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Meeting Constituents in West Heath

On Saturday morning I had the pleasure of speaking directly with some of my wonderful constituents in West Heath about the issues that matter to them. 

The week prior I had hundreds of posters delivered to several streets in West Heath and invited those who wanted to speak to me to put one up in their window. Then, my team and I went and visited the houses that had a poster up. The reception was great, and I was able to have some really insightful conversations on the doorstep.

This was the first of my ‘listening canvass’ sessions. As lockdown restrictions continue to ease, I intend to hold these sessions throughout the summer and beyond. Eventually, I hope to give every household in Erith and Thamesmead the opportunity to speak with me face-to-face in this manner.

The pandemic has of course made it harder to have these kinds of face-to-face interactions with constituents. However, they are vital for making sure that I continue to hear from a broad range of local people. The conversations I had on Saturday will inform my work as your representative in Parliament.

I imagine it will take many months to get all around the constituency, but I am really looking forward to meeting more constituents and hearing from you. In the meantime, if you live in Erith and Thamesmead and you have an issue you’d like to raise with me, please don’t hesitate to email my office at: abena.oppongasare.mp@parliament.uk

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New Campaigning Summer School to Empower Young People

Are you 16 to 21? Do you want to learn how to create change? Click Here to Apply.

I’m delighted to announce that applications are open for my new online Campaigning Summer School which will be taking place this August.

At this jam-packed 3-day summer school, young people aged between 16 and 21 will have the opportunity to gain the skills needed to make a real difference in our community.

This won’t be a series of dry lectures: it’ll be a hands-on, first-hand insight into the exciting world of political and social campaigning – bringing together the expertise of veteran political activists and partner organisations.

I know from my own experience that whether you’re dealing with environmental issues, crime, or education, effective campaigning is the key to influencing and challenging those in power. So, I am determined to do all I can to empower our young people to be the change they want to see in the world.

Over the course of 3 days, attendees will design their very own local campaigns. What’s more – I will personally help action the best ideas into real campaigns to benefit our residents.

For attendees, this will be a unique opportunity to see their ideas turned into action and to learn how they can make their voice heard in our democracy.

The school itself will be held online from Monday 16th August to Wednesday 18th August.

If you’re interested, then please don’t hesitate to apply, and do share this with anyone who you think might benefit from this programme.

To apply just fill in the sign-up form here before Saturday 7th August. Applications are welcomed from anyone aged between 16 and 21, though priority will be given to those who live or go to school in the constituency of Erith and Thamesmead.

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Roundtable with Minister and local disabled advocacy groups

This week I brought together a group of local disability advocacy and support groups to raise concerns about the operation of the benefits system on people with disabilities with Justin Tomlinson, the Minister for Disabled People, Work and Health.

Earlier this year I met with the Minister to raise concerns about how the pandemic had affected people with disabilities and the failure of the DWP to meet the needs of disabled people.

The Minister agreed to take part in a roundtable with local organisations working on the frontline with disabled people.

I have raised a number of these issues in Parliament during a recent debate on the impact of the pandemic on people with disabilities. In that debate I called for the Government to bring forward a national strategy for disabled people as soon as possible.

Key issues raised at the roundtable included a failure to provide accessible information to disabled people, the problems people with learning difficulties face accessing PIP, the impact of benefit assessments on claimants mental health, and the lack of appropriate training for assessors.

Participants also raised problems with disabled people accessing Universal Credit and the problems some people face due to the increasingly online-only system.

The roundtable discussion will feed into the Green Paper on health and disability which is due to be published shortly.

I urge local organisations and individuals to contribute to the consultation process once it is open.

I am determined that nobody is left behind in Erith and Thamesmead, and this means that disabled people need better treatment from the Government.

I hope the Government will listen to the concerns and bring forward concrete proposals to improve the benefits system for disabled people.

Kara Lee from Bexley Mencap said: “It was fantastic to be involved in such an important conversation to share the experiences and views of people with learning disabilities about the benefit system and how it could be improved.  Thank you for organising the meeting to give small organisations, and more importantly the people they represent, a voice about such an important topic.”

Alan Kerr from Metro GAD said: “I really valued the opportunity to speak directly with the Minister of Disabled People to express our very real concerns about the benefits system and the impact it has on their lives.”

Press coverage of the event: https://london-post.co.uk/abena-oppong-asare-mp-holds-roundtable-with-government-minister-and-local-advocacy-groups-to-discuss-concerns-about-the-treatment-of-disabled-people/

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Speaking up for hard-hit local hospitality businesses in Parliament

Hospitality businesses in Erith and Thamesmead have had an enormously difficult year. On Wednesday 24 March, the House of Commons held a debate to consider support for the hospitality industry during this pandemic.

