45% drop in the conception rate. However, just down the road, Stockton-on-Tees, in the same region, has seen only a 29% decrease between 1998 and 2014. That trend is replicated in all regions, with varying gaps and differences in the conception rate. A lot of that can be put down to local variations and the way in which the 10-year strategy, which was introduced by the previous Labour Government in 1999, was implemented by local authorities.

The strategy was informed by international evidence. A 30-point plan was launched to halve the under-18 conception rate and to improve the life chances not only of the teenagers who fall pregnant but of their children. The plan laid solid foundations for reducing teenage pregnancy by ensuring effective multi-agency work. In 2005, the plan was reviewed when it became apparent that the initial measures were not being implemented across the board. Instead, more prescriptive guidance was introduced. That review of the strategy’s actions was best described by Alison Hadley in a recent article in the Journal of Family Health. She said that the review was an understanding “that high rates were not inevitable—even in deprived areas—if the right actions were put in place.”

That is the crux of the way that we should and must approach the issue of teenage pregnancy. It is not an inevitability of modern society, but it can be down to the inaction of those with the levers of power and their failure to implement the right interventions.

Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab)

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing this debate. I do not know how many in the House have the experience that I had, but I was a mum at the age of 16. I come from a deprived background. Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most important things we can do is to ensure that people have the opportunity to break that cycle and enable them to go back to education or to bring their child up? That is one of the things that I found really depressing when I watched the ITV programme “Long Lost Family”. It is one of the heartfelt things that made me burst into tears. My son is with me; ​I was able to raise him as a teenage mum because of the intervention and support that I got as a mum. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vitally important that we do that?

Mrs Hodgson

I do, and I commend my hon. Friend for raising that matter. She talked about it in her maiden speech so movingly for those who were in the Chamber or who listened to it afterwards. It brings important insight into this House in debates such as this to hear someone speak from experience. She is right that we need to support teenage mums. This is not about stigmatising them. Obviously, sometimes it is about helping them to make different choices if they do not want to make a particular choice. We must support them and ensure that the statistics I just mentioned, which we are all aware of, do not become the reality for young mums and their children. My hon. Friend has obviously broken that cycle: she is here as a Member of Parliament. The cycle of deprivation does not have to be inevitable. As I said, it is not universal, but the statistics are not where we would like them to be. There are obviously exceptions that prove the rule.

In 2010, the Department for Education set out a bonfire of policies that saw specific budgets directed at local councils, such as for addressing teenage pregnancy, rolled into the early intervention grant, which has sadly been repeatedly cut year on year and is a shell of what it used to be. The Government have failed to build on the work set out by the last Labour Government, thereby threatening the success seen to date with their short-sighted strategy on early intervention.

Instead of the Government seeing local authorities as a problem, rather than a solution, we need a renewal of the thinking that we had between 1997 and 2010, which harnessed the co-operative relationship between local and central Government to address issues such as teenage pregnancy effectively. For instance, one of the key measures that followed through in both the initial strategy and the updated version, as the hon. Member for Telford discussed in her opening speech, was the necessity to improve sex and relationship education in our schools.

No one will be surprised to hear that I am a passionate advocate of age-appropriate sex and relationship education. I understand the real benefits that equipping children with the right knowledge and tools will have on their futures as they become adults. However, it is not just me who believes that; it is the young people themselves. As the Sex Education Forum found in a survey of more than 2,000 young people earlier this year on the sex and relationship education that they receive, one in five was reported as saying that it was bad or very bad, which is deeply concerning when young people still say that they are embarrassed to seek advice about sex or relationship issues and half of 15-year-olds do not know about the existence of local contraception and sexual health services in their area.

