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Parents and students give their views on schools re-opening in Erith and Thamesmead

Following the announcement that Primary Schools would be expected to re-open to some students on June 1st, I reached out to parents and students to ask for their views.

Greenwich and Bexley NEU had previously expressed their concerns that “it is not safe to begin a wider reopening of schools on June 1st”. I also met teachers from schools across Greenwich and Bexley to discuss concerns about lack of additional resources in the case of illness, lack of space to implement social distancing and a lack of clarity about safety guidelines.

The debate around schools re-opening attempts to weigh up the concerns around the safety of students gathering in close proximity with the overall effects on young people’s education. As we near the three month mark of schools being closed, there are concerns that the already large attainment gap between students from different backgrounds is widening.

I am aware that there are lots of safety concerns regarding schools re-opening but I feel those affected by the decision are best placed to offer advice on how to proceed. I’ve been able to talk to unions and teachers and thought it was equally as important to hear from parents and guardians and local school students about their thoughts.

Almost 600 people took the chance to express their views in the online surveys, with a majority raising concerns about schools re-opening. Of the 305 parent/guardian survey responders, 65% said they did “not think it was safe for children to be back at school” or needed more “reassurance about safety”. Of 250 local school student responders to the survey, 50% said they were “concerned about schools opening” and only 21% said that “schools should be opening”.

The survey also asked about experiences of home schooling – 78% of parents said they had a relatively positive experience of home schooling and 65.3% of students said they were looking forward to returning to school.

I’m pleased that so many people took part in the survey and I will now be able to accurately reflect the general feeling about schools re-opening in Parliament. The survey has shed light on some issues, such as concerns about future exams, effects on mental health and a decline in the amount of time young people have spent studying.

I am pleased to see that the majority have had a positive experience with home schooling but I also know there are some who have found this experience very difficult and it will be extremely important that the Government supports teachers and families in easing students back into education.

I have since called on the Government to consider additional support for mental health needs and ensuring that a thorough assessment into the needs of vulnerable children and the attainment gap is given consideration.

It remains unclear when schools will re-open after new concerns have been raised that Secondary schools may not be ready to re-open by September.

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Monthly Newsletter – May 2020

Newsletter header

Throughout May I’ve been active in Parliament and the constituency helping represent issues that matter to you. I’ve received hundreds of emails campaigning for better Covid-19 support measures, support for businesses, issues around schools re-opening, safety measures at work and much more.

I am looking forward to getting back into the constituency but during lockdown I’ve still been keeping up to date with local issues virtually. I have met with teachers and unions to dicuss how we can safely re-open schools and it is clear parents and staff are worried about the current measures in place. If you’d like to make your voice heard on this issue you can complete the survey here. I will be calling for better support for vulnerable children and standing alongside teachers calling for risk assessments and clearer guidance. I also had the chance to meet with some great local voluntary groups including, Our Heritage UK and Greenwich Association of Disabled People.

We’ve had some major local successes this month! Thamesmead Now started their new weekly TV broadcast on Youtube which you can check out here. My office have also had some major successes in helping people return to the UK  from abroad. We have now helped everyone stranded in Australia, Bahamas, Canary Islands, Cyprus, France, India, New Zealand, Sierra Leone and Tunisia return home.

Despite Parliament operating virtually throughout May, I’ve had the chance to raise a variety of issues effecting people in Erith and Thamesmead. I represented Guru Nanak Darbar Sikh Temple by calling for a Sikh ethnic tick box on the Census 2021. I received over 40 requests from constituents to speak on the Agriculture Bill. In this speech I asked the Government to protect British farmers, animal welfare and the environment. I also spoke on the Fire Safety Bill and asked the Government to protect all victims of Domestic Abuse including those with NRPF in the Domestic Abuse Bill debate.

Belvedere Incinerator

Sadiq Khan calls for judicial review into second Belvedere incinerator
Several constituents raised concerns regarding the construction of a second incinerator in Belvedere. This would be harmful to the environment and public health which is why I joined residents in calling for a review of this project. Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has asked for a judicial review to take place.

