You can read Sharon's latest Echo column below or on the Sunderland Echo website
The last Labour Government aimed to spread power and opportunity to all, to ensure that the next generation were not held back by their background.
That is why, in 2004, Labour launched the Child Trust Fund (CTF) scheme. This bold policy ensured that every child would have access to savings at the start of their adult life, no matter their background. For every young person born after the 1st September 2002, Labour invested at least £250 in a fund, from which only that young person can draw money.
This month, the first generation to benefit from CTFs turn 18, and can access this fund for the first time. Over the next 9 years, 50,000 young people across the country each month will come of age and be able to access their fund.
In Washington and Sunderland West, 8,700 young people have a CTF and will see the difference a Labour Government can make to their lives.
The contrast with the Tories’ mishandling of young people’s futures couldn’t be clearer. Students have faced a summer of chaos following the Government’s A-Level results fiasco, which follows a series of failures for young people, be it on school funding, university fees, or public health.
In fact, it was the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition Government which scrapped the innovative CTF scheme in 2011.
Given the time that has passed since the CTF scheme was launched and now with the significant impact of the pandemic, I am worried that many 18-year olds and their parents may be unaware, or have forgotten, that an account exists for them. I don’t want any young person to miss out on money that is rightfully theirs.
To find out more about this scheme, or to find your fund, visit https://www.gov.uk/child-trust-funds/
If you know anyone who is about to turn 18, make sure that they’re aware that they have money that is theirs to manage.
Every trust fund, and every choice it enables, is a reminder of the difference a Labour government can make. Today’s young adults will be the beneficiaries of Labour’s determination to make lives better and society fairer.
You can read Sharon's latest Sunderland Echo column below
There is almost no part of the economy that has not been badly affected by the impact of Coronavirus and the necessary measures taken to limit its spread.
It seems like every day brings further announcements of job losses. Behind every new tranche of numbers are individuals and families who now face a worrying and uncertain future.
Alongside manufacturing more widely, one area which is being particularly damaged is the aerospace industry. The near total suspension in air travel and continued low passenger numbers are having a significant knock on effect on companies such as Rolls-Royce.
As the MP for a constituency home to a Rolls-Royce site, I am acutely aware of the scale of the problems facing the company and its workers.
That’s why I convened an urgent meeting last week for MPs with sites in their constituencies and Unite representatives to discuss what is needed from the Government to prevent further job losses and safeguard the high level of skills in the workforce.
Whilst some aspects of Government financial assistance measures have been a lifeline, there have also been significant shortfalls.
As Unite have pointed out, steps taken by our Government pale in comparison to those taken by France and Germany. The seemingly indifferent attitude taken by this Conservative Government was summed up in the absence of any mention of the aviation or aerospace sectors in the Chancellor’s recent summer statement.
It is becoming increasingly clear that further, sector specific, support will be needed in the coming weeks and months.
As the Labour Party has made clear, we need a targeted strategy that acknowledges that workers in struggling sectors cannot and should not be treated the same way as workers in sectors that are already back to full capacity.
Growing up in the North East during the Thatcher Governments, I know how much long-term damage can be done to our communities when industries are abandoned.
If Boris Johnson wants to make good on his ‘levelling up’ rhetoric, he needs to step in and provide a comprehensive strategy to stop continued and widespread job losses in aerospace and manufacturing.
You can read Sharon's latest Sunderland Echo column below or on the Sunderland Echo website
I never expected to have something in common with a 22-year-old Manchester United and England professional football player, yet here we are.
Like Marcus Rashford, I grew up on Free School Meals (FSM) and similarly I have been using my experiences growing up to make a change for the children growing up today.
I still remember the stigma of being separated from my friends to queue in a separate line with other children on FSMs.
That is why, since I became an MP in 2005, I have campaigned for Universal Free School Meals (UFSMs) and set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food in 2010 to campaign for UFSMs, breakfast clubs, high quality school food standards and food provision over the summer holidays to tackle ‘holiday hunger’.
This is something that has been brought into public consciousness recently by the intervention of Marcus Rashford, but as he has acknowledged: this isn’t a new Coronavirus-related problem.
We have known for years that, on the approximately 170 days a year when the school gates are shut, some children will not receive regular, healthy or substantial meals. This has a negative impact on their development and learning.
With the effects of the pandemic expected to stay with us all for many months or even years to come, it was callous for the Government to expect that all families on low incomes would be able to provide substantial and healthy food during the holidays. Many of these families will be on furlough, not knowing if their job will still exist when the scheme comes to an end or will have had their finances significantly squeezed because of lockdown.
