NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Friday 12th October 2018
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
Parliament is back after the Party conference season this week. Among many other news items, you’ll have seen that the media spotlight has begun to focus on the impact of ‘Universal Credit’, which is due to be rolled out at Nottingham Central Jobcentre from 17th October next week. It is a much-delayed initiative of the current Conservative Government whose aim was to replace the six separate welfare benefits (Income related Jobseeker’s Allowance; Income Support; Income related Employment and Support Allowance; Working Tax Credit; Child Tax Credits; Housing Benefit) and instead make a combined single monthly payment covering all these elements.
While most people would agree the old system was complex and disjointed, there have been a series of unacceptable implementation flaws with Universal Credit in the areas where it has been piloted so far.
Two problems stand out. First, the shift to paying monthly in arrears (the theory being that operating like a monthly pay packet aligns better with the world of work) is a difficult transition for many who are not used to this, leaving a gap for some with very little money. There are reports that foodbank usage grew in the trial areas partly because individuals found this change difficult.
Second, if this was a straight aggregation of multiple benefits then it would just be an administrative headache – but it’s been made worse because George Osborne years ago decided to salami-slice funding from different elements of Universal Credit, meaning that new applications will be comparatively worse off than on the existing array of benefits. Some estimates say that very many claimants could be as much as £180 per month worse off – something the former Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and John Major have warned about this week. Concerns have been raised, not least by the Child Poverty Action Group about the lack of transitional funds and support and the disastrous effect this can have.
I will be closely monitoring the effects of the roll-out in Nottingham, so if you or someone you know is being adversely affected by the implementation of this new system please do let me know – and it may also be worth getting in touch with the Welfare Right Service at Nottingham City Council (details here) or the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (details here) as they can give immediate advice and support.
- On Wednesday with Nottingham’s other MPs I met with Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak to press the importance of continuing government funding for the Priority Families Programme across the city. The programme underpins a significant part of Nottingham’s early intervention and preventative support for families, sometimes where children are on the edge of care or in need of intensive support finding work, helping avoid evictions and other multiple needs. Nottingham’s work has helped cut the number of children in families without work and cut the numbers in the programme affected by crime, cautions or convictions. This sort of cross-cutting action is really important and it was useful to secure the Ministers continued support for the programme in principle – though we need to keep up pressure for funding from the Treasury.
- Earlier this week my colleague Lilian Greenwood and I (pictured below) I attended an event in Parliament Square on the need for better funding for schools. The event was organised by parents with children currently at school who were experiencing the results of a funding shortfall first-hand, whether it be a reduction in SEN support or losing favourite subjects from the curriculum. It is so important we remember that for every pound spent on high quality teaching and education, the whole community generates a manifold benefit in the longer run.
- Against the backdrop of a national shortage of affordable housing, Nottingham City Council is working on its homeless prevention strategy for 2018–2023. They will be consulting with residents, charities and organisations on how to tackle the growing problem aim of the new strategy being that all residents should have a home. Councillor Jane Urquhart, portfolio holder for planning and housing, said: “Like the rest of the UK, Nottingham has seen an unprecedented rise in homelessness over the last eight years, with welfare reform, cuts to Government funding and the housing market all contributing factors. You can have your say the draft strategy here.”
- It was privilege to attend a presentation on First World War history by local GP Dr Irfan Malik on Thursday at the Ahmadiyya Mosque in Sneinton, in remembrance of the soldiers who fought and died a hundred years ago. Dr Malik’s family come from a small village in Pakistan from where more than half the male population at the time were inducted into the army. Over the past four years he has collected a wide array of memorabilia from the First World War (picture below with the display). It is right that at this centenary period we remember not only those who fought in the Western Front, but also over one million Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs from the Indian sub-continent who fought in the war, 75,000 of whom were killed in the conflict.
- Congratulations to the University of Nottingham on being named one of the top 200 universities in the world in the latest annual Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings. The university came 149th, 18 places above the University of Leicester which was the only other university in the East Midlands to make the list. However there was concern as to the general health of the Higher Education sector in the UK with Phil Baty, editorial director of the THE global rankings, saying: “We see some individual stars in the UK this year, but the broader national data story is really one of stagnation and modest decline, with the UK taking a minor hit to its research reputation”. He added “We can only speculate at this stage as to any connection with Brexit, the risk, however, to the UK’s reputation and research capabilities from its separation with Europe is very real”.
- As part of the City Council’s environment plan Hackney Carriage drivers will be able to trial new electric taxis, built by built by the London Electric Vehicle Company, as part of a ‘try before you buy’ scheme. As part of the council’s Taxi Strategy, hackney carriages licensed from 2020 must reach certain standards regarding emissions. Councillor Sally Longford, Portfolio Holder for Energy and Environment, said: “We have ambitions to have the cleanest, greenest fleet in the country. For some visitors, their taxi service is among their first impressions of Nottingham, and we want to provide a modern, zero emission welcome to our city”.
