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News from Debbie Abrahams MP
April 2021


Dear <<First Name>>

The latest edition of my e-newsletter contains an update on Covid-19 and my activities across the constituency and in Parliament.

Contacting me during Covid-19

In response to the Covid 19 pandemic, and to reduce the risk to my constituents and team, my constituency office is closed. However my team and I are here to help you with any issue you may have. I am also holding virtual advice surgeries by phone or online.  Read more here.

Send an e-mail to: 

Call the Oldham office:
Mon & Tues between 9am and 1pm: 07494 553005
Weds & Fri between 9am and 1pm: 07495 995509

Keep up to date:
Twitter: @debbie_abrahams


Covid-19 update

It's over a year since Covid-19 first reached our shores and the UK entered its first national lockdown.

I want to thank everyone in Oldham and Saddleworth for continuing to follow the guidelines and I ask you to continue to be patient as we go through the vaccination roll-out. The Government has set out its road map and we have recently seen the opening up of shops, hairdressers, gyms, outdoor food and drink, leisure etc and the opportunity to meet more of our family and friends once again. I know many local businesses have now reopened in our borough so please do support them in a safe way. You can keep up to date with national guidelines here

We continue to see good progress on the Covid-19 vaccination roll out. Over 33 million people have received their first dose of the vaccine in the UK with over 13 million being fully vaccinated. In Oldham over 112,000 people have received the first dose of the vaccine and over 37,000 have received both doses. A huge thanks to NHS and public health teams for organising and delivering this with dozens of volunteer supporters. Oldham Council teams have also been out and about across Oldham including in Alt last week, sharing the latest information around Coronavirus. Thanks to these teams for their efforts.

Unfortunately, the Government has serious questions to answer on their approach not only on the pandemic procurement, which the High Court judged failed to follow the law regarding PPE, but has also been marred by huge waste to the taxpayer, ineffectiveness e.g., from the Serco Test and Trace programme, and cronyism (best described as contracts for family and friends of Government ministers). This past month more and more stories have emerged of sleaze by Boris Johnson and his Ministers. The law and rules apply to us all; they must be held accountable.

As I have mentioned previously, I took part in a legal action with the Good Law Project, Layla Moran MP and Caroline Lucas MP regarding the lack of transparency of Government Covid contracts. On 5th March the High Court ruled that when the Prime Minister had claimed that all contracts had been published, 100 contracts had not in fact been published and were outstanding. I wrote  to the Cabinet Secretary with Layla Moran and Caroline Lucas to raise our concerns on this. 6 weeks on and we have only received a holding response. This is just not good enough. I also wrote to the Chairman of the Committee of Standards in Public Life for him to investigate. 

Recent news reports emerged, in which the Prime Minister appeared to promise the businessman, James Dyson (in March last year) that he would “fix” an issue on the tax status of Dyson staff working in the UK during the pandemic .

In addition, the Prime Minister's former advisor, Dominic Cummings alleged that Boris Johnson tried to quash a leak inquiry as it implicated an ally, and hatched a “possibly illegal” plan for donors to pay to refurbish his Downing Street flat. Boris Johnson can’t tell us who first paid for his flat refurbishment, can’t say whether taxpayers’ money was used and won’t say which private donors were involved - or what they expect in return for this cash for curtains scandal. The Prime Minister’s flagrant flouting of the rules is an affront to our democracy and way of life. We must demand better.

Last week, the Electoral Commission said they have been in contact with the Conservative party and that there are: “reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred”. 

Sir David King, a former government chief scientist and Chair of Independent SAGE, also accused Boris Johnson’s government of corruption, privatising the NHS by stealth, operating a “chumocracy” and mishandling the pandemic and climate crisis. 

King contrasted the success of the vaccination programme, carried out by the NHS, with the failure of the government’s test-and-trace operation, which has been contracted out to private companies. He said he was extremely worried about the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, about the processes by which public money has been distributed to private sector companies without due process. The British people deserve a Prime Minister they can trust, unfortunately this is not the case. I will continue to hold the Government to account for their mismanagement.