Many opponents of age-appropriate sex and relationship education say that it is the job of parents, not teachers, to teach their children about sex and relationships, which shows just how out of touch many people are with the lives of children and young people. The Sex Education Forum reports that 7% of 15-year-old boys and 9% of 15-year-old girls have no trusted adult in their life to whom they can go when they need advice on sex and relationships. Some of them are children in ​care, about whom hon. Members spoke in the earlier debate. It is for that very reason that I and other Labour Members support the introduction of age-appropriate SRE as part of statutory personal, social, health and economic education, and many Government Members are slowly coming round to that idea, too. The lack of sex and relationship education in our schools is a ticking time bomb that the Government must address, especially with their impending forced academisation of all schools, which will bring into question the survival of SRE in any form in our schools.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)

I am interested to hear some of the points that the hon. Lady has made so far. Does she agree that it is important that schools buy into any duties? It is important that we have SRE and that its delivery does not become like the requirement to hold an act of religious worship in the morning. It is nice that that is statutory, but it is far more honoured in its breach than in its observance.

Mrs Hodgson

That is a very good point, because where sex and relationship education is compulsory in maintained schools, unlike in academies and free schools, there tend to be two elements: the biology and HIV/AIDS awareness, and then the relationship side. That is exactly the hon. Gentleman’s point. It has to be good-quality sex and relationship education, rather than just ticking some boxes.

The ticking time bomb is paired with the increasing sexualisation of young people, with recent freedom of information requests to local police forces showing that reported incidents of children sexting has skyrocketed by more than 1,200% in the past two years due to increased access to social media such as Twitter and Facebook, and even to dating apps such as Tinder, which is why it is welcome that the Women and Equalities Committee has announced today an investigation into sexting as part of its inquiry on sexual harassment among pupils in schools. I look forward to seeing what comes out of that inquiry.

It is high time that the Government took action and issued an update of the sex and relationship education guidance, which was published before the smartphone generation was even born. I hope the Minister can update Members on the DFE’s plans. I will not hold my breath, however, as when the opportunity came for the Government to take bold steps in introducing statutory PSHE and age-appropriate SRE following the most recent report of the Select Committee on Education on this area, it was blocked by no less than the Prime Minister. That was despite it being reported that many women Cabinet Ministers, including the Education Secretary herself, were strongly in favour of introducing this measure and were dismayed at the Prime Minister’s inaction.

Not only disgruntled Cabinet Ministers but the Children’s Commissioner, the Chief Medical Officer, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, 88% of teachers, 90% of parents and 92% of young people themselves are in favour of introducing both subjects to the curriculum as statutory subjects. Yet again, the Prime Minister is putting himself on the wrong side of the issue when it comes to teaching our young people about life and the resilience to deal with what is thrown at them.​

In conclusion, it is undeniable that we have made great strides forward on teenage pregnancy and those achievements must be celebrated, but there is still a long way to go. The Government must make clear their vision about how they will build on the important multi-agency, co-operative intervention work of the last Labour Government, and about how they will finally bring forward plans for PSHE and SRE that will make them effective tools in the young person’s arsenal and enable them to make informed choices in their lives.

Teenage Pregnancy Westminster Hall Debate 19.04.16

Sharon speaking in the teenage pregnancy Westminster Hall Debate 19.04.16 Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016 As Shadow Minister for Children, Sharon responded to a debate on teenage pregnancy in...

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Sharon speaking in the Westminster Hall Debate on Children's Homes 19.04.16

Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016

As Shadow Minister for Children, Sharon spoke in a Westminster Hall debate focused around the pending Sir Martin Narey review into looked-after children's residential care, and highlighted concerns with out-of-area placements and the criminalisation of looked-after children. 

You can read Sharon's speech in Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP Children's Homes Westminster Hall Debate 19.04.16

Speech pasted below:

3.12 pm

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

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Gillan. First, I want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) for securing this important debate this afternoon. She is probably the most knowledgeable MP in the House on this issue. As she said, she spoke on this issue in the House more than 21 years ago, and it could be quite frustrating for her that 21 years later she is still raising some of those same issues. It shows her tenacity that she has not given up and, hopefully, we might see some movement this afternoon. We live in hope.

We have heard thoughtful contributions this afternoon from the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), from my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk), and from the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) who is a Front-Bench spokesperson for the Scottish National party. We have had very thoughtful contributions. Debates are sometimes disappointing. I was in the debate on brain tumours yesterday and there was standing room only. I would not like to think that this debate is any less important than one that needs to have large numbers of people contributing, but let us hope that in our contributions today the quality will outweigh the quantity. I also thank the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) for her interventions.

