Sharon Hodgson MP

Working hard for Washington and Sunderland West.

Speeches by Sharon Hodgson MP

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on contaminated blood and blood products, secured by Diane Johnson, MP for Hull North, who has led on this issue for a number of years. In her speech, Sharon spoke about the support given to those affected by this scandal under the new system and those missed out, the involvement of private for-profit companies in the administering of payments, and also the need for an independent Hillsborough-style panel.

You can read Sharon's speech in Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP Contaminated Blood and Blood Products Backbench Business Debate 24.11.16

Speech pasted below:

1.27 pm

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

It is a pleasure to speak in such an important debate. I want, first and foremost, to thoroughly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), who for many years now has championed and pushed on this vital matter. Her work cannot and must not go unnoticed or unrecognised. I am sure people across the country, and indeed across the House, will want to join in thanking her.

The experiences of those men and women affected by this awful scandal should never be out of our minds as we continue to do all that we can to support them. Doing all we can for them is paramount, knowing full well that whatever we do will not be enough to give them back their life or a life without suffering or pain. HIV and hepatitis are terrible conditions. Someone living with HIV or hepatitis will face fears of developing other conditions and have to face the stigma that comes with these conditions. This debate is welcome, as it is the first time the House has had the chance to debate the new scheme since it was announced and to continue to hold the Government to account to do more. It is important that we now have the chance to discuss that in a considered and comprehensive manner.

In my contribution, I want to touch upon three areas: first, the current funding system in England; secondly, the involvement of private companies to administer support to beneficiaries; and, thirdly, the need for an independent Hillsborough-style panel to recognise the failures of the system that these people have had to live with.

It was announced earlier in the year that a new financial arrangements system would be introduced, and a public consultation was conducted to get views ​and opinions on how that would take shape. Although there has been a welcome, if somewhat modest, increase in the annual payment to people with HIV, hepatitis C at stage 2 and those who are co-infected, as well as the first guaranteed ongoing payments for people with stage 1 hepatitis C, it is concerning that these payments fall short of what has been drawn up in Scotland.

Also, the current English system makes no mention of support for people who have been cleared of hepatitis C prior to the chronic stage but who, despite fighting off the disease, may still exhibit symptoms ranging from fatigue to mental health issues and even diabetes. These people have never been entitled to any support, and continue to get none. The scheme does not include support for those infected with other viruses, such as hepatitis B, D or E, and for those people it has meant continuous monitoring of their liver function. It is estimated that that group is extremely small and, according to the Haemophilia Society, would be a minimal cost to the Department of Health.

We find that the new scheme does little or nothing for bereaved partners, parents or children of those who have sadly died from diseases contracted through the contaminated blood scandal. The new system should have gone a long way to supporting those various groups within the affected community. I hope that the Minister can give us some reassurance that those concerns have been noted, and that she will go away and look into what more can be done to help the people I have just mentioned.

There are also concerns regarding the discretionary payments, which, thankfully, were saved, despite it being announced in the consultation earlier this year that they could be scrapped. That should be welcomed, but there is a clear concern that the discretionary support will not go far enough to improve the support on offer for those with HIV or those who are co-infected. The Government need to consider that impact and what more they plan to do. It is worrying that the Government have yet to make clear the minimum and maximum discretionary support that people will be able to receive.

I understand that the Reference Group on Infected Blood is currently considering that policy and that we will hear more from it in the new year, but would it not be worth while for the Minister to give us some indication now, so that those who will depend on this money in the years to come can have some reassurance, especially as we enter the festive period? There are many questions to be answered. That is why I hope that in the time allowed the Minister will give us in the House and those who will be watching the debate the reassurances that they need.

The new scheme will replace the current system so that the five trusts across the country that administer the payments are amalgamated into one, and I know that that has been welcomed. However, there is one very concerning point that was so eloquently put by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North when she opened the debate and which needs to be addressed by the Minister. I refer to the potential involvement of a private sector company, such as Atos or Capita, which both bid in the tender process. The Minister no doubt expects me to make the typical party political point, but I am not going to do that.​

That potential involvement was never included in any talks with the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and blood contamination, no consultation was held with the affected community, and there was no mention of it in the Department’s response to the survey, yet we see it happening now. The concern here is that the many thousands of people affected by the mistake—which, it must be remembered, was often made by US private companies—feel aggrieved at the potential involvement of a profit-making private company. That resentment is justified, especially as it was the mistake of a private company that put them in their current situation. There should be no profit making when it comes to compensating for the failures of the private sector. That was highlighted well by my hon. Friend in her speech and was also touched on by the former Health Minister, the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt).

The issue was highlighted too by the APPG’s survey of nearly 1,000 people affected by the scandal, who clearly had concerns about the involvement of a profit-making private company. It is important that those affected have their say in the administration of the payments and support. I would therefore be interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on their involvement, as we have seen in Scotland, where there has been an alternative scheme operator which includes beneficiary involvement. Perhaps the Minister can tell us why private involvement is now being considered, but was never consulted upon.

My final point is about co-ordinating an independent panel, such as in the case of Hillsborough. The Prime Minister promised in September that she would keep an open mind about an independent panel, but she has, sadly, quashed the idea. The rationale given is that we have had two public inquiries into this matter already, by Lord Archer and Lord Penrose. That may be the case, but it is important that we consider the approach to helping people to get the justice they deserve, especially as it is clear that neither of the inquiries met the needs of the affected community. The two inquiries were narrow in their focus and were not about apportioning blame. The affected community is not calling for that. What it is calling for, which is strongly supported by the Opposition, is a truth and reconciliation process and public disclosure of the failures, which those affected rightly deserve.

Mark Durkan

On the need for some vehicle of inquiry into the background, in an intervention, I pointed out that, in the Irish Republic, the right to compensation was established in 1995. There was an Act in 1997, but it was following a tribunal of inquiry that the state admitted liability, so there was further legislation in 2002. The liability of the Irish state rested on the fact that the tribunal found that the state knew that there was a risk and carried it because the UK and others were prepared to carry the same risk.

Mrs Hodgson

I am grateful for that important intervention, which emphasises why we need an inquiry into issues such as the one that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

I am sure the Minister can understand the concerns across the House and out in the community among the people affected and their families. Before she replies, I ask her not to adopt the same language as that used by the Prime Minister, who attributed the lack of support ​for an independent panel to the delay in the introduction of a support system. An independent panel with clearly defined terms of reference would not impede the development and implementation of the new system. I hope the Minister will keep that in mind when she responds, and recognise how important it is for those affected to get the reconciliation for which they have fought so long.

The Government must be committed for reforming the system and listening—must be commended, rather, for reforming the system and listening. I know they are committed to that. However, this is such an important issue that we must get it right, and once more I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North for her steadfast campaigning on this issue over many years. I am sure the community will also recognise that fact. Those people who have had their lives marked so significantly by the failures of the past should rightly be compensated and respected. Those who have died because of that serious mistake, those who are still living with the repercussions of the mistake, and those who have thankfully fought it off but still live with the impact of it all deserve respect and dignity, and I hope that in her reply the Minister will give them just that.

Contaminated Blood and Blood Products Backbench Business Debate 24.11.16

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on contaminated blood and blood products, secured by Diane Johnson, MP for Hull North, who has led...

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke in a debate on diabetes technologies and what more needs to be done to support those living with diabetes. 

You can read Sharon's speech in Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP Diabetes Technologies Westminster Hall Debate 23.11.16

Speech pasted below:

2.58 pm

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

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship today, Mrs Gillan.

I welcome today’s timely debate on access to diabetes technology, which falls in Diabetes Awareness Month. I congratulate the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) on securing this important debate and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr Reed), who is not present today, for all his campaigning, work and efforts on the subject over the years.

I also thank the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), who spoke for the Scottish National party, and I commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) on his excellent contribution on young people with type 1 diabetes, and for highlighting the worrying danger of abuse by young people who skip insulin in order to lose weight. I had heard of that before, but I am grateful that he brought it to our attention today, so that the Minister may respond. As my right hon. Friend said, it is often due to the pressures of society and body shaming and it can, sadly, often be fatal. It is yet another pressure on these young people: aside from having the diabetes diagnosis in the first place, it is something else that they have to deal with.

I also want to disclose from the off that sadly I was diagnosed as a type 2 diabetic just a year ago, but through getting control of my diet and achieving weight loss, which is still ongoing, my diabetes is thankfully very well under control. This debate is therefore very close to my heart.

More than 4 million people and counting in the UK are now living with diagnosed diabetes. Some 400,000 live with type 1 diabetes, and 29,000 of those are children. I am hopeful that in the future, artificial pancreas technology, which we have heard about today, will be effective, safe and accessible to patients, and that eventually, thanks to important research undertaken by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Diabetes UK and others, we will create a world without diabetes.

However, until that time comes, it is paramount that we do all we can to support adults and children living with the condition. Patients need accessible and high-quality education and support, and access to technology that ​will allow them to manage their condition and to achieve positive outcomes. Not only will that have a positive effect upon the lives of those 4 million people, especially including children, but it could also reduce NHS spend on diabetes-related complications.

