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Events industry needs Government support to survive

Last week I requested to speak in the House of Commons chamber about the urgent need for Government support for the events industry. Unfortunately, I was not called to speak directly about the pressing concerns many constituents have contacted me to raise over the past two months. However, I am aware of your concerns and difficulties and I will be raising these with the Government at every possible occasion. 

A huge amount of people in Erith and Thamesmead have been impacted by the Government’s failure to offer economic assistance to the events industry during COVID-19.

From the very beginning of lockdown I have received daily emails about the events industry, theatres, the hospitality sector and the creative sector. People who have worked in these industries, contributing to the UK’s economy for years, have been completely abandoned by this Government.

Despite efforts made by myself and colleagues to raise these issues with the Government ask that more support be given, I have unfortunately had to respond to constituents informing them that there is no support package available and the Government doesn’t seem to want to support them.

The Government needs to provide a sector specific support package for the cultural sector; theatres, music, festivals, other live performance venues, but also tourism and hospitality sectors which are inextricably linked.

The events sector is worth £42.3 billion to the UK economy, there are over 25,000 businesses and it sustains 570,000 full time jobs.

There is a reason 35% of the UK visitor economy is accounted for by events. That is because the events industry pulls together the best talent in a whole range of areas. Behind every festival is a team of marketers, performers, hospitality staff, transport operators, event organisers and UK music venues.

Almost every UK music festival has been cancelled this summer, music venues across the country have been unable to open for three months and are unsure of when they can begin to open again, hundreds of thousands of hospitality jobs have already been lost and the industry has warned of thousands more.

What steps is the government taking to support venues which will be unable to open for the foreseeable future, such as music venues and theatres, and therefore unable to subsidise the furlough scheme from August?

If the Government doesn’t act to save businesses and jobs before they are lost we are going to see a huge hole in the economy where our world renowned events industry used to thrive. The Government must act urgently to support people in these industries to avoid a loss of jobs, talent and culture across the UK.

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Erith and Thamesmead see unprecedented 2% unemployment rise

Unemployment has risen to unprecedented levels across the UK with Erith and Thamesmead seeing a rise in unemployment to 5.6% of the adult workforce, just above the average figure for the whole of London and the wider UK.

Centre for Cities, an independent research organisation, has been recording the rise in unemployment rates across the UK between March and April. Data recording the number of people applying for Universal Credit and Job Seekers Allowance shows and increase in unemployment of 850,000, taking the UK wide total to 2.1 million.

Between March and April 2020, an increase of 1,605 people applied for Universal Credit or Job Seekers Allowance in Erith and Thamesmead, a rise of 2%. The Royal London Borough of Greenwich has been affected slightly more than the London Borough of Bexley with a 0.2% higher uptake in this time period.

It is expected that the unemployment rates are likely to have risen between April and May but this data is not yet known. There are also disparities in the unemployment increases in different areas of the UK. London has an average unemployment rate of 4.9% compared with 5.6% in Erith and Thamesmead and 8.9% in Blackpool.

The reasons for differing increases in unemployment are not yet known but it is suspected that places that rely heavily on the most impacted industries such as hospitality, and where people are unable to work from home, have seen a greater impact.

In a letter to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to raise concerns about the rise in unemployment locally, I said:

“I am concerned that residents in Erith and Thamesmead will face increased difficulties compared to the wider region of London post-Covid-19 due to decreased local job opportunities and restricted travel routes around London. It is already evident that my constituents have felt more severe impacts compared with the rest of London, as unemployment has risen 0.7% higher than the London average.

Many local businesses have contacted me throughout this crisis detailing their financial hardship and inability to access the SEISS or Job Retention Scheme. As more businesses fall into financial hardship residents in Erith and Thamesmead will be faced with more job losses.

If the working age population in Erith and Thamesmead is going to recover from this crisis there will need to be a specific focus on boosting the local economy, improving transport links and supporting industries that have been hit particularly hard.”

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Parliamentary business continues despite crisis

I hope you are staying home and keeping safe at this very challenging time. I’m working from home where my job as your MP continues. My team and I continue to support local people with a range of casework, from helping people to access financial support as a result of Covid-19 to assisting those stranded overseas. I’m also still holding the Government to account and demanding answers where their strategy is failing.