What comes across very clearly is that we are sending a message to Sir Martin Narey—the hon. Member for Telford mentioned him—before the publication of his review that we hope to see reforms that will support and improve the lives of looked-after children in residential care. This debate has been on the wider aspects of the ​Narey review, but there are two areas that I wish to touch on this afternoon: out-of-area placements, as described by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, and the criminalisation of looked-after children.

Ever since the passing of the Children Act 1989, there has been a strong statutory duty on local authorities to place a child who enters the care system in the local authority area and ensure that their needs are met. However, guidance released by the Department last summer stated: “There will be circumstances where a distant placement will be the most suitable for a child”.

Since then, there has been a clear trajectory in Government thinking that has raised the many concerns eloquently highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport. It is important that children receive the best care possible and, in certain circumstances, that may mean that an out-of-area placement is necessary to meet their needs. However, there is no conclusive evidence to support that strategy becoming wider practice. That is why the evidence that was used to come to the Government’s conclusion must be clarified.

Until out-of-area placements’ effectiveness is made clearer, it is important that they do not become the norm, yet when we see more and more children living more than 20 miles away from what they define as their home—their local area—it is not hard to believe that this is now becoming common practice. Recent Department for Education figures show that since 2010 we have seen an increase of over 20% in the number of children placed out of area, which now totals 17.9% of looked-after children. We need to unpick why that is happening, and I hope that the Minister will clarify what is going on in his response to this debate.

We know it is not the case that all local authorities have a children’s home within their boundaries. Many are based, as we have heard, in the west midlands, the south-east and north-west. This is an issue of infrastructure, and I hope that that will be addressed in Sir Martin Narey’s review.

One example of how care homes work, which I believe should be considered by the Government, is the Scandinavian and Germanic model of residential care, with smaller children’s homes with highly educated social pedagogues in charge. This idea of social pedagogy was backed by the “Care Matters” White Paper in 2007, which finally took it out of the confines of academic discourse and brought it into practical policy development. It included a recommendation to pilot a model in England to gather more evidence. A pilot was commissioned by the Social Education Trust and managed by the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care, a specialist unit under the watchful eye of the National Children’s Bureau.

Reviews of the pilots found that residential care staff welcomed the holistic and child-centred approach that social pedagogy could have on real change to the lives of children in residential care. The idea was backed as a valuable way to work in our residential care homes by the then Department for Children, Schools and Families in its looked-after children report in 2009. However, we have unfortunately seen this important step forward put on the back burner since the Government came to office in 2010. I am therefore interested to hear what assessment the DFE has made of how much this would cost and ​whether it is feasible for the UK. It is clear that the model is working in other countries, and it was welcomed here during the pilots, so an assurance by the Minister to look into this further, as the previous Labour Government had done, would be welcome.

For some children, residential care is the best option to meet their needs, but what is best for children is being in an environment that they know. To rip them away from some of the only constants in their life, including their school place and links to positive support from family—let us remember that not all family members of a looked-after child are irresponsible—can be damaging. In addition, reduced access to social workers and other support services that they have grown accustomed to can be damaging.

It is also concerning when the private sector gets involved and fails to market the services correctly. In a recent case, a looked-after child was moved from Oxfordshire to an expensive placement in Wales, and sadly committed suicide shortly after arriving. The serious case review investigation identified the fact that the quality of the provision on offer was not what had been marketed at all.

Although removing a child from influences such as gang violence or sexual exploitation are honourable and necessary, there is a need to support a child to manage risks and build personal resilience in their home area, especially when many of them return there once they have left a children’s home. Can we blame them? It is the place they know best, where friends and family are, and we all have that homing instinct within us, after all. The Challenging Behaviour Foundation recently came out strongly against out-of-area placements, and it has lobbied for more investment in local communities and areas. That included making the case for renting a home in a child’s local area and supplying staff for children on a one-to-one basis, which is not dissimilar to the Scandinavian model that I mentioned earlier.