There have been significant advances and improvements in care for people living with diabetes over the last 15 years or so, but it would be an enormous mistake for us to believe that the job was done. It is far from done and a significant amount of work needs to be undertaken to improve diabetes outcomes. That is because more than 24,000 people a year currently still die from a complication or condition related to diabetes, and many more will encounter life-altering, non-fatal complications. It is worth noting that diabetes-related complications account for a staggering 80% of the £10 billion annual NHS spend on diabetes.

Worryingly, there is also a regional dimension to the challenges presented in relation to positive diabetes outcomes. According to the national diabetes audit 2012-13, diabetes education courses are not being commissioned for people in more than a third of areas in England. Moreover, gateway treatment for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes is undertaken through primary care. However, with a GP shortfall of 40% across the north of England—my region—it is clear that accessibility is limited in certain parts of the country. Meanwhile, some CCGs have particularly large concentrations of people with type 2 diabetes and, it has to be said, there are correlations between those areas and socioeconomic disadvantage. The Government might well approach funding allocations with that in mind.

However, the issue we are discussing, which must be considered alongside the aforementioned points, is supporting patients to access technologies easily that will better help them to manage their condition, from insulin pumps to continuous glucose monitors, to flash glucose meters—a lot of them were spoken about by the hon. Member for St Ives. The technologies to which I refer make monitoring blood glucose more convenient for people than a standard blood glucose meter does, and in turn, those technologies can transform peoples’ lives. Continuous glucose monitors—CGMs—such as the Dexcom device, and flash glucose meters, such as the Abbott FreeStyle Libre device, are considered by many to be a less invasive technique than blood glucose meters for measuring blood glucose. They work 24 hours a day and CGMs can include alarms to indicate when glucose levels are too high. That is particularly important for people who do not know that they are experiencing hypoglycaemia, and children who may be unable yet to communicate it.

It is critical that the House understands the importance of blood glucose readings for people living with diabetes—both types—but it is of essential importance for people living with type 1. With type 2 patients, as I have found, blood glucose is usually monitored and controlled over a long period of time and the scope for immediate blood glucose correction is limited. For people living with type 1—people whose control depends upon the use of insulin delivered through an injection or a pump—accurate, real-time data is essential for blood glucose control.

To put it simply: better blood glucose control will result in better outcomes for people living with type 1 or type 2. It will relieve significant pressure on the NHS ​and result in a significant and positive long-term financial gain. Access to CGMs and flash glucose meters is limited on the NHS, and National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines do not recommend that CGMs are offered routinely even to adults with type 1 diabetes, but funding should be considered in a small number of specified circumstances. Meanwhile, children and young people must either have frequent severe hypoglycaemia, impaired awareness of hypoglycaemia associated with adverse consequences, or the inability to recognise or communicate about symptoms of hypoglycaemia in order to be eligible for a CGM at the moment.

The guidelines, which can be difficult for health professionals, adult patients, and parents alike to navigate, are an obstacle to accessing life-changing technologies for people living with diabetes. As such, I hope that the Government will take steps to encourage CCGs to increase the take-up of CGMs—I apologise for all the acronyms—and flash glucose meters, and that eventually work will be undertaken, in conjunction with NICE, to look at increasing and improving access to diabetes technologies at a faster rate than patients currently experience.

The running cost of a CGM is around £3,000 to £4,000 a year, whereas a flash glucose meter costs around £1,300 a year. That represents a significant personal cost to many of those who are unable to access these technologies through their CCG, and who therefore have little choice but to self-fund. Lots of parents do this for their children especially. In considering the financial impact of diabetes, we must recognise that diabetic technologies should not be available only to those who can afford to self-fund. Allowing the continuation of the disparity between people with diabetes who can afford to make use of life-changing technologies and those who cannot undermines the principle of a truly national health service.

It is also important to consider that investment in the new technologies could save the NHS vast amounts in the long term. That is because they can help to avoid severe night-time hypos, and severe hypos cost the NHS £13 million a year. In addition, as I have mentioned, diabetes-related complications account for 80% of the total NHS spend on diabetes, and supporting patients to better manage their condition through access to CGMs and flash glucose meters will inevitably seek to reduce that cost. That is a significant saving, before we even begin considering the impact of hypoglycaemia on the UK economy as a whole.

Finally, during Prime Minister’s questions, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland, the Prime Minister stated:

“There are many youngsters out there, from tiny tots to teenagers, living with type 1 diabetes. It is important that we send a message to them that their future is not limited: they can do whatever they want.”—[Official Report, 20 July 2016; Vol. 613, c. 821-22.]

I am sure that all of us in the Chamber today very much welcome her comments. I hope that they represent a forthcoming commitment by the Government to improve access to life-changing technologies for adults and children to reduce any obstacles that they might otherwise face.

I ask the Government to commit to working to improve access to diabetes management education, support, and access to emerging technologies. We must ensure that emerging technologies reach the public in a timely ​manner, and that innovation, to make them even more user-friendly and to encourage take-up, is also supported and encouraged by the Government.

A national focus on access to diabetes technologies has its roots not only in clinical, but in financial arguments, as well having national support. So far, more than 26,000 people, from every single constituency in the UK, have signed a petition initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland calling for CGMs to be made available as a right on the NHS to adults and children living with type 1 diabetes. Moreover, 25 cross-party colleagues have signed an early-day motion in a similar vein. I extend my support to those cross-party calls to ensure that such technologies become accessible to adults and children living with diabetes—especially type 1—so as, ultimately, to improve the lives of those who need those technologies.

Diabetes Technologies Westminster Hall Debate 23.11.16

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke in a debate on diabetes technologies and what more needs to be done to support those living with diabetes.  You can read...

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on Self-Care. In her speech, Sharon raised the need to ensure self care was fully supported by the Government o help reduce pressures on the wider NHS and health services and also the impact of cuts to public health funding will have on self care.

You can read Sharon's speech here: Sharon Hodgson MP Self Care Westminster Hall Debate 22.11.16

Speech pasted below:

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

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I welcome this important debate and the fact that it has been secured during Self Care Week - 

Sir Kevin Barron

Just after it.

Mrs Hodgson

Just after Self Care Week. I commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) for securing this debate and for his excellent speech, which shows his deep knowledge of and passion for all matters relating to the health of our nation, especially with regard to preventive health measures. I thank him for that.

This debate is especially important, as it is the first time we have had a dedicated debate on self-care in a very long time. We heard an excellent contribution from the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day). Before we hear from the Minister, I want to look at the issue of self-care and the wider picture of preventive measures through the lens of the cultural shift in the NHS away from care and repair to prevention and wellbeing promotion. I will also look at how aspects of current Government policy, such as the cuts to public health funding—I know I keep banging on about that, but it is important—is detrimental to our shared vision for an improved NHS and to achieving a healthier nation.

When NHS England’s “Five Year Forward View” was published just over two years ago, we were promised a radical upgrade in prevention and public health. That belief in reshaping the approach of the NHS and our health services away from a sickness alleviation service towards a wellbeing service that promotes healthier lifestyles choices, improved wellbeing and the prevention of ill health through behavioural change is supported across the NHS and in wider society.​

That shift is paramount when we see the NHS in a state of crisis, with longer A&E waiting times and GP appointments becoming harder and harder to come by. One in four patients wait at least a week to see their GP. My husband had to wait three weeks to see the GP because it was not an emergency, but he thought it was an emergency; sometimes we do not know, and it is up to the doctor to decide what is important and what is not.

Some parts of the NHS are at crisis point. That is not a party political point at all; it is supported by health organisations such as the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation, which professed this time last year that the NHS was at risk of a “catastrophic collapse”. If the worrying trends in waiting times that I have described are ever to be reversed and we are to save the NHS, we need to have a wholesale rethink about the way we approach health policy. Prevention must be the key, and self-care should be a central part of that reconsidered approach.

Self-care is about empowering people and patients to maintain their own health through informed lifestyle choices, better awareness of symptoms and better awareness of when it is important to seek professional advice—for example, for possible cancer symptoms, where early diagnosis is absolutely crucial and a matter of life and death—and when an ailment can be treated by someone themselves in the appropriate manner by talking to their community pharmacist, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley described on the occasion of a family holiday. With improved confidence, people can take control of their own health or long-term conditions much better and make decisions that are far better for the NHS.

It is completely understandable that when we are unsure about the cause of symptoms or the best course of treatment or care, our first port of call is the NHS. However, being more aware of how we can treat ourselves and having preventive practices in place that reduce the prevalence of ill health will help go some way towards pulling the NHS back from the brink. The NHS is a trusted bastion, but sadly we are seeing more and more people accessing NHS services when there is no need and when a chat to one of our excellent community pharmacists would have sufficed—for example, in the cases we have heard about today of splinters, paper cuts, hiccups or broken nails. A bit of common sense is all that is needed, certainly not a trip to A&E.

