Stephen joins East Ham litter pick

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Last week, Stephen participated in a local litter pick organised by McDonalds in East Ham. The initiative formed part of the company’s ‘Keep up the Clean Up’ campaign.

In addition to this venture, McDonalds Business Manager - Dinesh Sohunjay Gujadhur -oversees daily litter patrols within a 100 metre radius of the branch on High Street North. The fast food restaurant actively encourages its customers to dispose of packaging responsibly, but for those who do not, the patrols aim to ease the impact of litter on the local community.

Speaking after the event, Stephen said: ‘I am happy to support this initiative by McDonalds to clean up our local community and I applaud the company for taking its responsibility towards the local environment seriously. Littering and fly tipping have been a persistent problem in the East Ham area and I encourage anyone who sees it happening to report it to the Council using the Love Newham app’.

Stephen meets representatives of the British Heart Foundation

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Stephen met with the British Heart Foundation (BHF) at this year’s Labour Party Conference in Brighton to discuss the need for urgent action to clean up the nation’s air.

Every year in the UK, air pollution is responsible for 11,000 heart and circulatory deaths. Fine particles are inhaled as we breathe and then enter the bloodstream, where they can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. The UK currently subscribes to EU legal limits on these particles, but the limits are not as strict as the guidelines recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), which the BHF is calling for the UK Government to adopt.

Speaking after the meeting, Stephen said: ‘I agree that air pollution is a grave public health concern and urgent action needs to be taken to clean up the nation’s air. Adopting the WHO’s guidelines is an important step in the right direction in achieving this goal, and I will continue to work with the BHF to ensure this is a priority for the Government’.

Stephen shows his support for Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

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At this year’s Labour Party Conference, Stephen spoke with the charity Guide Dogs about the challenges that blind and partially sighted people face when walking the streets, including pavement parking, street clutter and shared spaces.

Pavements blocked by parked cars or street clutter such as wheelie bins and overhanging branches can force pedestrians to walk into the road, putting them in danger of oncoming traffic.

Speaking after the meeting, Stephen said: ‘Guide Dogs for the Blind is doing fantastic work supporting those living with sight loss and raising the profile of the challenges they face. I am happy to endorse the organisation in calling for action on the most common dangers for people with sight loss, including a new law limiting pavement parking to areas determined by the local council, action from local authorities on street clutter and a safety review of existing shared space schemes’.

Guide Dogs for the Blind exists to provide services to the 360,000 people who are registered blind or partially sighted, and the two million people in the UK living with sight loss. The UK-wide charity was founded in 1934.



Stephen calls for action to tackle alcohol harm

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Stephen spoke to members of Alcohol Health Alliance UK at the Labour Party Conference last week about the impact of alcohol harm in his area. There are an estimated 5,475 alcohol-related hospital admissions and 81 alcohol-related deaths annually in the London Borough of Newham.


22% of adults are drinking above the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines of less than 14 units a week in London, putting them at a higher risk of health problems linked to alcohol. These problems include seven types of cancer, strokes and dementia.

 

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said: ‘Harmful alcohol consumption is impacting individuals, families and communities in many ways. Across the country, only 20% of dependent drinkers are in treatment and receiving the support they need. This is not good enough’.

Alcohol harm currently costs NHS England £3.5 billion every year with the total societal costs of alcohol estimated at around £21 billion annually. In England, alcohol has become the leading risk factor for death, ill-health, and disability for those aged 15-49. Between 2012 and 2017, alcohol-specific deaths have risen by 10% in the UK.

Stephen supports Charities Aid Foundation at Labour Party Conference

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Last week, Stephen visited the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) stand at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton to hear about the essential role of charities in bringing communities together.

CAF’s research has shown that charities play an important part in society and the idea of people helping others has widespread support nationally. However, at a time when the country is more divided than ever, CAF is also facing significant challenges with fewer people giving to charity.

Speaking after the event, Stephen said: ‘I fully commend the important work that CAF is doing, promoting the different ways people can get involved with their favourite charities. These include donating, volunteering, or taking part in sponsored activities. I encourage local charities, business and individuals in East Ham to get in touch with CAF to find out more about their annual campaign – Giving Tuesday – which is a global day of giving in the UK, due to take place on 3 December this year’.  

Giving Tuesday holds the world record for the most amount of money raised online in 24 hours. CAF’s stated aim for the campaign is to help as many charities as possible to make the most out of the day and celebrate the causes we all care about.