Many serious questions about out-of-area placements arise, including the involvement of private companies in the system, which must be addressed urgently by the Government. There is no better time, especially with the review pending, for the Government to take the bull by the horns and make significant strides in reforming the provision on offer to looked-after children. I hope that the Government anticipate that all the issues I have mentioned will be addressed in Sir Martin’s review. However, I hope that another area, which has recently been brought into the public debate, will be considered: the criminalisation of children in residential care.

Recently, the Howard League for Penal Reform released data that showed there had been more than 10,000 police call-outs to residential settings. That is more than two for every child in residential care, and many of the call-outs concerned the most minor of incidents. An excellent report from the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, by Claire Sands, entitled “Growing Up, Moving On”, deals with the long-term effect of even minor offences becoming a criminal record that is never wiped clean. The criminalising of children in residential care is deeply concerning for children who are negatively labelled in many ways before they reach adulthood. If we add “criminal” to that list, we are burdening them further ​with a label that will impede any life chances that may come their way as they move into adulthood. There are some pertinent examples in “Growing Up, Moving On”, which I encourage hon. Members and the Minister to refer to. I hope that the Government are considering that issue seriously and that they will provide strong guidance to residential care homes to prevent further damage to the lives of children and young people by the very system that is trying to help and care for them.

We all want children, no matter what their background, to have the best start in life. That belief should be central to any reforms that affect the lives of children, and I hope that the Government will not squander the opportunity presented by Sir Martin’s review to take significant steps towards achieving that. I look forward to reading the review when it is published, and will continue to press the Government to keep the improvement of looked-after children’s lives at the heart of everything they do, ensuring that they are protected and nurtured and live a happy childhood, just like their peers.

Children's Homes Westminster Hall Debate 19.04.16

Sharon speaking in the Westminster Hall Debate on Children's Homes 19.04.16 Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016 As Shadow Minister for Children, Sharon spoke in a Westminster Hall debate focused...

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Sharon speaking in the Brain Tumour Research Westminster Hall debate 18.04.16

Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016

Following the decision by the House of Common's Petitions Committee to debate the Brain Tumour Research petition, which 132 of Sharon's constituents had signed, and a number of on-going cases with constituents regarding treatment of brain tumours, Sharon took part in the debate in Westminster Hall to highlight two of these cases along with the need for better funding of research to ensure patients receive the best treatment and care possible. 

Read Sharon's speech in Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP in Brain Tumour Research Westminster Hall Debate

Text pasted here:

 5.19 pm

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

I start by thanking the Petitions Committee for introducing this important debate and commending my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) for her excellent opening speech, in which ​she eloquently made the case on behalf of the 120,129 citizens who have signed the online petition. I also commend the hon. Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris), who is the chair of the all-party group on brain tumours, for her leadership on the issue and her very emotional speech, which I thank her for.

Over the years, I have had to deal with a number of individual cases, as I am sure other hon. Members have. Currently, I have three, and 132 of my constituents have signed the online petition. The response from our constituents on the issue is not surprising when we realise that, as we have just heard, malignant brain tumours are the biggest killer among all types of cancer of people under the age of 40 and of children.

Also, survival rates for brain tumours have not improved in the last 30 years; if anything, on some measures they have got worse. Currently, only 40% of patients will live for more than a year after diagnosis and less than 20% will survive for more than five years. However, as we have heard, despite those shocking figures, cancer research funding into brain tumours amounts to little more than 1% of the spend on cancer research. Due to the chronic and continuous underfunding of brain tumour research, there are clear knock-on effects to the services and treatments that patients access and receive. If we continue to limit the potential progress that properly funded research might make, those outcomes will never improve. That probably explains the 30-year plateau that I have just highlighted.

As with all cancers, early detection is key to boosting survival rates. That is why it is so dismaying to find that brain tumours are not included in the Government’s Be Clear on Cancer campaign. Early diagnosis not only helps to prevent avoidable death, but can relieve the stress on a patient’s life, as one recent case brought to my attention by a constituent exemplifies. After visiting their local GP twice about feeling generally unwell, my constituent was told that they had all the classic signs of stress and they were prescribed antidepressants.