In 2014, A&E departments across the country dealt with 3.7 million visits for self-treatable conditions such as those mentioned today, as well as the common cold, flu or muscle pain, combined with 52 million visits to the GP for similar conditions. It is no wonder people cannot get an appointment when some people are going to see their GP for that sort of thing. That has an estimated cost to the NHS of more than £10 billion over the past five years, which is not a small or insignificant amount of money.

Self-care is a crucial preventive measure that must be developed further to ensure that the NHS is as resilient as possible and can respond in more effective and meaningful ways to the nation’s health. With all that in mind, it is deeply worrying that the vision set out in the “Five Year Forward View” has progressed little or not at all. That is seen most clearly through the Making Every Contact Count initiative, which aims to make NHS staff members an important part of boosting ​awareness of healthy living, rather than only administering healthcare to the sick. It is a fantastic initiative. In theory, that strategy can go far in addressing issues around lifestyle choices such as smoking, drugs, diet and alcohol consumption by just adding a one or two-minute conversation when a healthcare professional already has someone in front of them.

It is worrying that the progress and roll-out of that scheme is patchy, despite there being lots of good practice across the country, such as the social prescribing service in Rotherham that my right hon. Friend talked about. Where such system change is flourishing and showing that it can support a reduction in pressures on NHS services such as A&E and GP practices, it should be encouraged, and the roll-out should be far more substantial.

I hope the Minister can give us some reassurance on three key asks for the Make Every Contact Count initiative: first, that we see progress made on the scheme in the new year, as promised by Professor Fenton from Public Health England during the second oral evidence session for the APPG on primary care and public health inquiry; secondly, that best practice is made more readily available to improve provision across the country through the Self Care Forum’s database of best practice; and thirdly, that he commits to ensuring CCGs prioritise implementation of the scheme in their local areas and that training is provided for staff, to equip them to provide consistent self-care messaging.

It should not go without saying that there are examples across the country that show the innovative and positive impacts of improving self-care, such as a scheme in my own neck of the woods in South Tyneside—the neighbouring borough to my own—where a borough-wide conversation has been developed that shifts away from asking, “How can I help you?” and instead asks, “How can I help you to help yourself?”

Those initiatives need funding and encouraging from Government to succeed. However, what we are currently seeing has been described as a frustrating and perverse approach to preventive measures, with cuts to public health funding of £200 million in last year’s Budget, along with an average real-terms cut of 3.9% each year to 2021, announced in last year’s autumn statement. Hopefully tomorrow we will see our new Chancellor go some way to rectifying and reversing that; we can live in hope, unless the Minister has some insight into what the Chancellor will announce. We will keep our fingers crossed.

The Minister is well aware of my opinion on those cuts, because we discuss them every time we meet, and the need to rethink the whole approach, but it is not only me saying this. Only recently, the Health Committee, chaired by the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston)—who I am sure would have been here today if not for the health debate coming up in the Chamber very soon—uncovered serious concerns about the finances and funding of the NHS and public health. In a letter to the Health Secretary in October, the Committee said:

“All the indicators suggest that demand is continuing to grow and that we need to go further on prevention”.

I could not agree more. These cuts are a false economy and are exacerbating the situation within our health services. We are seeing funding directed to our crisis-ridden A&E departments, which are having to crisis-manage failures that could have been addressed a lot sooner.​

The Minister needs fully to understand that to make cuts to one part of our health service without considering the impact on other parts is leading us down the road to rack and ruin. To give him some understanding of the cuts, I suggest that he look at the Health Committee report “Public health post-2013”. The Select Committee does good work, but the Chair is not here to hear me highlight all this work. The report that I have just mentioned highlights research by the Association of Directors of Public Health, which found that local authorities are planning deep cuts to public health services due to the cuts coming from central Government to local authorities. It shows a marked rise for 2016-17 compared with 2015-16.

The Government need to have a wholesale rethink of the funding of the NHS and public health services that sees a redirection to prevention, which will go some way towards addressing many of the problems in our health service that are now being documented weekly. I hope that the Minister takes some time in his response to consider the points that I have raised in relation to public health funding and how current actions are failing the vision of the five year forward view and the health of our nation. Self-care needs properly to be funded and supported to be innovative, so that we ensure that the continuing crisis facing the NHS can be reversed. We cannot continue as we are, because our NHS is too precious to let it fail. The health of the nation needs to be protected, where possible, to enable people to lead long, happy and fulfilling lives.

Self-Care Westminster Hall Debate 22.11.16

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on Self-Care. In her speech, Sharon raised the need to ensure self care was fully supported by the Government...


Sharon speaking in the Arthritis Awareness Week Westminster Hall Debate 20.10.16

Image Copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on Arthritis Awareness Week. In her speech, Sharon raised the concerns that more and more people would be diagnosed with this health condition, and the need for preventative measures to be considered whilst also looking at the false economy around cuts to public health grants, and for better awareness of symptoms and treatments. 

You can read Sharon's speech in Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP Arthritis Awareness Week Westminster Hall Debate 20.10.16

Speech pasted below:

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts.

Today we are debating arthritis and what more can be done to help those who suffer from this terrible health condition. It is very welcome that the Backbench Business Committee allowed this debate to happen today, which is in arthritis awareness week and so soon after World Arthritis Day. I also thank the Members from across the House who secured the debate with the Backbench Business Committee, and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for leading the debate this afternoon. He eloquently and clearly set the tone, and I thank him for that.​

As we have heard, this condition can often go unnoticed or ignored by individuals and wider society, and I hope that the awareness work seen this week has helped somewhat in changing that, along with the role that everyone here has played in supporting that culture change. Nearly 10 million people in the UK live with arthritis. The symptoms can vary; there are over 200 known types of arthritis and rheumatic disease. The symptoms include inflammation of the joints, pain, fatigue, stiffness and difficulty moving. It is quite a common misconception that arthritis is a health condition affecting only the elderly, but it can often affect all ages. That is why it is important that we raise awareness, and that more be done to educate the public on the symptoms, and on the support and help that is out there.

However, we must also be aware that, given the ageing population, more people will suffer with arthritis. The number of sufferers is expected to rise by 50% by 2030. It has to be said that the Government’s short-sighted cuts to public health grants will only cause havoc if the proper finances are not put in place to address our nation’s health.

Arthritis may not be a killer, but it does attack the way of life of many people. As has been put so eloquently today, this condition can make life a very painful struggle, with one in 10 people saying that they live with unbearable pain, day in and day out. The words of those who suffer with this condition can make the strongest cases for reminding us just how tough it can be to live with arthritis.

In the words of Sharon—I am not talking about myself in the third person here, Mr Betts—who suffers with psoriatic arthritis,

“It’s the forgotten condition that no-one thinks is important. It affects everything. It’s exhausting, depressing and makes you feel angry and frustrated.

It robs you of the life you thought you were going to have, the one you planned with your family. It robs you of a sense of purpose. You can’t do what you want, when you want, it’s unpredictable.

Life has to be adapted and constantly changed. The drugs make you feel sick and depressed and have side effects as long as your arm. It becomes important not to look back at what is lost and make an effort every day to look forward and think positively. But it’s invisible, other people don’t see any of that, you just look a bit stiff.”

Those are extremely powerful words and should be a reminder to us all of how important it is to do more to help those suffering with arthritis.

Hearing the stories and experiences of those who live with the condition is important to help raise awareness. That is why the aim of the awareness campaign “The Future is in your Hands” for World Arthritis Day last week was to highlight the stories of those who suffer. It reinforced the comments made by the chief medical officer back in 2012, who said that osteoarthritis, the most common musculoskeletal condition, is a

“generally unrecognised public health priority”.

The Government must listen to contributions of medical experts such as the chief medical officer, and to the expert opinion of those who experience arthritis. They must then act to do more to help those suffering with the condition.​

The Government could help to prevent the development of arthritis with preventive measures that relate to obesity and physical activity. Studies have shown that obesity is the single biggest avoidable cause of osteoarthritis in weight-bearing joints. With two out of three obese people developing osteoarthritis, it is important that we seriously get to terms with addressing obesity; that will create an environment in which those suffering with arthritis can flourish, rather than struggle.

One key way to alleviate symptoms and support people who suffer with arthritis is by promoting physical activity, as it has been shown that regular physical activity can be beneficial in helping to reduce the impact of the condition on people’s lives. My hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees), who is no longer in her place, pointed out that it was a lifetime of sporting activities—she is a very well-known squash player—that probably caused, or exacerbated, her arthritis. However, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has published clinical guidelines that recommend exercise as a core treatment for people with arthritis, irrespective of the severity of their condition.

We need to know which services are out there, so that we can help people acquire the recommended treatment. That is why it would be beneficial for the National Audit Office to conduct a review into physical activity services for people with arthritis. That would help to ensure that we, as policy makers, have the necessary information to drive the policy agenda, and would help to map areas with a shortfall in support and services for those with arthritis. I hope that the Minister will shed some light on plans to undertake that work. Such an investigation would also be important in the light of the cuts to public health grants under this Government. Those cuts are a false economy, and compound the problems accessing services for people who are seeking to manage and improve their lives.