Stephen addresses Child Poverty Action Group Conference

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Today, Stephen gave the keynote speech at the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) Welfare and Rights Conference near Liverpool Street Station. Stephen discussed the potential impacts of Brexit on social security and covered varied problems with the Government’s flagship welfare reform, Universal Credit.

There are an estimated 14.3 million people living in poverty in the UK today, of which 4.6 million are children. The Child Poverty Rate stands at 34% - significantly above the poverty rate for the whole population.

Speaking after the event, Stephen said: ‘I was delighted to speak at today’s conference and I commend the CPAG for all the important work it does. Tackling child poverty should be a national mission. As the Minister responsible for the Child Poverty Act in 2010, I call on today’s Government to reform the welfare system, fix the many problems with Universal Credit – above all the punitive five week wait – and commit to reducing poverty in all its forms’.

CPAG provides training, advice and information to families who are in need of financial support. They can be contacted on 020 7812 5231 or via email at [email protected]

Stephen questions Minister about freight transport after Brexit

On Wednesday in the Commons Chamber, Stephen questioned the Government about the Freight Transport Association's warning of long lorry delays in Dover in the event of a 'No Deal' Brexit.

Playing down these concerns, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster talked of ways these risks could be obviated.

Speaking after the exchange, Stephen said: 'Michael Gove is familiar with Freight Transport Association warnings that long delays at Dover, causing widespread disruption, would be inevitable if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.  The truth is that no Government should be willing to contemplate the scale of disruption a No Deal Brexit would bring about'.

Stephen hosts Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn at this year’s Faith Reception

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On Monday, Stephen chaired the thirteenth annual Faith Reception at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton. Sponsored by the international development charity Islamic Relief, the Reception was attended by Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn. Titled ‘Welcoming the Stranger: Faith Fighting for Refugees’, the Reception highlighted the role of faith communities in supporting refugees and asylum seekers in the UK and overseas. 

 

Other speakers were Tufail Hussain, Director of Islamic Relief; Afzal Khan MP, Shadow Minister for Employment; Mousumi Saika, Partnerships and Programme Manager at Islamic Relief; and Russell Rook of the Good Faith Partnership. All talked of the desperate situation that the international humanitarian system finds itself in, and the challenges faced both by refugees themselves and by the countries which host them. Approximately 85% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries and much was said of the need for richer nations to take on more responsibility.

 

In his keynote speech, Jeremy Corbyn spoke about the scale of the challenge facing us all. 65 million people around the world are either internally displaced or refugees; more than the entire population of Britain. The Labour Leader made a plea for the problem to be approached on the basis of humanity, peace and justice and argued strongly that a Labour Government would prioritise these aims. He paid a warm tribute to Stephen’s work in bringing faith groups together in his role as Labour’s Faith Envoy.

 

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said: ‘The Reception was a great success.  I was particularly grateful to Jeremy for his strong support, and to Islamic Relief for their sponsorship.  The worldwide refugee crisis is unprecedented in scale, and faith-based organisations are playing a key role in the relief effort. In the UK, faith communities are providing grassroots help for refugees to settle and rebuild their lives, and are also pressing for fairer and more effective asylum policies. Government must listen to what they are saying, and act on it’.

Stephen criticises scrapping of free TV licences

Stephen has criticised the government’s decision to scrap free TV licences for pensioners over 75 despite promising in their last manifesto to keep all pensioner benefits.

This latest cruel austerity measure is a scandal, and will affects nearly 2,000 households in East Ham.

Stephen said: “It is a national disgrace that our oldest pensioners will lose their free TV licences because of this Tory Government’s shameful refusal keep their manifesto promise.

“It is an extra cost that many pensioners round here cannot afford and will leave many people in our community more isolated than before. Television is a lifeline for those who are housebound or live on their own.

“If this cruel policy goes ahead, every pensioner in Britain will know that a Tory Party promise cannot be trusted.”

Stephen welcomes Public Accounts Committee Report on TOEIC

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Stephen has welcomed a report published by the Public Accounts Committee in which it found that the Home Office had shown a "staggering" lack of concern for the welfare of students wrongly accused of cheating in their English language exams.

The report focused on a crackdown launched by the Home Office in the wake of a 2014 BBC Panorama documentary which exposed cheating on the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC). The test - run at the time by the American firm ETS - was used to ensure those studying in the UK had a sufficient understanding of the English language.

The Pubic Accounts Committee said the way the Home Office designed the visa system "left it open to large-scale abuse", and accused the department of having "rushed to penalise students without establishing whether [exams provider] ETS was involved in fraud or if it had reliable evidence of people cheating".

