In her capacity as Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Westminster Hall debate on extending the HPV vaccination to boys.
In her speech Sharon outlined that the vaccination, which is currently given to girls aged between 11 and 13, would also be beneficial to men. Sharon argued that HPV is not gender-specific, and therefore neither should the vaccination programme.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. I thank the hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) for securing this important and long-awaited debate, and for speaking with such knowledge and passion. I also thank the hon. Members for Henley (John Howell), for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) for their contributions. Although we are few in number, due in no small part to the local elections, that has been more than made up for by quality.
As we have already heard, 70% to 80% of sexually active women and men will acquire HPV at some point in their lives. Most healthy people will be able to clear the infection out of their system and will never know that they had been infected, but 3% to 10% of cases lead to serious health conditions. HPV is a major cause of cancers in men and women, and accounts for 4.8% of the estimated 12.7 million new cancer cases occurring annually among men and women worldwide.
HPV is linked to nearly all cervical cancers, 70% to 75% of vaginal cancers, 29% of vulvar cancers, 50% of penile cancer and 85% to 90% of anal cancers in both sexes. HPV can also cause genital warts, as we have heard, which is the most common sexually transmitted disease caused by the virus in both sexes. Why, then, do we vaccinate only girls, when men and women can be infected?
Since 2008, girls aged between 11 and 13 in the UK have been offered the HPV vaccination. My daughter was in the first cohort. As a parent, I was a bit anxious when the new vaccination was rolled out, but I need not have been. The vaccination programme has been mostly successful, with a high uptake of about 85% nationally, and it has made an important contribution to reducing the burden of infection in young women in the UK.
However, there are significant regional differences in the uptake of the vaccination, with the lowest level of uptake of two doses at 48.3% in my region, in Stockton-on-Tees, compared with the highest level of uptake in East Renfrewshire at 95.6%, which is astonishingly high. What steps will the Minister take to address those regional inequalities in the vaccine uptake? How does he expect a herd immunity philosophy to apply in areas such as Stockton in the north-east, where uptake is so low?
It is clear from the ever-growing evidence that it is time to extend the HPV vaccination to boys. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation believes that the high uptake in girls protects enough males and makes it cost-ineffective to vaccinate boys too, but that short-sighted view protects only heterosexual men who come into sexual contact with a woman who has been vaccinated, and leaves out a significant proportion of the population. Despite the high uptake among young girls, a heterosexual man still has a one in seven chance of meeting an unvaccinated woman in a sexual encounter.
Men who have sex with men are also unprotected by a girls-only vaccination programme. They are 20 times more likely than heterosexual men to develop anal cancer, but the men who have sex with men—MSM—programme being piloted in England will not be sufficient to protect that population.
Between 2009 and 2014, the median age of the first presentation of men who have sex with men to sexual health services in England was 32 years old. They are therefore likely to have been having sex for many years before they attend a sexual health clinic. A recent study of men who have sex with men attending a London sexual health clinic found that 45% had a current HPV infection of a type that could cause cancer or genital warts, which suggests that a significant proportion of them will have already been infected before they are offered the HPV vaccination. Offering the vaccine in a sexual health clinic is too little, too late for men who have sex with men.
In addition, as we know, sexual health services are at a tipping point after demand for them increased by one quarter in the past five years, but at the same time, spending on them was cut year on year. Offering the vaccination in a sexual health clinic adds to the ever-growing demand on those services, but still excludes a significant proportion of the population and is far too late for some men.
The optimum age for the HPV vaccination to work is around 12 or 13 years old, when boys are unlikely to attend a sexual health clinic or may not be aware of, or willing to declare, their sexual orientation. The only solution to the problem is to offer the vaccine to both girls and boys while they are still at school and not sexually active. That will protect girls and boys from preventable disease.
HPV Action estimates that more than 2,000 new cases of HPV-related cancers are diagnosed each year in men in the UK. Like me, the Minister is passionate about reducing the incidence of cancer in this country. Extending the HPV vaccination programme to boys would be a step forward in doing that.
In response to a written question earlier this year, the Minister stated that the Government do not have an estimate of the number of boys and men each year who are left unprotected against HPV because of a lack of direct or herd immunity. However, HPV Action estimates that, with each year that passes, another cohort of almost 400,000 boys is left unvaccinated and potentially at risk of HPV infection and the diseases it causes. As the briefing I received from the Terrence Higgins Trust says:
“When we have a vaccine that can provide effective protection against such illnesses, it is unacceptable to maintain that vaccinating only one half of the population is sufficient to stop preventable ill health.”
HPV is not gender specific, so the vaccination programme should not be gender-specific either.
This is not a new philosophy. In fact, 14 countries are already vaccinating boys against HPV, or they will be soon. They include Australia, Austria, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland and the US. Compared with their international peers, therefore, boys in the UK are at risk of being disadvantaged.
This is an opportunity for us to play a leading role globally in the elimination of cancer caused by HPV, but we are at risk of letting that opportunity slip away. Since 2013, the JCVI has been reviewing whether to extend the HPV immunisation programme to boys. However, the publication of a final decision has been deferred twice. The thousands of boys who go unvaccinated each year cannot afford to wait any longer and the JCVI must make a decision this year, preferably when they meet next month. I therefore urge the Minister to work with the JCVI as it comes to make its decision, so that both genders can be protected from these preventable diseases.
In her capacity as Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Westminster Hall debate on extending the HPV vaccination to boys. In her speech Sharon outlined that the...
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on behalf of the Opposition on Cancer Treatments. The debate followed the moving House of Lords debate led by Baroness Tessa Jowell, who was diagnosed with a high grade brain tumour, glioblastoma. You can read Tessa's speech in the Lords here.
In her speech, Sharon spoke about how she works with her cross-party colleagues on both the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Ovarian Cancer and the APPG on Breast Cancer, which Sharon Chairs and Co-Chairs respectively. Sharon echoed her colleagues calls for increased funding for brain tumour research, increased access to clinical trials and data sharing.
You can read the full debate here: Cancer Treatments
You can watch Sharon's speech on Parliament TV here: Cancer Treatments
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
It is a genuine pleasure to be speaking in this debate on behalf of the Opposition. Indeed, I am speaking in this Chamber for the second time today. Both debates have been on very important issues.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) for securing the debate, and for her very moving and emotional speech. I also want to thank the other hon. Members who have spoken in this excellent debate: the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed), the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), the hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), my hon. Friends the Members for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) and for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), who moved us all to tears, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) and the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden). They all made excellent contributions. Members throughout the House have been visibly moved by the moving testimonies we have heard.
As has been said, no one in the House or in the country escapes being touched at some time in their life by cancer. I lost my mother-in-law to breast cancer 21 years ago. That was one of the reasons why I joined the all-party group on breast cancer and work with it to this day. I thank the Secretary of State for being here. I am very pleased to see him back in place. I know that Tessa and others will be very grateful for his attendance, and for the personal and moving tribute he gave earlier. I also thank the shadow Secretary of State, who also made a personal tribute to Tessa.
I pay enormous tribute to our very good friend and colleague from the other place, Tessa, for her bravery and determination, and for the outstanding speech she gave in the other place. That was another occasion when people were visibly moved to tears, not just in the other place but across the country as it ran on the news all day. She is as much an inspiration now as she has always been throughout her political career. In 1997, as we have heard, she became the first Public Health Minister—she is a predecessor of the Minister who will be responding today. With the then Secretary of State for Education, Lord Blunkett, she set out to build Sure Start, the early years programme of which she should be immensely proud. It has transformed the lives of tens of thousands of children across the country and been a lifeline for parents, some of whom have said that without it they do not think they would even be here today.
I am enormously proud to have played, in a very small way, a part in continuing the fight for early years provision over 20 years on. When I became shadow Children’s Minister, Tessa’s personal support, advice and guidance were invaluable in helping me fight to protect the legacy she had built. I remember one particular conversation when she said that she had told her officials that she wanted to walk into a Sure Start children’s centre and be able to smell the babies, so she would know the centres were being used and that lives were being changed.
Tessa’s optimism and ambition has affected us all over the years, especially in the run-up to, and in the aftermath of, the 2012 London Olympics, which, as we heard in detail, she secured as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Even since her diagnosis, Tessa continues to inspire us all with her hard work and determination. I wish her all the love in the world, and I really look forward to joining her a little later with her friends and family for a get-together.
As Tessa said in the other place:
“Today…is not about politics but about patients”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 25 January 2018; Vol. 788, c. 1169.]
I know from my work over many years chairing or co-chairing two cancer all-party groups that we can and do work together when it comes to tackling cancer. The Minister and I co-chaired the all-party group on breast cancer, along with the former hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole, Dame Annette Brooke. I am still vice-chair of that all-party group, and I pay tribute to my fellow officers for continuing their hard work in the group to raise awareness in Parliament of breast cancer.