Parliament will be meeting virtually for the duration of the lockdown and business will continue as much as it possibly can. I’m taking the concerns you’ve raised with me directly to Ministers. 

This week and next at Parliamentary question time I’ll be asking the Culture Secretary about the support available for self-employed people working in the digital, culture, media and sport industries affected by Covid-19. I’ll also be asking the Justice Secretary about the very serious challenges facing our prisons at this time and what action is being taken.

Next week, my Housing, Communities and Local Government select committee will be questioning Secretary of State Robert Jenrick. I’ll be asking him how he is ensuring local authorities like Greenwich and Bexley get the financial support they need at this time of crisis. Councils have faced massive cuts and the Government must step up to ensure they meet all of the costs associated with delivering social care and other vital local services.

My committee, with my support, will also be launching an inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on homelessness and the private rented sector. I and many of my colleagues have serious concerns about the short and long-term impact on homelessness and those in insecure housing and we want to hear from those affected and organisations supporting them in order to make recommendations to Government. You can submit your views to hclgcom@parliament.uk.

If you have an issue you need my help with or if you have any questions or concerns to put to me, please don’t hesitate to get in touch and my team and I will get back to you as soon as we can.

Abena Oppong-Asare

MP for Erith & Thamesmead

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MP calls for evidence for Parliamentary inquiry

Erith & Thamesmead MP Abena Oppong-Asare is calling on local people and organisations to submit evidence to a Parliamentary inquiry into homelessness and Covid-19.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee, of which Abena is a member, is set to examine the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the homelessness, rough sleeping and the private rented sector.

In response to Covid-19, the Government launched the Everyone In scheme, whereby local authorities were required to house rough sleepers in hotels or emergency accommodation. They also announced £3.2 million in funding for local authorities to protect those who are homeless.

The Government has also introduced a number of schemes intended to support people in the private rented sector, including halting evictions for 3 months and raising the Local Housing Allowance rate.

However, there are concerns about the short and long-term impact of these strategies, including the quality of accommodation and access to amenities, such as for homeless people in temporary accommodation and the exit strategy when social distancing measures are reduced. There are also concerns about people in the private rented sector who may build up rent arrears over the coming months and still face eviction when the three-month ban expires.

The inquiry will examine how effective the Government support has been in supporting individuals in the private rented sector or who are homeless. It will also look at what long term strategies will need to be put in place to support both groups in the long-term, once current measures expire.

Speaking after the select committee agreed to launch an inquiry, Abena said:

“I called for this inquiry along with many of my colleagues because there are urgent issues which need to be addressed to support rough sleepers and those in insecure accommodation when this crisis ends. It is vital that those in precarious living situations are supported by the Government. We must ensure that people without homes and those sleeping rough are protected during this health crisis.

“However, we must also look at what will happen when the crisis ends. Where will those currently housed in hotels go when the Everyone In scheme expires? What happens in three months time when the eviction ban lapses for people who have no job and now owe three months rent?

“I encourage local people and relevant organisations to get in touch with me to share your views so that I may represent your interests as the inquiry unfolds.”

The Committee invites written evidence on the impact of COVID-19 on homelessness, rough sleeping, and the private rented sector, as well as any other connected issues. In particular, the Committee is interesting in finding out: 

  • How effective has the support provided by MHCLG and other Government departments in addressing the impact of COVID-19 on those in the private rented sector, rough sleepers, and the homeless?
  • What problems remain a current and immediate concern for these groups?
  • What might be the immediate post-lockdown impacts for these groups, and what action is needed to help with these?

 

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Covid policy response for self-employed in creative industries

The measures required to contain the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) are unprecedented and demand a national effort. But more support needs to be offered for those who are in the creative industries and therefore self-employed.

The Government announced a set of emergency measures outlining financial support during the coronavirus outbreak. Since I wrote to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak MP, calling on the government to introduce further emergency financial measures the Government has announced the self-employment support scheme.

However, this does not go far enough to guarantee the income of workers who are self-employed in the creative industries and do not qualify for this scheme.

Our creative industries are worth a total of £117bn to the economy, much of this is due to the talent in its workforce. The creative industries have vanished overnight due to the coronavirus pandemic and so this workforce should be treated with the same support as those in secure jobs.