Sue Hayman (Workington) (Lab)

My constituent, Rita Magorrian, got in touch with me about her granddaughter, Helen, who collapsed just before Christmas with a brain tumour. Helen had been to see her GP several times and had been told her problems were down to stress, but she had also been to see her optician and was told the same. As well as considering further training for GPs, does my hon. Friend agree that we need to widen the process to include opticians

Mrs Hodgson

That is an excellent point, well made, and I thank my hon. Friend for it.

Two days later, when my constituent lost all strength on the left side of their body, they went straight to A&E, where it was eventually found they had three brain tumours. After receiving brilliant treatment by NHS staff and support from the Bobby Robson centre in Newcastle, thankfully my constituent is now in remission. However, that case clearly shows the need for improved awareness, as the situation would have been better if the GP had been able to spot the signs of a brain tumour sooner. We in the north-east have an excellent research facility in the Bobby Robson centre, but there are always concerns about its future, as it depends greatly on legacy and charitable donations.

​It is also important that research considers the needs of patients. According to studies by Brainstrust, patients believe that more research and funding must focus on the quality-of-life issues, such as function and symptom relief, to help to improve life after diagnosis, whether the diagnosis is terminal or not.

That is reflected in the case of another of my constituents, Malcolm, who was given a terminal diagnosis of a glioblastoma multiforme, or GMB, 4 brain tumour. Despite being told by his doctor in the north-east that he was too sick for further treatment, Malcolm, along with his family, sought out specialists in London. He took the difficult and expensive decision to self-fund the life-extending drug, Avastin, which, although licensed for use in the treatment of some other cancers, was not available on the NHS for use in his case.

Malcom is due to receive another dose of Avastin, but he wants it to be administered locally and is unable to find an oncologist in the north-east who is able to do so, even privately, so Malcolm is faced with either travelling up and down to London for that treatment every two weeks, or perhaps up to Scotland, or to Leeds or Manchester. Although Malcolm has responded well to the Avastin treatment, more options need to be available to people in his position, with treatments to improve the quality of life and, where possible, to extend life. However, that is all for nothing when there is a clear postcode lottery on access to specialists and services, as seen by Malcolm and his family.

The chronic underfunding of research into brain tumours is clearly having an impact on the lives of those who are diagnosed with brain tumours, and that cannot and should not go on any longer.

Brain Tumour Research Westminster Hall Debate 18.04.16

Sharon speaking in the Brain Tumour Research Westminster Hall debate 18.04.16 Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016 Following the decision by the House of Common's Petitions Committee to debate the...

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Sharon Hodgson speaking at the launch of the Honeypot Campaign For Children Who Care - 22nd March 2016

Image copyright Honeypot Campaign

As Shadow Minister for Children, Sharon was invited to speak at the launch of Honeypot Campaign's 'For Children Who Care' which is campaigning to provide respite services to young carers, especially those between the ages of 5 and 12 who Honeypot work with, so that they can have the childhood that they deserve along with addressing many of the health and educational disadvantages they may face. 

You can read Sharon's speech below:

Thank you for having me here today.

As the Shadow Minister for Children, I am all too aware of the challenges faced by young carers - both when I was in this role in the previous Parliament and even before that when I raised many concerns from the backbenches.

For me, the underlying philosophy I have as Labour’s spokesperson for children is that: all children, no matter what their background or circumstances, should have a childhood that is nurturing and full of opportunities so they become well-rounded adults in later life.

Everyone in this room knows that being the main care giver for a loved one at any stage of their life is tough, but for a child it can be even more so when it impacts on their ability to enjoy the same kind of childhood as their peers, and also, in far too many cases, define how the rest of their life will pan out.

Evidence has shown that young carers have significantly lower educational attainment at GCSE, which is equivalent to nine grades overall lower than their peers at the same age, and these children also see a toll on their health, wellbeing and personal development.

With over 160,000 young carers in the UK - with many more estimated by the University of Nottingham which believe the number stands closer to 700,000 young carers – there is still a lot more we can do for this significant group of children and young people to support them in their childhood.