The committee said the Home Office had "been quick to act on imperfect evidence, but slow in responding to indications that innocent people may have been caught up in its actions". It later called on the Home Office to set up a "fair and trustworthy means of helping all individuals who may have been wrongly accused" of cheating within the next three months, and orders the department to carry out a major review of its contracts with overseas providers by early next year.

Commenting on the report, Stephen said: “Today’s report by the Public Accounts Committee makes grim reading for the Home Office.”

“Once again it is found that ministers made repeated errors of judgement when confronted with unsafe and incomplete evidence. The decisions they made have caused untold hardship to thousands of students who overnight had their visas revoked, cancelled or curtailed, with little or no legal redress.

“It is not too late for the Home Office to put right what it got so wrong and finally give the students the justice they deserve.”

This report is the third into the case this year after the National Audit Office and the APPG TOEIC report.

Stephen contributes to Parliamentary debate on Housebuilding

Last week, Stephen spoke in the House of Commons about the urgent need to embark on a large new programme of housebuilding.

Likening the scale of the problem to that faced immediately after World War Two, Stephen called on the Government to take immediate action and end the daily misery of thousands of families living in substandard accommodation.

Speaking after the chamber appearance, Stephen said: 'I was privileged to recently host the Archbishop of Canterbury's Housing Commission in my constituency. Initiatives like these are shining a vital light on housing problems locally and it is clear that urgent action is now needed - there is not a moment to lose'.

Stephen calls for new laws to tackle the nature crisis.

Stephen joined the RSPB for their annual reception in Parliament this week for an exclusive showcase of projects delivering solutions to the environment and climate emergency.

The RSPB is urging MPs to show leadership for nature by supporting ambitious new laws to tackle the nature crisis. Urgent actions set out by the Charity include an ambitious Environment Bill with targets for nature’s recovery, at least 2% of GBP to be spent on the environment, and policies to secure net zero emissions by 2050.

Stephen said: "It’s really important to take a moment to reflect on how central nature is to all of our lives, and the huge benefit it has for a functioning and healthy planet”

"With report after report warning of crisis and dire consequences for people and nature I want to be part of the solution.

This means taking action now to secure a future for nature.” 

Stephen welcomes "Holy Alliances"

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Stephen has spoken at the launch of a new Demos report, Holy Alliances: Church-secular partnerships for social good.

The report found that more churches are partnering with non-faith voluntary organisations to tackle local issues such as poverty, mental health and loneliness. It is based on a survey of 120 church leaders, 10 expert interviews and 12 case study interviews, and reveals that churches are almost four times as likely to partner with non-faith voluntary organisations (23%) than businesses (6%) to tackle these challenges.

The report calls for local authorities to seek to address any practical barriers to partnership working between churches and non-Christian groups, such as making funding for social action projects more accessible to churches. It also makes a number of other recommendations, including the discouragement of blanket policies against working with faith groups, and for local authorities to introduce the Faith Covenant, which is administered by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society, which Stephen chairs.

Speaking at the event: “There has been a marked increase in social action by churches in the last ten years. At the same time, many of them are working with non-Christian organisations to tackle social issues.

“Churches - and many other faith groups too - are making a remarkable social impact. In many neighbourhoods, where many institutions have pulled out, the Church is sometimes the only one left. In those situations, it represents hope.”

The report can be read here.

Stephen opposes prorogation of Parliament

Stephen has signed an open letter to the Prime Minister warning against the dangers of suspending Parliament and demanding that the prorogation is immediately reversed.

The letter, which was sent yesterday, was also signed by 147 other Labour MPs and argues that the move will mean ‘the possibility of leaving the EU with no deal increases and our national crisis deepens’.

Speaking about the scheduled suspension, Stephen said: ‘It is not acceptable for the Government to sideline Parliament in this way. Not only does it set a dangerous precedent for the unchecked power of the executive, but it also means that elected MPs will not be able to have a say on the most important issue of the day at this critical time for our country. I call on Boris Johnson to immediately reverse his decision and to let Parliament do its job as normal’.

Pending any legislative changes, Parliament is currently due to be prorogued next week and return for a Queen’s Speech on 14 October.

Stephen hosts Archbishop's Housing Commission in Newham

Stephen has hosted a study visit to Newham for the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Housing, Church and Community. The visit was part of an 18-month project commissioned by Archbishop Justin Welby which aims to understand the nature of the housing crisis across the country, highlight areas of action for the Church of England and make policy recommendations for government.

Four of the Commissioners – Chair of the Commission Charlie Arbuthnot; former Permanent Secretary of DWP Sir Robert Devereux; parish vicar and vice-chair of the National Estate Churches Network Revd Lynne Cullens; and theologian Stephen Backhouse – took part in the visit.