I quoted the following figures to the Public Health Minister at about this time last week from this very spot, but they are worth repeating to the Minister here today. In the autumn statement, the former Chancellor announced further cuts to public health grants, which amounted to an average real-term cut of 3.9% each year to 2021. That translates to a further cash reduction of 9.6%. That is in addition to the £200 million of cuts to public health grants announced in the 2015 Budget. The Minister must bear those figures in mind when responding to the debate and whenever the Department takes action on public health issues. It really is a false economy to cut funding to already overstretched and burdened public health services, as that will obviously exacerbate the problems with those services in the long term.

The need for further awareness of arthritis and its symptoms was clearly shown in a UK-wide survey of more than 2,000 people conducted by Arthritis Care last year, which found that more than a quarter of arthritis sufferers had waited two years to seek help after their symptoms began. When asked why, some 52% said that it was because it did not occur to them that they could have arthritis, and 28% felt that nothing could be done to address their arthritis. I hope that those who have listened to this debate have heard, loud and clear, that help is out there, and that delaying seeking that help will not aid them or their long-term health and wellbeing. That point was made eloquently ​by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), who, I think hon. Members will agree, looks 10 years younger than she did a little over a year ago.

Raising awareness is vital. Last week, world-famous performer Robbie Williams gave a candid interview explaining that he suffers with arthritis and describing the impact that has had on his performance; as a Robbie fan, that concerns me. The more we talk about the condition, and the more that high-profile people, such as the MPs here today, talk about their experiences, the better.

There have been so many eloquent and personal accounts in this debate. I particularly mention the brave and moving account of my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham. She will be playing tennis soon with our own parliamentary tennis champion, Mr Speaker, and I, for one, definitely want a front-row seat for that one. My hon. Friend is a true inspiration to the 10 million arthritis sufferers across the country.

I hope that the Minister has listened not only to the debate and contributions from Members present, but to the voices of those outside this place who have called on the Government to do more for those living with arthritis and the pain that comes with it. There are many ways for the Government to do something, and ideas have come from across the House to steer the Minister in a direction that will help the 10 million people who suffer with the various levels of pain associated with arthritis. Let us hope that this time next year, when we recognise National Arthritis Week again, we will have helped more people to lead a healthier, happier and more pain-free life.

Arthritis Awareness Week Westminster Hall Debate 20.10.16

Sharon speaking in the Arthritis Awareness Week Westminster Hall Debate 20.10.16 Image Copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016 As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on Arthritis...


Sharon speaking in the Tobacco Control Plan Westminster Hall Debate 13.10.16

Image Copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on Tobacco Control Plans. In her speech, Sharon discussed the issue of regional and socio-economic variations in smoking prevalence, along with the take-up of smoking amongst children and young people and smoking amongst pregnant women. Sharon also called on the Government to explain their delayed introduction of a new Tobacco Control Plan. 

You can read Sharon's speechin Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP Tobacco Control Plan Westminster Hall Debate 13.10.16

Speech pasted below:

 2.55 pm

Mrs Sharon Hodgson

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Ms Buck. I start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) and to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing him and others to secure this important debate. As we all know, he has done much during his time in Parliament to address the sale and use of tobacco products, not only in his own constituency just up the road from my own but across the country. That includes his excellent work with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) to bring forward the ban on smoking in cars with children. I commend him for his tireless campaigning and commitment to this hugely important area of public health policy.

I thank right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. I pay tribute in particular to the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), the Chair of the Health Committee, for the support and expertise she brings to the debate. Her predecessor plus one or two, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Kevin Barron), also has a huge wealth of expertise and knowledge across the whole health brief. In my new role, I will certainly be calling on him a fair bit—I hope that he is prepared and willing for that to happen. I also want to commend the other right hon. and hon. Members who spoke today: the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) and the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), who spoke on behalf of the SNP.

I wish to say a few words to the public health Minister. This is our second outing together and I have had this role for only four days, so I think this will be a regular thing. I am definitely looking forward to keeping a close eye on her work at the Department of Health and to debating across the Chamber. I am sure we will do that on many important issues facing our country’s health. If the tireless work of my predecessor, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), is anything to go by, that will be often—surely he has his own seat in here with his name on it because he was in here so much. That is a daunting prospect.

Today we are debating the important topic of tobacco products. It is crucial that the message is put across to the Government that more can and should be done to ensure that we all lead healthier lives. The control of the sale and use of tobacco is an important public health matter not only for those individuals who use it but for all around them.

During Labour’s time in office, we recognised that fact, which is why we did a lot to address smoking in society, most famously with the introduction of the ban on smoking in public places. The ban brought in a culture change in our society. When we used to walk into any indoor public space, it was the norm to be met with a cloud of stale tobacco smoke, whereas now all of us—especially children and families—can enjoy ourselves freely without having to breathe in second-hand smoke or have the overhang of smoke in the air.

The Tory-led coalition Government came into power and brought in their own tobacco control plan, and it was welcome that it achieved so much over its lifetime, ​including the prohibition of point-of-sale displays in shops; the introduction of standardised packaging for tobacco products; and the national ambitions on reducing smoking, which were all met. However, when the plan ceased at the end of last year, it was vital that the Government published a new plan in a timely manner to build on the work of previous Governments. Sadly, nearly a year on, the Government have failed to come forth with such a plan, despite the promise and a commitment to do so last December.

Last month, the Health Minister in the House of Lords failed to commit to a final date for publication. We were expecting to have sight of that plan over the summer; we are now hopeful that we will see it during the Indian summer. Changes in Government meant the plan was put on hold. The delay is not too dissimilar in some ways to the constant delay to the childhood obesity plan—although at least that was rushed out over the summer.

A change in ministerial personnel should not be an excuse for delaying such an important intervention in the health of our society, especially when the new Prime Minister stood on the steps of No. 10 Downing Street in the summer and committed her Government to

“fighting against the burning injustice that, if you’re born poor, you will die on average 9 years earlier than others.”

We were led to assume that was going to be the driving force of the Prime Minister’s Government, and I hope it is, but the rhetoric has not yet translated into reality when it comes to this serious public health issue facing our country.

The Government have faced a vocal chorus from charities and organisations, including the British Medical Association, Action on Smoking and Health and the British Lung Foundation, which have all called on the Government to get their act together and publish the new plan. In that regard I also commend the work of Fresh, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North mentioned, which does such sterling work in the region with the highest smoking rates and some of the worst health outcomes.

The Minister and her officials at the Department of Health are being told loud and clear to get on with the job at hand and to answer the crucial question that has come out of today’s debate: what is the delay? I hope she will shed some light on that important question in her response and—finally—tell us when we can expect the new tobacco control plan.

I want to set the scene on why it is so important we have a new plan, on top of what has already been said today, by looking at the facts and figures on smoking, including the variation of smoking habits among certain groups of society—especially children, young people and pregnant women. The smoking rate in England is 19%, but that varies from region to region. It is highest in the north-east, where it reaches 19.9%, and lowest, at 16.6%, in the south-east. Those are regional figures. When looking at the figures borough by borough, my local authority of Sunderland does not fare well at all, with 23% of the population smoking. That is much higher than even the highest of the regional averages.

Looking at smokers based on their socioeconomic status, it is clear the less well-off in society are more likely to smoke. I am not going to go into all of the reasons for that. We just have to accept it is where we ​are—but what can we do about it? Smoking rates among those in the professional and managerial socioeconomic group are less than half the rate of those in routine and manual socioeconomic groups, at 12% and 28% respectively. When the net income of a family and their smoking expenditure are both taken into consideration across England, 1.4 million, or 27%, of the households with a smoker fall below the poverty line. If those costs were returned to the families, it is estimated that approximately 769,900 adults and 324,550 dependent children would be lifted out of poverty.

That is a striking statistic, especially given the study published only a few weeks ago that showed that 250,000 children will be pushed into poverty during the lifetime of this Parliament due to the Government’s policies. Getting it right on smoking could totally negate that impact, so it is definitely something worth looking it. The stats show we must do more to address the cycle of health inequality, which spans generations and continues the awful situation in which there are huge life expectancy gaps between the rich and poor, as we have clearly heard today. If the Government want to change that, one way would be to step up and continue the work of reducing smoking in society.

If those figures do not spur the Minister on to bring forward the new tobacco control plan, hopefully looking at the issue of smoking among our children and young people will. It is welcome that smoking among children and young people fell to an all-time low of 6% under the last tobacco control plan, as we have heard, but it remains an issue when two thirds of adult smokers report taking up the habit before the age of 18, with 80% saying it was before 20. That is compounded when children who live with parents or siblings who smoke are three times more likely to take up the habit than children from non-smoking households. It is also estimated that 23,000 young people in England and Wales start smoking by the age of 15 due to exposure to smoking in the home.

Kevin Barron

My hon. Friend uses the statistics very well. Do they not defeat the myth that smoking is an adult habit?