I spoke at the debate, highlighting the enormous difficulties our local businesses have faced. Not only have they been closed for many months, but when they have been allowed to open, they have faced a constantly changing set of rules and regulations. Many have not received the financial support they needed from the Government, and many are fearful for the future.

In my speech I raised the concerns of several local pubs – including the Abbey Arms in Abbey Wood which I visited in December as part of Small Business Saturday. Pubs that have reached out to me like The Duchess of Kent in Erith and The Victoria in Belvedere are centres of our communities and they need assurances from the Government that they will provided with support not just to reopen but thrive.

The wedding and events sector has also been extremely hard hit as nearly all their usual business disappeared. Especially worrying is the fact that many businesses in the events sector have been repeatedly refused grant funding by Bexley council – who cite the Government’s tight criteria.

If it is properly supported, the hospitality industry can and will play a vital role in reviving our economy after this most difficult year. But we need action from the Government right now to ensure this happens.

You can watch my speech below:

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Celebrating local women in Parliament for International Women’s Day

On 8 March we marked International Women’s Day 2021. I used the parliamentary debate on IWD, held on 11 March, to celebrate local women making a difference in our community.

They included Dr Sam Parrett OBE, principal of London and South East Education Group, who has done so much to ensure that young people were supported throughout the pandemic; Sue Stockham, an ovarian cancer survivor, who is using her experience to raise awareness about the signs of ovarian cancer and the importance of getting help quickly during the pandemic; Carmel Britto who is the founding director of LPF Kiddies Club, which offers educational enrichment to young children from African and Caribbean backgrounds; Kate Heaps who is the chief executive of Greenwich and Bexley Community Hospice; and Yeukai Taruvinga who is the founder and director of Active Horizons, a charity that works to support Black and ethnic minority young people in Bexley.

I also paid tribute to the countless women who have served on the frontline in our constituency during the pandemic as doctors, nurses, carers, cleaners, and other key workers. I could not name them all, but we must not forget the sacrifices they have made and the burden that has fallen on them.

You can watch my full speech below:

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Abena Oppong-Asare MP meets ovarian cancer survivors ahead of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

On Friday 12 February, I hosted a special virtual event with Target Ovarian Cancer, the UK’s leading ovarian cancer charity, meeting with Erith and Thamesmead survivors of ovarian cancer to help raise awareness about the disease ahead of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in March.

At the event we heard from Sue and Della, two inspirational survivors of ovarian cancer who are both campaigning to raise awareness. Together, they are making sure that more women are being diagnosed early. You can read both their stories here: Sue’s story and Della’s story.

Sue, 62, who is an Erith and Thamesmead resident, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in March 2017. I had the pleasure of meeting her last year to hear her story and find out what more can be done to raise awareness. She said:

Very little is known about ovarian cancer even though over 7000 women are diagnosed in the UK each year. I want all women to be aware of the symptoms and don’t delay contacting their GP, especially in during the pandemic, as the sooner ovarian cancer is diagnosed the better the outlook. For Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in March, I would like the women of Erith and Thamesmead to spread the word: make your mothers, aunts, sisters, cousins and friends aware of what to look out for.

Tragically, 11 women die every day from ovarian cancer. If diagnosed at the earliest stage, 9 in 10 women will survive ovarian cancer. But right now, two thirds of women are diagnosed late. More women’s lives could be saved if we are more aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer.

The symptoms of ovarian cancer are:

  • Persistent bloating
  • Feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Urinary symptoms

Other symptoms can include unexpected weight loss, a change in bowel habits and extreme fatigue. Anyone experiencing these symptoms, which are not normal for them, should see their GP.

The pandemic has exacerbated existing health inequalities, especially for women. People are worried to see their GP and we’ve seen cancer referrals plummet. This is a life-threatening problem that needs action from everyone and I am glad that this event helped to demystify the disease. The sense of care and support for one another, even over zoom, was palpable.

Please call Target Ovarian Cancer on 0207 923 5470 if you have any questions or need support.

You can watch the event below:

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8,710 jobs at risk in Erith and Thamesmead unless Chancellor delivers “smart” furlough scheme

Rishi Sunak’s “Plan for Jobs” has been a disaster.  Seven months after its launch, we’ve got record redundancies, soaring unemployment and the worst economic crisis of any major economy.

Analysis by the Labour Party shows that as of late January 6845 people are claiming out of work benefits and 8,710 people are still on furlough in Erith and Thamesmead.

The Chancellor’s initially triggered a one-size-fits-all wind down of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) in his Plan for Jobs last July. After several last-minute changes over the autumn and winter, the scheme is now set to expire at the end of April.