Bereaved families who have tragically lost loved ones in this pandemic deserve our support and that's why Labour backs their call for a public inquiry when the government reaches the end of its roadmap, so we can be more resilient to future outbreaks and crises. We have been clear that a public inquiry should start in June and not be delayed any further. We must learn from this pandemic and build back fairer.

I also wrote to the Foreign Secretary this month about the criteria used to add countries to the travel Red List. The response I received failed to respond to my questions. No-one is any wiser as to how they determine which countries are on the red list. Given India’s severe second Covid wave and the late announcement by the Health Secretary that India was also now on the red list, I have real concerns regarding not just about the transparency but the quality of decisions made by this Government. You can read both my letter and the poor response I received here.

As I said to the Health Secretary last week, the UK’s success in emerging from the Covid19 pandemic is co-dependent on worldwide surveillance for new variants and global vaccination. Nowhere is safe until we are all safe. But the World Health Organisation is concerned that this isn’t global co-operation isn’t happening. I asked the Health Secretary about the UK's involvement in the coordination on such global efforts. Watch my question here.  

As in the UK, the impact of Covid on people in India is a human tragedy. 
A family friend in Delhi told me that people are terrified, frantically searching for oxygen or hospital beds, and  being exploited by profiteers. My heart goes out to everyone in India at this desperate time and the many family members in the UK who are concerned for their loved ones.  I'm pleased the UK has sent more than 600 pieces of vital medical equipment which included ventilators and oxygen concentrator devices but the Government must also set out what further support it will provide. Again, no one is safe from Covid until we are all safe. I also asked the Government to update us on the situation in Indian-administered Kashmir given no independent visits have been made by Parliamentarians or journalists since 2019. There are concerns of regional disparities in the distribution of oxygen and other healthcare resources.

I will continue to fight for the best support for my constituents while keeping you safe. Keep up to date on local information here and please take care.

Constituency update

My eighth Summer School will take place from 12-16 July

Open to 18-24 year olds, we will have another very strong line up of contributors and leaders in the areas of politics, community development, campaigning, and communications. 

This year’s programme will be held virtually. If Covid restrictions change nearer the time we will look at holding some in-person sessions. The deadline to apply is by 5pm on Friday the 18th June. For more details on the application process, and what the Summer School involves, read more here.

Fire crews and Mountain rescue teams are dealing with a devastating large-scale fire at Marsden Moor. As you will be aware this fire started on Sunday evening and has only just stopped blazing. In addition, last Thursday a wildfire broke out at Dovestone, covering around 20,000 square metres of land. I am extremely grateful to West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service and Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service for their hard work to control the blaze. Helicopters, specialist wildfire units also helped with the responses to the fires as well as Oldham mountain rescue and local National Trust teams. 

It’s very important people take extra care. Oldham Council banned BBQs and fires on the moors all year round as part of a PSPO (Public Spaces Protection Order) to protect the landscape. Defying the BBQ ban could result in a fine of up to £2000. 
Climate change is also causing more frequent and intense spells of hot, dry weather, which turns these upland areas into tinder boxes. That’s why local teams are working hard to re-wet these moorlands as part of a long term, partnership project with other landowners.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham visited Greenfield Station this month to add his weight to my campaign for disabled access at the station. If re-elected, Andy said he would set a deadline of 2025 for Network Rail to make stations fully accessible and if they don’t he will demand local control so we can get on and bring services and stations up to standard. Andy also restated his ambition to take control of Greater Manchester trains and train stations, to create a seamless transport network by 2030. Twenty five years on from the Disability Discrimination Act, I’m grateful to Andy for committing to support action to achieve this basic right for disabled people. Greenfield station is a vital link for local communities, and disabled access combined with a more frequent service could be transformational.

The Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation was launched last month in remembrance of the day Stephen Lawrence was murdered in a racially motivated attack. It will also help keep the focus on racial inequality and celebrate efforts to tackle it. Find out more here

Earlier this month I met with representatives of Saddleworth Lido, a group of local people who are interested in establishing an outdoor swimming facility in Saddleworth. Things are very much at the planning stage, but here’s a link to where you can find out more about this.

I also met with Habinteg who in addition to providing accessible homes across England and Wales as a housing association, also promote the building of accessible homes. They are campaigning to ensure that all new homes are built to Category 2 Lifetime Homes Standard, which I was happy to support, as they currently do in London. Oldham Council has been doing some great work in building more accessible homes and I hope that they will also adopt this pledge. 

My team and I continue to receive a large number of casework queries – we are still seeing a tripling of demand but also an increase in the seriousness of these cases. I would like to thank my team for all they are doing to meet this challenge. I also want to thank you for your patience. We are doing our best to get through our backlog and have a triage system in place, dealing with the most urgent enquiries first.  Please do bear with us – as I’ve always done I will respond to your correspondence. In the past month, I have received a number of enquiries regarding employment, education, environment, social care, housing, Council related queries, policing, immigration, social security, businesses and health-related matters. My team and I will do all we can to continue to support constituents at this difficult time.

On 6th May, Local Elections will take place across Oldham and across the country. In addition, in Greater Manchester Andy Burnham is standing once more for Mayor. From 12th April when restrictions in campaigning were lifted, I have been out with local candidates knocking on doors and speaking with residents across the Borough. These local elections will be the first opportunity to hold politicians to account since the pandemic started. Eleven years of Liberal Democrat and Conservative government cuts has meant the public services we relied on to get us through were not only stretched before the pandemic started, they were left totally unprepared for such an emergency. 

Parliamentary update

The Work and Pensions Select Committee questions charities and policy experts to hold the Government to account on their social security and pensions policies.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee of which I am a member took evidence from disability support charities and policy experts as we continue our inquiry into the disability employment gap. Official data on disabled peoples' employment rates shows a gap of 28.6 percentage points, with 53.2% of disabled people in employment compared with 81.8% non-disabled people. We also had a number of round table discussions with disabled people who shared their experiences of trying to work as a disabled person. Find out more here.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) recently released their business plan for 2021/22. It states they will use their powers, including strategic enforcement action, to address systemic barriers to benefits systems for disabled claimants so that disabled people are able to access the benefits to which they are entitled.  Whilst I support the EHRC’s broad objective – who wouldn’t? – it doesn’t address the issues I have raised with them about the deaths of disabled social security claimants. It doesn’t say if there will be any inquiry and whether this will assess the full scale of the deaths of disabled claimants and the factors that have contributed to these deaths. As the National Audit Office said in 2020, the DWP does not have this information. As such, we need a full independent inquiry to explore this in detail. I will continue to campaign for this. Read more here.

During the Domestic Abuse Bill debate I spoke about how Oldham (as elsewhere in the country) during the first lockdown saw an increase in domestic abuse but this wasn’t reported to the police suggesting a problem of hidden abuse. A recent round table involving Oldham charities and agencies supporting people, predominantly women, who are survivors of abuse, shone a spotlight on what needs to happen. We must do more to protect those experiencing abuse and widen domestic abuse support. But fundamentally the Bill doesn't address the cultural context to prevent violence against women and girls at home and more widely. And it doesn't address socio economic factors associated with this abuse - poverty cannot be decoupled from abuse - it is both a cause and consequence.  Watch my video here.

As Chair of the APPG for Universal Credit, this week I also held a session with REFUGE, Women’s AID and a number of other charities looking at the impacts of Universal Credit on survivors of domestic abuse. We also heard from two women who had left their abusers only to be floored by the debt and further humiliation that they felt when they applied for Universal Credit. We know that there are so many problems with UC, from the 5 week wait pushing claimants and their families into poverty, to debt, reliance on foodbanks and mental health problems. But the testimony from these brave women about their experience on UC and how they wondered whether they would be better off with their abusers, was absolutely horrific. The Government MUST change Universal Credit and the culture of the social security system.