I also chair the all-party group on ovarian cancer. Observant Members may have noticed that there is always some cancer campaign going on, and last month it was Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. For the first time, the all-party group hosted a drop-in photo call, challenging MPs and peers to be a “teal hero”. This included wearing a superhero mask and a cape—I do not know whether the Minister came along and managed to get caught—to raise awareness among our constituents of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer. I am sad to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), who lost his mum to ovarian cancer when he was a teenager, came along and, complete with a superhero pose, pipped me to the post for “best picture”. I hope that colleagues will join me again next year—I will be looking out for the Minister. Although it was fun, it was for a very important purpose: to raise awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Finally in this regard, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) for his sterling work as chair of the all-party group on cancer, which regularly unites all the cancer charities and all-party groups in debates and in work throughout the year, and most notably at the Britain Against Cancer conference every December. All-party groups and the many other cancer groups are the perfect example of how cancer is not about politics. I believe that we have seen that exemplified in its best form in the House today, and that in future we can put our politics aside for Tessa and for all cancer patients and truly fight cancer together.
Around 11,400 people were diagnosed with a brain or related tumour in 2015 in the UK. That includes the approximately 470 children under the age of 15 who are diagnosed with a brain or related tumour in Britain each year. I also commend HeadSmart for the work that it does to raise awareness of the symptoms of brain tumours in children. Brain tumours are the largest single cause of death from cancer in adults under the age of 40, and the most common type of solid tumour in children.
There are, of course, challenges to brain tumour research that limit progress in developing innovative treatments. As we have heard, brain tumour research in the UK has been grossly underfunded, with just 1% of the national spend on cancer research being allocated to this devastating disease. That is why the recent announcement that £45 million would be invested in brain tumour research was so very welcome. I hope that some of the funding will be used to create opportunities for collaboration so that research and data can be shared around the world, because there are real and concerning gaps in the research workforce, both at a senior level and in the number of junior researchers entering the field.
There is also insufficient infrastructure for brain research, and the research community is fragmented, with no clear hubs of excellence and limited opportunities for collaboration. We need to address those challenges for the sake of patients and their families so that we can improve the lives of those living with a brain tumour. One way to do that is to ensure that all brain tumour patients are invited to participate in clinical trials, which can lead to significant improvements in survival and quality of life for future patients diagnosed with a brain tumour. However, despite the clear correlation between greater research and improved outcomes, only 3% of people with a brain tumour take part in a clinical trial. That compares with 7% across all cancers, so what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that brain tumour patients are entered into clinical trials?
In June 2017, the Brain Tumour Charity conducted a survey that found that 97% of those with a brain tumour said that they would be happy to share their medical data to help to accelerate research. As we have heard, Tessa has made the historic decision to be the first patient to consent to sharing her data in the hope that her cancer journey can contribute to new cures that alleviate future suffering. Let me again take the opportunity to commend her for her selflessness. I know that where she leads, others will naturally follow.
For Tessa, the Olympic legacy and Sure Start are just two of many legacies to be proud of, but I think that this legacy will be even greater in its reach and importance. For that, we once again thank you, Tessa.
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on behalf of the Opposition on Cancer Treatments. The debate followed the moving House of Lords debate...
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on Surgical Mesh on behalf of the Opposition.
In her speech, Sharon shared her mam's personal experiences of mesh and called on the Government to suspend the use of surgical mesh to ensure that no more lives are affected.
You can read the full debate here: Surgical Mesh
You can watch Sharon's speech here on Parliament TV: Surgical Mesh
You can read Sharon's speech here:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) for securing this important debate and for her passionate speech. Like me, she has been shocked and horrified by the stories we have heard from men and women who have had their lives turned upside down because of surgical mesh. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith), who spoke with such passion and knowledge. He was campaigning with the all-party group on surgical mesh implants long before I even came across it, and I am grateful for his contribution and continued leadership.
I thank all Members who have spoken in this excellent debate: the hon. Members for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady); the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis); my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Fiona Onasanya); the hon. Members for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton), for Belfast South (Emma Little Pengelly), for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) and for Torbay (Kevin Foster); and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous). The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) spoke for the Scottish National party with such knowledge, and it was a privilege to be in the Chamber to hear her speech. I thank them all for their thoughtful contributions, and I thank their constituents who have allowed their experiences to be shared with us today. It has been distressing to hear their stories and I sympathise with anyone affected by surgical mesh.
Finally, I thank Kath Sansom, who leads the Sling the Mesh campaign, and who I know is watching from the Gallery, for all her hard work in uniting the women affected by vaginal mesh implants and raising awareness of the tragic impact that they have had on so many lives. I thank everyone who is part of that campaign for everything that they do to raise awareness and support women.
After the Westminster Hall debate in October last year, and the media coverage that followed, more women came forward as victims when they realised that the mesh was causing their additional health problems. I am very sorry to say that my 73-year-old mam was one of them. She likes to watch my debates and speeches, as do all our mams, I am sure. When she was at mine one Saturday, while I made lunch, I sat her down to watch some of the speeches that I had made that week. There she was with my iPad: I put on the Westminster Hall debate, it started to play, and I said, “I’m so pleased you haven’t had anything like this done.”
You see, Madam Deputy Speaker, over the past four to five years my mam has been back and forward to the doctors with loads of health issues, from IBS to constant urinary infections, and from stabbing pains in her groin to pain walking and trouble sleeping because of pain and twitching in her legs—and more. It has been never-ending. She said, “I’ve turned 70 and I’m falling to pieces.” She has had cameras everywhere, which is not always pleasant and can be very uncomfortable, but all to no avail. No diagnosis or solution has ever been found. With that background knowledge, the House can imagine my horror when she said, “Oh, no, I just had some tape put in to stop the leaking when I coughed and sneezed!” I had no idea that she had had that done.
As the hon. Member for Torbay said, sometimes women—even your mam—do not like to talk about these things. When I asked her why she had never mentioned it, she said, “Oh, it was quick—I was in and out on the same day. And you’re always so busy, so I just didn’t mention it.” It had not even occurred to her that there could be a connection between what she had been going through for the past four or five years and this procedure that she had had done five years earlier.
As the House can imagine, I went into panic mode, because although we are talking about mesh today, surgeons use many different names for it—tape, ribbon and sling are the more patient-friendly ones. I am also told that they now like to use the phrase “Don’t worry—it’s not the mesh that they talk about in the media.” Surgeons must be absolutely clear with their patients what treatment they are about to receive and address any concerns that they might have, instead of talking about the success of the majority or dismissing those concerns outright.
After the sudden realisation, all my mam’s symptoms over the years suddenly began to make sense and could be attributed directly to the mesh. I am pleased to say that, thanks to the help of the fabulous Kath Sansom, my mam is now armed with all the facts and arguments to take to her GP and surgeon. She has done that and is on the long road to getting reversal surgery, if that is the best option for her. She has also had to come to terms with the fact that she may never be the same again, with the associated guilt that she agreed to the procedure. She trusted the medical profession to do her no harm.
My mam is lucky at the moment, compared with some of the other cases we have heard about today, which she recognises. A Sling the Mesh survey found that more than 78% of patients have pain when walking and sitting; 69% of women have pain that prevented intercourse; more than 60% of patients suffer with anxiety and depression because of the mesh and the symptoms that it causes; and almost 54% suffer with nerve damage. I have seen the piles of medication and medical equipment that some women have to use on a daily basis to try to live a life with a bit of dignity. Before the mesh, these were fit, healthy and, in some cases, young women, as we have heard. Now they need assistance to do simple things such as tie their shoe laces, pick up their children, or even use the toilet. Some have lost their sex lives, their marriage or their job. This is a tragedy for these women and their families. The effects of mesh have been so unbearable that, I am sad to say, some women have tried to end their own lives. Innovative and effective treatments should not do this to patients, and the Government must not stand idly by while women suffer in pain like this. The Opposition continually urge NHS England and NICE to act immediately to update the guidance before 2019—as we have all said—and to suspend the use of vaginal mesh.
The Government’s “Retrospective Review for Vaginal Prolapse and Stress Urinary Incontinence using Tape or Mesh”, published just two days ago, is a first step in understanding the sheer scale of the number of women affected by this scandal. Unfortunately, the effects of mesh are hidden within the document—it takes a bit of a numbers expert to be able to work their way through it. So hidden and complex is the review that, on Tuesday, the Minister in the other place announced that he was giving his expert a month to work it out. I will be waiting with bated breath for that analysis.
It is clear that the review fails to show up all the women who have been treated with mesh in the UK. It shows only the number of women treated in England on the NHS, meaning that patients treated in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and patients treated privately in England, were not included. The audit does not include the sheer number of women who have gone back and forward to their GP for pain relief or antibiotics but who have not yet been referred to a consultant, or even those women who have not yet even made the connection and considered that mesh could be the problem, as was the case with my mam. Why were those women missed out? What is the Minister doing to ensure that their concerns are heard and that they are counted in the numbers?
