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 [urgent action/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.”

Stephen presses Government to review 5-week wait

On Monday in the Chamber, Stephen pressed Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, to review the 5-week wait for those moving onto Universal Credit.

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In response, Amber Rudd emphasised certain transitional arrangements that the Government has put in place.

Speaking after the exchange, Stephen said: 'The transitional arrangements mentioned by the Secretary of State are not good enough and not working. They amount to a loan offered by the Government to people who will struggle desperately to pay it back. The result has been that those who are already amongst the most vulnerable in society are falling further into debt and - as the Trussell Trust has shown - becoming more dependent on foodbanks. This is simply indefensible and I call on the Government to mount an urgent review'.

Stephen presses Secretary of State about 5G rollout

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On Monday evening Stephen responded to a Government statement about the Telecoms Supply Chain Review, by asking for clarification on the current position in relation to Chinese tech giant, Huawei.

Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport - Rt Hon Jeremy Wright MP - responded by giving assurances that a balanced approach was being sought which prioritised considerations of national security.

Speaking after the exchange, Stephen said: 'The Secretary of State failed to address the key point of my question. The National Cyber Security Centre has classified the risk posed by Huawei to the security of UK communications as 'manageable'. I’m worried that needlessly excluding Huawei equipment from the UK network could delay much needed modernisation, and delay the roll out of 5G'.


Stephen: "Boris Johnson offers no hope for Britain"

Stephen has responded to Boris Johnson’s election as Conservative Party Leader - and Prime Minister - saying: "Boris Johnson doesn't offer a hopeful way forward for Britain.”

"He is willing to countenance a No-Deal Brexit which could lead to mass  job losses, and risk the future of the NHS and the break-up of the United Kingdom. And he favours tax cuts for the highest earners at a time when the outlook for our cash-starved public services, after years of austerity, is grim."

Stephen presses Minister for Judge-led enquiry

Stephen has responded to a statement from the Government giving updates to the guidance and training for UK personnel dealing with detainees. He pushed for a judge-led enquiry into the matter but David Lidington, Minister for the Cabinet Office responding on behalf of the Government, dismissed this idea.

Speaking after the exchange, Stephen said: 'The response from the Minister was very disappointing. At every turn the Government has seemed determined to avoid judicial scrutiny on this matter. The public has a right to know about the past action of the intelligence services and to be consulted on the future rules by which they operate'.

The exchange came as part of discussion following the Minister's statement to the House yesterday.

APPG on TOEIC launches report

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The All-Party Parliamentary Group on TOEIC has today launched a report following its recent inquiry.

The inquiry found that the US firm , ETS, who were contracted by the Home Office to manage English language tests used evidence alleging students cheated that could not be relied upon. The report concludes that the evidence used against the students was “…confused, misleading, incomplete and unsafe”.

Students had immense difficulty in obtaining crucial evidence. Those who did receive voice clips found that they were incomplete, and didn’t correspond to the test they sat. And crucially, there was no metadata on the clips so it was impossible to confirm when or where the recording was made. Without “evidence of continuity”, a case of fraud cannot – and should not – be made.

The report makes seven recommendations to Ministers:

  1. There must be no further detentions or forced removals of students accused of cheating in a TOEIC test;

  2. People who lost their visas because ETS accused them of cheating should be allowed to sit a new, secure English language test, and, if they pass, their previous visa status (or today’s equivalent) should be restored without charge, valid for at least 12 months;

  3. The immigration record of every person who passes the new test should make clear that the allegation of cheating no longer stands;

  4. Higher and further education institutions should be advised that the TOEIC allegation, and related issues such as a break in studies, should be wholly disregarded in assessing applications from these students;

  5. A working group should be established to support students and facilitate their return to study, to support those on work or entrepreneur visas to find new jobs or restart their businesses, and to monitor this support process, with representatives from Home Office, UKVI, Department of Education, Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, UCAS, relevant third sector and student support organisations, and students themselves;

  6. Financial support should be provided to enable students who lost their fees as a result of a TOEIC allegation to complete their studies;

  7. The Home Office should work with High Commissions in relevant countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India, to ensure that those who have returned home or been forcibly removed are informed about these arrangements.

The inquiry heard from lawyer Michael Biggs of 12 Old Square. He has worked on over 100 cases and concluded that the Government developed a process that made it as difficult as possible for those accused of TOEIC fraud to seek legal and financial redress.

Speaking about the report, Stephen said: “…Some students have – at great cost – managed to clear their names. However, universities still see them as a risk due to the nature of the allegations made against them. As things stand, and without help from the Government, their futures remain bleak. This report sets out crucial steps we believe the Government must now take.”

The report can be read here.


Stephen backs calls for urgent reform of the welfare system

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 Stephen has lent his support to 80 charities calling for better support for disabled people during an event in Parliament for the report “Has welfare became unfair? The impact of changes on disabled people.”