- This year’s Aviva Community Fund is now open for entries, and I would encourage local projects in Nottingham East to apply. The Fund is intended to finance over 500 local projects in communities across the UK, and awards range from under £1,000 up to £25,000. Projects can be entered into one of three categories: Environment, Health & Wellbeing or Skills for Life. Applications can be made until midday on 9 October 2018 and you can find out more information about the fund and how to apply here.
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- On Monday, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the world’s leading consortium of climate scientists – released a landmark report which warned that the window in which we can realistically hope to avert catastrophic temperature rises is closing quickly. Its central finding: policymakers have twelve years to scale back greenhouse gas emissions if global warming is to be kept below 1.5 degrees – the tipping point beyond which devastating droughts, flooding and extreme weather events will become routine. In sobering news, the report estimates “with high confidence” that if emissions continue at their current trajectory, the 1.5-degree threshold will be met between 2030 and 2052, with a cataclysmic 3 degree rise possible by the end of this century. The human and geopolitical costs of failure here are colossal, and concerted international action beyond the levels envisaged in the Paris Accords will be necessary to avert them. While the Trump Administration is dragging its heels, the UK and other key players must push ahead. You can read the full report at the link here, and the Guardian’s useful breakdown of its findings and recommendations here.
- On Tuesday the ‘Campaign to End Loneliness’ held its conference in London ahead of next week’s publication of the Government’s cross-departmental ‘Loneliness Strategy’ commissioned last year. The responsible Minister, Tracey Crouch, told attendees that problems around social disconnectedness were far more widespread than previously understood and now represent a serious public health threat, and also acknowledged that in some cases, cutbacks in local service provision have worked to exacerbate isolation in the community. It is heartening to hear the Government signal that it takes this issue seriously, although as ever the proof will be in the Strategy’s fine print, and I will carefully study its recommendations.
- You may have read in the news about the recent ‘vote of no confidence’ passed by the local Labour Party a couple of weeks ago – accusing me of ‘deceit’ and not supporting Jeremy Corbyn. The motion was not a surprise, because it was the latest in a line of similar efforts attacking other Labour MPs, for instance censuring my colleague Joan Ryan MP in Enfield because of her efforts to stand up to antisemitism in the Labour Party.
In my case, the censure motion criticised me for disagreeing with Jeremy Corbyn. It is true I do disagree with him on several issues, such as the importance of a responsible economic policy, on national security, and on Europe. I gave a fuller response in the Guardian article which you can read at the link here. It has become sadly apparent that differing views are not tolerated by some parts of the Party and every opinion is judged on whether it is acceptable to the leadership. It’s not a good thing to have such internal party intolerance, especially given how many other more important issues there are to focus on in the world right now. I have had lots of advice over the past two years urging me to keep my head down, not to be so vocal and then I would “be all right”. But that is not what I came into politics to do.
I have been overwhelmed by the positive messages of support from many local residents since this happened. While Momentum activists may disagree with me, I have one message for all my constituents, whether Labour members or not: I am proud to serve you and I promise that no amount of deselection threats or political expediency will deter me from acting in what I believe are the best interests of you all.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
It was a fantastic turnout at the Nottingham European Movement event to discuss Brexit and the People’s Vote a couple of weeks ago (pictured below) and it was an honour to be asked to speak on the cross-party panel alongside LibDem Tom Brake, Green Natalie Bennett and Conservative Ken Clarke. Many local residents have urged me to speak out about the threat to jobs, trade, tax revenues and shared alliances we have with Europe if we end up with a bad Brexit deal.
I’d be interested in your views on the latest developments. Theresa May is dancing to the tune of her hard Brexiteer right-wing MPs, refusing to commit to a Customs Union or the Single Market for the UK even though these are the only way we could possibly proceed with Brexit and keep some of the more harmful effects to a minimum. Why does Theresa May think she can keep a frictionless border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland while simultaneously pretending we can have separate trade policies than the rest of the EU? Will we see further Cabinet resignations in the coming days?
Just yesterday the Office for Budget Responsibility published their assessment saying: “under any Brexit scenario, the UK will face greater non-tariff barriers on its trade with the EU”. We look set then for slower and inhibited trade if Brexit continues. That’s why like a growing number of people I am calling for the public to have a final say on any deal reached in a People’s Vote.
What are your thoughts on how this situation is developing? If you’re not sure about whether a ‘deal’ will work, shouldn’t we let the public resolve this and give their final consent?
There will be a march in London next weekend on Sunday 20th October and hundreds of thousands are expected. Will you be there? Get more details at the link here https://www.peoples-vote.uk/march
Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East