I welcome the Government’s U-turn, that will see all 1.3 million children eligible for FSMs able to continue accessing food provision for free during the summer holidays. But the Prime Minister’s admission that he wasn’t aware of the campaign until the day of the U-turn is testament to his Government’s tone-deafness to children growing up in poverty.
Because of this, I will continue to campaign until no child goes without food in the UK.
You can read Sharon's latest Sunderland Echo Column below, or on the Sunderland Echo website.
This week, some lockdown restrictions have been lifted. You can now spend time outdoors, in a group of up to six people from different households whilst maintaining social distancing; you can visit car showrooms and some children have returned to school.
I know that these changes will come with a mixture of both anxiety and relief. We all want to see our friends and family again and return to some sense of normality; but if we are to do that, we must do so safely.
Now is not the time for complacency, or for a drive to Barnard Castle to test your eyesight.
I know that the warm weather can be tempting and the fact that the Prime Minister’s own advisor was seen to be breaking lockdown rules makes it seem like the Government’s guidelines are advisory, rather than compulsory.
But if we do want to hug our friends and family again, if we want to attend large gatherings again and if we want to continue to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed, then we must continue to follow the Government’s guidelines strictly.
That means staying home as much as possible. Where you do go out, for business or leisure, you must stay 2 metres away from people who are not from your household, where possible.
By doing this, we will continue to protect ourselves and others.
I would like to thank everyone who has made unbelievable sacrifices to follow the Government’s lockdown guidance. My thoughts are with those who have missed out on key life milestones, missed out on spending time with friends and family, and tragically missed out on saying goodbye to loved ones.
Whilst it feels like we are beginning to gain back some freedom, please remember that the Coronavirus pandemic is not over yet.
We still all have a part to play in protecting ourselves, our loved ones and our NHS.
With that in mind, I continue to put pressure on the Government to safely lift lockdown restrictions, in a way that follows the science and the reality on the ground.
For example, the North East has the highest rate of Coronavirus infections in England, so to lift lockdown restrictions based on Coronavirus rates in the South West (which now has the lowest rate of infections) would be irresponsible.
I continue to make representations to the Government on these very important issues. My team and I are busy helping constituents navigate the guidance and the various furlough and support schemes that have been introduced and are helping constituents fight for their rights to access what they are entitled to.
If any of my constituents have any questions or concerns about the lockdown restrictions or anything else, then please do email [email protected] and I will do all that I can to help you.
You can read Sharon's latest Echo column below or on the Sunderland Echo website.
Tomorrow (Friday 8th May), the nation will mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day.
Like all events planned since March this year, tomorrow’s Victory in Europe: VE Day commemoration will be different to how it was initially planned; but the country will still come together to pay tribute to the Second World War generation and remember the sacrifices made by British, Commonwealth and Allied Forces.
Whilst the country is facing some of the most challenging times since the Second World War, we are united in awe at the spirit of Captain Tom Moore who has raised over £32 million for NHS Charities Together, after setting a target of £1,000.
But Captain Moore isn’t the only veteran who is raising money and continuing to serve his community.
Former service personnel across the country are joining charities and volunteers to provide: food packages to those in need, someone to talk to so that people don’t get lonely during the lockdown and a helping hand to anyone who needs it. Veterans in Crisis Sunderland are the perfect example of communities coming together, even during lockdown.
We are also seeing 20,000 serving personnel play their part in the fight against Coronavirus. Helping with the ambulance service, delivering personal protective equipment, setting up mobile testing sites and flying Brits home from their nightmare holiday situations are just a few examples of how our armed forces continue to adapt to serve us.
As the new Shadow Veterans’ Minister, I am proud of our armed service personnel, past and present, and believe that we should all share that pride, not just on a few days of the year, but every day.
Our armed forces do so much for us, and like all public services including the NHS, we need to do more than just thank them. We need to make sure that they are protected, and they have the support they need.
That is why one of my first tasks as Shadow Veterans’ Minister was to call on the Government to re-open the Veterans UK helpline, which provides valuable support to veterans but has closed due to Coronavirus. Other businesses and charities have been able to re-direct their helplines to a working from home setting, so there is no reason why the Government can’t do the same to support our veterans.
Tomorrow, like many across the country, I will be joining in with the VE Day commemoration and remembrance of those who served in World War II and will be giving thanks to our veterans and serving personnel, who continue to serve us and make us proud.
You can read Sharon's latest Sunderland Echo Column below or on the Sunderland Echo website
It has been just over a week since the Prime Minister addressed the nation and placed limitations on when people can leave the house.
As a reminder, people are only allowed to leave their home for the following purposes:
- Shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible;
- One form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk or cycle – alone or with members of your household;
- Any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person; and
- Travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.