When the audit was announced, I called for a suspension of the use of mesh while it was carried out. As the hon. Members for Totnes and for Glasgow North West and others have mentioned in their contributions, medical devices do not undergo any clinical trials or rigorous evaluation in this country. If ever there were a case to prove that that needs to change, it is surgical mesh.
As I have said, and as the hon. Member for Glasgow North West mentioned, if this were a car, an aircraft or even a washing machine or a dryer that was malfunctioning and causing life-changing harm in 10% to 15% of cases, its use would be stopped and the product recalled immediately while the problem was investigated. It would not even need to be as high as that, or even the 1% to 3% that was referred to—just a handful of incidents triggers a recall.
The suspension did not happen, so will the Minister please tell the House in her response how many women have had a mesh implant while the audit took place? Does she know how many women since March 2017 have been treated with a mesh implant or had mesh removed, as the audit went up to only March 2017—a year ago? These newly mesh-implanted women may not have any symptoms now, or if they do they will not necessarily realise that the mesh is to blame, but they may do so in a few years’ time.
Since the Westminster Hall debate last year, the audit and the wider medicines and medical devices safety review, patients who have been treated with surgical mesh—not specifically vaginal mesh—have come to feel that their experiences and concerns are not being considered by the Government. Obviously, I include men in that category. The majority of hernia mesh operations are successful. However, complications can leave patients in chronic pain, which patients were not warned about.
According to NHS data, 10% of people who have had hernia mesh fitted go back to their clinician at some point after their surgery. The former surgeon Peter Jones says that the risks of using hernia mesh are so bad that he himself would not take the risk. Will the Minister respond to the concerns of patients who have been harmed by surgical mesh and elaborate specifically on what the Government are doing to review the harm caused by all surgical mesh—not just vaginal mesh?
Let me repeat my calls to the Government once again: the use of surgical mesh must be suspended and NICE must bring forward its review. A simple, quick and cheap operation has turned far too many patients’ lives upside down. We must stop playing Russian roulette with these patients’ lives. It really is time to sling the mesh.
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on Surgical Mesh on behalf of the Opposition. In her speech, Sharon shared her mam's personal experiences...
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Westminster Hall debate on austerity and life expectancy.
During her speech, Sharon outlined the fact that life expectancy in the UK has not improved since 2011 and called on the Minister to address both the life expectancy and healthy life expectancy gap between the rich and poor, and the north and south.
You can read the full debate here: Austerity and Life Expectancy
You can watch Sharon's speech on Parliament TV here: Austerity and Life Expectancy
You can read Sharon's full speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) for securing this important debate and for her excellent and well-informed speech. It is of great interest—not only to me, but to the public, who I am sure will be listening closely to the Minister’s response today. I also want to thank the hon. Members for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) and for Witney (Robert Courts), my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) and the Scottish National party spokesperson, the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), for their thoughtful and passionate speeches, even though I do not necessarily agree with all the things that were said.
As we heard, life expectancy has always gradually increased. Between 1920 and 2010, it increased from 55 to 78 years for men and from 59 to 82 years for women. However, the improvement began to stall in 2011 when the coalition Government came in. That cannot be just a coincidence. Since then, for the first time in over a century, the health of people in England and Wales has stopped improving, and has flat-lined ever since.
I must emphasise that researchers do not believe that we have reached peak life expectancy. The Nordic countries, Japan and Hong Kong all have life expectancies greater than ours and they continue to increase, so why is life expectancy flat-lining in the UK? Why is Britain being left behind and fast becoming the sick man of Europe? I know that the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire said that that was not the case, but academic research by Danny Dorling, published in November 2017, which I have here, said:
“Life expectancy for women in the UK is now lower than in Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Often it is much lower. Men…do little better.”
I think the hon. Gentleman needs to check his facts.
The life expectancy gap between the richest and poorest in this country is nothing less than shameful. According to the Institute of Health Equity, the longest life expectancy in the country is, not surprisingly, in the richest borough: Kensington and Chelsea. Men in Kensington and Chelsea can expect to live to 83 and women to 86. Unsurprisingly, you will find the lowest life expectancy in my part of it: the north and Scotland. In Glasgow, life expectancy for men is 73 and in West Dunbartonshire it is 79 for women—10 years of difference for men and seven years for women. The difference within the richest borough, Kensington and Chelsea, is even more stark. Despite living in the richest borough in the country, the most disadvantaged within it can expect to live 14 years less than their most advantaged counterparts. Does the Minister agree that this is completely unacceptable?
The north-south divide remains as relevant as ever when we look at healthy life expectancy—the years that people can expect to live a healthy life. In the south-east, the healthy life expectancy is 65.9 years for men and 66.6 years for women. However, people can expect a shorter healthy life expectancy in the north-east, where men have a healthy life expectancy of 59.7 years and women 59.8 years. That is significantly lower than the England average. Looking after those people during that unhealthy part of life means a huge cost to the NHS. It also means that the inequality gap in healthy life expectancy at birth between the south-east and the north-east is 6.2 years for men and 6.8 years for women.
What will the Minister do to address the life expectancy and healthy life expectancy gap between the rich and poor, and the north and south? It is simply unacceptable that the least advantaged in our society bear the brunt of this Government’s policies—wherever they live. Austerity is not a choice. It is a political ideology, which harms the poorest and the most vulnerable in our communities.
James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con)
It is not rubbish. Professor Sir Michael Marmot warned:
“If we don’t spend appropriately on social care, if we don’t spend appropriately on health care, the quality of life will get worse for older people and maybe the length of life, too”.
Sadly, we have seen this across the board. Despite the growing pressure on our health and social care service, the Government are responsible for spending cuts across our NHS, social care and public health services. While demand continues to increase, the Government have taken away vital funding, which could close the life expectancy gap.
Since local authorities became responsible for public health budgets in 2015, it is estimated by the King’s Fund that, on a like-for-like basis, public health spending will have fallen by 5.2%. That follows a £200 million in-year cut to public health spending in 2015-16. Further real-term cuts are to come, averaging between 3.9% each year between 2016-17 and 2020-21. On the ground, that means cuts to spending on tackling drug misuse among adults of more than £22 million compared with last year and smoking cessation services cut by almost £16 million. Spending to tackle obesity, which the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire mentioned as a cause of shorter life expectancy, has also fallen by 18.5% between 2015-16 and 2016-17 and further cuts are in the pipeline. These are vital services for local communities and could benefit their health and lifestyle, but sadly they continue to be cut due to lack of funding.
How does the Minister expect to close the life expectancy gap without investing properly in vital public health services? An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. The Government must invest in public health and prevention services, as that could play a significant role in closing the life expectancy gap that we are discussing.
When the Prime Minister made her first speech on the steps of Downing Street—the Minister is nodding, because she knows the quote—she said:
“if you are born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others.”
We were all pleased that the Prime Minister highlighted that issue, but I have been left disappointed with her Government’s lack of response to tackle it. We on this side of the House are committed to ensuring that our health and care system is properly funded, so that all children are given the best possible start in life and older people are treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve. I hope that the Minister will clearly outline what the Government will do to close the life expectancy gap.
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Westminster Hall debate on austerity and life expectancy. During her speech, Sharon outlined the fact that life expectancy in the...
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded in a Westminster Hall debate on Orkambi and Cystic Fibrosis on behalf of the Opposition.
During her speech, Sharon called on the Government to work with the drug company, Vertex, and NHS England to ensure that Orkambi can be available free on the NHS so that the thousands of patients who can benefit from the drug no longer have to suffer.
You can read the full debate here: Orkambi and Cystic Fibrosis
You can watch Sharon's speech here on Parliament TV: Orkambi and Cystic Fibrosis
You can read Sharon's full speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab):
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I thank the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) for his excellent opening speech, and I thank the 114,000 people who signed the online petition to enable us to debate it. As we have heard, the petition received more than 107,000 signatures in just 11 days—probably a record for such a petition—which shows how important Orkambi is to people with cystic fibrosis and their families.
I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) for his sterling campaigning on this issue over a number of years, for his passionate speech and for organising the excellent roundtable in Parliament. I was unable to attend the roundtable, but a member of my staff took extensive notes and briefed me fully. I also thank all hon. Members who spoke in the debate. I was going to list them all, but so far there have been 23, and with me and the Minister that will make 25, so I will save everyone from the roll-call. Indeed, at the start of the debate it was standing room only, which shows the strength of feeling on this issue across the House. We have heard very moving accounts about family members and constituents, and that alone should be more than enough to make the case for Orkambi to be made available on the NHS as soon as possible. Finally, I thank the Cystic Fibrosis Trust for its continued “Stopping the Clock” campaign and for all the work that it does to support people with cystic fibrosis.
As we have heard, cystic fibrosis affects about 10,400 children and adults in the UK today. It affects one in 2,500 people, and one in 25 of us carries the gene that causes it. It is a life-shortening genetic condition, with the median survival for an individual with cystic fibrosis currently at just 47 years. Patients with cystic fibrosis therefore have to spend three to five hours every day on aggressive and indiscrete physiotherapy, and need nebulised treatments and strong antibiotics just to keep well. The medicines tackle the symptoms of cystic fibrosis rather than the root cause. That is why new precision medicines such as Orkambi will change cystic fibrosis care for the better.