Mrs Hodgson

They certainly do. The situation on children smoking is quite stark. The earlier children start smoking, the more serious the consequences are for their health. Children who take up smoking are two to six times more susceptible to coughs and increased phlegm, wheeziness and shortness of breath than those who do not smoke. It can also impact their lung growth, which can impair lung function and increase the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in later life. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North, 25,000 people a year die from COPD. Surely we do not want any child in this country to die in that way. The prevalence of these conditions among smokers shows it is paramount that we seriously tackle smoking among our children and young people. We do not want to see the children of today being the COPD sufferers of the future, as well as having those other conditions.

Alex Cunningham

I am really pleased my hon. Friend is framing the issue specifically around children. My wife, Evaline, worked as a school nurse and used to hold classes talking to young people about this. She would ​put forward the economic argument—“If you smoke so many cigarettes over so many days over so many months it costs £2,000, which could buy you a summer holiday.” She was then told, “No, Miss, you’ve got it wrong; it is only £3.20 a packet from Mrs Bloggs down the road.” Do we not also need to ensure we tackle illicit tobacco and ensure children understand the dangers of that as well?

Mrs Hodgson

My hon. Friend raises a very good point. The danger and quality of illicit tobacco can often be far worse for health than just long-term smoking. The substances used in those cigarettes can be life threatening.

I will move on to the dangers of smoking during pregnancy, which was raised by the hon. Member for Totnes. While we know the harms of living in a household with a smoker, for some that harm starts before birth as 10.6% of women are smokers at the time of delivery. That equates to 67,000 infants born to smoking mothers each year, while up to 5,000 miscarriages, 300 perinatal deaths and around 2,200 premature births each year have been attributed to smoking during pregnancy.

Smoking during pregnancy has been identified as the No. 1 risk factor for babies to die unexpectedly. According to research by the British Medical Association, if parents stop smoking, that could reduce the number of sudden infant deaths by 30%. Those are shocking figures that show the heartache and pain a mother and the family around her will go through from the horrific events of losing a baby through, for example, miscarriage, stillbirth or sudden infant death. That is especially pertinent this week as it is baby loss awareness week, which I know some of us are wearing little pins to commemorate. There is a debate currently going on in the main Chamber —there was; it has just finished—in which many colleagues gave heartbreaking accounts of their personal experiences or those of their constituents who have suffered the loss of a baby. I was able to intervene and give a personal account of my own experience.

Baby loss due to smoking is preventable if Government action is taken as soon as possible. Important work has been implemented on smoking during pregnancy that has seen the number of pregnant women smoking fall to its lowest-ever levels, but I welcome the calls from the Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group to see a commitment from the Minister today to work to reduce the percentage of women smoking during pregnancy to 6% or lower by 2020. It may be an aspirational figure, but it can be achieved as long as a comprehensive plan is put in place to control the use and sale of tobacco.

Regional variations, including those I mentioned earlier, must be addressed; other colleagues have mentioned them, too. We are seeing 16% of women in the north-east and Cumbria smoking at the point of delivery, compared with only 4.9% in London. This stark figure shows that more regional action and support must be offered by the Department of Health to ensure that regional inequalities are addressed. The regional variations and the other variations mentioned show that the slashing of the public health grants is a false economy when it comes to seriously driving forward the agenda on public health, especially in relation to smoking.

In last year’s autumn statement, the then Chancellor announced further cuts in the public health grant, which amounted to an average real-terms cut of 3.9% each ​year to 2020-21, and translates to a further cash reduction of 9.6% in addition to the £200 million worth of cuts announced in the 2015 Budget. As we know, specialist support and stop smoking services help to get people off cigarettes and to lead a far healthier lifestyle. However, cuts to public health funding have meant that it has proven far more difficult for local authorities to provide that much needed specialist support.

In a survey of local tobacco control leads conducted by Action on Smoking and Health and commissioned by Cancer Research UK, a total of 40% of local stop smoking services were being reconfigured or decommissioned in 2014-15. In Manchester, we have seen a complete decommissioning of stop smoking services. This is even more concerning when the initial results of the 2015-16 survey show that the rate of decommissioning and reconfiguring is increasing. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will be able to commit to ensuring that we have a substantial source of funding for specialist services that help to support in particular those in lower social economic groups as well as pregnant women to quit smoking. We must end the intergenerational cycle of health inequality that I have spoken about.

It is important that we have a plan and that we have it now—a plan that continues the work of previous Governments to reduce smoking in our society. We have seen inroads into creating a healthier society, but we all recognise we have a long way to go, as the facts and figures show. The Government’s delayed plan must be published now, and it must have measures in place that will address the many variations, from geographical variation to deprivation and socioeconomic background variation.

We must see further work to address the take-up of smoking by children and young people if we are to ever achieve our goal of the next generation being healthier than the last. We need to address smoking among young people head on. Achieving a smoke-free society is within our reach, but what we do not need is further delay and hesitation by the Government. What we need is bold action.

I hope that the Minister can give us that bold action today and that she does so by finally giving us the date when the new tobacco control plan will be published. The longer we wait, the more children will take up smoking, the more people will get ill and, sadly, the more people will die. The time for waiting is over. We now need bold action.


Tobacco Control Plan Westminster Hall Debate 13.10.16

Sharon speaking in the Tobacco Control Plan Westminster Hall Debate 13.10.16 Image Copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016 As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on Tobacco...

Sharon hosted an Arts Summit reception in Parliament, which brought together all the arts-related APPGs to network and campaign on the importance of the arts to society, our economy and children's education.

You can read Sharon's speech below: 


Firstly, I want to take a moment to thank everyone for coming along this afternoon.

It is fantastic to see so many people from across Parliament, the cultural and creative industries and the education sector coming together to show our support for the arts and be a strong voice to raise awareness of our concerns for the future of the arts and creative industries.

Human creativity is important to us as it’s what makes us who we are. When the very first caveman drew a buffalo on the first cave wall and danced around the fire singing, creativity and artistic expression have been central to our very existence as individuals and as a society.

We should not betray that fact, and should instead harness the boundless nature of human creativity.

The arts are not just vitally important to us as individuals and as a society, but also to our economy. The arts make £84.1 billion per annum here in the UK, which is rising by 6% yearly.

This translates as £9.6 million an hour for the UK, or a whopping £160,000 a minute. Once I have finished addressing you this afternoon, the arts will have contributed £800,000 to our economy.

These figures cannot go ignored.

Yet, there is a risk that these impressive figures are in jeopardy from the ramifications of the country’s decision to exit the EU, along with the Government’s controversial education policies.

On Brexit, much of this has already been discussed by others in the sector, including Dezeen magazine which created their Brexit Design manifesto, which is supported by leading luminaries from across the design, architecture and arts industries who are asking for the Government to recognise the design world’s importance to our economy, but also its close connections to the EU, as one of its major export markets for design services.

Just in the last few weeks we have seen the internationalism and innovation of the UK’s arts and creative industries, with Frieze Arts Fair last weekend, where artists, art buyers and galleries from across the world descended on London to enjoy, buy and promote art. To last month, seeing London Fashion Week and London Design Week, showcasing the creativity and design innovation of some of our best assets here in the UK, to the rest of the world.

But note, it isn’t all a London-centric story, with over 60% of creative businesses outside of the capital – with games designers, such as Ubisoft, in Gateshead in the North East, and Media City in Manchester, to name just a few.

Arts and culture unite our country and highlight the best of British to the world. We cannot allow exiting the EU to damage these industries.

It is not only Brexit which may have an impact on our arts, creative and cultural industries, but also the current Government’, and previous Coalition Government’s, educational policies.

Many of you, in fact everyone in this room I would imagine, will have heard of the EBacc and the growing evidence that has shown that this school performance measure is having serious consequences on the uptake of arts subject in our schools.

It is obvious when we saw a decrease of 11,552 students taking an art and design GCSE last year, and a 33.4% decline in AS levels in art, then we are setting ourselves up for a serious pipeline problem where we will struggle to find new artists, designers and creators to allow the arts and creative industries to flourish.

When business is booming and consumers are enjoying what UK plc has to offer, we are seeing that education policies are failing to recognise the fact that creativity will be one of the main drivers of the 21st century economy.

To make sure the next generation is as successful as it possibly can be, we need to be educating them to take up the jobs of the future. Many of which won’t have been heard of yet, but as we all will agree, creativity will play a central role in those jobs of the future.

That is why this summit is important to begin the work of closer collaboration between Parliament and the creative industries and I hope that we will have great success come out of today, so we can champion common causes which affect such an important part of our society and economy.  

Thank you. 

Sharon speaks at Arts Summit in Parliament

Sharon hosted an Arts Summit reception in Parliament, which brought together all the arts-related APPGs to network and campaign on the importance of the arts to society, our economy and...


Sharon speaking at the British Youth Council Youth Voices Convention

Photo copyright Office of Sharon Hodgson MP, 2016

Sharon was invited to address members of the British Youth Council at their Youth Voices Convention in Newcastle, where they discussed Brexit, along with other issues impacted the lives of young people. 

