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


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


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.”

Stephen calls on government to pause roll out of Universal Credit

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Stephen has spoken in an Opposition Day debate in the House of Commons. His speech was part of Labour’s attempts to force the Government to publish its analysis of the impact of Universal Credit on people's incomes. The motion was defeated 299-279. This means the Government does not have to reveal the findings of its assessment.

The debate was held after the Secretary of State, Esther McVey, reportedly told colleagues that millions of families would lose £200 a month under the system. She later admitted to the BBC that “…some people would be worse off”. The Government had previously said no-one moving onto Universal Credit would lose out.

Universal Credit has been subject to long-running criticism that the planned managed migration of people to the new system will leave vulnerable people at risk. Speaking in the House of Commons, Stephen argued that “…of all the many flaws in Universal Credit, the worst is the five week delay between claiming and being entitled to the benefit. Ministers can only justify that delay to people who’ve just left monthly paid job and have a month’s salary in the bank. The reality is a very large proportion of people do not - they’re weekly paid, they’re on zero hours contracts. Five weeks without support is not a realistic – or acceptable - feature of this benefit.”

Stephen went on to outline some of the implications of Universal Credit that have been observed so far including the “rocketing demand” for Foodbanks and rent arrears. “This is not the way to treat our fellow citizens,” he said. Stephen also criticised the government’s lack of flexibility, saying that ministers had developed a “tin-ear” to warnings over the last 8 years. He urged the Government to stop the rollout until the problems with Universal Credit have been fixed.

During the debate other MPs raised concerns about how the current regulations will allow existing benefits to be terminated without necessary safeguards, about the lack of protection for the most vulnerable, especially families, disabled people, the sick and victims of domestic violence.

Speaking after the debate, Stephen said: “The principle behind Universal Credit is a sensible one. But there are huge problems with the way it’s being implemented. The first is that Universal Credit does not have enough money in it, secondly the computer system doesn’t yet work properly, and thirdly it’s got a lot of detailed features in it which are just wrong.

“These problems are causing chaos and misery for many people in Newham. But Ministers are refusing to listen. The roll-out of Universal Credit must be paused.”


Stephen meets British Heart Foundation to discuss artificial intelligence

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Whilst at this year’s Labour Party Conference, Stephen visited the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

Stephen met with the BHF’s policy team to hear how the charity is funding innovative research to find better ways to diagnose and treat heart failure, which is a leading cause of hospital admissions for over-65s.

As the largest independent funder of cardiovascular research in the UK, the BHF is committed to accelerating progress in data science to find new ways of diagnosing and treating the more than 7 million people living with heart and circulatory disease in the UK.

One of the BHF-funded research projects Stephen discussed with the charity is a project being run by Professor Declan O’Regan at Imperial College London. Professor O’Regan’s research uses artificial intelligence to help diagnose certain conditions more effectively than doctors are able to. Currently, diagnosis of heart failure relies on a doctor interpreting scans and it can be difficult for them to predict how the disease will progress.

To help address this, Professor O’Regan’s team have developed a machine learning algorithm ‘trained’ to find links between 3D heart scans and the patient’s prognosis, using existing patient data. This can help inform doctors’ decisions about how to best treat people living with heart failure.

Stephen also discussed the need for clarity about who is responsible for regulating artificial intelligence, and ensuring that AI systems are transparent about how they reach decisions. This is important so that patients can have trust in these rapidly developing technologies that have the potential to improve outcomes for people living with heart and circulatory conditions.

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said: “It was great to speak with the British Heart Foundation at Labour Party Conference to hear about how the charity is funding cutting-edge research, harnessing the power of AI to save lives.

“It was interesting to learn how the BHF is using new technology and data to help doctors better diagnose and treat the 550,000 people in the UK who have been diagnosed with heart failure.

“I agree with the BHF that we need clarity about who is responsible for regulating artificial intelligence in healthcare, so that people can trust these new technologies that offer potentially significant benefits for the more than 7 million people living with heart and circulatory conditions in the UK.”

Stephen pledges to back a law to end unsafe pavement parking


Stephen has spoken with the charity Guide Dogs at the Labour Party conference about the challenges pavement parked cars create for blind and partially sighted people, who may have to risk their safety by walking into the road just to get by.

A survey by Guide Dogs showed that 97% of blind or partially sighted people encounter problems with street obstructions, and 90% of those had experienced trouble with a pavement parked car.