The latest Government response to those who do not qualify for the self-employed support scheme due to working within creative industries is: “We recognise that there are challenges for the creative industries in accessing government support. The Fed team is in ongoing conversation with the government to ensure that this support better fits the needs of the creative industries.”

In the meantime, I am doing all I can to make sure those in the creative industries get the support they need from the Government. This issue has been highlighted to the Government and is one myself and my colleagues are working on ways to pressure the Government into acting on urgently.

My colleague has contacted the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak MP, to raise these concerns which you can read here: https://bit.ly/3azWSnK.

Things are changing fast and so I would ask that you keep an eye on the Governments official website for updates on any changes to the financial offer for those in the creative industries. You can find that here: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus

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Policy response – AG bill

Many of you have been getting in touch with me about the Agriculture Bill and the crucial importance of maintaining our high animal welfare and food standards in future trade deals.

I very much share your deep concern that if we do not have provisions in place to prevent future trade deals allowing in imports produced to lower standards than our own, this will severely threaten our British farmers and our high animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards.

Like the British public, Labour will not tolerate Trump’s chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-injected beef on our supermarket shelves, with all of the animal welfare implications surrounding these products.

While the Prime Minister has said that our standards won’t be lowered in future trade deals, you are entirely right that these are nothing but warm words until we have legislative guarantees binding the Government to this promise – particularly when the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has already made it clear that in any future US trade deal they will expect the UK to accept such lower standard products.

This is an area I am highly concerned with and I previously scrutinised this bill in my role on the Agriculture Bill Committee. I was also PPS to Luke Pollard MP assisting his team in important work in ensuring that the Agriculture Bill legislates for the continuation of the UK’s good food and animal welfare standards.

A Labour colleague tabled an amendment to the Bill in Committee stage to include a legal requirement that food imported to this country must not be produced to lower standards than our own, but this has been rejected by the Government.

My Labour colleagues and I will continue to press the Government at every available opportunity to safeguard our animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards and legislate against lower standard imports. I will certainly be supporting amendments in the Agriculture Bill’s Report stage seeking to do precisely this.

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Covid-19 emergency legislation response

In March 2020 the Government introduced emergency Covid-19 legislation in response to the ongoing public health crisis.

I hold major concerns regarding the sweeping powers that this bill introduced. However, in line with guidance and following discussion with colleagues, I and other colleagues in the opposition did not attend the debate. It is important to point out that we did have many meetings and discussions relating to this bill and our concerns were relayed to our front bench MPs and shadow ministers. We agreed that this was the safest and most organised way to scrutinise this legislation.

Therefore, the Labour Party including myself put across many issues and concerns in relation to this legislation. To summarise for you, we made the following points with regards to this legislation:

  • The legislation should be reviewed after six months, with a fresh vote in parliament after this six-month period. The restrictions should be temporary and should not represent a long-term restriction of our civil liberties. This has been passed into law, meaning that the legislation will now be reviewed on this basis.
  • Jobs and incomes must be protected. This should include a European-level sick pay for all workers and an end to the five-week waiting period for Universal Credit. I also wrote to the Secretary of State regarding issues that relate to the self-employed, as they did not currently have the same level of protection as employed workers.
  • I would like to see more support for private renters, including potential rent suspension and a ban on evictions for six months rather than three months. Again, I wrote to the Secretary of State on the issue of private renters.
  • I have real concerns regarding the mental health elements of this bill and the impact that this bill has on the pre-existing Care Act. Naturally, these concerns were raised with the Labour front bench and brought forward for debate in the House of Commons.
  • We have recommended that changes to care of the disabled and elderly should undergo a review by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and undergo a review.

Despite very real concerns I do understand the need for urgent government intervention to arrest the spread of this virus, whilst also mitigating the impact on our economy. I would echo the words of Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, Johnathan Ashworth, when he said it was with a ‘heavy heart’ that we would support this legislation overall, although with the caveats mentioned above.

I will continue to scrutinise this legislation in the future alongside my Labour colleagues to ensure the issues I have raised can be addressed.

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Erith and Thamesmead MP Abena Oppong-Asare ‘shocked’ at treatment of Universal Credit claimants during Coronavirus crisis

Universal Credit claimants are being denied deferrals on loan repayments to the DWP forcing them into financial difficulties during Covid-19.