That is why I welcome the work of Honeypot which provides young carers the chance of a break from being a carer and gives those children a safe and nurturing environment so they can take part in being a child alongside their peers.

Last time I was in this job, I worked closely on the passing of the Children and Families Act which helped address some of the difficulties a young carer faces by placing a duty on local authorities to assess the needs of young carers. This was a welcome step forward in recognising that children who are primary care givers need that extra support in their lives from local agencies.

Yet, we can do more. That is why I hope Honeypot’s campaign to give children an entitlement to respite care will be received by the Government. This is a belief that I share with all of you here in the room today and through my role as Shadow Children’s Minister, I will use every available opportunity to raise this issue with the Government.

However, this is something I can’t do alone and I hope everyone here today will go away and write to their local Member of Parliament, or even speak to them if they are here today and lobby them about the need to raise awareness of respite care for young carers.

It is our duty to make sure we do all we can to help these children who do such an incredible loving act for their family and allow them that chance of a childhood filled with fun, joy and laughter.

Thank you and I hope you all have a lovely afternoon here in Parliament.

Honeypot Campaign Launch 22.03.16

Sharon Hodgson speaking at the launch of the Honeypot Campaign For Children Who Care - 22nd March 2016 Image copyright Honeypot Campaign As Shadow Minister for Children, Sharon was invited to speak...

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Sharon Hodgson speaking in the second day of the Budget Debates - 21st February 2016

Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016

Following the Chancellor's Budget on 16th March 2016, Sharon spoke in the second day of the Budget debates and raised concerns about the complete and forced academisation of schools in England and the impact this could have on children with special educational needs and disabilities, along with the failure of the Chancellor to significantly recognise the North East in his Budget which was driven by his desire to push further on his pet project, the Northern Powerhouse.

Read Sharon's speech in Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP in the Budget Debate 2016

Test pasted here:

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): In the time allotted, I cannot cover all the items that make up this ultra-shambles of a Budget, but I will set out a few.

The Government believe that the complete academisation of our schools by 2020 will help to address the widening gap in educational outcomes for the most disadvantaged in our schools. Yet there are many concerns about what that will mean in reality, especially for children with special educational needs and disability.

Since the publication of the Department for Education White Paper, many parents and organisations have contacted me regarding their concerns about what the proposals will mean for children with autism, dyslexia or other special educational needs or disabilities. Evidence has shown that academies have higher rates of exclusion of children with SEND, who are then pushed into local authority maintained schools. Once all schools are academies, who will take the excluded children with SEND? Those children are as worthy as any others of receiving a high-quality education, and I hope the Government will ensure that we continue to have an inclusive education system and that children with SEND are not sidelined or excluded in the fully academised school system they are creating.

Other announcements by the Chancellor failed to recognise the need for further investment in the north-east. That was seen clearly when he announced £80 million for Crossrail 2 in London and the next phase of high-speed rail—High Speed 3—which will go only as far as Leeds. Some of us live more than 100 miles further north, in the north-east, and I wait with bated breath for the day when HS4 or HS5—or will it be HS 67?—reaches us in the north-east.

The Chancellor obviously sees himself as the King in the North, with his northern powerhouse project, but he needs to realise that there is a lot more of the north before he gets to the wall—that is Hadrian’s wall, not the one in “Game of Thrones”. If he truly wants to be the King in the North, and we all know he has—or should I now say had?—ambitions for higher office, he needs to realise that there is a large section of the north between Yorkshire and Scotland called the north-east and to ensure that investment is directed to our region too.

However, there is still something the Chancellor can do now—invest in the future of the Tyne and Wear Metro. The rolling stock has not been updated in its 36-year history. However, for an estimated £400 million, a much-needed completely new fleet could be built, which would future-proof the network into the 21st century, with options for dual voltage giving it the ability to procure vehicles suitable to support future route extensions, such as the expansion into Washington via the Leamside line, which I have campaigned for more than 10 years. That would help not only to drive economic growth, with improved connectivity to other parts of the region, but provide the vital jobs we need through the building of the new fleet.

