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.”

Stephen speaks out in support of Alzheimer’s Society dementia care campaign

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Stephen has joined 120 other MPs at an Alzheimer’s Society photography exhibition to showcase the human cost of the dementia care crisis.

The photo exhibition, 'Dementia Care: The Crisis Behind Closed Doors', depicts the human cost of a care system that is unfair, unsustainable and in urgent need of reform up and down the country. At the exhibition, Parliamentarians met with people affected by dementia to hear about how the dementia crisis has affected them and their families. 

Alzheimer’s Society is calling for a Dementia Fund in the upcoming Spending Review to end the dementia penalty, bringing fairness into the system and improving quality of care.

After the event, Stephen said: “I am proud to stand with people affected by dementia and make the case for more funding for dementia care in the upcoming spending review. One million people will have dementia by 2021 and it is vital that we are able to deliver high quality dementia care to everyone that needs it.”

Sally Copley, Director of Policy, Campaigns & Partnerships at Alzheimer’s Society added: “It is fantastic to see MPs from across parliament coming together to champion the voices of people with dementia and call for reform. We urge the next Prime Minister to make addressing the dementia crisis an urgent priority. The injustice of people battling to get the care they so desperately need, while also battling the devastating effects of dementia, must be addressed now. We must Fix Dementia Care.”

Stephen attends Macmillan report launch

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Stephen recently met with Macmillan Cancer Support to discuss their new report on the financial impact of cancer entitled ‘Cancer - A Costly Diagnosis?’

The report focuses on people’s individual experiences of the financial impact of cancer and highlights three particular policy areas; the implementation of Universal Credit, the support banks and building societies give people living with cancer and the cost of travel insurance.

The financial impact of cancer can move someone from a position of relative security to one of financial distress within a short space of time and people living with cancer are still not getting the right support they need from the government and from financial service providers.

To help with the financial impact of cancer Macmillan are asking the Government to introduce the legal requirement of a duty of care to ensure all financial services providers act in the best interests of their customers. The Treasury Select Committee have backed these calls in their recent report looking the support our financial institutions are giving vulnerable people.

Speaking after the launch, Stephen said “I will continue to work with Macmillan Cancer Support on their campaign to ensure people living with cancer get the right support and I would welcome hearing more constituents living with cancer on the impact their diagnosis has had on them.”

Stephen presses Minister on Universal Credit

Stephen has questioned the Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work about the five week wait for Universal Credit.

Calling for an urgent review of the policy, Stephen argued that the five week wait is forcing people into debt, making them reliant on foodbanks and now providing profiteering opportunities for criminal fraudsters.

Speaking after the exchange, Stephen said: “The response from Minister Justin Tomlinson was wholly inadequate. Not only did he refuse to agree to a policy review, but he pointed Universal Credit claimants towards Advance Payments. Research shows that these Government loans push people into debt and force them to depend on foodbanks. I repeat my call to the Government to urgently review the five week wait before any more people can suffer from this catastrophic policy.”

The exchange took place as part of an Urgent Question tabled by the SNP's Neil Gray MP.

Stephen presses Minister on Universal Credit

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Yesterday, in the Chamber of the House of Commons, Stephen questioned the Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work about the five week wait for Universal Credit.

Calling for an urgent review of the policy, Stephen argued that the five week wait is forcing people into debt, making them reliant on foodbanks and now providing profiteering opportunities for criminal fraudsters.

Speaking after the exchange, Stephen said: ‘The response from Minister Justin Tomlinson was wholly inadequate. Not only did he refuse to agree to a policy review, but he pointed Universal Credit claimants towards Advance Payments. Research shows that these Government loans push people into debt and force them to depend on foodbanks. I repeat my call to the Government to urgently review the five week wait before any more people can suffer from this catastrophic policy’.

The exchange took place as part of an Urgent Question tabled by the SNP's Neil Gray MP.

Stephen hosts parent and toddler celebration in Parliament

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Stephen has hosted a celebration for the London Network of Parent and Toddler Groups in Parliament, which supports church-based toddler groups. The event brought together leaders from across London to mark the end of a month-long ‘Prayer Marathon’ for the groups.

At the event, Stephen spoke alongside Jo Gordon, who leads a toddler group in Brent and coordinates the London Network. A number of group leaders from across London shared stories of how through the work and ministry of these groups, children are being supported at a vital stage of their life, communities are being brought together, and loneliness and mental health issues in parents are being addressed.

Stephen said: “Church-based toddler groups are a remarkable example of the work churches are doing in communities across London that so often goes unseen. They are immensely valuable for both the development of children and the wellbeing and support of parents. I was delighted to be able to celebrate them.”