You can read Sharon's speech below:


Thank you so much for inviting me here to speak to you all today. I have worked with the British Youth Council for a number of years now and the work they have been doing regionally and in Parliament is phenomenal.

I would like to thank all of the young people who have come along today to take part and to talk about the issues that matter most to you. It is important that politicians, of all parties, seriously listen to what young people have to say especially in such turbulent and unpredictable times following the EU Referendum result in the summer.

The young people of our country are as engaged, as knowledgeable and as important as anybody else in our society, and I am sure the way you work together and contribute at events like these will enable many to finally understand how vital it is to listen to our next generation. I am really looking forward to answering your questions in a short while as well, to put this idea into practice!

It is important for young people to identify the issues that will affect them the most, and to have serious debates and discussions on these matters, which can then be fed to politicians who sit in Westminster, along with our devolved legislatures and local councils, to inform the work we do as politicians that effects the lives of young people.

I am also very pleased and impressed to see some of the extremely important and complicated issues that are being looked into later on today here at this convention. I have to say from the off that there will be a lot of agreement between yourselves and me. Such as votes at 16.

This is an issue which I have supported for a number of years, believing young people who contribute to our society through paying their taxes, joining the army and having the ability to get married, should have a say over who is representing them.

This move to lower the voting age would be made even stronger, if we saw real commitment from the Government on improving citizenship education in our schools so that when young people do go to the ballot box that they are as well informed as possible to make important decisions on how their lives will be affected.

One of the main issues that I hope you will be discussing today, and I am sure you will be, is what Brexit will mean for the UK and young people now that the EU Referendum vote has taken place.

Young people have the most to lose from us leaving the EU, with the unpredictability of what Brexit actually means and the impact it will have on your lives; far more than the generations who voted for us to leave the EU.

However, the votes have been cast and the decision has been made – however much many of us may not have agreed or liked the result on the 24th June. But what is important now, is young people help shape what Brexit will mean for them. As you will live with this decision for far longer than any of us who currently sit in Parliament or have taken an active interest in this issue.

From issues including, but not exclusive to: immigration and freedom of movement; access to the single market which has shown to be vital to our industries and trade; continuing the protections on our environment; seriously tackling climate change and global poverty, and; to worker’s rights. The list could go on.

What is important is that we move away from empty slogans which try to allay the concerns of many people who voted to remain or those who voted to leave but are now sceptical of the Leave campaign’s ability to deliver after their back peddling so soon after the result was known. Example, the £350 million a week on the side of the Brexit bus for the NHS.

What we need now are practical and concrete plans that will help us understand the direction our country will take once we finally invoke Article 50 and begin the process of decoupling ourselves from the EU.

Your voices must be heard, and I know that the work you do as part of the British Youth Council will be seriously listened to by Parliamentarians who will be scrutinising the Government, both from those on the backbenches, the Opposition frontbenches and the soon-to-be formed Select Committee on Exiting the European Union. But it’s not only Parliamentarians who can hold the Government to account, it is you as well.

You and your families can hold the Government to account by making your voices heard, by campaigning on issues you feel passionate about – just as you all already do as part of the British Youth Council. But also, writing to your local Member of Parliament.

Members of Parliament are there to represent their constituents, and it is important that they know the views of their constituents. As a Member of Parliament, I welcome hearing the views of all of my constituents, both young and old, and not only those who can vote.

That is why I hope you will write to your Member of Parliament after today’s convention and let them hear your views and opinions on Brexit – otherwise, your voices will not be heard as part of our daily work to represent our constituents.

The transfer of ideas and opinions, in a civilised, open and respectable manner, is exactly what our politics should be about. It is something we must cherish and protect. And I always enjoy talking to you all in such a manner. It can be incredibly refreshing from the bravado seen in the House of Commons or the vitriol seen on social media.

I look forward to hearing from you all in the Q&A shortly, and to hear what your concerns are on Brexit, but also on a whole host of issues which affect the lives of young people – from mental health services, to civil and democratic rights, and better employment opportunities. There are many I could list, but I want to hear from you and hear the concerns of young people right now.

So, once again, thank you so much for inviting me here today to be a part of this brilliant convention. I hope you all have a great day, learn a lot and have plenty of questions at the ready for me to answer!

Thank you. 

Sharon speaks at British Youth Council Youth Voices Convention in Newcastle

Sharon speaking at the British Youth Council Youth Voices Convention Photo copyright Office of Sharon Hodgson MP, 2016 Sharon was invited to address members of the British Youth Council at...


Sharon speaking on the last day of LACA's Main Event in Birmingham 08.07.16

Photo copyright Lindsay Graham, 2016.

As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for School Food, Sharon was invited to speak on the morning of the last day of the Lead Association in Catering in Education's (LACA) annual conference in Birmingham. Sharon spoke about the work already achieved by campaigners in school food policy, and the work still to do and what catering staff can do to help push this important agenda forward.

Sharon speaks at LACA Main Event in Birmingham 08.07.16

Sharon speaking on the last day of LACA's Main Event in Birmingham 08.07.16 Photo copyright Lindsay Graham, 2016. As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for School Food, Sharon was... Read more

Sharon_EBacc_speech.jpgSharon speaking in the EBacc: Expressive Arts Westminster Hall debate 04.07.16

Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016

Following the decision by the House of Common's Petitions Committee to debate two petitions signed regarding the EBacc and Performing arts GCSE and A level qualifications, Sharon, in her role as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Art, Craft and Design in Education, spoke during the debate about the benefits of a well-rounded curriculum that includes high-quality, inclusive arts education.

Read Sharon's speech in Hansard here:  Sharon Hodgson MP EBacc Expressive Arts Westminster Hall Debate

Text pasted here: 

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

It is a true delight to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I welcome this important debate. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on art, craft and design in education, I wish to make a cross-party case for promoting the creative arts in our schools. I invite other Members present to join our all-party group, if they so desire. We regularly engage with teachers, academics and cultural providers, a number of whom are in the Public Gallery—I thank them for being here. We engage with people from across the country, and most importantly, we engage with young people who wish to see a strengthened art offer in our schools.

I also welcome that a number of my constituents supported the EBacc petition—many of them will be art teachers who are concerned for the future of their subject, about which they are so passionate—and a similar number signed the petition on performing arts subjects at GCSE and A-level.

As we have heard, creativity is vital to the wellbeing of our society, and all of these subjects provide a space for young people to push boundaries, widen their horizons and explore what it means to be human. Only last week I went to the Lyric theatre in Hammersmith to watch the performance of “Treasure Island” by the Federation of Westminster Special Schools. The show was directed ​by James Rigby, and I saw all the work put in by Paul Morrow, the federation’s lead practitioner of creative arts, and by all the schools’ teachers, staff and pupils in collaboration with the staff of the Lyric theatre—I especially mention John Glancy, the producer. They all came together to put on a wonderful production that showed exactly what allowing children to flourish in the arts can do for their lives and their self-esteem.

Experiencing and engaging in the arts not only helps to nurture quantifiable positives; we can also see tangible evidence of the positive contribution that art education can make to our country. Our creative industries contributed an estimated £84.1 billion to our economy last year, and it is important to remember that our creative industries can thrive even more if we promote high-quality and inclusive art education in our schools to help feed the skills supply for the market. Sadly, the Government’s curriculum reforms, such as the EBacc, have had unintended consequences for creativity in the curriculum. The Department for Education has made the case that its reforms will not stop pupils taking additional non-EBacc subjects, and it claims that uptake in arts subjects has risen because the proportion of pupils with at least one arts GCSE has increased since 2010.

Once again, I acknowledge and thank the Minister for attending a meeting of the all-party group a few months ago. He listened to an extensive presentation on the latest National Society for Education in Art and Design survey, which highlighted the effect of the unintended consequences, and he answered questions from the gathered representatives, artists and teachers for some two hours. I know that must have had an effect on him, and I urge him again to take a closer look at the figures. The EBacc’s narrow-minded approach and prescriptive nature is sadly leaving very little space for creative subjects to flourish.

Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)

I am interested in the hon. Lady’s speech. Does she agree that part of the problem of providing our children with the opportunity to be creative is the pressure to remain inside the classroom? Pupils have to leave the safe space of the classroom to experience the creative realms in the community.

Mrs Hodgson

The hon. Lady makes a good point. Trips to theatres, cultural sites and museums are becoming increasingly difficult for various reasons, including safeguarding and cost—even though museums are free to visit, the children have to get there, which takes time and organisation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) said earlier, such trips will be lacking from some of the children’s daily lives, weekends and holidays, so it is important that that shortfall is made up for in school. For more privileged children, no matter whether they go to state or independent schools, it is just a normal part of their existence. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention.