 

Abena speaking in Parliament

I raised concerns about rising care fees following Covid-19
After speaking with Inclusion London and Greenwich Association of Disabled People I raised concerns with Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government about fears that care home fees are likely to rise. This would have a huge impact on many constituents and I will continue to hold the Government to account over any rise in fees.

 

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Parents asked for their views on schools re-opening in Erith and Thamesmead

Parents, teachers and unions in Erith and Thamesmead have raised concerns about plans to re-open schools to students in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6, starting next week.

I’m eager to hear your views as parents and carers of school ages children which is why I have launched a survey to understand constituents’ feelings around the issue.

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced plans to begin the phased re-opening of schools starting on June 1st but a poll by a leading teachers union found just 5% of teachers feel it is safe to return to school. Independent polling for ITV and the Observer also found that around 50% of parents feel it is unsafe for children to return to school in England.

In a meeting with teachers from five schools across Erith and Thamesmead this week, I discussed the concerns raised by staff and parents.

Teachers raised concerns about particularly vulnerable children, the risk to disabled students and the higher risk posed to staff and students from a Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic (BAME) background. Some schools also raised concerns about the lack of space available to implement social distancing measures and the lack of additional teaching resources in the case of staff illness.

Whilst I have major concerns about the impact of school closures on vulnerable children and the existing attainment gap, I also have major concerns about the risk posed to medically vulnerable staff, students and parents.

I believe that those directly affected by this decision are best placed to determine whether the risks posed are too serious to begin opening schools, which is why I have been meeting with teachers and unions.

I am eager to hear the opinions of parents and guardians across Greenwich and Bexley regarding re-opening schools. The survey, open to all residents with school aged children in Erith and Thamesmead, is a chance for people to make their feelings heard.

No parent or guardian should have to fear sending their child to school, it is important that we all work together to create a safe learning environment for children.

Parents and carers of students in Erith and Thamesmead can take part in the re-opening Schools Survey here: https://tinyurl.com/yba6mrnt

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MP for Erith and Thamesmead appointed to new role in the Shadow Treasury Team

Abena Oppong-Asare, MP for Erith and Thamesmead has been appointed to the role of Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Anneliese Dodds, Labour’s newly appointed Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Ms Oppong-Asare will be supporting the Shadow Treasury Team in their work to hold the Government to account over new financial measures introduced in light of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Ms Oppong-Asare said:

“I am delighted to have been asked to work with the Shadow Treasury Team at such an important time for our country. Covid-19 has highlighted the fragility of the current workings of our economy and the need for more scrutiny to be placed on our taxation system and public spending.
We will be continuing to hold the Government to account over failings in how they have responded to Covid-19. We have already raised issues such as the financial black hole charity organisations are facing and problems with the Furlough scheme, which has since been extended.
This appointment will mean I can work with colleagues to ensure my constituents needs are represented and taken into account by the Government in regards to spending and economic growth.
I am looking forward to working with my engaged and talented colleagues to ensure we support the Government in their successes and hold them to account in their oversights.”

The Shadow Treasury Team will also be working on new measures to help the UK economy recover after the crisis, with Ms Dodds already calling for the introduction of a new taxation system to create a “fairer situation for the future.”

On April 4 2020, Keir Starmer MP was elected Leader of the Labour Party and has now finalised appointment of the new Shadow Cabinet who will sit on Labour’s Front Benches when Parliament is reconvened.

In a statement, Starmer said:

“We are living through a national emergency. Under my leadership, the Labour Party will always act in the country’s interest to save lives and protect livelihoods. That will be the number one priority of my Shadow Cabinet.
We will be a responsible opposition that supports the government where we believe they are right and challenge them when we believe mistakes are being made.”

