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News from Debbie Abrahams MP
February 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: abrahamsd@parliament.uk 

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

Keep up to date:
Website: www.debbieabrahams.org.uk
Twitter: @debbie_abrahams
Facebook: www.facebook.com/DebbieAbrahamsOES

 

Covid-19 update

Nearly a year since Covid-19 first reached our shores,
the UK entered its third national lockdown at the beginning of January 2021

I want to thank constituents and businesses for abiding by the new restrictions. I know this has been an incredibly challenging time for many of us as we navigate the restrictions, work and life balance and our own well-being. 

Last week, we passed the tragic milestone of 100,000 people having died from Covid 19 in the UK. Behind every death is a grieving family. My thoughts are with everyone who has been impacted. As we approach the first anniversary of the beginning of this pandemic, the UK has the highest Covid death rate in Europe. On top of this, in 2020 we had the worst recession and worse growth of any comparable, major economy.  

Official NHS figures also revealed that over three million sick days taken by NHS staff in England were lost to mental ill health since the start of the pandemic. Without access to tailored mental health support, people will continue to suffer. 

The Government has been too slow to act throughout the crisis, despite the clear scientific evidence that to get on top of the virus you have to act early and decisively.  The Prime Minister needs to learn the lessons from this failure. But instead he is repeating the same mistakes - including continued delays in securing our borders to all foreign travellers

Weeks after new variants of the virus have been detected, the Government is only just requiring everyone coming into the country to be quarantined in a hotel. But this is only from those countries deemed to be at risk. The South African variant (B1351) was undetected until it was already in the UK. We don’t know where the next variant of the virus may come from, and as Labour and the APPG on Coronavirus (which I am a vice-Chair of) have called for, we must learn from those countries who have taken a Sars-Mers model to this pandemic, not a flu model as the Government has taken.

The Government announced a target date that schools could re-open on 8th March. However this will be dependent on Covid transmission rates. If schools are to re-open then, it is right that a precautionary approach is taken to protect staff, students and their families. Labour has been calling for the Government to bring forward the vaccination of key workers including teachers and school staff once the first four categories of the most vulnerable people have been vaccinated by mid-February.

It is unacceptable that at this late stage, the Government still hasn’t provided a third of the laptops and tablets it promised to deliver to children to continue their learning. Having access to data is also a major issue.  I 
signed an urgent letter organised by Siobhain McDonough MP telling Boris Johnson to ensure that every child away from school has the data and device required to log in at home. All children should have the same resources and access to online learning. In addition, the woeful free school meals packages for disadvantaged children has caused rightful consternation from Labour, the public and footballer, Marcus Rashford. 

There has been some good news with the roll out of the Covid 19 vaccination. Overall, more than 10 million people in England have now received a first dose of a vaccine, and more than 470,000 people have had a second dose. This progress means the UK continues to be among the countries with the highest vaccination rates globally. In Oldham number as of today 43,290 people have received their first doses and the total including second doses is 46,479.


Linked to the pandemic and the newly unemployed or people on shorter hours is the increase in people now reliant on social security support. Many of those unemployed are from the hospitality sector which has been severely affected by coronavirus restrictions. Last month, in a House of Commons speech, I revealed that over half of the 14,633 Universal Credit (UC) claimants in Oldham East and Saddleworth have started on social security since the pandemic began. I urged the Government to keep the £20 ‘uplift’ for people claiming Universal Credit, and to extend it to people who are on social security support other than UC. 

I have repeatedly pushed Government ministers for comprehensive support for local businesses as well as a recognition of the need for timely decisions rather than the constant stop/start and mixed messages. I will continue to press the Government to ensure proper support to the hospitality sector, and other sectors that have been particularly affected by the pandemic. 

I also took part in the Long Covid debate secured by Layla Moran MP. Many people will be aware that Long Covid affects many people, young and old, who have been infected by Covid but who continue to have debilitating symptoms that go well beyond the acute phase which typically lasts for about 4 weeks. It’s important that we recognise that we need a societal not just a healthcare response to Long Covid. Working age people with Long Covid must be provided with support by their employer and the Government through the Department for Work Pensions and not stigmatised.

In one of the perverse consequences of Covid-19, the richest have increased their wealth since the pandemic, whereas people on the lowest incomes have suffered, widening the existing inequalities. Nine months is how long it took the world's top 1,000 billionaires to recoup their fortunes after the coronavirus pandemic hit. More than a decade is how long it could take the world's poorest to recover, according to Oxfam International's annual inequality report. This shows just how much inequality has been exacerbated during this pandemic and why we must build back fairer.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot has analysed why the UK has had such a high but also an unequal death toll. He identified 4 key drivers including widening inequalities made worse by a decade of austerity, our declining health status as a nation, and the divisive and exclusive political culture. I made this point to the Prime Minister last week. 


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.

Brexit: The UK's future relationship with the EU

On Christmas Eve, the Prime Minister heralded the deal his negotiators had struck with European Union counterparts concerning our future relationship with our nearest neighbours and the largest trading bloc in the world.

