Stephen launches report on faith and development

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Last week, Stephen hosted the launch of a major report on faith, development and the Sustainable Development Goals in Parliament.

‘Keeping Faith in 2030: Religions and the Sustainable Development Goals’ was launched at the House of Commons at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society, which Stephen chairs. The report’s authors, Emma Tomalin of Leeds University and Dr Jörg Haustein of SOAS, discussed its key themes together with Professor Carole Rakodi of the University of Birmingham and Emma Bridger from the United Society Partners in the Gospel.

The report emphasises the importance of understanding religious dynamics and the role of faith communities and actors for sustainable development. It particularly explores how faith actors are interacting with the UN Sustainable Development Goals in practice.

The panel highlighted the need to bring in faith actors as full development partners within sector conversations. They emphasised the need for religious literacy to be increased in NGOs and governments, both abroad and in the UK. They also recommended more investment to spread knowledge about the SDGs to local faith actors to enable them to fully participate in the sustainable development agenda.

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said: “Since launching the APPG in 2012 we’ve known that overseas development is one area we are seeing faith-based organisations make particular impact. Understanding that religion is deeply embedded in societies and people's lives across the world is key to best development practice, so I’m delighted to be able to highlight this important research.”

Stephen hosts reception for Scope for Change

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Stephen has today hosted the Scope for Change graduation ceremony in the Houses of Parliament. Scope for Change is run by the charity, Scope. It is the charity’s flagship campaign training programme.

Over the past six months, Scope has trained and supported a group of young disabled people aged 18-25 to plan, launch and run their own campaigns to make change on the disability issues that matter to them. The programme provided one-to-one support and training to a group of twelve people, and gave them the skills, tools and confidence they need to make change happen. 

The graduation ceremony celebrated the end of the programme. During the ceremony the Scope for Change campaigners presented their campaigns. These included improving access and facilities in hospitals in York and changing the attitudes to people with invisible disabilities.

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said “I was delighted to host the ceremony today. The Scope for Change campaign has offered these young people the chance to make tangible differences in a wide variety of fields. The participants can be rightly proud of what their campaigns achieved on both local and national levels.

“The staff at Scope should be congratulated for planning and running this important programme.”

Government admits delays in UC has caused rise in food bank use

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Stephen has forced the government - for the first time - to admit that the he increased use of food banks is partly down to problems in rolling out universal credit.

The work and pensions secretary said she was "absolutely clear there were challenges with the initial roll-out" of the benefit and that the difficulty in accessing money was "one of the causes" of the rise.

Stephen, speaking at Oral Questions in the House of Commons, pressed the Secretary if State further. In response, she said “…I have acknowledged that people having difficulty accessing the money on time as one of the causes of the growth in food banks, but we have tried to address that.”

According to the Resolution Foundation think tank, 2.2 million families are expected to gain under the system, with an average increase in income of £41 a week. However, 3.2 million families are also expected to be worse off, with an average loss of £48 a week.

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said “I’m pleased Amber Rudd has - belatedly - recognised that Universal Credit has forced people into using food banks. Up until now Ministers have always denied that, so I welcome the change of heart.

“Where I don’t agree with the Secretary of State is that she implied early hiccups were the problem, but actually it was the five-week delay between claiming universal credit and then being entitled to benefits.”

Stephen tables Early Day Motion on TOEIC

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Last week, Stephen tabled an Early Day Motion calling on the government to allow over 35,000 students the chance of re-taking the Test of English International Communication. Many of the students had their visas curtailed having been accused by the Home Office of cheating when sitting the original test.

The EDM comes ahead of the planned launch of an All Party Parliamentary Group to look into the actions taken by the government and how they have affected the lives of the students. The APPG will aim to take testimony from students as well as from legal professionals and mental health practitioners, and will produce a report that will include recommendations for changes in Government policy.

The decision taken in 2014 by the then Home Secretary Theresa May to revoke or deny the visas of 35,870 students has been seen by many across the legal and political professions to be an overreaction. In 2016, the Home Affairs Select Committee was highly critical of the actions taken by May’s department in the TOEIC case, saying that the scandal “raises serious questions about the conduct of the Home Office”.

Having tabled the EDM, Stephen said: “I hope this motion can help persuade the Government to re-think its handling of this issue. The treatment of these students has been appalling.