As well as being your local MP, I’m also Labour’s Shadow Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury. With 4.6 million people still on furlough nationally, I’m calling for the Chancellor not to repeat the mistakes of last year. The scheme must not be wound down while public health restrictions are in place and demand is still suffering.

Sunak must immediately announce an extension to the furlough scheme. Local businesses and workers need that certainty. We are also calling for urgent reform to make furlough smarter, with new training to help furloughed workers improve their skills and tough conditions on employers to stop abuse.

Labour is also demanding immediate action to recover jobs by overhauling the failing Kickstart scheme and to help create new jobs in the technologies of the future by reforming the shambolic Green Homes Grant.

Our figures show that 5800 people in Erith and Thamesmead had made claims under the Coronavirus Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) by the end of July. It is appalling that the Chancellor has left the millions of self-employed people relying on the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) scheme in the dark about future support.

Labour is calling on the Chancellor to set the fourth grant of the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) at 80% of pre-crisis profits – and to do it now, not at the Budget.

Labour has also called for the scheme to be opened to the 200,000 people who only have a 2019/20 tax return, and for the Chancellor to urgently fix the holes its support schemes that have left millions of others excluded from support.

People can’t afford to wait for the Chancellor to get his act together. They need emergency action today, not more dither and delay until the Budget.

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Small Business Saturday Constituency Tour

Usually Small Business Saturday would be a day of celebration of the our great high streets and community businesses. This year has been tremendously difficult for businesses and my whistle stop tour of the constituency highlighted just how difficult this year has been.

Small Business Saturday occurs every year on the first Saturday in December. This year on Saturday 5 December shops, restaurants, bars and gyms were able to open for the first Saturday after the second UK wide lockdown during November. I visited 6 local businesses as part of Small Business Saturday to show my support and also hear first hand what help is needed from the Government.

The first stop on my tour was to see Charlie and Kim who run ‘CrossFit Against the Fire’. New Government restrictions have allowed gyms to remain open but for much of the year this important part of people’s daily physical and mental health routine has been cut off. Charlie told me that it was her gym members who have kept the business afloat this year. Over 50% of CrossFit Against the Fire members, were able to continue to pay their membership fees even when the gym was forced to close. This generosity, compassion and commitment by members of our community, is something that the Government should mirror nationally to ensure that gyms like CrossFit Against the Fire can survive.

Crossfit Against the Fire Visit on Small Business Saturday

From the gym, I went to meet another couple working together, Claire and Laurence, the owners of the Theatre Street Dance Company at The Link. Claire is a Chorographer and Laurence is a composer. Working in the arts has enabled them both to tour the world and for the last 20 years, they have been broadening the horizons of Erith and Thamesmead’s young people by supporting them into careers in the arts. Thanks to the Theatre Street Performing Arts, you’ve seen our young people on TV in shows such as Tracy Beaker and on stage, in the West End.

Theatre Street Dance Company Visit Small Business Saturday

Next up I visited Phoenix Tours – a local, multi-generational family run business owned by the lovely Patel family. They have been transporting our children to school, taking community groups for day trips to the beach and providing touring holidays to the Highlands and Europe on their luxury coaches, for over a decade.

Phoenix Tours are a creative and resilient business, but they need support. They need the Government to step in and ask the finance companies and insurance companies to go-easy. They need Local Government to be efficient and proactive with business rates relief. They need a responsive testing system that allows employees to feel safe and secure – because people want to work, but inefficient test and tracing is preventing them from doing so. Following this visit I spoke in a Parliamentary debate to urge the Government to unveil a plan to support coach companies.

Visit to Phoenix Tours Coach Company Small Business Saturday

I then went to the wonderful Abbey Wood Christmas Market where I enjoyed browsing the great variety of local vendors. I also met with the organisers of the market Chris and Catherine, who recently won a local business award for services to the community. I stopped to talk to Dean from Tree Wise Men who was selling Christmas Tree’s outside the Abbey Arms who told me about his plans to build his business for next year.

Tree Wise Men Small Business Saturday visit

I then went in to the Abbey Arms to discuss their challenges during COVID-19. Pubs are at the heart of our communities and are places where we connect but many are struggling after being closed for months.

It was great fun to be able to visit so many amazing businesses as part of Small Business Saturday and get into the festive spirit. However, it is really concerning to hear first-hand how much businesses are struggling. Business owners have been severely impacted by gaps in Government support, rising business costs during the pandemic, a lack of communication from the Chancellor and the inability to trade for many months of the year.