Kalydeco is the first precision medicine used in this country for people with cystic fibrosis. It has transformed the lives of those receiving it. Patients report no longer needing a tank of oxygen to support their breathing, and greater health stability, so that they can plan their lives more securely. Some are taken off the transplant waiting list, as their clinical status improves dramatically. However, it works for only one in 20 people with cystic fibrosis. In comparison, Orkambi works for eight in 20 people. About 50% of individuals with cystic fibrosis in the UK have the genetic mutation that Orkambi tackles, so the approval of Orkambi for use on the NHS could benefit about 5,200 people living with cystic fibrosis.
Orkambi has been shown to slow decline in lung function by 42% and cut the number of infections requiring hospitalisation by 61%. It gives patients not only more control over their lives but a greater quality of life. Orkambi is available for patients in nine other countries: Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece and the United States. Yet here in the UK, NICE has deemed it to be cost-ineffective, and at least two and a half years after being approved for use it is still not available for cystic fibrosis patients on the NHS. I welcome reports that, after over a year of waiting, dialogue between the drug company Vertex, NHS England and NICE has reopened, and that last month Vertex announced it had proposed a new portfolio approach to the Government on the funding of Orkambi.
I would be grateful if the Minister would elaborate on that in his response and tell us whether the Government are considering the offer seriously. I understand that some hon. Members may have had an update email from Vertex this morning, although I did not; there may be news on that front. I would also appreciate it if the Minister would acknowledge that, given the example of Orkambi, more needs to be done to change how drugs for rare long-term conditions are assessed by NICE. The longer patients go without those precision drugs, the longer they go on suffering irreversible lung damage. That is why we need urgent change.
Mr Paul Sweeney (Glasgow North East) (Lab/Co-op)
Many hon. Members have referred to the Scottish Medicines Consortium. Of course, healthcare in Scotland is a devolved issue but the issues are the same: there is still a two-year wait to get the matter through. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a need for a closer working relationship between NICE and the SMC? Perhaps sometimes, with collective bargaining, a deal on price could be reached sooner.
Absolutely, I agree. I do a lot of work, as the Minister does and has done in the past, on access to cancer drugs. The same can be said in that context—that it is a postcode lottery not just within nations but between the nations, and that it need not be. The issue could be explored further.
NICE considers all the different benefits that a treatment could give, including living longer, but also having a better quality of life. That is hard to establish for some rare long-term conditions such as cystic fibrosis, making it hard for drugs to meet NICE’S requirements. There is a need for high-quality data on treatments, so that an accurate quality-adjusted life year model can be created. However, that is very difficult to achieve in short trials, particularly for rare long-term diseases such as cystic fibrosis, where “powering” a trial with enough patients is very difficult. People with long-term conditions often score their quality of life more highly than people who have developed acute conditions after being well, often because of differences of perception. If, during trials, people score their quality of life as high prior to treatment, subsequent quality-adjusted life year gains are lower.
The cost of developing a treatment for a rare disease is also high. Understanding the condition, developing an effective treatment and running the required trials in a small population is expensive. Treatments often have no competitors, so there is dampening of market forces, with negative consequences for the consumer or payer. NICE found that Orkambi was important and effective, but that the cost was too high. Vertex must therefore work as a matter of urgency to bring down the cost of Orkambi, so that thousands of cystic fibrosis patients can benefit from the drug on the NHS. The Opposition are committed to ensuring that all NHS patients get fast access to the most effective new drugs and treatments.
In response to the online petition, the Government responded:
“We want patients to benefit from clinically and cost effective treatments.”
What steps are they taking to bring that about? NICE’S guidance on Orkambi is scheduled to be reviewed in July 2019. Will the Government work with Vertex, NICE and NHS England to ensure that the review is brought forward so that thousands of patients can benefit much sooner from the drug on the NHS? It is clear from today’s debate that we need more and better treatments for cystic fibrosis in the UK. Last year, half of all people who died with cystic fibrosis were under the age of 31. It is unacceptable that while pharmaceutical companies, NHS England and NICE barter, people’s lives are at stake. The Government must therefore take responsibility for negotiating an agreement as soon as possible. I hope that the Minister will take on what he has heard today. I hope he will acknowledge how important it is to find a solution that guarantees that the current situation affecting the pipeline of treatments for cystic fibrosis will never happen again, and that thousands of patients will get access to the most effective drugs and treatments as soon as possible.
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded in a Westminster Hall debate on Orkambi and Cystic Fibrosis on behalf of the Opposition. During her speech, Sharon called on the... Read more
As the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food, Sharon spoke in a debate on the Government's proposals to introduce a £7,400 net income threshold for families on Universal Credit and eligibility for free school meals. In her speech, Sharon raised concerns that the threshold would see over 1 million children in poverty miss out on a free school meal.
You can read the full debate here: Universal Credit and Free School Meals
You can read Sharon's full speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab):
These regulations will affect millions of families up and down the country, so it is only right that we are able to discuss them today. The Government consulted from November to January on introducing an earnings threshold that would restrict free school meals to families with net earnings under £7,400 per annum. The consultation received 8,981 responses. However, the Government excluded 8,421 of those responses from their analysis, meaning that fewer than 4% of respondents agreed with the Government. Surely that goes against every rule of public consultations. Talk about statistics being used against vulnerable people!
In 2010, the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions promised in the White Paper on universal credit that it would
“ensure that work always pays and is seen to pay. Universal Credit will mean that people will be consistently and transparently better off for each hour they work and every pound they earn.”
Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab):
I am glad that my hon. Friend has picked out that point. She will have heard the Secretary of State saying that jobcentres would advise people not to take extra work or to get a pay rise because they would end up worse off. Is that not absolutely contrary to the whole principle of universal credit that she has just read out?
Yes, absolutely. We know that the Government are today reneging on the former Secretary of State’s commitment.
Free school meals are worth far more to a family than £400 a year per child. That might not seem to be a lot to some hon. Members, but to those families it is an absolute lifeline. By introducing a £7,400 threshold for eligibility, the Government are forcibly creating a cliff edge that will be detrimental to families, especially children. To give just one example, someone with three children in their family who earns just below the £7,400 threshold is set to lose out on £1,200-worth of free school meals if they work only a few extra hours or get a pay rise. The Opposition’s proposal would simply remove the huge cliff edge and the work disincentive for families who most need support. It would take away the barrier to working extra hours or seeking promotion. Our proposals would therefore make work pay. The Government’s proposal is in fact the new 16 hours, which they said was a disincentive.
Mike Hill (Harlepool) (Lab):
Is my hon. Friend aware that in Hartlepool, where universal credit is not being rolled out—it is already in—more than 1,000 children are being denied free school meals on the basis of the new proposal?
Yes. We can all cite the numbers from our constituencies. Even Conservative Members need to think about what they are doing to some of the poorest children in their constituencies. In the example I just quoted, the family’s annual wages would need to increase from £7,400 to almost £11,000 to make up for what they would lose by rising above the eligibility cliff edge. That problem did not occur under the old tax credit system, because that provided an offsetting income boost at the point at which free school meals were withdrawn. However, there is no equivalent mitigation under universal credit.
The Children’s Society has been much maligned today and has been cited as giving duff statistics—Conservative Members should be ashamed of themselves. It estimates that the cliff edge will mean that a million children in poverty will miss out on free school meals once universal credit is fully rolled out. They will miss out on something that is crucial for their physical and mental development.
The Government have said that 50,000 more children will benefit by the end of the roll-out in 2022, when the transitional protections are at capacity, but I and many others struggle to understand how that can be the case. Parliamentary questions tabled by my hon. Friends and others have gone unanswered, and the Government cannot just pluck figures out of the air, as they claim so many others have done. At least we can back up our claims with evidence from the Children’s Society, Gingerbread, the Child Poverty Action Group and Citizens Advice, all of which agree that this statutory instrument would take free school meals away from a million future children—[Interruption.] It would. If the SI does not come into force, a million more children will receive free school meals—[Interruption.] Conservative Members can shake their heads all they like.
During my recent Westminster Hall debate, I offered Ministers a solution that would mean that all children in universal credit households would continue to receive free school meals. As somebody asked earlier, I can say that it would cost half a billion pounds—not a huge cost to feed over a million of the poorest children. My proposal would see around 1.1 million more children in years 3 and above from low-income families receiving free school meals compared with under this change.
Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire) (Con):
If we were to maintain free school meals for absolutely everybody on universal credit, does the hon. Lady think it would be right to prioritise those coming from the legacy tax credit system, who could be earning up to £50,000 a year, instead of opening up eligibility and getting free school meals to more children in poverty?