“Supporters of our campaign should ask their local MP to sign EDM 2061. The more MPs who sign, the stronger our case for students affected to sit another test in the UK, and to be permitted to complete their studies.”

Migrant Voice’s Executive Director Nazek Ramadan, added: “This is the next step in the campaign to get justice for the students. I encourage all MP’s to sign this EDM. I hope the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister take note of the awful situation they have put the students in and take action immediately.”

Stephen writes to Home Secretary about Windrush deportations

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Stephen has written to the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, outlining his concerns about the government restarting chartered deportation flights to Jamaica.

The returns last week was the first to Jamaica since the Home Office suspended the flights last April after the Windrush scandal where at least 63 people had been wrongly deported to Jamaica.

The government stated that all those who were deported on the flight to Jamaica on Wednesday had been convicted of a crime, but Stephen - and other MPs - remain concerned that Ministers have not yet proved it has the processes in place to ensure the wrong people do not end up on these flights.

The decision to resume mass deportations has been viewed as “inappropriate” by campaigners on the basis that the “Windrush Lessons Learned Review” is yet to be concluded.

After sending the letter, Stephen said: “The Government must take urgent action to ensure all of the Windrush generation are treated fairly and legally, and the hostile environment policy must be ended. Otherwise, this scandal will only continue with further injustices.”

To read Stephen’s letter in full, click here.

Stephen unites with Cancer Research UK for World Cancer Day

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Stephen has given his support to those affected by cancer and the NHS staff who care for them at a special Westminster event for World Cancer Day, earlier this week. He met with campaigners from Cancer Research UK to learn about the charity’s latest research and show his support for all those working to ensure more people survive cancer.

Every year, 850 people in East Ham are diagnosed with cancer and in the UK 1 in 2 people will be diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lifetime.

World Cancer Day (4 February) is an opportunity for people, organisations and countries to work together, raise awareness and take action to beat cancer.

At the event, Stephen said: “World Cancer Day helps to raise awareness of the scale of the challenge and the role we can all play in the fight against the disease. Cancer affects us all – here in the UK and all around the world. We can all work together to beat it, not just the hard-working researchers and NHS staff who help to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer.

“Small actions really can make a big difference to the lives of people with cancer. That’s why I’m urging people in East Ham to show their support all year round.”

Early diagnosis is a vital part of ensuring more people survive cancer. 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. Without this, there will not be enough specialist staff to meet the present pressures or cope with the growing and ageing population.

Stephen attends launch of 'Beyond Bricks'

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Stephen has attended a parliamentary reception to discuss the link between mental health problems and inadequate housing. The event was organised by the charity, Mind.

Mind organised the event with the aim of kick-starting conversations to make sure the rights of people with mental health problems are firmly on the housing agenda.

The event saw the launch of a short film called Beyond Bricks. The video shows three people with mental health problems - Nadia, Gabbi and Sarah. They describe the serious impact poor housing can have on our mental health.

Stephen listened to the experiences of people affected by poor social housing and the impact of this on their mental health. He showed his commitment to ‘Beyond Bricks’ for mental health and housing in East Ham by signing Mind’s pledge board. This commits Stephen to press the government to place mental health at the heart of future housing policy.

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said: “I was glad to attend this important event and intrigued to hear from people affected by poor mental health. Around one in four people in Newham will experience a mental health problem in any given year, and previous research by Mind found more than two in five people with mental health problems living in social housing have seen their mental health deteriorate as a result of where they live.

“I regularly hear from many constituents who tell me they’re not getting the support they need when it comes to living in and accessing suitable housing. I’m committed to doing all I can to transform this so that everyone in Newham gets the information, advice and access to the housing that they need and deserve, to help people recover and stay well. It’s vital we collectively go ‘Beyond Bricks’ in East Ham which will help prevent things from going wrong further down the line.”

Stephen welcomes London Assembly policy documents

Stephen has welcomed three policy papers drawn up by London Assembly member Unmesh Desai. 

The first and second build on Unmesh’s work as Deputy Chair of the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee.  His pledges in “Policing London” highlight his work with the Mayor to tackle the forms of crime which are particularly damaging to our community.  His “Victims of Crime” document is about giving everyone the confidence to report offences.