Stephen heard of the difficulties that councils face in trying to tackle the issue with their current powers, and why Guide Dogs is calling for a clear law on pavement parking. He pledged to support the charity’s campaign to make pavement parking an offence, except in areas where local authorities grant specific exemptions. This would give local authorities real power to properly tackle this problem and bring the rest of the country in line with the current law in Greater London, which has been in place since 1974.

Statement by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Egypt


On Tuesday, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Egypt hosted a discussion in Parliament between a non-official group of Egyptian representatives and representatives of Human Rights Watch.  

The meeting was hosted by the co-chairs of the APPG, The Rt. Hon. Stephen Timms MP and Mr Jonathan Lord MP.  Lord Stone of Blackheath, Lord Marlseford DL and Mr Samir Takla, the group’s advisor, were also in attendance.

The Egyptian group consisted of Dr Mahmoud Karem of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights; Dr Maya Morsi, President of the Egyptian National Council for Women; Mrs. Dalia Youssef MP, chair of the Egyptian-British Parliamentary Group; Judge Ms. Marwa Barakat; and Dr Heba Hagrass MP, member of the Egyptian Parliament’s Social Solidarity, Family, and Persons with Disabilities Committee.

Human Rights Watch was represented by North Africa and Middle East officer Amr Magdi, senior legal advisor Clive Baldwin, women’s rights officer Rothna Begum and advocacy and communications officer Myrto Tilianaki.

The discussion entailed a constructive exchange of views, and ideas for future co-operation.

MPs debate TOEIC visa scandal

 MPs during the Westminster Hall debate

MPs during the Westminster Hall debate

Earlier this week, MPs debated the government's handling of the so-called "Toeic students". The estimated 7,000 students had their visas cancelled after a BBC Panorama investigation in 2014 uncovered evidence of widespread cheating at testing centres delivering the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC).

On 10 February 2014 the BBC’s Panorama programme exposed cheating in some colleges which administer the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) for non-EEA students. In response the Home Office revoked or curtailed the visas of thousands of students it suspected of fraud. The evidence on which the Home Office relied in these visa decisions has been called into question, and led critics to claim that many individuals were falsely accused of cheating by the Home Office

During the debate, Wes Streeting, MP for Ilford North, cited figures obtained by the House of Commons Library, which said that by the end of September 2016 more than 35,870 visa holders had had their visa refused or curtailed on the basis of the TOEIC scandal, and more than 4,600 had been removed from the country. Wes went on to called the case “Britain’s forgotten immigration scandal,” referencing the recent Windrush scandal, and said the Home Office had placed students outside the normal immigration processes by denying them the right to appeal. He insisted that an apology and full compensation be given to students, and said an independent inquiry into the case is necessary. Other MPs echoed his calls.

Both lawyers representing the students, Patrick Lewis QC and Sonali Naik QC of Garden Chambers, expressed their disappointment at the minister’s response. Speaking afterwards to Professionals in International Education News, Patrick said "...I just don’t understand the minister’s response… there should be acknowledgement that ETS can make mistakes and [the government] can’t simply rely on the accusations that they make.” Sonali also criticised the minister’s use of the word "proportionate" and said that the push for out-of-country appeals does remedy the situation. "It’s not proportionate to treat everybody in the same way when you know your evidence may well be flawed,” she said.

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said "It was very important that MPs had the chance to debate this issue in the House of Commons. The MPs who took part made clear just how much hardship has been inflicted – unfairly – on a very large number of students.
“The Minister’s reply to the debate suggests that the Home Office still hasn’t grasped the scale of the problem, or recognised the hardship they have caused to so many students.  Thousands have done nothing wrong, but been robbed of their futures by the actions of the British Government.
“I will shortly be asking the Home Secretary to meet with me and others to discuss what redress can - belatedly - be offered to the students who had their visas cancelled through no fault of their own.”

Stephen attends arthritis event in Parliament

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Stephen joined people with arthritis at an event in Parliament last week to hear about life with the condition and learn how aids and adaptions in the home can help people live independently. 

The event followed the launch of Arthritis Research UK’s Room to Manoeuvre report, which looks at the provision of aids and adaptations for people with arthritis. MPs heard from people with arthritis about how aids and adaptations – such as grab rails or specialised kitchen equipment - have changed their lives. They also tried a variety of home aids and heard about findings from the report, which reveals that many people aren’t getting the support they’re entitled to. 