In May 2014, the Cultural Learning Alliance found that the number of hours of art teaching and of art teachers had fallen in secondary schools since 2010. Design and technology faced the greatest decline, with 11% fewer teachers and less teaching time. The number of art and design teachers had fallen by 4% and the number of teaching hours by 6%, even though the number of pupils in secondary schools has fallen by about 2%. It is clear that provision of arts subjects is declining disproportionately.​

As I mentioned earlier, the National Society for Education in Art and Design conducted a survey of teachers working across England in the academic year 2015-16 on the impact of Government policy on art, craft and design education over the past five years. The study found that 33% of art and design teachers at key stage 4, across all sectors, reported a reduction in time dedicated to their subject over the past five years. That figure rises to 44% in responses from academies. Of those teachers, 93% said that the EBacc was directly reducing opportunities to select art and design at GCSE level.

The reduction in provision for vocational creative qualifications is even more illuminating and concerning. Between 2011 and 2015, completions of art, craft and design level 2 vocational qualifications decreased by 43%. Although we are discussing the EBacc, which is only a performance measure at secondary school, it is having clear ramifications for other stages of young people’s education. Figures from the Cultural Learning Alliance show that between 2010 and 2015, dance AS-levels have declined by 24% and dance A-levels have declined by 17%.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on art, craft and design in education, I have heard anecdotally that primary schools are less free to dedicate time to creative education due to unprecedented pressure on the three R’s—reading, writing and arithmetic, which we all agree are extremely important. As the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) said, it should not be a case of either/or. Both are vital.

Secondary school teachers now report a fall in artistic skills and confidence when pupils arrive in year 7. Sadly, the ramifications of the curriculum changes are that secondary schools are putting less time and fewer resources into creative education in an understandable bid to climb the league tables. It is having a knock-on effect on other parts of the education pipeline. It means that pupils are being denied the opportunity to develop creative cognitive skills that are useful in other subjects, such as maths or science, and may become less confident and able to choose or pursue artistic GCSEs and A-levels.

A broad and rounded education is paramount to skilling our young people to enter the world of work in the 21st century. An art education can be vital to doing so, but if the Government insist on keeping the EBacc as a performance measure, in order not to weaken arts provision in our schools even further, the only way to maintain quality creative education is to include the creative arts in the EBacc. Excluding the arts subjects from the EBacc—

Mr Gibb

Which particular creative arts subject does the hon. Lady want to make compulsory to 16?

Mrs Hodgson

It could be left to the young person to choose, as with most subjects. We do not tell young people which language they must study, or which humanity. Let the young person choose; just put a list of creative arts there.

By excluding arts subjects from the EBacc, the Government have told our students that those subjects are not important and are a waste of their time and ​talent. The situation is simply not good enough. We need to be serious about providing a creative education that ensures that young people from ordinary backgrounds, as others have said, have opportunities to develop their skills so that they can become the next world-famous artist filling art galleries around the world, the next global superstar or actor packing out arenas or theatres or—I must declare an interest again—the next big games artist creating the next global game. The UK has world-leading companies in the games industry.

We should not limit young people’s life chances in this way. We need a forward-looking curriculum that provides a truly rounded education, remembering that subjects do not stand alone. Withdrawing opportunities from young people’s lives to express themselves creatively will not only ruin their chance to broaden their horizons and their understanding of what drives us as humans—our creativity—but affect the fledgling sectors that rely heavily on our nurture of the skills needed to make them soar.

Our human creativity is boundless, and studying creative subjects can harness it. That is why it is important that we ensure that whether or not the EBacc remains, the creative subjects have a place in our curriculum and do not face further and continual diminution by Government reforms. The arts are what we all do in our spare time, in one form or another. Why? They make our hearts soar. We are creative and artistic beings. Since the first caveman drew a buffalo on the first cave wall and danced around the fire singing, the arts have been how we express ourselves. They are intrinsic to being human. I ask the Minister: please do not make our education system a cultural desert for our children, as I fear the unintended consequences.

EBacc: Expressive Arts Debate Westminster Hall 04.07.16

Sharon speaking in the EBacc: Expressive Arts Westminster Hall debate 04.07.16 Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016 Following the decision by the House of Common's Petitions Committee to debate two...

Sharon recently spoke at a conference held by Durham County Council's Education department on child poverty, where she spoke about her work on addressing child hunger as Chair of the School Food APPG. 

You can read Sharon's speech below:


Thank you for inviting me along to speak to you today.

We’ve already had an excellent opening presentation by Lorraine, and I am also looking forward to hearing from our next speaker, Sara Bryson from Children North East on poverty proofing the school day.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to stay for the whole duration of your conference – as I need to be in Parliament later this afternoon - but I do wish you all the best with today.

There are many pressing priorities as a politician when it comes to addressing issues that affect us as a society, yet for me, it is vital that we dedicate as much time and energy as possible into addressing the issue of child poverty – which is one of the most persistent and damaging issues we face as a country.

It has been one of my many ambitions since being elected 11 years ago to do all I can to tackle this issue once and for all.

This has included campaigning against the lack of choice for parents when buying their child’s school uniform when schools restrict options to an overly priced supplier, which to me is all about the underhand selection in some schools to only have a certain ‘type’ of pupil attending their school.

One of the main areas of poverty that I am currently working to develop policy around is food poverty, especially child hunger.

Food is a vital component in all of our lives.

It is important to help sustain ourselves, keep us healthy and fuel us for the day ahead.

This is no different for children.

That is why I have been a passionate advocate and supporter of providing children and young people with the much-needed food and nutrients that can help them succeed in life, both in and out of school, but also teaching them the essentials around food and cooking, which can all help address food poverty.

This has mainly been done through my work as the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for School Food, which for the last five years has championed policy interventions around children and food in our schools from universal free school meals, improving the inspection of food in our schools by Ofsted and championing better provision of food education across all Key Stages.

More recently, the APPG has steered ahead on a pertinent aspect of child hunger, known as holiday hunger, with the setting up of the Holiday Hunger Task Group which has helped drive forward the agenda on child holiday hunger and championed the development of policy to address this growing issue.

That is why I am delighted to be speaking to you all today.

Over the next 20 minutes or so, and in the following Q&A, I will touch on the work of the APPG and what support those in the room today can give to the APPG, along with the Task Group, to achieve our goal of no child going hungry.

But first I want to discuss the wider issue of child poverty and child hunger in the UK to help set the scene of why the APPG has acted to address this issue. 

According to figures released by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) last year, absolute poverty will increase from 15.1% in 2015-16 to 18.3% in 2020-21.

This is compounded by predictions from the Resolution Foundation who fear that 200,000 more children will enter into poverty during this calendar year – the majority coming from working households.

If this trajectory was to play out, then it would be a damning indictment of the current Government, and the previous Coalition Government, who failed to address this issue meaningfully following the work in the last years of the Labour Government when we passed the Child Poverty Act in 2010.

This Act set out four legal duties on the then Government and any future Government to work towards key targets on poverty by 2020, which included less than 10 percent of children in relative poverty and less than 5% of children in absolute poverty.

These targets were important for us to work towards, and if possible exceed, and get to a place where no child was living in either relative or absolute poverty.

However, back in July of last year, we saw the then Work and Pensions Secretary make a decision that the child poverty targets set out in the Act would be replaced with a new duty to report on levels of educational attainment, worklessness and addiction, rather than relative material disadvantage.

Whilst measuring these areas is important as they are commonly experienced by those living in poverty and by children from disadvantaged backgrounds; it beggar’s belief why we should consider withdrawing the duty to report and monitor material disadvantage also.

Abolishing these legal targets will not see poverty disappear from our society and will not solve the growing crisis that we are watching unfold in this country, instead poverty will just go unmonitored, unchecked and unrestrained .

These changes will make poverty an issue which is unchallenged and will fail to allow us, as Parliamentarians and civil society, to react with the right kind of policy to help tackle poverty before it becomes worse.

By failing to address poverty in a meaningful way, Parliamentarians and the Government are failing those very children that we are elected to help protect by creating a society that enables them to become well-rounded and successful adults.

Poverty is an issue which affects the life chances of children as they grow-up, through negative impacts on their health, education, and social and emotional wellbeing.

By sitting back and doing nothing, we are consigning those disadvantaged children to the same future as their parents by failing to break the cycle that traps generation after generation in poverty.

A report published back in 2013 found that child poverty costs the UK at least £29billion each year, and this doesn’t include the unmeasurable lost opportunities of every child who continues to be trapped in poverty.

The findings are stark and should act as a reminder of how important it is to continue the push to end child poverty. Not only for every individual child, but for society as a whole.

Research has also found that children from poorer backgrounds lag behind their more affluent peers at every stage of education.

By the age of 3, poorer children are estimated to be nine months behind those children from wealthier backgrounds.

And by the Department for Education’s own figures, by the end of primary school, pupils who are in receipt of a free school meal are estimated to be almost three terms behind their peers, rising to five terms at age 14, and by 16, this amounts to being 1.7 GCSE grades lower than their peers from more affluent backgrounds.

In regards to health, poverty is highly associated with a high risk of both illness and premature death.

Children from some of the poorest areas of the UK weigh 200 grams less at birth than those from the richest areas.

And poorer health over the course of those children’s lifetime will impact their life expectancy, with children who go on to have a career in a professional environment living 8 years longer than those who have an unskilled job.