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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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Abena Oppong-Asare MP urges people in Erith and Thamesmead to give safely to charities responding to Coronavirus pandemic

Abena Oppong-Asare MP joins the Charity Commission, the Fundraising Regulator, Action Fraud and Trading Standards in urging people to stay vigilant when giving to charity during the Coronavirus pandemic.
There has been an increase in reports of scammers targeting vulnerable people, for example posing as charity volunteers offering to help with shopping, offering fake virus testing, or claiming to be raising funds for charity. These scams are diverting vital funds away from the 265 genuine registered charities in Erith and Thamesmead and hundreds of national charities working hard to support the public at this time.

Abena Oppong-Asare, MP for Erith and Thamesmead said:

“There are so many amazing charities supporting vulnerable people around Erith and Thamesmead during this crisis such as Greenwich Foodbank, Mind in Bexley, Solace and many more. It is concerning that scammers are using this pandemic as a means to target vulnerable people and take aid from those who are working flat out to help support our community.
Despite hearing reports of scams, I have heard many more stories of generosity and kindness throughout the community since this crisis began. From the person running a marathon in their back garden to the hundreds who have volunteered to help deliver essential items to vulnerable people.
I would like to thank and praise everyone that has pulled together to see us through these difficult times. If you are able to volunteer your time or donate to local support groups, I know this is very much needed as many services are over stretched right now. However, please read the recommendations of giving safely carefully and make sure your time and money goes to the right place.”

There are simple ways of making sure you give safely to registered charities:

  • Check the charity’s name and registration number at gov.uk/checkcharity. Most charities with an annual income of £5,000 or more must be registered.
  • Be wary of unsolicited emails from charities you have never heard of and be careful when responding to emails or clicking on links within them.
  • Exercise the same caution as with any other internet transaction, for example, to donate online, visit the charity’s own website and always type the website address into the browser yourself.
  • Ignore requests to donate through a money transfer company.
  • Finally, if in doubt about an approach, give to a charity that you have an existing relationship with.
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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.

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Minister challenged to name handover date for Southeastern

Erith and Thamesmead MP Abena Oppong-Asare challenged Transport Ministers to name a handover date for Southeastern services to TfL.

Abena put the question to Ministers at Transport Question time in Parliament following delays which have angered local passengers eager to see the service improved.

Abena said “We all know that there are huge transport issues in our constituency, not least regarding the Southeastern Rail service. I asked the Minister for Transport when we could expect a date for the transfer of Southeastern services to TfL. Unfortunately no date was set. I will continue to fight for this simple improvement to take place, as well as fighting for our constituency on other issues, such as the over-run of Crossrail.”

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MP joins Parliamentary protest over cladding scandal

Abena Oppong-Asare, MP for Erith and Thamesmead, joined Mayor Sadiq Khan and other MPs and campaigners at a protest outside Parliament this week in protest at Government inaction over cladding.

The protest was organised by residents living in high rise accommodation who continue to suffer from the lack of Government support and action since the fire at Grenfell Tower.

More than two years since the Grenfell tragedy, hundreds of residential buildings continue to face significant fire safety deficiencies. Leaseholders in privately owned buildings are liable for funding the work to replace the cladding, meaning many face substantial bills they cannot afford.

Speaking after the protest, Abena said “Residents living in affected buildings are left in limbo while the Government fails to act. This ongoing crisis is ruining lives. Ministers need to take action in the coming Budget, with a package of financial and mental health support offered to all those affected.”

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MP visits local schools

New Erith and Thamesmead MP Abena Oppong-Asare has been introducing herself to local school children in a series of visits to local schools.

During her first months as our MP, Abena has visited a number of local schools, including Discovery, Alexander McCleod, St Fidelis and Woolwich Polytechnic School for Girls. She toured the schools, met with teachers and other school staff and held Q&A events with children.

Abena said “I have had the pleasure of visiting several schools over the last month. Children in each had a chance to ask me questions and to debate important policy issues such as homelessness. It is great to see the next generation taking an active interest in society and politics.”