Stephen hosts Versus Arthritis report launch in Parliament

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Yesterday, Stephen hosted a report launch for the charity Versus Arthritis. The new report – entitled ‘Working it out’ - explores individuals’ experiences of the Access to Work scheme and the charity’s recommendations for improving it.

The event was an opportunity for MPs to hear first-hand from people with arthritis about the difficulties they have had with the scheme. Copies of the new report were also available, detailing the recommendations produced by Versus Arthritis. These include giving people access to the right equipment to support them in their role and to claim travel costs easily, improving communication with the scheme and having a more responsive review process that recognises the changing needs of those suffering from the condition.

Speaking after the event, Stephen said: “With a new Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work in place and a spending review expected imminently, the coming months are the perfect time to raise awareness in Parliament of how vital the Access to Work Scheme can be for people with arthritis. Unfortunately, in too many cases the Scheme has been failing some of the most vulnerable. I support the recommendations of this new report and I call on the new Minister to address these issues without delay.”

Stephen hosts primary school pupils in Parliament

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On Monday, Stephen played host to a group of Year 6 pupils from Langdon Academy Primary School. The group watched a short introductory film about the House of Commons in the Parliamentary Education Centre, before being given a tour of the building by guides.

After this they met Stephen in a committee room to hear more about the work of an MP. The group – based in Stephen’s constituency of East Ham – were able to hear about the functioning of parliament, the way laws are passed and all the latest news on Brexit. After this they quizzed Stephen about topics of concern.

Speaking after the event, Stephen said: “It was a real pleasure to host the group from Langdon Academy in Parliament. They obviously had a strong interest in politics both at a global and a local level and raised a variety of issues with me from climate change to litter picking. One said that he would like to be an MP in the future and this is something I encourage all young people to consider.”

Stephen hosts the launch of FaithAction’s report on social isolation

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As chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Faith and Society, Stephen has held a reception in Parliament to celebrate the release a report on tackling loneliness. The report was written by the group’s secretariat, FaithAction.

As evidence of a “loneliness epidemic” in the UK has come to light in the past few years, the event discussed the level of need that exists in local communities. As the report mentions, over nine million people say they feel lonely and one in ten say that they have no close friends. It acknowledges the brilliant efforts of faith groups in reaching out to the isolated and bringing them into a thriving community.

At the event, Minister for Loneliness Mims Davies expressed her gratitude to these groups for the impact they are having on the isolated population, whilst Tim Farron MP encouraged unity amongst different faiths. The authors of the report also presented an overview of their findings and gave some encouraging examples of individuals whose lives had been changed by their local faith community.

Speaking after the event, Stephen said “Far too many people don’t belong to any community and this is at the heart of the loneliness epidemic. I am delighted by FaithAction’s research which shows faith groups’ remarkable efforts to tackle this problem.

“The All-Party Parliamentary Group would like to see even more involvement from faith based organisations and will continue to encourage Local Authorities to support their services.”

Stephen responds to Health Secretary's long term plan for the NHS

Stephen has voiced concerns about the future of the NHS following a statement to the House of Commons by the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock. His statement followed the announcement of the long term plan in June last year.

In his statement, the Health Secretary outlined proposals in the areas of cancer care, mental health services, and staffing over the next 10 years, saying “…we are determined to make sure that the Long term Plan fulfils its potential to transform the Health Service for the better.”

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said: “While the aspirations for improving patient care NHS England outlined today are welcome, the reality is the NHS will continue to be held back by cuts and chronic staff shortages.

“I was also disappointed to see the plan failed to fulfil the government’s plan for social care that continues to be delayed.”

Stephen joins TOEIC students to deliver a letter to the Home Secretary

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Last week, Stephen joined Migrant Voice and former TOEIC victims in their campaign against the Home Office’s 2014 decision to revoke thousands of student visas. A letter was delivered to a representative of Home Secretary Sajid Javid outside the Home Office, calling on him to issue a statement outlining actions to remedy the situation.

The letter was signed by 100 TOEIC students, who expressed the ‘lifelong mark of shame’ which the accusations have left them with. As well as denying access to their education, the 2014 decision has left many with severe mental health conditions. The letter appealed to Sajid Javid as their ‘last hope’.

A recent National Audit Office report into the issue found that while the Home Office had acted vigorously in 2014 to prosecute those involved in cheating, they should have ‘taken an equally vigorous approach to protecting those who did not cheat but who were still caught up in the process’. Evidence hearings held over the course of June as part of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on TOEIC - chaired by Stephen - have cast further doubt on the reliability of ETS’ evidence. So far, 3600 former students have been successful in appealing the decision to revoke their visa.

After delivering the letter, Stephen said: “The decision to revoke thousands of visas without a full investigation was a major failing on the Home Office’s part. Five years on, students who did nothing wrong are still waiting to put their lives back on track. The Home Office must now act to address the grave injustice they have suffered.”