My biggest concern is that after Christmas we will see lots more members of staff laid off and huge numbers of local businesses forced to close. People in Erith and Thamesmead benefit from great local traders who are the heart and soul of our community. This pandemic must not mean the end of the local high street and I will be ensuring that the Chancellor realises just how bleak the future looks for local businesses if more support is not offered.

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Local health and care heroes nominated in NHS Parliamentary Awards

The NHS Parliamentary Awards, sponsored by Fuji Film, were set up for the NHS’ 70th  Birthday to recognise the massive contribution made by the individuals who work in and alongside the NHS.

This year, more so than ever before, the NHS Parliamentary Awards highlight how health and social care staff continue to put others ahead of themselves to protect our community.

I was among over 260 MPs in England who put forward outstanding nominees who have innovated, impressed and made a real difference to how local health and care services provide care for patients.

I’m pleased to have nominated Greenwich and Bexley Community Hospice team for the Excellence in Healthcare award. The hospice team went above and beyond during COVID-19 to keep loved ones together and make sure vulnerable individuals were supported. I have to commend not just the team but the many volunteers who stepped up during this period in their work with Greenwich and Bexley Community Hospice.

I am also pleased to have nominated Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust for the Wellbeing at Work award and Kate Hudson, Lead Dementia Nurse Specialist for the Care and Compassion Award. As individuals and as a team employees at Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, these amazing key workers went above and beyond to offer online support services and staff wellbeing support during COVID-19.

Everyone in Erith and Thamesmead is rightly proud of our local NHS and care services, The Coronavirus pandemic has shown the determination and bravery of thousands of NHS, care and key workers across Erith and Thamesmead and so I’m delighted to be taking part in the NHS Parliamentary Awards as a way of thanking and recognising the people who work in or support those services.

Nominees put forward by MPs across England will initially be judged by senior local and regional NHS experts to find regional champions in each category, which will be announced later in November and will be featured in The House Magazine.

These regional champions will then be judged by a national panel made up of senior clinicians, union leaders, former winners and patient representatives, with the overall winners announced at a special awards ceremony held in Parliament on Wednesday 7 July – the week of the NHS’ birthday.

 

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Updated COVID-19 Measures for gyms and places of worship in Erith and Thamesmead

On Wednesday I joined my colleagues in voting to support an England wide lockdown. Valuable time has been lost when Labour’s call for an earlier circuit breaker would ultimately have benefitted the public health and the economy.

Whilst I am in support of new measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 and ensure that the NHS is not overwhelmed this winter, there are many questions that the Government must answer.

Once again, these new measures were announced via different news sources causing anxiety and confusion for people across England. When the Prime Minister finally addressed the country on Saturday his announcement was lacking basic necessary information about support available for businesses and individuals.

If the public’s health is to be protected then the Government must address the ongoing mental health crisis which has been exacerbated throughout 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Constituents have rightfully raised their concerns about the closure of places of worships, gyms and sports clubs.

For so many people, attending collective worship is an act that serves multiple purposes. It can be a respite from everyday life, a chance to engage with a like-minded community and an opportunity for spiritual connection. I know that around Erith and Thamesmead, faith leaders have been working incredibly hard to ensure that their places of worship are safe places to meet and worship.

Similarly, I know gyms and sports clubs have spent months putting safety measures in place to ensure people can remain active in a safe way. Gyms and sports clubs provide a vital service for people to engage in activity that is beneficial for the physical and mental wellbeing.

The decision to close these places should not be taken lightly and yet the Government had no communication with faith leaders and gym owners prior to announcing the England wide lockdown.

The lockdown measures came into force at midnight on Wednesday 4th November and remain in effect until at least Wednesday 2nd December. Where the Government did not communicate with these clubs and organisations before, they must now urgently begin discussions about an exit strategy.

Labour is calling for the Government to hold weekly meetings with the Places of Worship Taskforce to ensure faith leaders are consulted with and provided with support ahead of important festivals.

I will be urging for a much stronger level of communication between the Government and the public as well as a boost in access to mental health services to protect people whilst they are cut off from access to wider services and outlets.

 

Latest guidance for places of worship:

  • Places of worship (including non-religious buildings used for religious services) are to close from 5th November.
  • They may remain open only for individual/private prayer, funerals, for the broadcasting of services, and for the purpose of providing voluntary services such as foodbanks.
  • Funerals may continue with up to 30 guests.
  • Weddings are not permitted (except under the most extreme circumstances).

Latest guidance for gyms and sports clubs:

Leisure and sports facilities such as leisure centres and gyms, swimming pools, tennis and basketball courts, golf courses, fitness and dance studios, climbing walls, archery, driving, and shooting ranges are all included in the list of businesses and venues which must close.