The Covid-19 pandemic is an uncertain time for everyone. People are anxious about their health, their finances and their jobs. We all have a part to play in not spreading the virus, ensuring our NHS is not overwhelmed and enabling the most vulnerable in society to be protected for at least 12 weeks.
I was therefore alarmed to receive so many emails from my constituents who have been told by their employer that they must still go to work, despite not being classed under the latest guidelines from the Government as a “key worker” or working for an “essential business”.
Due to the large volume of constituents who have written to me about this, I have published an open letter to non-essential businesses that are still operating in my constituency.
I ask them to consider 5 things:
1) Can the work be done from home?
2) Is the business operation absolutely necessary, is it classed as an “essential business”?
3) Is it contributing towards the national effort to slow the spread of Covid-19?
4) Does the business support the NHS in the response to Covid-19, or any of the critical sectors as outlined by the Government?
5) What is worth more: the health of employees and their family, or the short-term financial gain from continued business operations?
We all have a part to play in preventing the spread of Covid-19 and that includes businesses.
I know that the guidance from the Government in the majority of areas, not just on businesses, lacks clear clarification.
That is why I have written to the Government to ask for clarification on a number of issues on behalf of constituents including guidance for non-essential businesses, people employed by agencies and those on zero hours contracts.
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way all of us live our lives, but I will continue to represent the constituents of Washington and Sunderland West and help them in any way that I am able to as the local MP. If any of my constituents have any concerns or require any assistance, then please do contact me on [email protected] with your full name and postal address.
You can read Sharon's Echo Column on the Sunderland Echo website or below.
Many of you will be rightly concerned about the outbreak of Covid-19.
First and foremost, my thoughts are with the loved ones of those who have sadly died and with those who have contracted the virus.
As always, the NHS workforce has demonstrated its determination to provide the best possible care at such a difficult time. I pay tribute to all health staff, as well as the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor who have shown exceptional leadership throughout this outbreak.
Public health and safety must be the priority and I believe that the Government are taking necessary steps, based on scientific and medical advice, to contain and delay the spreading of the virus.
As worrying as Covid-19 is, what it has highlighted is the inequalities in our society.
People working in the gig economy, on zero hour contracts or in insecure work, are in a difficult position if they’re told to self-isolate: do they follow the advice, and lose out on the wages they need to make ends meet, or do they ignore the advice and potentially contribute to the spreading of the virus?
No one should have to make the decision between their health and hardship, yet 2 million workers in the UK are ineligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).
The Prime Minister announced that the three-day wait for SSP would be scrapped for patients with Covid-19, but the Government has not yet brought anything forward on this.
Even so, trying to live on £94.25 a week, which is about a quarter of the national minimum wage, or having to wait 5 weeks for Universal Credit, will only exacerbate the existing inequalities, and could vastly compromise the nation’s attempts to contain the virus if people choose to work, instead of self-isolating, due to the need to pay their bills and eat.
The Government’s inaction to improve these inequalities in our society will not only continue to hurt the poorest and most vulnerable; in turn, the rest of society will also suffer.
If this outbreak teaches us anything, it should be to tackle inequalities across our society and bridge the gap between the least and most well-off.
If you or your family are concerned that you have Covid-19, then please do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. Call 111 and speak to someone. NHS 111 also has an online coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and advise you what to do. Use this service if you think you might have coronavirus if; in the last 14 days you’ve been to a country or area with a high risk of coronavirus or you’ve been in close contact with someone with coronavirus.
You can read Sharon's latest Echo column below or on the Sunderland Echo website
A planning application for a waste gasification plant to be built at Hillthorn Park in Washington has been ongoing for almost three years.
Local residents, campaigners, Cross-Party Councillors and I oppose the building of this plant and have been relentless in our campaigning against the planning application.
Last July, the application was rejected by local Councillors on the Planning and Highways Committee. But our journey did not stop there.
The applicants, Rolton Kilbride, have appealed that decision which will now be heard by the Planning Inspectorate in an 8-day inquiry starting next week, on Tuesday 18th February at the Stadium of Light.
Campaigners and I will be at the appeal hearing, to show our intense opposition to the planning application.
Last week, I held a public meeting in Washington to speak to residents about the application and listen to their concerns.
Over 100 people attended and shared their worries with me including public health issues, climate change challenges, the impact on our local landscape and house prices.
I have raised these issues several times in Parliament, most recently this week in a Westminster Hall debate and directly to the Prime Minister during Prime Minister’s Question Time.
In my 15 years as an MP, no issue has galvanised so many people in opposition to an issue like this; approximately 10,800 people have signed petitions opposing the gasification plant and I have been contacted by hundreds of constituents about it.
What this campaign has shown me is that there is power in our people working together.