Budget Debate 21.03.16

Sharon Hodgson speaking in the second day of the Budget Debates - 21st February 2016 Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016 Following the Chancellor's Budget on 16th March 2016, Sharon...

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Sharon Hodgson with Unipres Staff, Gatsby Project team; George Ritchie, Chair of the North East Apprenticeship Ambassador Network and Associate Director PX group and pupils and staff from Link School and Biddick Academy - 14th March 2016

Image Copyright: Unipres 2016.

For National Apprenticeship Week 2016, Sharon was invited to Unipres in Sunderland to welcome the beginning of the week, meet with apprentices and have a tour of the Unipres factory. In her speech, Sharon spoke about the importance of apprenticeships to helping young people reach their potential in life and recognised the work done by Unipres in Sunderland over their 27 years based in the City to support the local economy and workforce.

You can read Sharon's speech here below:

Thank you for inviting me to join you for today’s launch of National Apprenticeships Week celebrations here at Unipres.

It is wonderful that National Apprenticeship Week, which started in 2008, is now in its ninth year where we continue to showcase the positive impact apprentices have on our economy, whilst celebrating the tens of thousands who are currently developing their skills, expertise and knowledge through an apprenticeship, may it be in nuclear technology, fashion design, or of course, car manufacturing.

After the success of last year’s celebrations which saw 600 events held right across the country and businesses pledging to increase apprenticeship numbers by 23,000, I hope this year’s events will build on those achievements ensuring we reaffirm our commitment to apprenticeships as a vehicle to achieve great success in life.

This year’s theme for National Apprenticeships Week is all about rising to the top and recognising the importance an apprenticeship can have on an individual achieving their potential, by learning and earning at the same time.

This is something which is at the very heart of the business ethos of Unipres, who for the last 26 years, have been an important employer here on Wearside, whilst developing a close relationship with Nissan to whom they supply parts for the cars manufactured just up the road.

Unipres’ clear commitment to Sunderland’s local workforce is shown through their continued investment into training local people, providing sustainable and high-quality job opportunities and nurturing a sense of pride in the work that goes on here in Sunderland.

In recent years Unipres has invested heavily into their factory here on Wearside with capital investment of over £40 million between 2012 and 2013 in preparation for the increased production at Nissan, and more recently Renault.

This led to an additional investment of nearly £13 million to install two new presses – which went live just before Christmas and I hope we will get to see them in action later this morning – this created 22 additional new jobs at the factory to work on the production of supplies for both Nissan and Honda’s assembly plant in Swindon, along with exporting to international markets including mainland Europe and Russia.

Parallel to all of this investment into the future of the business, there has been just as much investment into the future of the workforce where over the last year there has been a doubling in the number of apprentices based at the factory.

In total, Unipres now has over 60 apprentices who are studying for their qualifications in engineering, electrical engineering and die and tool-making whilst training hands-on here in order to reinforce what they learn in the classroom.

For any of those young men or women here today, I wish you all the very best with your studies and future career success here at Unipres.

But as the leadership here know the work to inspire the next generation coming into the workforce starts way before they join the business as an apprentice. That is why Unipres has supported an excellent initiative, called Industrial Cadets, which aims to spark the imagination and minds of young people about the career possibilities within engineering and the sometimes unknown career success that can come with starting a high-quality apprenticeship.

That is why it is wonderful that this year’s National Apprenticeship Week celebrations in the North-East have been launched today here at Unipres – showing appreciation of the leadership of Plant Director, John Cruddace, and the hard-work and dedication of everyone who works here.

This week is all about celebration and marking the importance of apprenticeships, and I wish all the success in the world to this year’s National Apprenticeship Week and hope that events like this inspire the young people attending to start an apprenticeship so they too can achieve their full potential and reach the top of their chosen career.

National Apprenticeship Week Launch at Unipres 14.03.16

Sharon Hodgson with Unipres Staff, Gatsby Project team; George Ritchie, Chair of the North East Apprenticeship Ambassador Network and Associate Director PX group and pupils and staff from Link School and...

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