The fact that the Prime Minister had already signed the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement before the EU (Future Relationship) Bill had been voted on by MPs, makes a mockery of Brexit being about taking back control and Parliamentary sovereignty.

But what about the Agreement itself? It is true it’s better than no deal but there are many omissions, for example, on financial services which accounts for 80% of the UK economy, and there are many shortfalls, not least the deal on fisheries.

The Agreement consists of three pillars: a trade agreement, collaboration on security and governance arrangements. The trade agreement provides for zero tariffs and zero quotas on goods as long as UK goods have the same standards as the EU; however, that does not mean there are no costs to businesses.

As we are already seeing, there will be costs associated with SPS checks, customs formalities and in establishing the rules of origin of UK goods. As mentioned above there is no financial services passport and professional qualifications from the UK will not be recognised. And although we no longer have access to most EU programmes, our experience last year with managing the Covid pandemic has made some in the Government realise the importance of co-operation with EU countries in life sciences research; as such the deal retains participation in Horizon Europe for the next few years, subject to the UK’s financial contribution.

There are new security arrangements with the EU as we lose access to the European Arrest Warrant, but these are subject to the retention and implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights. And where either the UK or EU disagree with the interpretation or implementation of this new Agreement a soon-to-be-established (at what costs one wonders) Joint Partnership Council will seek to pass judgement on the dispute.

We will be able to travel to EU countries for up to 90 days without a visa, but unfortunately our pets won’t. And there’s no protection from mobile phone roaming charges being re-introduced. The reciprocal rights of EU and UK citizens, and peace and stability on the island of Ireland are still protected under the Withdrawal Agreement, and the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland within this.

It is difficult to do justice to the tens of thousands of pages that have been written about Brexit and what will happen now in a few hundred words. This deal is the result of what most British people said they voted for back in 2016, and what many people told me that they wanted last year when I campaigned during the General Election. I hope they’re right.

But I fear that there will be many detrimental impacts resulting from this appalling deal, some of which may not emerge for months or even years. I hope I am wrong. Either way, I will be holding this Government to account on it.


Constituency update

Thank you to everyone who participated in Greater Manchester's  moving Holocaust Memorial Day service.

In particular, I want to thank Tommy and Rehma for sharing their experiences of the Holocaust in Hungary in the 1930s/40s and genocide in Rwanda in 1994. We must all Be the Light in the Darkness. Find out more about Holocaust Memorial Day here.

Unfortunately, with the third lockdown announced at the beginning of January, once again we’ve seen more antisocial behaviour and flagrant flouting of Covid restrictions at Dovestone with social distancing being ignored, and people clearly exercising with more than one person outside their household and not exercising locally. This was hugely disappointing given the seriousness of the pandemic and the new, more infectious Covid variant that we are also seeing here in Oldham and Saddleworth. Unfortunately, the problem with so many people visiting the area, because it’s so beautiful, is clearly being exacerbated by the vagaries of the Government’s guidelines during this new lockdown, and in particular what constitutes ‘not travelling [sic] outside your local area’ for exercise. 

I have written to the Home Office, the Department of Health and Social Care, and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, asking that as part of their regular review of their guidelines, they give the public, and the police who have to enforce the rules, clearer guidance on what is and what is not acceptable during the pandemic, as they did in the first lockdown last March. I also asked United Utilities last month, as the owners of the private land around the reservoir, as well as other organisations, to look closely at the messaging on their websites and other social media platforms, which could inadvertently be contravening the guidelines by encouraging people who don’t live locally to visit the area.

It is absurd that Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak are forcing local government to hike up council tax due to a lack of national funding from Government. Their £1.9 billion bombshell could cost a family in Council Tax Band D almost £100 a year on average. We are calling on Government to properly fund local councils so they can continue their crucial work and protect local services. As we have seen during the pandemic, Councils undertake vital work with and for communities. 

In Parliament last month, I asked the Transport Minister, Chris Heaton Harris MP why Greenfield station is completely inaccessible. Anyone with a mobility impairment or young children in a buggy may be able to get a train from Greenfield to Manchester, but they would not be able to come back, because they would have to get over the footbridge to get to the exit, which is impossible. We have applied for every grant available to us to address this and we have never been successful. If the Government are committed to levelling up—there is a lot to level up in the north—when will the Transport Secretary ensure that my disabled constituents get a fully accessible station? Unfortunately, he was unable to give me any clear assurances of when this would happen, so I have written to him for a more detailed response. I will continue to lobby the Government.

Last month, Newsnight spoke to my colleague and Oldhamer, Marzia Babakarkhail, a former Afghan Supreme Court judge who fled the country after surviving two assassination attempts. Afghanistan has seen a string of assassinations targeting journalists, activists and other political figures. Marzia spoke powerfully about her own experiences and the future of Afghanistan

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 the third national lock down that has been introduced by Government. In addition, we have received queries on 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.