The third draws attention to the eastwards shift of London’s economic centre of gravity.  The London Olympics seven years ago sealed the shift.  There will be many more opportunities in East London in the future than there were in the past, largely thanks to Labour successes in national, regional and local Government.  Unmesh’s paper celebrates the change, and looks at how we can make the most of it for people living in our area.

Stephen visits Maggie's Cancer Centre

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Last week, Stephen visited Maggie’s Cancer Centre in London’s St Bartholomew’s Hospital. He was shown around by Centre Head, Michael Harrison, and was able to see first-hand the difference this facility makes, both to the lives of those living with a cancer diagnosis and to their families.

Founded as a charity in 1995 by cancer sufferer Maggie Keswick Jencks, Maggie’s now has a network of centres located at cancer hospitals around the UK. Each centre provides free practical, emotional and social support to those affected by cancer.

Designed by top architect Steven Holl, the Bart’s Centre aims to create a calming space away from the hustle and bustle of the hospital ward, where those affected by cancer can access services, talk through their experiences or simply sit quietly and have a cup of tea.

Speaking shortly after the visit, Stephen said: “This centre is doing excellent work supporting cancer patients along with their friends and families. Maggie’s has succeeded in creating a relaxed and friendly space where visitors can read, chat, seek advice or simply be in peace away from the main hospital building. The centre also puts on a wide variety of classes including Yoga, Mindfulness and Tai Chi as part of its holistic programme of support. It has clearly proved to be a very important and popular facility and I pay tribute to all the centre staff for doing such a wonderful job”.

The most recent statistics from Cancer Research UK suggest that there are more than 360,000 new cancer cases in the UK every year – an average of one new diagnosis every two minutes. The organisation estimates that four in every ten of these cases could be prevented, citing smoking as the largest cause of cancer in the UK.

Stephen calls for action on animal curelty

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Stephen today called on the Government to bring forward legislative proposals on animal cruelty.

During DEFRA Orals in the House of Commons, Stephen asked Ministers why they had delayed in bringing in five-year maximum sentences for those convicted of animal cruelty. He noted this was against the advice of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which had asked for the sentence to be introduced almost three years ago. The Minister responded to Stephen saying the government was looking to find “…the right legislative vehicle…to take this forward.”

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said “I am very disappointed that the Government is continuing to drag their feet with this legislation.

The current six-month maximum sentence is simply inadequate for the severity of some of these terrible crimes. It is a shame the government have failed to come up with a date for when this change can be introduced.

Stephen attends homelessness reception

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Stephen has attended a reception in the House of Commons highlighting the issue of homelessness. The event was hosted by the charity, Crisis.

Crisis are a national charity that help individuals directly out of homelessness by offering one to one support, advice and courses for homeless people. During the reception, MPs were told that in 2018 Crisis helped more than 11,000 off the streets.

Homelessness in London is a pressing issue. Recent statistics showed that Newham has the highest number of homeless people in England. In response the Council has pledged to make homelessness one of its top priorities. They recently, together with homeless charity, Caritas Anchor House, set up a 10-space shelter in Canning Town.

Speaking after the event, Stephen said: “I was pleased to come along today and hear some of the incredible success stories of people whose lives have been changed by Crisis.”

“The work Crisis – and other homelessness charities are doing – is vital in aiming to end homelessness in London.”

Stephen votes against PM's Brexit deal

Stephen has voted to reject Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

Speaking after the vote on Tuesday night, he said: “The vote shows that the government does not command the confidence of Parliament. The centrepiece of its programme has been comprehensively rejected, including by the great majority of its own backbench MPs.

“Parliament should now vote that it has no confidence in the government.”

Stephen highlights plight of UK orchestras post Brexit

Stephen has lead a debate in Parliament about the effect Brexit may have on British Orchestras.

Stephen expressed his fears about the impact of Brexit, particularly in a no-deal scenario. He noted the business models of British orchestras is highly dependent on touring income, and Europe is their biggest market. However, Brexit looks set to threaten the financial viability of such tours as costs will be higher. These include increased medical insurance, paperwork to transport instruments, additional border delays, and the expense of work permits.

Stephen asked the Minister to alleviate the concerns of British orchestras, who have also been hit by a reduction in public funding and corporate sponsorship since 2010. Many orchestras have contracts signed with promoters in the EU for beyond March 2019 and are set to lose money from any additional costs which follow the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Other orchestras have found that promoters are unwilling to book them such are the uncertainties surrounding Brexit.