I am running out of time, so— [Interruption.] Perhaps Conservative Members would let me finish before they use up all my time. I was going to say that while I cannot go into the full details, because of the time, I understand from the Children’s Society that that is a small number of people—up to 40,000—and that those people are often in large families with severely disabled children. The large amount of money is down to how much they receive for those children. It is disingenuous to use that as an example and to make out that all those families are receiving £50,000.
The Minister claimed yesterday that my proposal would result in around half of all pupils becoming eligible, increasing the figure to 3.3 severely million children. Even the much-cited Channel 4 FactCheck article states that our proposal would extend to 1.1 million children, making the total 1.8 million children. When we talk about facts, Conservative Members need to get their facts right. Where do the extra 1.5 million children come from?
As the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food, Sharon spoke in a debate on the Government's proposals to introduce a £7,400 net income threshold for families on... Read more
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate following the Second Reading of the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill. During her speech, Sharon highlighted the need for more people to be on the Organ Donation Register and encouraged families to speak about organ donation.
You can read the full debate here: Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab):
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) for securing this very important debate, for introducing this very important Bill and for his powerful and moving opening speech. I would also like to thank the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan), the hon. Members for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), for North Devon (Peter Heaton-Jones), for Dudley South (Mike Wood), for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) and for Hendon (Dr Offord), and my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma), for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) and for Lincoln (Karen Lee) for their excellent speeches.
In particular, I pay huge tribute to my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott). She spoke so bravely and movingly about her daughter Rebecca, who as we heard has been on dialysis for a year awaiting a kidney transplant. I hope from the bottom of my heart—I am sure we all do—that her wait is over very soon and she is successful in receiving that gift of life from a wonderful donor.
This has been an excellent debate and an example of this House at its best, as it often is on Fridays during debates on private Members’ Bills. I would like to thank hon. Members who have previously brought this issue to our attention over the past decade or so, including my hon. Friends the Members for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), for Newport West (Paul Flynn) and for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis).
I commend the Daily Mirror for its fantastic campaign to raise awareness of organ donation since the case of Max Johnson, who we have all heard so much about this morning. He was then a nine-year-old boy in need of a new heart. I understand he is now 10, which is fantastic. I want to thank the hon. Member for North Devon for telling us all about Keira Ball, Max’s donor, who I understand saved four lives. I thank her very, very brave family for taking that brave decision on that most awful of days. I also thank the more than 13,000 people who have now signed the Change.org petition.
I also commend the scriptwriters of “Coronation Street”—of which, it has to be said, I am a huge fan as a northerner—for covering this issue so well. I note that the character Carla Connor this week received a kidney from her half-brother and that all is going well. At their best, soaps can play a huge part in helping to inform the public on such issues. I hope the storyline will touch on the importance of being on the organ donation register. Finally, I pay tribute to the thousands of people who have already participated in the Government’s public consultation on organ donation. I encourage others to do so, if they have not done so already, to let their voices be heard.
The topic of organ donation is understandably an emotional one, but I am pleased that so many people are now engaging in this debate and that we have the opportunity to discuss it in the House today. This debate and the publicity around it may encourage families up and down the country to have that important discussion about organ donation before the inevitable happens. There is no doubt that these discussions need to be had and that we need more organ donors in England. Almost 25 million people are on the organ donation register, but according to the NHS blood and transplant service, 7,000 people are waiting on the list for new organs. For them, it really is a life or death situation, so it is important that as many people as possible sign up to the organ donation register.
Over the past five years, almost 5 million people have joined the register, and in 2016-17 we saw the highest ever deceased donor rates in England. More than 50,000 people are living with a functioning transplant—Max is one of them—thanks to organ donation and transplantation in the UK. These are welcome developments, but we still have a long way to go. We currently lag behind other western countries. Tragically, around 1,000 people die every year—that is three a day—while waiting for a transplant. To save those lives, we need more people on the organ donation register making those decisions with their family’s knowledge, so that when the time comes, more lives can be saved.
Mr Paul Sweeney (Glasgow North East) (Lab):
My hon. Friend makes an excellent case by citing statistics in England, but this is a cross-border issue as well. A great strength of our national health service is that no matter what part of the UK someone comes from, they can benefit from an organ transplant. If someone in Dumfries needs a kidney donation and the donor is from Carlisle, there will be no barrier or border on the route to getting access to that transplant. That is why MPs from all parts of the UK should support organ donation changes in all parts of the UK. That includes the Scottish National party; it is just a shame that SNP Members are not here today. Does my hon. Friend agree?
Yes, and I had not noticed that nobody from the Scottish National party is here. I do not know what the situation is in Scotland, but we still want people there to be organ donors. I am sure that Rebecca, the daughter of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central, would not refuse a kidney, whether from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or anywhere, so that is a very good point.
Will my hon. Friend recognise the great strides that the Labour party in Scotland has made in trying to bring in legislation on opt-out organ donation there? It is unfortunate that the Scottish National party blocked the progress of a Bill from Anne McTaggart MSP in the last session of the Parliament, but there is still hope, because a private Member’s Bill is progressing through the Scottish Parliament. We hope to have Labour and cross-party support to see such legislation progress in Scotland, as well as in Wales and England.
Excellent. I am really grateful to my hon. Friend for updating us all on the situation in Scotland because, as I said, I was not aware of it. I commend that Bill and hope that our SNP friends up in Scotland will act on and progress it as soon as possible.
Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab):
I pay tribute to colleagues in Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) and colleagues from across the country. We heard very moving stories from colleagues from North Devon and other parts. We as a House have demonstrated the ability to work together today, and that is so important. One of the great strengths of the debate has been the way that we have focused on families and listened to their stories. For me, that has been a deeply moving experience. I commend to colleagues the importance of continuing to listen to families as the campaign goes forward.
Families are at the heart of this, as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West, who is promoting the Bill, made clear, and I am sure that the Minister will as well. It is important that families’ voices are taken into consideration when these discussions take place.
I know that I am not alone in this House in carrying a donor card and being on the register. Like many other organ donors, I signed myself up because of a direct family experience. My Aunty Ella, who is sadly no longer with us, was one of the first patients to receive a kidney transplant at the fantastic Freeman Hospital in Newcastle way back in 1967. It was pioneering surgery back then, and it is great to hear my fellow Sunderland MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central, also commending the work of the fantastic renal team at the Freeman Hospital who are currently treating and supporting her daughter Rebecca so well. My Aunty Ella lived a full life because of her transplant. In those days, it was perhaps not as long as she would have liked, but she was able to see her children Norman and Stephen —my cousins—grow up to get married. All she wanted to do was to see them grow up, but she lived on to see them give her grandchildren. That is what organ donation is all about: it gives people a future. Just one donor can save up to nine people—as we heard, Keira Ball saved four—and it can give those nine people a future with their loved ones, which is why it is so important.
Of course, there are some concerns among some religious communities. We heard about that earlier from the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord), and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), the shadow Secretary of State for Health, has met representatives of one particular Jewish community to discuss their concerns. There are also concerns among black and minority-ethnic communities, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma). Although they are more susceptible to illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and even heart disease, only 35% of black and Asian people in the UK—where the population average is 63%—agreed to organ donation last year.
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab):
The same applies to stem cell transplants, which I raised earlier. It simply is not acceptable that those who happen to be white probably have an 80% to 90% chance of finding a possible match, whereas for those who come from a certain ethnic background the figure could be as low as 30%. I do not think we would accept that in any other walk of life.
My hon. Friend has made exactly the right point. This does not apply only to, for instance, kidney and heart transplants; it applies to the whole donor register. The Government must listen to the concerns of black and Asian communities, not just during the consultation but beyond, so that we can develop a solution to this problem.
Eleanor Smith (Wolverhampton South West) (Lab):
I hope that the Bill succeeds and that there will be consultation with members of the BME community to ensure the successful delivery of a public education programme to increase awareness.
That is precisely the point. It is a question of education and public awareness as well as the acceptance of the sensitivities that exist among all people, not just members of particular religious or ethnic-minority communities.
Mr Virendra Sharma (Southall) (Lab):
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend while she is making such a strong point. One of my constituents rang me after my speech to suggest first that Members of Parliament could run roadshows, along with members of their local voluntary sectors, to raise awareness and to encourage people to register as donors and secondly that we could encourage the local education system to enable schools and parents’ associations to run awareness sessions. Would that not be the best way of both raising awareness and engaging with communities?
Absolutely. I think that schools are an ideal forum for a number of public health awareness messages on a host of issues to be delivered to young people.
Perhaps the solution to all these concerns has been developed in the two countries where the opt-out system is working well, Wales and Spain. In Wales, the system came into force in 2015. The law sets out that those who live and die there will be deemed to have given consent for their organs to be used unless they have explicitly said otherwise. Before that change in the law came into effect, a public awareness campaign alone resulted in an increase in the number of organs transplanted from 120 to 160. That was not huge, but it was a definite start. NHS organ donation statistics show an 11.8% increase between 2014-15 and 2016-17 in the number of people in Wales opting to donate their organs. That was the highest increase among England, Wales and Scotland. Although there has not been a notable change since the law came into effect, it is worth remembering that—as we heard earlier—Spain took almost 10 years to increase organ donation rates significantly.