In response to criticism of the five week wait claimants face for their first Universal Credit payment the DWP offers loans to help claimants during the wait, these are repaid monthly through deductions in the payment. Abena Oppong-Asare MP has criticised the DWP for continuing these deductions from payments whilst others are being offered three month loan freezes and mortgage holidays due to Covid-19.

One resident who emailed Ms Oppong-Asare for help said:

“Like many other people on Universal Credit I accepted a loan offered to me at the outset of my claim because of the several weeks delay that occurs processing claims. However, loans are subject to immediate repayment and deductions of £110.59 per month have been taken.”

The Government has recently extended the loan repayment period from 12 months to 18 months offering a slight decrease in monthly deductions. Claimants can also request a three month deferral of loan repayments to the DWP due to hardship reasons just one time.

The resident that contacted Ms Oppong-Asare said: “I requested a 3 month deferral last year because I had fallen into rent arrears as a result of the delay processing my Universal Credit claim. At that time no one would have been aware of a future worldwide Coronavirus pandemic.”

The DWP is unable to respond to specific requests for hardship reasons such as a second loan repayment deferral due to restrictions in Government policy.

Ms Oppong-Asare said:

“I am truly shocked at the treatment of my constituent during this unprecedented time. The DWP are deducting £176.68 every month from this person’s payment due to loan deductions and bedroom tax. The country is under huge pressure and the Government should be doing all it can to relieve the financial strain people will face at this time.
Families will be facing higher utility bill payments, higher grocery bills and less work opportunities during the UK lockdown through no fault of their own. The least the Government can do is freeze loan repayments and bedroom tax to ease the burden on those already facing financial difficulties.”

In October 2019, there were 2.6 million universal credit claimants, just over a third of whom were in work. Since March 16th when the Government advised that people should work from home and practice social distancing where possible, the DWP have received over 950,000 applications for Universal Credit.

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MP tackles Covid-19 casework

Labour MP for Erith and Thamesmead, Abena Oppong-Asare, updates local people on her work to address their concerns about Covid-19.

 

March saw the takeover of our lives, news and parliamentary business with Covid-19. This led to lockdown by the government and myself and my office are working from our respective homes. My team and I have been working hard to support constituents of Erith and Thamesmead at this difficult time.

Getting people home

This was a big issue this month. I have had numerous queries from constituents stranded overseas, from cruise ships in the Caribbean to holidays in New Zealand, India, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and elderly people in Cyprus. Many of them I have been successful in assisting, and they have either returned home or are en-route. I have had to use many different methods, from simple conversations with travel agents to smooth the cogs, to asking questions in the Chamber and writing to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Supporting the self-employed

Whilst the budget saw many welcome financial measures (from a government that once insisted on harsh austerity!), it soon became apparent this was not nearly enough. The Chancellor and PM rolled out further support for the employed, which will be a great help for many. However, we have so many self-employed people in our constituency who will not be supported. Therefore, I have written to the Chancellor on this issue, to implore him to take further action with regards to the self-employed.

Religious rights

In the government’s emergency Covid-19 legislation there was a potential issue regarding religious burial rights: that these could be removed and enforced cremations placed in place. However, my colleague Naz Shah MP wrote an amendment to the legislation to allow religious burials to take place; I was one of the first signatures to this. Luckily, the government took note and actually tabled their own amendment, which allowed the opposition to focus on other important matters rather than forcing this to go to a vote.

Panic buying and stock piling

I have written to the Business Secretary calling for concrete measures to limit panic buying & stockpiling. Trade unions, major supermarkets, and the Food and Drink Federation must be central to any decision to improve conditions for emergency workers and keep the shelves stocked. Naturally, this is also an area of focus for the Shadow Defra team, and I am fully engaged on this issue. You can watch this space for further action on this in the coming days and weeks.

Scrutinising the Covid-19 Bill

The opposition made the sensible decision not to have all MPs attending these parliamentary sessions. Instead we passed our concerns onto the front bench, who put those to the government on our behalf. My particular concerns relate to the mental health powers, as well as the way that the care bill has been repealed and the impacts this may have on some of our most vulnerable residents.

If you have any questions or concerns during this difficult time, please don’t hesitate to get in touch and my team and I will do what we can to support you.