Poverty also plays a part in the breakdown of communities and social cohesion, which are important to healthy and flourishing local communities.

For children from low-income families, they are often the ones who miss out on what many of us take for granted, such as school trips, not being able to invite their school friends round for tea, or families not being able to afford a one-week holiday away from home – regardless of if it is abroad or here in Britain.

Figures show that 1 in 3 families with young children in the UK are unable to afford a week’s holiday, with more than a million families not able to afford a day out during the summer.

These figures are deeply concerning, and are, reflected in my experiences as a local Member of Parliament.

Not long after being elected in 2005, I visited one of my local schools, in one of the more disadvantaged parts of my constituency, where I sat and had a conversation with the Headteacher about the experiences of the children at his school.

It really hit home when he told me that the children wouldn’t even leave the estate over the summer holidays, not even venturing to the Metrocentre or to the seaside at South Shields or Sunderland.

This failure to allow children to experience what other children may take as the accepted norm can cause tensions in school environments, from bullying from their peers or social isolation because they are seen as different or poor – when you are poor as a child you never want to admit it.

Not only does it cause social tensions, but it can have a lasting impact on a child’s educational attainment.

Providing children with experiences outside of what they are used to is only ever going to be beneficial to their life through broadening their horizons and allowing them to experience culture, history, and art to help make them realise that there is more to life outside of their estate – which becomes their entire world 

Now turning to child hunger, which has always been a persistent issue in this country, and schools have always played a vital role in addressing this issue.

Child hunger and the intervention that schools can make goes as far back as 1906 when the then Member of Parliament for Bradford West, Fred Jowlett, used his maiden speech in the House of Commons to launch a campaign that would introduce school meals, not just that they should be free for the poor, but that there should be some form of provision in school in the first place.

Jowlett used his maiden speech to highlight his work on the Bradford’s School Board where he witnessed malnourished children falling behind their peers and argued that with the introduction of compulsory education, it was down to the Government to provide those children with the food necessary to sustain themselves throughout the school day.

Ironic how things have failed to change more than 100 years on.

Jowlett’s intervention led to the passing of the Provision of School Meals Act in 1906, which established a national strategy for local authorities to provide school meals for the very first time – and especially to the most disadvantaged children in our society.

Since then we have seen countless moments where school food has taken a step forward, and helped us address the issue of child hunger.

And I put myself in that camp right now as someone who is determined to drive forward the provision of food in our schools to help address child hunger, as I understand just how important food is to a child’s development.

Two of the most recent interventions into this century-old campaign have been: the publication of the School Food Plan by John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby and the Feeding Britain report by my Parliamentary colleague, Frank Field, in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

Firstly, turning to John and Henry, after their tour of England to understand and see first-hand the food provision on offer in our children’s schools and after much research and fact-finding missions, they set out to write their report.

In their findings, they found:

-     57% of children were not eating school lunches at all

-     Only 1% of packed lunches met nutritional standards of hot dinners, and;

-     Studies have shown that hunger affects concentration and well-nourished children fared better at school.

And after all the lobbying I had done to get the universal free school meal pilots in Durham and Newham – which were sadly scrapped by the incoming Coalition Government in 2011 - I was delighted when I picked up the report on the day of its publication and saw it say:

“Recommendation 17 – the government should embark upon a phased roll out of free school meals for all primary school children, beginning with the local authorities with the highest percentage of children already eligible for free school meals.”

And to this very day, I will never understand how they got Michael Gove, the then Education Secretary, to agree to that recommendation.  I was even more surprised when the Government then agreed to actually roll-out universal free school meals in 2014 albeit to just infant classes – all thanks to a deal between Cameron and Clegg over the Conservative’s pet project of a marriage tax allowance.

I have been a long-time advocate of universal free school meals, understanding the social, health, educational and behavioural benefits this policy can bring but also how vital it is to address child hunger.

As the pilots in Durham and Newham showed, healthy food was consumed more often.

Vegetable intake at lunchtime increased by 23 percent, whilst consumption of soft drinks fell by 16 percent and crisps by 18 percent.

Though the research is still proving the health benefits of this policy, it is undeniable that feeding a child a healthy school meal at lunch will have a knock-on effect on their health – helping to reverse health inequality trends connected with poverty.

Even in education terms, the children in the two pilot areas were two months ahead of their peers in other areas, whilst 4% more children achieved their expected grades at Key Stage 2.

Yet, with schools open for 190 days of the year, the other 175 days are just as important to help maintain the positive intervention seen through universal infant free school meals and healthier school food, and not allow holiday hunger to reverse this important work.

This is an area which needs a lot of policy development to ensure that children don’t fall back during the school holidays and return to school behind their peers in terms of their education and their health.

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

Yet, the evidence is clear, there is a growing problem and we cannot and should not allow it to continue.

This was referenced in Frank Field’s report from 2014 – which I mentioned earlier – which cited evidence provided to them that showed children from low-income families were often going hungry before school, which was exacerbated by a lack of routine and organisation at home.

Frank’s report recommended that Local Authorities should automatically register children of eligible parents for free school meals, as this also helps with maximising pupil premium funding – something which Frank has subsequently championed with his 10 Minute Rule Bill in Parliament.

Other recommendations called for the Government to cost the extension of free school meal provision during the school holidays – something that I very much welcome and believe the Government should look at further to understand the costings of how this could be achieved in the future.

There have also been countless studies and surveys which have highlighted the growing concern of holiday hunger.

A Kellogg’s survey from last year found that:

-     39 percent of teachers said pupils in their schools did not get enough food over the school holidays, and;

-     A third of parents had skipped a meal so that their kids could eat during the school holidays.

Pair this with the huge increase in the use of food banks over the summer holidays, where food bank usage by children is nearly 30,000 for the financial year 2015-16 here in the North East, compared to 23,000 in 2013-14.

That’s a 30% increase in just two years.

That is why, just like with addressing issues that I mentioned earlier about the impact of poverty on a child’s life chances, we cannot allow the hard work gone into a child’s attainment during school terms to be reversed during school holidays, just because some people think it is a step to far.

Those children won’t think that. All they think about is having a meal in their tummy that will sustain them and perhaps something to do other than roam the streets of their estate for 13 weeks every year.

That is why, as I mentioned at the beginning, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for School, which I chair, set up the Holiday Hunger Task Group after writing a position paper in 2013 which highlighted our concerns.

It was our belief that we must understand this issue further and develop practical policy for Parliamentarians to consider implementing.

The expert panel which makes up the Task Group and is led by Lindsay Graham has gone from strength to strength.

In June 2015, the Holiday Hunger Task Group held its first conference with academics, charities, local authorities and specialists all coming together to launch the Filling the Holiday Gap guidelines.

These voluntary guidelines were published to be used by any organisation, local authority or school who wish to provide food during their holiday provision, such as summer camps, holiday clubs or educational fun days, and use the guide to provide the healthiest and most nutritious food possible to ensure those children received that vital healthy meal they need.

The guidance was met with great support, and following its publication the Task Group published their Update Report in November which provided a snapshot of holiday provision – which included food – and current on-going research across the UK.

This included activities provided here in Durham by 17 churches through the Communities Together scheme, which included activities such as drama, crafts, sports and cooking and as part of the programme, they fed over 3000 children and adults with healthy picnics, BBQs and full two course homemade meals.

The report also called on the Government to do more to help develop holiday food provision and carry out research into the scale of child hunger in the UK and the effects it has on learning.

Currently the APPG’s Task Group, with the support of Northumbria University, is undergoing a mapping exercise to help understand the scale of holiday provision in England.

This will allow us the chance to fully understand where there is provision and where there is not.

It will also help us highlight best practice across the country so that it can be shared amongst local authorities, organisations and schools to ensure that the best possible provision is in place to help those children who need our support during the school holidays.

This will be an important step forward in our work on child holiday hunger and will give us evidence that can be used to push ahead on this agenda, especially lobbying the Government; and I hope that everyone in the room today can help with this.

Poverty is not inevitable.

Poverty is a symptom of lack of action, lack of innovative thinking and lack of political will by government to tackle the issue.

If the Government cannot harness action in these three areas to help address child poverty, and child hunger, then we will continue to see swathes of the next generation and the generation after that continue to be trapped in this perpetual cycle of poverty which is not only bad for them and their families but us as a society.

Instead of allowing people to languish and become despondent members of society, we should be reaching out a hand to them and supporting them to reach their true potential.

No child, no matter their circumstances, background or need, should be allowed to wallow in poverty and miss out on the opportunities that life in this great country of ours can bring.

Children deserve the best childhood possible, and we owe them just that.

That is why I hope following today’s conference that we all go out there and lobby this Government to do the right thing and make sure that no child is left hungry or in poverty.

Thank you.

Sharon speaks at Child Poverty Conference in Durham 06.06.16

Sharon recently spoke at a conference held by Durham County Council's Education department on child poverty, where she spoke about her work on addressing child hunger as Chair of the...

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