Spain has had a soft opt-out system for 39 years. It is considered to be the world leader in organ donation and currently has the highest organ donation rates in the world. In Spain, consent is presumed in the absence of any known objection by the deceased, but family consent is still sought, as it would be here, we hope. In the immediate aftermath of this change in law, there was only a small increase in the number of organ donations and transplants, but there was a dramatic increase after 1989, when the Spanish Government made a big push to reorganise organ donation, as a result of which there was a medically trained transplant co-ordinator in every hospital by 1999.
It is unlikely that we here in the UK will have an identical opt-out system to Spain’s, but these are just two examples showing how an opt-out system can work and improve the lives of thousands of people waiting for an organ transplant. This also gives us the opportunity to learn from past experiences, to ensure we get it right in this country, which I am sure we all seek to do. I know the Government will be working to ensure that that is what happens, and the Opposition are passionate about world-class health services, but, as the NHS Blood and Transplant service made clear, we
“will never have a world-class donation and transplantation service if more than 4 out of every 10 families say no to donation.”
Some 90% of people surveyed by the British Heart Foundation say they support organ donation, but just 33% of those surveyed are on the NHS organ donor register. It is clear from what we have heard today that more people need to be on the organ donor register, and these difficult conversations must be encouraged, so that more lives can be saved.
Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab):
During this debate, I went on to my phone and signed up as a full organ donor. Previously, I was a bit squeamish about giving my eyes, but I have been convinced by the arguments. Signing up only took two minutes; it was simple to do, and every Member could be encouraging our constituents to do so, too, by just going on to their phone and registering now, so we can get more donors before this Bill becomes law.
That would be great. Even the most technophobe of us should be able to manage doing that if it takes only two minutes, and maybe there could be one of those clever apps to make it even easier for all the young people to do this.
Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab):
I have no knowledge of apps, but I do have my donor card here, held proudly in my hand, which I got by telephoning. When I introduced my Bill on this subject many years ago, I was accused, as were the supporters—including Dr Evan Harris, who brought in the Bill with me—of being Aztecs. Does my hon. Friend agree that the tide is now flowing in our favour and this is a piece of legislation whose need has been proven, but whose time is now?
Yes, very good, and I must apologise for not commending my hon. Friend on his Bill when I listed the people who had done work on this over the years. That makes us realise how many people have been pushing for this, and if my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West is successful today, his great achievement will be following in many other Members’ footsteps.
Whether it is clever people with their apps or people carrying the old-fashioned donor card, we in the Opposition and nearly all of us, or perhaps all of us unanimously, across the House this morning are in favour of a change to the organ donation law, to ensure that everybody whose life could be saved by organ transplant can have the gift of life. I therefore urge the Minister today to take the necessary steps to increase the number of people on the organ donor register, and I am sure this Bill will be a great asset in helping her to achieve that goal.
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate following the Second Reading of the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill. During her speech, Sharon highlighted the need for... Read more
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on the Cancer Strategy. In her speech, Sharon called on the Government to address the issues of early diagnosis, waiting times, the workforce and prevention, so that the UK is able to achieve world class cancer outcomes by 2020.
You can read the full debate here: Cancer Strategy
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab):
I thank the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for leading the debate and for her excellent speech, and I thank the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) for securing the debate. He is not in the Chamber, but I also want to thank him for the excellent contribution that he has made to the work of the all-party parliamentary group on cancer for many years. His expertise and passion about this matter are what has made the APPG so successful.
I also thank the other Members who have made excellent speeches about this important issue. I thank the hon. Members for Bosworth (David Tredinnick), the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey), with whom I co-chaired the all-party parliamentary group on breast cancer—he raised the important issue of breast density, which, as he said, is an issue on which we really do need to make progress—the hon. Members for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Jack) for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan), the Scottish National party spokesman. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher), for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), and for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), and my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee). She is no longer in the Chamber, but she made a powerful and emotional speech about her daughter, who would be so proud of her bravery today—as, I am sure, her grandchildren will be. I hope that the whole family were watching the debate today. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris), who, I think, has fought cancer twice.
Grahame Morris (Easington) (Lab):
It is an absolute pleasure to see my hon. Friend in his place. Long may he stay there.
Cancer is, understandably, a very emotional topic. One in two people in the UK will be affected by cancer in their lifetimes, and, as we have heard from almost everyone who has spoken today, we have all been affected in some way ourselves. When my children were very small, I lost my mother-in-law to breast cancer. That is one of the reasons why I joined the all-party parliamentary group on breast cancer, and I am vice-chair of the group to this day. It is this emotion that encourages us and gets us all to come together to tackle cancer.
Over the years there has been a steady improvement in cancer survival rates in England. However, we still lag behind the improvements of our European counterparts, and the number of new cancer cases continues to rise year on year. If these trends continue it is estimated that by 2020 some 2.4 million people in England will have had a cancer diagnosis at some point in their life. That is why the Government must take urgent steps so that cancer diagnosis care and outcomes in England can be improved.
The cancer strategy was a welcome step forward to achieving the best cancer care and outcomes in the world, and Labour is fully committed to delivering, and helping to deliver, that strategy in full. However, as has been mentioned, there are some concerns across the House about the progress of the strategy. I am pleased that some of the targets have already been met, but I am under no illusions—many are no closer to being reached than they were almost three years ago. Will the Minister today commit to publishing a detailed progress update on each of the 97 cancer strategy recommendations by the end of this financial year, so we are all able to celebrate success but also focus our attention on more pressing challenges where needed? There are many challenges that the Government must face before achieving world-class cancer outcomes, but I will touch on only a few today: early diagnosis; waiting times; the workforce; and prevention.
On early diagnosis, we know that if a cancer is diagnosed early, treatment is more likely to be successful, but for cancers such as ovarian cancer and lung cancer it is often too late. The National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service found that over a quarter of women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed through an emergency presentation. Of those women, just 45% survive a year or more, compared with over 80% of women diagnosed following a referral by their GP. I should state at this point that I am chair of the all-party group on ovarian cancer. Similarly, research by the British Lung Foundation found that more than a third of lung cancer cases in England are diagnosed after presenting as an emergency. As a result, the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation found that, if caught early, a person has up to a 73% chance of surviving five years or more. However, the current five-year survival rate for lung cancer is just 10% and, sadly, one in 20 lung cancer sufferers was not diagnosed until they had died. Cancer survival rates have doubled over the last 40 years, but those are shocking statistics. I therefore ask the Minister what his Department will be doing to ensure that cancers are detected even earlier, so that patients are no longer pushed from pillar to post trying to find a diagnosis.
Unfortunately, we know that once a patient has been diagnosed, they then have an agonising wait for treatment. Even if it was a wait of just a week it would be agonising, but the 62-day target between urgent GP referral and treatment has not been met now for two years, meaning that patients are having to wait much longer than they should for treatment. Since the target was first breached in January 2014, over 95,000 people have waited for more than two months for treatment to start. Cancer patients should not be expected to wait so long. I therefore ask the Minister, what his Department is doing to address this issue.
It is no secret that the NHS and the NHS workforce are under extreme pressure due to underfunding and understaffing by this Government. I want to place on record the fact that Labour Members do not take the NHS workforce for granted. We are incredibly grateful to them for their hard work, support and kindness to patients and their families. They are doing an incredible job despite the circumstances we currently find ourselves in, and we should never stop thanking them for the work they do to diagnose, treat and care for patients. The cancer workforce really are the backbone of the cancer strategy.
The improvement of early diagnosis and waiting times relies on an efficient cancer workforce, so the Minister must make these concerns a top priority if the targets in the cancer strategy are to be fulfilled. A report by Macmillan Cancer Support found that more than half the GPs and nurses surveyed in the UK say that, given current pressures on the NHS workforce, they are not confident that the workforce are able to provide adequate care to cancer patients. That is deeply worrying. The NHS workforce should be suitably equipped to diagnose, support and care for cancer patients, during and beyond cancer.
Through my work with the all-party parliamentary group on breast cancer, I have heard—as I am sure the Minister did during his time as the group’s co-chair—of the overwhelming support that a cancer nurse specialist can bring to breast cancer patients and their families. As we have heard, however, patients with secondary breast cancer are unlikely to have access to a cancer nurse specialist. Research from Breast Cancer Care shows that 42% of hospital trusts and health boards in England, Scotland and Wales do not provide dedicated, specialist nursing care for people with secondary breast cancer, even though they often have complex emotional and supportive care needs. Patients with secondary breast cancer are subject to a postcode lottery when it comes to having a cancer nurse specialist. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that every cancer patient has access to a clinical nurse specialist?