Arthritis and related conditions are the number one cause of pain and disability in the UK, affecting 17.8 million people across the country. 

Local authorities have a legal duty to provide aids and adaptations to those who are eligible. However, the charity’s report found that 8 in 10 (84%) survey respondents who are eligible for support are missing out on life-changing equipment, and more than half are buying equipment themselves. 

Arthritis Research UK is calling on local authorities to ensure people with arthritis and related conditions are assessed and, if eligible, provided with aids and minor adaptations free of charge. The charity is also calling on central government to support local authorities to meet these duties.

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said: “4,087 of people in East Ham are living with osteoarthritis of the hip, 6,768 with osteoarthritis of the knee and 20,251 with back pain, so I wanted to show my support for them in Parliament and hear from people with arthritis about the help that makes a difference to their lives.

“Aids and adaptations in the home can help people to remain independent for longer, and I want to make sure that people with arthritis in East Ham know about the support on offer. I urge people to reach out to Arthritis Research UK for expert information, help and advice.”

Stephen welcome Plashet School to Parliamentary final

Yesterday, Plashet School competed in the final of the Solutions for the Planet’s Big Ideas Competition in the Houses of Parliament.

Solutions for the Planet is a social enterprise which works with businesses, schools and communities to promote education for sustainable development, social enterprise, and science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers for young people. The team presented their big idea of ‘Rent-a-bike’ to a panel of judges having fought off over 3,000 other teams across the country to make it to the Final. The idea involved the upcycling and renovation of old bicycles and then renting them out for day hire .The group said the idea would reduce waste and dependency on cars.

Speaking after the event, Stephen said “I was impressed by the ingenuity and thought that had gone into this idea that seeks to address the issue of pollution, not just in East Ham, but across the country!”

A similar competition is expected to be run by Solutions for the Planet next year that will seek to once again produce creative ideas as students seek to sustainable improve our country.

Stephen attends KickStart Money

Stephen has attended a session of the successful money skills programme aimed at primary school children, KickStart Money, in the Houses of Parliament. The workshops are normally held in schools across the country, however this special session took place in Parliament to mark the launch of a report into the effectiveness of the programme. 

The independent evaluation found the initiative to be highly effective, with 70% of pupils consulted three months after delivery working towards a saving goal. The young people surveyed strongly agreed that “ they think about and treat money now will make a difference to their future”. Teachers also reported that “...87% of their pupils now understand that their financial decisions have consequences”.

The KickStart money programme is delivered by the charity MyBnk and is funded by a grouping of 20 leading financial services firms brought together by the Tax Incentivised Savings Association. The initiative is part of a mission to demonstrate to the Government the advantages of including financial education on the primary school curriculum. KickStart aims to help set up young people to be responsible savers in the future. It hopes to reach 18,000 children over 3 years thanks to a cross-industry collaborative £1 million investment. 

Research by the Money Advice Service has found that early intervention is key and that behavioural attitudes to money are formed by the age of seven. Only one third of parents talk to their children about money, and there is a significant lack of financial education provision in schools for children in the UK, particularly at the primary level. 

Today, Stephen watched a class of 9 – 11 year olds as they tackled everything from understanding the value of money, to the importance of delayed gratification and saving. The workshop will be coming to Stephen’s constituency next week.

Stephen attends local jobs fair


Last week, Stephen attended the Community Links Jobs Fair in East Ham. The event included exhibition stalls from several local employers such as Nando’s, Zzetta, Travel Lodge, Bupa and IBM. Other local organisations also attended, including the University of East London, Newham Workplace and West Ham United Foundation.

The fair offered guests the unique opportunity to interview for jobs on the day. Attendees were also offered free interview clothing provided by Ben Sherman, and had the chance to browse stalls set up by small businesses and self-employed entrepreneurs. Further entertainment included face painting, games, a raffle, and free food provided by Nando’s and Zzetta Pizza.

Speaking after the event, Stephen said “today’s Jobs Fair was a big success. In the current climate, it is vital that we help people into work and this is a great way to do just that”.

“More and more employers are looking to recruit in Newham as London continues to move east, which is very encouraging!”.