The Disability Benefit Consortium (DBC), which represents 80 national disability organisations, found that changes to the welfare system over the past ten years have left disabled people financially four times worse off than non-disabled people. They found that while many people have experienced cuts to their benefits, disabled people have lost on average payments of around £1,200 each year because of changes to the system, compared to an average of £300 for people without a disability.

The research also found that:

  • The more disabilities you have the more you lose out, for example someone who has six or more disabilities loses over £2,100 each year on average, whereas someone with one disability loses around £700 each year.

  • Households with one disabled adult and one disabled child lose out the most, with average losses of over £4,300 per year.

 At the reception, Stephen heard from speakers about some of the issues, including people saying that they did not feel trusted, that they are constantly being challenged and that their word is doubted.

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said “It is shocking that disabled people are losing out on vital support because of a system that is meant to protect them. The impact on their health and wellbeing has been highly destructive and in many cases, made their condition worse.

“These changes cannot continue to drive some of the most vulnerable people in East Ham and across the UK into poverty. That’s why I am supporting the recommendations from the DBC for urgent reform.”

Michael Griffin, Research Lead for DBC and Senior Policy Adviser for Parkinson’s UK said: “Thank you to Stephen for showing his support at the launch event today.

For the first time, our research has shown just how much disabled people are bearing the brunt of the disastrous changes to welfare. This is simply disgraceful and cannot be allowed to continue. The Government must make urgent improvements to the application processes and assessment criteria, and resolve the flaws in Universal Credit before more people are denied the support they desperately need to live independently.”

Stephen nominates local business of Parliamentary award

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Stephen has nominated East Ham’s Tate and Lyle Sugars for the Parliamentary Constituency Responsible Business Champion award.

MPs were asked to nominate a business in their constituency which engaged and supported its local community.

Tate and Lyle Sugars factory in Silvertown has been in operation for over a hundred and forty years and has continued to have a positive impact on the local community.

The refinery provides 850 skilled manufacturing jobs in Newham and ensures that their employees are paid over the London living wage. They particularly champion women in employment and have been making an effort to reduce the gender pay gap. In addition, Lyle’s local fund gives £25,000 to community groups around Newham each year – such as the Women’s Trust. They also support a number of local charities and organisations, including Community Links and the Newham All Star Sports Academy.

After handing over the nomination, Stephen said: “I am delighted to be able to offer Tate and Lyle the recognition they deserve. Throughout the years they have consistently provided funds and support to their local community of Newham, and I can confidently say they deserve this award.”

Stephen raises TOEIC at Home Office orals

Stephen has raised the case of his constituent, Biba Rahima, during questions to the Home Secretary in the House of Commons. Ms Rahima is a student caught up in the so-called TOEIC scandal.

In 2014, thousands of international students were accused of cheating on their English tests. Many had their visas revoked. The impact on the students has been detrimental – they were forced to return home and left with thousands of pounds worth of additional tuition fees.

Stephen, who is the Chair of the APPG on TOEIC, has raised a number of cases directly with the Home Secretary. Ms Rahima, who had her application refused, recently won her appeal. For reasons unknown, the Home Office have challenged the decision.

In his reply, the Home Secertary acknowledged Ms Rahima’s predicament. he also provided Stephen with an assurance assurance that he will come to the House with a statement on the wider problems caused by the maladministration of the TOEIC test before summer recess.

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said: “Thousands of students have seen their prospects destroyed by false allegations of cheating in TOEIC tests. I welcome the Home Secretary’s commitment to a full statement to the House on this scandal before the end of next week. Those who have been affected need to know how the Government will address the grave injustice they have suffered.”

Stephen learns how to stop cancer early

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Stephen has supported a campaign to diagnose cancer earlier, as Cancer Research UK’s Cancer Awareness roadshow made a special stop at Parliament. He met with the charity’s roadshow nurses and campaigners to learn more about how cancer affects people in East Ham.

The roadshow team travels the country helping the public recognise possible signs and symptoms of cancer and talking to people about the lifestyle changes they can make to reduce their cancer risk.

The Government has made a commitment to diagnose 75% of cancer cases in England at stage one or stage two by 2028. However, to reach this target the NHS needs a long-term plan for the cancer workforce who deliver the crucial cancer tests and treatments people need.

Stephen said: “850 people in East Ham are diagnosed with cancer every year.

“Early detection saves lives, so it was great to meet the roadshow team at Cancer Research UK and learn more about spotting cancer early, as well as the vital work being done to beat the disease.

“Events like this are important reminders we can all play a part in the fight against cancer, whether it be researchers, campaigners or the tireless fundraisers across [constituency] who are helping to support life-saving research.”

Shaun Walsh, Head of Public Affairs and Campaigning at Cancer Research UK, said: “A big thank you to Stephen for coming along today and taking the time to learn about the challenges facing cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment today.”