I do not know what the Planning Inspector will decide following the appeal hearing; they are not elected or political and as an MP I do not have any further influence over them than anyone else.
But what I do know is that when we all come together united in one mission, we can succeed in building a people-powered campaign that demonstrates the community spirit and determination of our local area.
We are united in opposing this proposed gasification plant and I will continue to do all that I can to represent my constituents on this issue.
I will be holding a public meeting throughout my constituency each month covering various issues. For more information, please visit my website: http://www.sharonhodgson.org/tags/public_meeting or contact my office: [email protected]
You can read Sharon's latest Echo column below or on the Sunderland Echo website
I would like to once again thank voters in Washington and Sunderland West for re-electing me in the December General Election.
Whilst the national election result was not as I hoped, I remain as committed as ever to delivering for all of my constituents.
That means standing up for our local area and everyone who lives here.
One of my first appearances in the new Parliament was this week, when I presented a petition to the House of Commons signed by constituents who oppose the building of a gasification plant in Hillthorn Park.
Like thousands of my constituents, I am opposed to the building of this plant in our area.
The main reasons for my opposition to the plant are threefold:
1) The location of the proposed plant is close to houses and schools. It is these communities who will bear the brunt of increased traffic and associated pollution, and who are most at risk should anything go wrong with the plant.
2) The applicants have failed to satisfy any questions from myself and campaigners. We still do not know what technology will be used by the plant if building goes ahead, for example.
3) The proposed plant could be expected to release millions of tonnes of CO2 during the anticipated lifetime of the facility. This will undoubtedly have a negative impact on our environment and climate change.
As I said at the Planning and Highways Committee meeting in July, where the application was rejected, my constituents should not be used as guinea pigs; the health and lives of my constituents should not be gambled with.
Although the planning application was rejected in July by the Planning and Highways Committee, the application is now up for appeal, which will be held for 8 days from 10am on Tuesday 18th February at the Stadium of Light’s Montgomery Suite.
Because so many of my constituents have expressed concern about the planning application, I have written to the Planning Inspectorate and the National Planning Casework Unit to request that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government recovers the appeal, which if approved, will give the Secretary of State the final say on the application.
I will continue to work with constituents, campaigners and local councillors to oppose this plant and raise this issue in Parliament.
If you would like to get in touch with me about this issue, or any other concerns, please do not hesitate to get in touch with my office on [email protected]. Please provide your full postal address.
You can read Sharon's latest Echo column below or on the Sunderland Echo website
Last week, after up to four years of campaigning, thousands of Cystic Fibrosis patients in England received the news that they would now have access to the life-saving drugs they need, Orkambi and Symkevi.
Patients, their families, campaigners and politicians from across the political divide have fought for years for access to these life-saving drugs.
The reason for the fight: because the drugs weren’t deemed cost effective enough for NHS England to be able to buy them from the pharmaceutical company, Vertex.
Negotiations have started and stalled between NHS England and Vertex for much of the four years since Orkambi was appraised by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for use.
This has understandably been frustrating for patients, whose health will have deteriorated whilst waiting for access to the drug.
But this shared-frustration amongst patients, their families and charities, such as the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, is what has generated one of the most successful public affairs campaigns that I can recall as a Member of Parliament.
Holding meetings inside Parliament and rallies outside Parliament, usually seen wearing yellow, campaigners have made themselves heard on a huge scale and have seized that opportunity to make sure that MPs and Peers know the problem and how it can be solved.
I was proud to play a part in this process. As the Shadow Minister for Public Health, I have responded to four Parliamentary debates on access to drugs on Cystic Fibrosis and used three oral health questions to put pressure on the Government to take further action and intervene in the negotiations.
I also called on the Government to consider other means of making the lifesaving drugs available to patients, such as Crown Use Licensing or clinical trials.
I am pleased that in the case of drugs for Cystic Fibrosis patients, it hasn’t come to that. But there are still patients with rare diseases, such as Phenylketonuria (PKU) and Spinal Muscular Astrophy, who are still fighting for access to the drugs that they need, and I will continue to put pressure on the Government to ensure that they get them.
Behind all the Brexit noise in Westminster are real people with real problems, who MPs fight on behalf of every single day.
It makes me proud to know that Cystic Fibrosis patients will now get the lifesaving drugs that they need and deserve.
It is successes like this that keep me going, knowing that whilst even in Opposition, we can still achieve some good and genuinely help people, is what makes my job all the more worthwhile and spurs me on to achieve even more for people who are suffering under austerity imposed by this heartless Conservative Government.
The Cystic Fibrosis campaign shows us what can be done against all the odds, and I believe that we can all learn something from their determination, persistence and professionalism.