Following the debate Stephen said “…it would be a real shame if we were to lose orchestras because of Brexit. I hope the Minister will now give some assurances about maintaining the level of public funding, and consider establishing an International Touring Fund.”

Stephen welcomes reduced stakes for gaming machines

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Last night, Stephen spoke in the final stages of the Deferred Legislation Committee on Gaming Machines. This marks the last hurdle of a long standing campaign to reduce the maximum stakes on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals to £2. Stephen has consistently supported this move and, along with several Labour Colleagues, he has been actively pushing for a reduced stake over the last five years.

The current maximum stake of £100 on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (or ‘FOBTs’) is fifty times higher than that of most other machines. In 2015/16 there were over 230,000 incidences of users losing over £1,000 in a single session on FOBTs.

Problem gambling affects 430,000 people in the UK annually. Aside from being ruinous to the individual, it also incurs a huge cost to the Government. An estimated £1.5bn per year is spent on social welfare linked to this problem. Findings by the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) note that the main beneficiaries of a reduction to a £2 stake will be those from deprived areas or on lower incomes. Indeed, there are twice as many betting shops in the poorest 55 boroughs of the UK - Newham included.

Speaking during yesterday’s committee meeting, Stephen said: “We were warned in the course of this campaign that if it succeeded in reducing the maximum stake to £2, the danger was that the number of betting shops could be halved. I must say, if the number of betting shops in East Ham falls by only 50%, I shall be very disappointed. I hope we will see a much larger reduction than that”.

Stephen is the Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on FOBTs and during yesterday’s Committee Meeting, he paid tribute to the APPG Chair Carolyn Harris MP for the work she has done to make this change come about. The passage of this legislation follows the resignation of Tracy Crouch MP who left the Government last month in protest at delays with the reduction to the £2 stake.

Stephen: "Asylum seekers must be given the right to work"

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Stephen has shown his support for the “Lift The Ban” campaign at an event in Parliament. The campaign calls on the government to give asylum seekers the right to work from six months after their claim for asylum has been submitted.

Under current government policy, asylum seekers are only able to apply for the right to work after they have been waiting for a decision on their asylum claim for over a year. Even then, individuals granted the right to work have their employment restricted to professions on the Government’s Shortage Occupation list. In the meantime, asylum seekers claim ‘Asylum Support – which amounts to £5.39 per day - whilst they wait for a decision on their application.

The event featured remarks by refugees Nahla and Teem, who shared their experiences of the asylum seeking process, as well as Roger McKenzie, Assistant General Secretary of Unison, and Tom Barrett, Senior Policy Advisor at CBI. Stephen Hale, the Chief Executive of Refugee Action, emphasised that this issue was one of allowing people seeking asylum to live in dignity. A report released by the coalition has highlighted the impact the current restriction is having on asylum seekers who are being forced into destitution through lack of an income. Over half of asylum seekers they surveyed (54%) have had to use a food bank in the last year.

It is thought that giving asylum seekers the right to work would be worth over £42 million to the UK economy. The policy change is popular with the public too: a recent study by thinktank British Future finding that 71% of the public support the right to work after 6 months.

Speaking after the event, Stephen said: “As of September this year, there were 585 supported asylum seekers living in Newham. Of these, many have been waiting on their Home Office application for many months, or even years.

“Having heard powerful testimonies from asylum seekers today – and in my advice surgeries too – it strikes me as deeply unjust that individuals who have often undergone significant trauma before coming to the UK, and who are willing, able and skilled, are denied the right to work.”

Stephen backs Terrence Higgins Trust’s ‘Zero HIV’ campaign

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Stephen has spoken out ahead of World AIDS Day by calling for ‘Zero HIV’ – an end to HIV transmissions and the elimination of HIV-related stigma at the Terrence Higgins Trust’s reception in Parliament. The reception was held a few days ahead of the 30th ever World AIDS Day on 1 December. The reception brought together politicians, campaigners, medics and people affected by HIV.

The event featured remarks by Minister for Public Health, Steve Brine MP and Terrence Higgins Trust Patron, Lord Michael Cashman. Over three decades after the HIV epidemic began in the UK, HIV was back at the top of the agenda in Parliament ahead of World AIDS Day. Decision-makers also heard from Bakita Kasadha, a young HIV activist. 

Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum including Stephen wore their red ribbons with pride, while reflecting on how far we’ve come, but how far we still have to go to end HIV transmissions in the UK as we strive towards ‘Zero HIV’.

Stephen said: “Thirty on from the very first World AIDS Day, it continues to be an incredibly important as a day of action, awareness and remembrance, so I’m pleased to offer my support to Terrence Higgins Trust’s ‘Zero HIV’ campaign.”

“This year we have seen a further decline in new HIV diagnoses across the country, and new medical advances mean that people living with HIV can now expect to have a normal life expectancy. However, we must not become complacent as HIV stigma continues to be one of the biggest barriers to people being tested for HIV and coming forward for support.  No one must be left behind in the UK’s HIV response as we work towards ending all new transmissions and eradicating stigma.”

Ian Green, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, added: “This World AIDS Day we’re calling for ‘Zero HIV’, which means zero new HIV transmissions and zero HIV-related stigma. Because we can’t do one without the other.”

Stephen joins MPs in urging government to act on crisis in Sri Lanka

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Stephen has joined a cross party group of British MPs urging the government to take action about the unfolding crisis in Sri Lanka following the sacking of the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe. The former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has been appointed in his place.

In a letter to the British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils questioned what action the government had been taking to ensure political stability on the island.

The letter also highlighted the risks faced by Tamils following Rajapaksa's return to power and called on the Foreign Secretary to address the House on this issue as soon as possible.



Stephen calls on ministers to meet their commitment to dying children

Stephen has given his support to a report by a cross-party group of MPs and peers which has revealed that England’s most vulnerable children are not able to access the full range of care and support that the government has committed to.

Babies, children and young-people with life-limiting conditions are likely to die young. They and their families need a spectrum of health and social care services to meet their often complex needs. The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Children Who Need Palliative Care has been examining the extent to which the government is meeting its end of life care choice commitment to these seriously ill children and their families.

Despite the commitment – which outlines six ways ministers believe that people approaching the end of their lives should be supported – the APPG has heard evidence from young-people, families, services and professionals that the quality of palliative care children and families can access is patchy and depends on where in England they live. MPs and peers state that this is unfair and represents a wholly unjustified health inequality.

The APPG’s report, End of life care: strengthening choice (published 21 October 2018), highlights five areas of particular concern, where many children and their families have limited access to:

  • children’s palliative care out of hours and at weekends

  • short breaks for respite

  • age-appropriate palliative care and smooth transitions to adult services

  • specialist children’s palliative care teams led by Level 4 consultants

  • advance care planning

Speaking about the report, Stephen said: “By planning and funding children’s palliative care well we not only improve outcomes for children with life-limiting conditions and their families, but we also help prevent costly, emergency hospital admissions when they hit crisis point. There are some fantastic children’s palliative care services who serve children and families in Newham. Sadly, however, this report has shown is that too often we are failing some of England’s most vulnerable children by providing patchy access to crucial services such as advance care planning, specialist services, and short breaks for respite.

“The NHS 10-year plan offers an unmissable opportunity to put this right. I now call on ministers to work closely with the APPG to implement the recommendations they make, and ensure every family is receiving the level of care committed to in the government’s end of life care commitment.”

Stephen attends world’s biggest coffee morning

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Stephen has show his support for Macmillan Cancer Support by attending the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning event in Parliament. This year’s event focused on the challenges that people can face at different stages of their cancer experience.

Following the success of Macmillan’s biggest fundraising event of the year on Friday 28 September, which saw thousands of people come together across the country, the charity hosted a parliamentary Coffee Morning at which MPs and Peers had the opportunity to meet with and hear from people living cancer.

The event was hosted by Macmillan’s Chief Executive, Lynda Thomas. She set out how the charity is implementing a new strategy to help meet the growing needs of the increasing numbers of people living with cancer.

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said: “Macmillan’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning is a fantastic annual fixture in the parliamentary calendar, and I was pleased to show my support at the event.

“The focus of Coffee Morning has always been encouraging people to get together and talk about all the issues people living with cancer have to deal with. This year’s event provided a really important opportunity to hear more about the financial, physical and emotional challenges that people can face after finishing cancer treatment.

“I also welcomed the chance to learn more about the support that Macmillan offers to people affected by cancer. Whilst a cancer experience is always significant - life with cancer is still life - and it was great to hear about how Macmillan supports people to live it in the best possible way.”