Last month, I co-sponsored and spoke in a Commons debate to stop online abuse via the use of anonymous accounts. Research by the think tank Compassion in Politics found that nearly 1 in 3 people are out off posting on social media sites for fear of abuse. Voices are being shut out from online debates because for many the space in which those debates take place has become exceedingly toxic. Siobahn Bailey MP for Stroud and I proposed a new legal framework for verifiable accounts which we hope the Online Safety Bill will incorporate. You can read about this debate here. Linked to this the APPG for Compassionate Politics, which I chair and is trying to change the culture in politics to one that is more co-operative and respectful, has been campaigning to ‘Stop the Hate’ online. I met with the Chief Executive of the Premier Football League about how to tackle racism online and I supported them and other sports bodies on the boycott of social media during 1st and 2nd May 2021. 

I asked Alok Sharma MP, the President of COP 26, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, how can we take the Government seriously regarding their stated commitment to reach net zero Carbon emissions by 2050 when they plan a new Cumbrian coal mine, give new licenses for gas and oil exploration, cut the Green Homes Grant and reduce incentives for electric vehicles? Watch my question here. Last week, I chaired a panel on how we can ensure Cop 26 (The UN's climate change conference) is effective in preventing climate breakdown. See more here.

I chaired a national panel on the priorities for tackling health inequalities in the national recovery from Covid-19. Other speakers included Professor Kate Pickett and Professor Sir Michael Marmot. I urge you to read Michael’s review on why the UK has had such a high and unequal Covid death toll, one of the highest in the world, if you haven’t already.

I was delighted to be re-elected the Chair of the Kashmir All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and Co-Chair of the Compassion in Politics APPG. I look forward to working on a cross party basis on these important matters. Our work programme is quite extensive and this week we launched our first inquiry which is looking at the impact of Covid across Kashmir with a focus on health, healthcare and humanitarian impacts. You can read my call for evidence here.

The Dementia APPG, which I co-Chair, launched our first inquiry into dementia research this month. We have had two evidence sessions so far including from the UK Dementia Research Institute and various other dementia research centres in the UK. We also heard from people living with dementia and those caring for people with dementia. The Conservative party pledged a ‘Dementia Moonshot’ in their 2019 general election manifesto with a doubling of research funding. Unfortunately this hasn’t been realised yet and the inquiry is trying to find out the implications of this lack of funding to research progress. Four out of ten Covid deaths had dementia as the main underlying condition – we must do better. Research is desperately needed to develop diagnostics tools and therapies to prevent, treat and ultimately cure all forms of the brain diseases which cause dementia. And we must also understand how we can best care for people living with dementia. I heard last week that there is a post code lottery in whether someone with dementia will receive the treatment recommended under current NICE guidance. Again the Government MUST do better. 

Together with Dame Julie Walters, I'm supporting Alzheimer's Research's campaign asking Government to deliver on their promise to double funding for dementia research to over £160 million a year. Sign the petition here. This month at a virtual meeting of the Dementia APPG, we heard from Head of Policy at Alzheimers Research UK, David Thomas about why now is the time for government to deliver on their election promise to double funding for dementia research.

Finally, EveryDoctor, a group of doctors concerned about the Government’s treatment of the NHS both during the pandemic and beyond, briefed Parliamentarians about the potential impact of the new NHS White Paper on increased NHS privatisation. Having worked for many years in the NHS prior to becoming a MP, I share some of their concerns. One of the arguments that has been used by those in favour of private healthcare is that it doesn’t matter who provides healthcare as long as its free at the point of need. Well actually it does matter – all the available evidence shows that privatised health systems affect not only equal access to healthcare (these private health companies cherry pick their patients, they don’t want patients with conditions which may cut their profits) but also equality in health outcomes. We must strongly oppose any plans for increasing NHS privatisation.

Please do continue to follow the Covid-19 guidelines and stay safe everyone.

Copyright © 2021 Debbie Abrahams, All rights reserved.

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