There is no doubt that, if the cancer workforce had the time, resources and support they so desperately need, the recommendations in the cancer strategy would be achieved. I know that that is something the cancer workforce plan, published in December last year, aimed to address. Will the Minister update the House on the progress of the plan, and outline how much funding the Government will be granting to ensure that the proposals in the plan soon become a reality? The NHS cancer workforce care for and support their patients every day, and we really need the Government to support the workforce, too.
Finally, I move on to the first issue raised in the cancer strategy: prevention. The World Health Organisation estimates that a third of deaths due to a cancer are the result of the five leading behavioural and dietary risks: high body mass index; low fruit and vegetable intake; lack of physical activity; tobacco; and alcohol. The subject of alcohol was raised by my amazing hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West. Tobacco was identified as the most important risk factor, responsible for approximately 22% of cancer deaths. Taking all five risk factors into account, it is estimated that between 30% and 50% of cancers could be prevented.
The Government’s tobacco control plan—which the Minister thankfully pushed to be published in his first weeks in the job—and the childhood obesity plan are welcome steps towards reducing the high rate of preventable cancers, but they will not go far enough if the Government continue to slash public health budgets. Will the Minister therefore commit to strengthening public health budgets so that fit and healthy lifestyles can be encouraged across all our communities and help to contribute to cancer prevention? I know that, like me, he is passionate about making sure that England is one of the world leaders when it comes to cancer outcomes, but we are currently lagging behind. However, with the right funding and support from the Government, the cancer strategy has the potential to achieve that. I hope that he will take on board all that we have heard today and go back to his Department with an action plan of how best to move forward so that we can really achieve world-class cancer outcomes in 2020.
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on the Cancer Strategy. In her speech, Sharon called on the Government to address the issues of...
As Member and former Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Basketball, Sharon spoke in a Westminster Hall Debate on the Future of Basketball. In her speech, Sharon raised the issue of lack of funding for Basketball.
You can read the full debate here: UK Basketball
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) for securing this important debate, and for his excellent and entertaining speech; I do not think that we have heard rap quoted in here before. He recently took over from me as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on basketball, and he is doing a sterling job; he has already done a lot more in that short time than I hoped to do to raise the profile of basketball in Parliament, and this debate is an excellent opportunity to do so.
I have always loved basketball. I know that I do not look like a basketball player—we have lots of them in the Public Gallery—but I played in high school, and I still love to watch the sport; I know that that is hard to believe. I always hoped that through the work of the all-party group, one day the sport would be as large as others, even football, and that it would be everywhere: on our TVs, on the news channels, in our local communities and in our international sports arenas. However, that cannot be achieved unless basketball receives fair and sustainable funding so the sport can grow from the grassroots up.
Basketball is the second most popular sport behind football for 11 to 15-year-olds. According to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, it is more popular than riding a bike, so why does the funding stay so low? All young people could benefit from basketball as a sport. It gets them active, but as shown in the results of the all-party group’s 2014 inquiry, which I chaired, it can also serve as a great tool for representation and aspiration, especially among children from deprived communities.
Basketball is perceived as very cool, and it is. It has street credibility globally, and due to its strong affinity with music and lifestyle, it is a sport that can resonate with young people. It can be played with very little space, equipment and money, making it truly representative. More than 300,000 young people aged 16 and over play basketball at least twice a week. It appeals to men, women, boys and girls—one in six participants are female—and is popular among players from less wealthy backgrounds. Somewhat uniquely, basketball is the only team sport in which more than half of registered members—58% of adult basketball participants—are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. That is followed by cricket, which is still some way behind at about 30%.
We have all plugged our local teams. My local team, the Newcastle Eagles, are absolutely amazing. I do not wish to gloat or be biased, but allow me to remind Members that they are the top team in the British Basketball League, having won the BBL championship seven times and the BBL cup six times. I was there for some of those games, cheering them on. Not only are the Newcastle Eagles a fantastic team, they do so much work for the local community and hold partnerships with Northumbria University. Little Dribblers, Mini Eagles, Hoops 4 Health and the School of Excellence are just some examples of what the Eagles Community Foundation, launched in 2006, helps to do for the local community. The primary school programme Hoops 4 Health works with 7,000 young people every year, encouraging them to play and get healthy. It is a great way to introduce children to the sport. They can also play in the Eagles’ central venue league on weekends. The Eagles are a great example of what all BBL clubs do, week in and week out.
Despite all that great work, since 2009, basketball nationally has received just £102 in funding per adult participant. That is less than half as much as the next highest comparable sport, netball, which receives £205. Why is that? I know that netball has its own attributes; I used to play when I was younger, although I preferred and was better at basketball. It is cooler, as well. Why must funding be shared so unfairly? Sport England’s February 2017 funding round awarded £4.73 million to Basketball England, and just £1 million to British Basketball. Wheelchair basketball funding was not announced until October 2017, when it received £300,000.
Based on Sport England’s active lives survey, just under 1% of the population—0.7%, to be exact—participated in basketball at least twice during the 28 days prior to the survey. Although that might seem like a small percentage, basketball placed 10th out of the top 25 sports by participation— only 8% of participation was in team sports—placing it ahead of other sports such as netball, rugby and hockey. [Interruption.] I will wind up, but before I do, I will make one point about funding. Those sports receive far more funding than basketball. Hockey receives more than £9 million in funding although only 0.3% of the population participate, meaning that hockey receives 50% more funding from Sport England than Basketball England, British Basketball and wheelchair basketball.
I had more that I wanted to say, but others want to participate, and I am being told to wind up, so I will leave it to the Minister to do the sums. I hope that she will consider what is being said today and fix the unfair funding, so that basketball becomes a national sport in this country.
As Member and former Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Basketball, Sharon spoke in a Westminster Hall Debate on the Future of Basketball. In her speech, Sharon raised the... Read more
In her capacity as Chair of the School Food APPG, Sharon secured a debate on the Department for Education's current consultation around future eligibility for free school meals under Universal Credit. In her speech, Sharon raised concerns with the proposed £7,400 threshold and the Government's estimated 50,000 children who will benefit from changes to eligibility and moved on to provide a solution for the Government, and reasons why this solution should be introduced.
You can read the full debate here: Free School Meals Eligibility and Universal Credit Westminster Hall Debate 06.02.18
You can read Sharon's opening speech, pasted below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered future eligibility for free school meals and the pupil premium.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. With the support of my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Ruth George), I called this debate because of our serious concerns about the Department for Education’s consultation, “Eligibility for free school meals and the early years pupil premium under Universal Credit”. Those concerns arose following my oral question on universal credit and free school meals to the new Secretary of State last week, when, unfortunately, he completely missed my point.
The Government are disregarding the concerns of many in this House and outside it that their actions will push more children into poverty. Labour Members know that poverty is not an inevitability, but a symptom of failure to harness political will, think innovatively and take bold steps forward. This whole issue encapsulates that neatly. In my contribution, I will focus on the concerns flagged up by the consultation’s proposals and discuss what should be done to mitigate those concerns and why.
In my letter to the consultation, I said that I am a huge supporter of rolling out hot and healthy universal free school meals for all children—I always have been. That will be no surprise to hon. Members, who know that I have banged on about my support for wider access and the provision of free school meals for more than a decade now, and I will continue to do so until all children receive a hot and healthy meal in the dinner hall.
In the current transition to universal credit, all families claiming the new benefit are entitled to free school meals, which is great, but the Department’s consultation aims to roll forward that reform by rolling back one of its most progressive measures. By removing the universal entitlement to free school meals under universal credit and introducing a £7,400 threshold for eligibility for free school meals, the Government are forcibly creating a cliff edge that will be detrimental to families, especially children. That seems utterly ludicrous
As the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), wrote when the White Paper on universal credit was published in 2010:
“At its heart, Universal Credit is very simple and will ensure that work always pays and is seen to pay. Universal Credit will mean that people will be consistently…better off for each hour they work and every pound they earn.”
The Opposition do not disagree at all with the principles that he set out, but sadly, the reality has failed to live up to the promise made eight years ago. We all know lots of the reasons behind that, which ultimately led to him resigning, but that is a whole other story.
The proposals set out in the consultation are diametrically opposed to that 2010 vision and what it was meant to achieve, especially around making work pay. To give one example of how the proposal will be detrimental: someone with three children in their family who earns just below the £7,400 threshold is set to lose out on £1,200 in free school meals if they work only a few hours more or get a pay rise. The family’s annual wages would have to increase from £7,400 to almost £11,000 to make up for what they lost by rising above the eligibility cliff edge—a problem that would not occur under the working tax credit system because the legacy benefits system provides an offsetting income boost at the point that free school meals are withdrawn. Under universal credit, however, there is no equivalent mitigation.
Another example, provided to my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak and me by the fabulous Dr Sam Royston of the Children’s Society, is that a single parent with no housing costs and one child would be £26 better off per week under the old working tax credit system than under universal credit. The Minister may think £26 per week a meagre amount, but for many outside this place it can determine whether or not they can eat or heat their home. The child of the single parent in Dr Royston’s example is not entitled to free school meals either under working tax credits or under the proposed universal credit rules, so it may seem that they will be no worse off, but the only way they can be so entitled is if the transitional plans are made permanent, so that all children in a family that claims universal credit receive free school meals.