The legendary Kevin Sinfield of Leeds Rhinos and (more importantly)! Saddleworth ran 7 marathons in 7 days to raise funds for his friend and former team mate, Rob Burrow. Rob was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in December 2019. Kevin has raised over £2.6 million following an initial target of £77.777. This is such a worthy cause- if you can help you can still donate here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/sinfield-7-in-7 
 


Parliamentary update

The Work and Pensions Select Committee, of which I am a member, launched an inquiry into the Government’s strategy to reduce the number of children in poverty in the UK at the end of last year.

You can find out more here. The Committee also held the first oral evidence session on the disability employment gap and has been continuing our inquiry into pension scams. In the run up to the Budget in March we are also examining the impact of not extending the current £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit claimants. With our responsibility for workplace health and safety, we have also written to the Health and Safety Executive to ask about recording work-related Covid transmission and outbreaks. See more here

Last month, Nichola Salvato won a landmark court case against the Government to get childcare costs paid for upfront. This change to this Universal Credit ruling will help half a million parents up and down the country stay in work and out of poverty. Salvato’s legal challenge was supported by the charities Save the Children UK and Gingerbread, as well as the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years and the National Day Nurseries Association. 

Philippa Day, 27, was found collapsed next to a Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) letter warning she must attend a face-to-face appointment. The DWP eventually granted her disability benefit - but by then she was in a coma from which she would never recover. The Government's failure to keep vulnerable claimants safe is beyond staggering. The severity of the Coroner's report on Philippa's death & the PFD notices that have been issued against the DWP & Capita reflect the Government's culpability. Philippa's death is the latest death of a vulnerable social security claimant. The Government has failed them. I have been campaigning on this for several years and each time a death comes to light – many more don’t – there are small changes but there is still no detailed, independent inquiry into all of these deaths. This must happen. And while it happens there must be a moratorium on health assessments & sanctions which I believe are key drivers of this.

The Trade Bill  came back to Parliament last month. It is important that key principles – that Parliament should be able to scrutinise draft trade deals and that the human rights records of a state the UK is seeking to trade with should be considered – underpin our trading relationship with other nations states, and that our NHS, children and food and environmental standards are all protected in trade deals. 

Asking parliamentary questions is a hit and miss affair with Covid arrangements in place. 

Both the Home Affairs select committee and the APPG on Coronavirus recommended tighter border restrictions to suppress the virus last year. So I asked the Home Secretary why has the Government been so slow to protect the country’s public health and economy via its borders?

I asked the Education Secretary what discussions he has had with the Transport Secretary about the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency outbreak and the impact that workplace transmissions are having on covid case levels. See his response here.

I spoke on the debate on the Environment Bill. The environment is another issue of inter-generational inequality. Many constituents wrote to me ahead of the debate including many school children concerned about our planet.  

I chaired a session on the future of the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence which included contributions from NHS England and representatives from various clinical and academic groups.

As chair of the All Party Parliamentary Kashmir Group I wrote to the BBC with Andrew Gwynne MP to support its policy of showing Kashmir on maps as a ‘disputed area’ in accordance with UN resolutions. I also wrote to the Prime Minister about the escalating violence at the line of control, the ongoing isolation of Jammu and Kashmir, the need for the UK to champion human rights, and the role of the international community in facilitating peacebuilding across Kashmir, with Kashmiris at the heart of this. 

The Government responded to Olivia Blake MP's letter about the roll-out of the vaccine which I co-signed. Many worried constituents have contacted me about the vaccine so it's important the Government is transparent and provides MPs with accurate information to share with our constituents. 

As Chair of the APPG on Dementia, I met with the new team at the Alzheimer’s Society to discuss our inquiry programme this year. Up first will be an inquiry into dementia research and the ‘Dementia moonshot’ challenge. The pandemic has showed how strong our research capability is and we need to take this up with renewed vigour. As part of this, I’m supporting Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Think Brain Health campaign to help reduce my risk of dementia. Learn what you can to do keep your brain healthy at the campaign hub.

You may also know that I chair the APPG in Compassionate Politics which aims to shift the political culture from the adversarial and often angry discourse we see and hear, to one that is more co-operative and less divisive, which agrees to disagree with respect. As such I chaired a debate on the role of social media on the increase in hate speech and how we need to strengthen the forthcoming Online Harms Bill. You can watch here.

Related to this is the appalling violence many of us witnessed in the US last month when rioters stormed the Capitol building. The fact that the then President Donald Trump was willing to put people's lives at risk for his own vanity to cling to power was unbelievable. These actions, including his initial refusal to call in the National Guard, were very worrying and shows the threat faced by many democracies around the world particularly at a time when misinformation can spread so quickly. This should not just be seen in a vacuum and should put us all on alert that democracy, and all the rights and values associated with this, isn’t a given; it is dynamic and needs to be protected and strengthened with each generation. It also highlights the role of leadership in influencing the prevailing culture in society. 

AND finally...
I know what a difficult time this is for so many. So please remember to be kind to yourself. I found this article on self compassion in difficult times a worthy read. 

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

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