The Commissioners visited individuals experiencing serious housing issues including overcrowding, damp and rat infestations, and the prospect of eviction in the private rented sector. They took part in a roundtable convened by Stephen with grassroots groups, churches and charities working on housing and homelessness across the borough. Finally, they visited the Didsbury Centre building site being developed by the council-owned Red Door Ventures, and met with Councillor John Gray, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Housing, and Councillor Shaban Mohammed, Deputy Cabinet Member for Housing, about their plans to address the borough’s challenges.

Stephen said: “Newham is at the very sharp end of London’s housing crisis, and housing issues make up an enormous part of my constituency caseload. I was glad to be able to host the Commission to highlight those realities, as well as the enormous hope, innovation and potential in our borough. I am hopeful about the Commission’s efforts to re-imagine housing policy towards building homes and well-functioning communities, and look forward to their eventual report.”

Chair of the Commission Charlie Arbuthnot commented: ‘“As a Commission we are determined to get behind the statistics and theories to see the reality of the housing crisis first-hand and to do all we can to find solutions. In Newham, we were deeply concerned to see the cramped and damp flats families we met were living in. We were also so encouraged to hear from churches and community groups who shared the grassroots solutions they are working towards, as well as hearing about what the Council and developers are doing at a policy level.”

Newham is ranked as England’s number one homelessness hotspot, with at least one in every 24 people in housing insecurity - this includes over 4200 households in temporary accommodation. Newham has over 27,000 people on its social housing waiting list.

The Commission is due to report in Autumn 2020.

Stephen joins in the fun as kids gets active in Forest Gate

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Stephen has visited primary school pupils in support of a programme encouraging children to be more active

During a visit to Sandringham Primary School in Forest Gate,Stephen joined children in range of activities - including cricket, gymnastics, dance, arts and crafts, and active play - as part of the Sainsbury's Active Kids holiday clubs scheme,

The holiday clubs, which are taking place across London - including Stratford and Canning Town - throughout the summer, are hosted by leading UK provider Premier Education.

Supported by trained young leaders from the community, they provide programmes of activities and a healthy lunch and snacks for an affordable price.

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said: "Finding affordable childcare is often a huge weight off parent's shoulders, and it's wonderful to see kids so engaged with a range of activities and opportunities over their summer break."

Sainsbury's launched Active Kids holiday clubs last year to encourage children aged five to 15 to be more active and healthier during the summer holidays.

Stephen hosts students from the National Citizen Service

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Last Friday, Stephen played host to a group of visiting students from the National Citizen Service. Together the group toured the Council Chambers at East Ham Town Hall and discussed how democracy works in the UK.

The tour, co-hosted by Newham Councillor Mariam Dawood, included a question-and-answer session between the students and Stephen.

Speaking after the event, Stephen said: ‘It was a pleasure to meet the students and to answer their questions on politics and democracy. The National Citizen Service is doing a great job in encouraging young people to participate in the processes and institutions that will shape their future and I strongly encourage others to get involved too ’.

Stephen questions new Prime Minister about TOEIC

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Last Thursday, in the final day of the Parliamentary sitting before the summer recess, Stephen quetioned new Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the TOEIC scandel.

Asking for reassurances that the reconsideration system proposed by former Home Secretary Sajid Javid would still be carried forward by the new administration, Stephen pressed the Prime Minister to allow TOEIC students to be given the right to clear their name.

Speaking after the exchange, Stephen said: 'The TOEIC students wrongly accused of cheating in their English language tests have been living in limbo for five long years. It was encouraging that the new Prime Minister has already been briefed on their position, and that he agreed to write to me outlining the Government's position. I strongly urge him to end the suffering endured by so many and to allow these students the right to sit a new, secure English language test without delay'.

Stephen asks Urgent Question on TOEIC

Stephen asked an Urgent Question to the Government about the situation of those alleged to have cheated in their English Language 'TOEIC' tests.

Responding on behalf of the Home Office, Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes expressed scepticism at the suggestion of a Government blunder, but did agree to raise the matter with new Prime Minister Boris Johnson as a 'matter of urgency' should she remain in post.

Speaking after the exchange, Stephen said: “The overall response was deeply frustrating. We are talking here about people whose lives have been in limbo for five years, having had their visas revoked by the Home Office for this alleged cheating. The problem is that the evidence used to accuse them has now been shown to be confused, incomplete and often plain wrong. Surely the most sensible course of action is to allow the students involved to sit a new, secure, English Language test which would allow those who are innocent to clear their name.”