Stephen hosts ParliaMentors graduation ceremony

 Stephen with members of Faith2Faith

Stephen with members of Faith2Faith

Earlier this week, Stephen hosted the graduation ceremony for this year’s cohort of ParliaMentors from the Faith and Belief Forum. The event was held in Parliament and included a keynote speech from Luciana Berger, MP for Liverpool Wavertree, about the importance of faith, cohesion and driving change at a local level. Graduates of the scheme were presented with certificates and thanked for their hard work and dedication across each of their social action projects.

ParliaMentors is a UN award-winning leadership programme which offers university students of different faiths and non-religious beliefs the opportunity to work together to create real social change. Each team is sponsored by an MP and has access to Westminster, local and national NGOs, and expert training. This equips students with the necessary skills to make positive changes to their communities, their careers and the political arena.

45 students completed the programme this year, across 9 different universities. Stephen mentored a team of 5 from Queen Mary University. The team’s project, Faith2Faith, brought together faith and non-faith students to nurture a community allotment on the university campus.

Speaking after the reception, Stephen said “I was delighted to host the graduation ceremony today. I very much enjoyed my visits to the community garden at Queen Mary University, and I wish the team all the very best in the future”.

Stephen criticises "negligent" Ministers over Youth Obligation

Stephen has uncovered the failure of government flagship scheme, Youth Obligation, to keep any records of their clients. Recent reports suggested that around 15,300 young people have dropped off the scheme without finding work, and without the organisation gathering any information about their whereabouts.

Youth Obligation was set up in April 2017 to offer specialist help to 18 – 21 year-olds from Jobcentre advisors. It has replaced the government’s Work Programme and aims to help young people into employment by offering advice on how to succeed with applications and interviews.

Speaking to the Independent, Stephen said “it is extraordinarily negligent not to collect the data for the programme. Without it, the government will have no idea if it is succeeding or failing.” 

He has also emphasised that “young people’s jobs are often temporary, low-paid and part-time. The government has to find a way to enable them to progress into permanent, better-paid, full-time employment.”

Stephen hosts MS reception in Westminster

 Picture: Rebecca Cresta/MS Society

Picture: Rebecca Cresta/MS Society

Following a report published by the MS Society, a charity which supports those with multiple sclerosis, the MP hosted the Westminster event to discuss the negative impact PIP has on those with MS.

MS is a neurological condition which affects the brain and spinal chord. It can cause spasms, cognitive problems and issues with balance.

PIP is the replacement benefit for the Disability Living Allowance (DLA). Its rollout began in 2013, with the biggest change being the ‘20 metre rule’ – an assessment which states if you can walk more than 20 metres, you aren’t eligible for the highest rate of mobility support. Under the DLA, this limit was 50 metres.

According to a survey in the MS Society’s report, 65 per cent of people with MS said the new rule had negatively impacted their illness. Under the old assessment, 94pc of people with MS were receiving the highest rate of mobility support – now it’s just 66pc.

Genevieve Edwards, the society’s director of external affairs, said: “It’s causing enormous harm to people with MS, with many losing their independence as a result. This senseless and unfounded rule is leading to people with the highest need facing the biggest losses.

“The 20 metre rule was strongly opposed by charities, people with MS and medical professionals when it was first introduced. PIP needs to change, starting with the government scrapping the 20 metre rule.”

Speaking after the reception, Stephensaid: “What we’d like to see, firstly, is the distance changed back to 50 metres. Also, the report shows that while you may save money from reducing people’s benefits, those people tend to use the NHS more as a consequence. It’s a false economy, because while a bit of money has been saved from benefits, more are relying on the NHS.”

“One of the worrying things with MS is it’s a degenerative disease – you only get worse. The system that’s been put in place means you keep being tested, which creates worry for people and uncertainty. Once you need support for MS, you’ll need it forever.”

Stephen unveils new MRI scanner at Newham University Hospital


Stephen has  joined Lyn Brown, the Member of Parliament for West Ham, in opening a new MRI scanner at Newham University Hospital.

The pair cut the ribbon to officially unveil the state of the art device, which means that patients suspected of having prostate cancer can now be scanned on site, rather than being transferred to the City of London for treatment.

Around 500 people are being treated with the scanner each month, said the hospital’s clinical director of imaging, Dr Hussein Kamel. The technology will reduce patient waiting times and allow for more accurate diagnoses, according to Barts Health NHS Trust, who run the hospital.

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said: "I really welcome the investment being made, which is being reflected in the high degree of confidence that the people of Newham now have in this hospital.”