Dr David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
My hon. Friend will be aware—as I am, since I represent a rural area—that one of the problems with free school meals is how many parents will not claim them because of stigma. Does she agree that changing to universal credit will only make that worse.
Yes. One of my reasons for supporting universal free school meals is that the stigma would be removed. It was proved in the excellent school food plan commissioned under the former Education Secretary, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), that that was one of the benefits of universal free school meals. The poorest kids, who are entitled to them anyway, are the ones who benefit the most.
Laura Smith (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab)
As a teenager, I was entitled to free school meals, but because of the stigma I did not take them. I used to refuse to queue up for my token, so I went without, which resulted in my developing a very controlling relationship with food and a lot of problems at home. I totally support my hon. Friend’s proposal, because free school meals for all children will mean that they all get a healthy meal and the stigma will disappear.
I totally agree. The same system should apply for all children who are entitled to universal credit, although wider access is another debate.
Michelle Donelan (Chippenham) (Con)
I completely agree about the stigma; I raised the same point with the Minister the other day in the Chamber. However, does the hon. Lady agree that there is another way? Instead of enfranchising everybody, we could have an auto-enrolment scheme that was linked to the benefits system, rather than a system of people self-declaring as eligible.
I agree about auto-enrolment: parents should not have to apply. However, the point that I am trying to make is that any family eligible for universal credit should automatically get free school meals through auto-enrolment. If the cliff edge is brought in, it would be detrimental to that vision that we probably all share.
Dr Dan Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con)
I absolutely agree. Administering the cliff edge will mean huge costs. We should learn from the current system for free school meals for infants.
I am aware that many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, so I had better get back to setting out my concerns. What we want to prevent is families avoiding pay rises or working more hours for fear that they will lose out. That is not making work pay, and it is not what the system was intended to do when it was set up. If the Minister and his Department, alongside the Department for Work and Pensions, were truly in favour of making work pay, they would at the very least have made provision to avoid that issue—even keeping the status quo would work. They have known about the problem for seven years; I have banged on about it for years, and so have my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak, since before she was an MP, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) and other hon. Members. Sadly, it seems that the Government are keen to power on without even considering the impact of their policies on a child’s life. It would be welcome if the Minister set out how he believes the threshold and its implications are consistent with the Government’s aim to make work pay.
Another concern about the consultation is the figure of 50,000 more children who we keep hearing will benefit from free school meals by 2022. On the surface, it is welcome that the Government have estimated that more children will be receiving free school meals under their plans, but it is deeply concerning that analysis by the Children’s Society has found that more than 1 million children living in poverty would miss out on a free school meal because of the cliff edge. In the consultation document, the Government say that 50,000 children will benefit by the end of the roll-out, when the transitional protections are at their capacity. Herein lies the crux of the problem: the document also states that 10% of children—113,000—will lose out on free school meal entitlement. That is because children will fall off once the transitional protections come to an end, as they move from primary school, where they will have the protection when it comes in, to secondary school, where their entitlement will end.
I would therefore welcome clarity from the Minister about how he will protect children who risk losing their free school meals when they move from one stage of their education to the next. If he cannot give us answers in this debate—that would be a shame, but I am aware that time will be an issue—I would be more than happy to take him up on his offer to meet me if he is still happy to do so. I am very grateful that he made that commitment.
I want to offer the Minister a solution, which I have already touched on. It makes total sense for the current transitional system to be made permanent so that all the children in a family on universal credit receive free school meals. That would not generate any extra bureaucracy, it would be fairer and it would help make work pay. It would be exactly what the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green intended when he envisaged and enacted the policy. It would negate any of the concerns that I have mentioned and that other hon. Members may mention. It would push the cliff edge to a much higher earnings threshold and overcome the fear of deductions from earnings, which turn the Government’s proposals against making work pay. We do not want people to refuse pay rises or extra work for fear that they will lose three lots of free school meals.
That is not the only reason to maintain the status quo. Free school meals also have significant benefits for a child’s life. I will never miss an opportunity to sing the praises of the universal principle of free school meals. As several hon. Members have already mentioned, they reduce stigma. In its response to the consultation, School Food Matters quoted the comments of a headteacher about how universal infant free school meals had reduced stigma:
“Despite being in an affluent London borough, 27% of the children at our school are currently entitled to free school meals but nearer 40% have been entitled to free school meals within the past 6 years.”
That is what matters for the pupil premium. The headteacher went on to say:
“This is a clear indicator that many of the families are only just about managing.”
This shows that if the Minister goes ahead with the current proposals, we could see more and more of the “just about managing”—the JAMs, who the Prime Minister referred to in her first speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street—being left behind. Would that not go against what this Government are all about?
The Minister knows that I have a keen interest in supporting children from low-income families by giving them healthy meals, both in term time and in the holidays. We had the excellent private Member’s Bill promoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) and I know that the Minister is considering pilots with regard to it, which is very welcome. By implementing my proposal, the Government would ensure that those children have access to a healthy meal that would benefit their education, their health and their wellbeing.
The evidence is out there and I am sure that the Minister has a copy of the school food plan lying around in his office; if he has not, I have a spare one, or I am sure that I get John Vincent or Henry Dimbleby, its writers, to send him one. I advise him strongly to go away and read it, as it is excellent from cover to cover, especially chapter 11, which is about the benefits of free school meals. In said chapter, there are references to the evaluations of the free school meal pilots established by the last Labour Government under Ed Balls, which showed that there was a 23% increase in vegetable consumption, a 16% decline in the consumption of soft drinks—because there were no packed lunches—and an 18% decline in the consumption of crisps. Those pilots also benefited a child’s education, with children in receipt of a free school meal in the pilot areas on average two months ahead of their peers outside the pilot areas and 2% more children reaching their target levels in maths and English at key stage 1, while at key stage 2 the impact was between 3% and 5%. If we want to close the attainment gap, there is nothing better than to start by making sure that the kids are all fed.
The hon. Lady says “there is nothing better”, but potentially there is: breakfast. All the studies show that disadvantaged children perform a lot better once they have had a breakfast, and in fact children in middle-class families and higher-earning families, where the parents are busy and going off to work, often suffer as well, because they are not getting that important breakfast, which is, after all, the most important meal of the day.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
Yes—for the last time.
On the benefits of universal free school meals, I will just add that when they were piloted, the most marked academic improvements were among children from less affluent backgrounds. That is a very important point to make.
I think the Minister is a common-sense kind of guy; I have found that in my dealings with him in all-party groups that we have worked in together over the years. So I am sure that, on hearing the figures that I have cited, he will agree that the reason for all of this work is that children are more attentive and ready to learn, because they have a healthy meal in their tummies that is fuelling their learning.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I am just about to finish.
The proposals in the consultation would jeopardise all of that, because those children would have to go back to bringing in packed lunches and only 1% of packed lunches meet the nutritional requirements that our fabulous school food does now. It has been improved beyond recognition.
I will give way to the hon. Lady very quickly.
I know that the hon. Lady is just coming to the end of her remarks, but I just wanted to pick her up on one thing. She is making compelling arguments for the benefits of free school meals and breakfasts. I think that many of us would support her in wanting to make sure that children are well fed at school. However, she has not touched on the costs of doing those things, the trade-offs, and the choices that might have to be made to ensure that a generous supply of free school meals is available.
The hon. Lady might not be aware, because I do not think that she was a Member at the time, but after the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath commissioned the school food plan, he agreed with all 17 of its recommendations. He put money to 16 of them straight away and the 17th one was for universal free school meals; he accepted the arguments for that recommendation and said he would provide money for it when it could be found. Money was found for universal infant free school meals, under the coalition agreement with Nick Clegg, and those meals were introduced.
The point has already been made; it has been proved. The money can be found, because universal free school meals more than pay for themselves, and the benefits that we get from them outweigh the initial costs, including the amount saved on administration because they are universal. There are a whole host of arguments around this issue, but in a sense I am detracting from what this debate is about, so I will conclude.
I hope that the Minister has been listening intently; in fact, I am sure he has, because he has looking at me and I have seen he is. I hope he will do the same with other speakers. The new system was presented as a way to eradicate poverty, but instead the introduction of the measure that we have been discussing could cement poverty in our society, and at worst there could even be a rise in poverty among “working poor” families. If that happens, we would go through all these changes for naught, and children would be just as badly off in the future—maybe even worse off—and that would be at the behest of the Government. I am sure that is not what they want, so I hope that the Minister will look at this issue seriously and perhaps think again, for the sake of the children out there who we are all here to support.
In her capacity as Chair of the School Food APPG, Sharon secured a debate on the Department for Education's current consultation around future eligibility for free school meals under Universal... Read more