I was delighted to be invited to officially open a new library at St Augustine of Canterbury Primary School in Belvedere.
A library is an instrumental place for students of all ages to read, learn and reflect on all that they are interested in. Through reading about different lives and characters, children learn to connect and better understand the people around them. Libraries played such an important role in my life, and I am heartened to know that the children at St Augustine will have this opportunity too.
The outdoor adventure theme of the library was decided by the School Parliament. The theme was executed by Acorn Book Club and included a mountain camp hideaway, reading tent and cosy campfire!
I was particularly impressed by the enthusiasm and dedication of all the staff at St Augustine of Canterbury Primary School and Acorn Book Club to this project and the students. It was lovely to discover that employees from the Belvedere and Northumberland Heath branches raised over £1000 in support of the library.
https://www.abenaoppongasare.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/New-Library-2.jpg10001500The Office of Abena Oppong-Asare MPhttps://www.abenaoppongasare.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/SM-Logo-3.pngThe Office of Abena Oppong-Asare MP2022-09-22 10:00:022023-03-01 21:02:14Visit to St Augustine's new library in Belvedere
This week is London Challenge Poverty Week and it is, unfortunately, clear to see that London, alongside the rest of England, is moving backwards in tackling poverty.
In Erith and Thamesmead 41% of children are growing up in poverty which has a devastating long-term impact on children’s mental, physical and education well-being. This cannot be acceptable, and it cannot be ignored.
In 2019, Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, found that millions of people in the UK are struggling to access their basic human rights, highlighting how so many have been forced into extreme poverty. The report found that women, disabled people and children are disproportionately impacted by poverty.
The impacts of long ignored poverty have been felt even harder during COVID-19 and it is clear that the most vulnerable in society are being hit the hardest. I released a report in August detailing the impacts of COVID-19 on protected characteristics in Erith and Thamesmead after receiving hundreds of emails from people seeking help.
One constituent emailed me due to facing the risk of eviction, they said:
“I am writing this email seeking for support regarding housing because myself and my son are being threatened with homelessness.
I have been going through some housing issues with my landlord’s son since last year who requested that I vacate the property… I was then issued with a Section 21 notice after the end of my tenancy.
My current rent is lower than the normal rent value and getting another accommodation that is affordable has been challenging because I am on low income.”
The average private rent in Erith and Thamesmead consumes 75% of an average single woman’s earnings. The affordable housing crisis and lack of support for renters throughout the pandemic is just one way in that vulnerable people are being pushed further into poverty.
The Trussell Trust anticipate giving out six parcels every minute between October and December this year. However, poverty if not a new phenomenon in London caused by COVID-19, it is an issue that has been massively increasing over the past decade.
Food bank use has doubled across London over the past five years and 72% of families living in poverty are in work.
Despite these startling figures, the Government has refused to accept that urgent action needs to be taken to tackle the growing poverty rates and issues surrounding them.
Last year London spent over £733m on temporary accommodation for the 57,000 homeless households, including 80,000 children, while over 125,000 homes were either empty or unavailable for rental/purchase across the capital.
It is clear that the Government are ignoring their responsibility to protect people in the UK by allowing millions of vulnerable families to fall into poverty, homelessness and hunger and now more than ever the Government must step up to protect people.
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The Get Ready For September summer programme has come to an end after a successful month of online events and discussions.
Earlier this year, I reached out to students, parents and teachers to ask your views on the impact COVID-19 was having on education. I received hundreds of responses in which the majority of students said they felt their education had been negatively affected. Over half of you also said you felt unprepared for upcoming exams and almost 20% said they felt their mental health had suffered.
I followed this up with a letter to the Education Minister Gavin Williamson MP, outlining concerns and suggestions. Unfortunately, it became clear the Government was not taking the impacts on young people’s education seriously. Whilst some students continued to struggle to access educational materials the Government oversaw the devastating A-Level results day scandal.
Where the Conservative Government has failed to step up, I’m pleased that the community of Erith and Thamesmead were willing to offer their support. Throughout August I partnered with dozens of local service providers to offer a series of online educational events to students and families in Erith and Thamesmead.
FlavRcise, a family friendly dance fitness class, offered free online lessons every Saturday throughout August to help get young people get active in their own homes. Paola Scandurra, from ScandurraConsulting delivered an excellent course on self-care and boosting your mental wellbeing. Funk Butcher, Tamara Hunter and Active Horizons joined us for an interesting discussion about Black Lives Matter and what it means for students.
Martha Mingay, a student and University teacher, stepped up to offer much needed support on results day with advice about applying through Clearing and what to expect at University. With future prospects in mind Cllr Anthony Okereke and Sochima Ikpa offered a group careers advice session and extra one to one support opportunities.
The programme, aimed at engaging students and families in educational events and discussions, was also targeted at students who have faced barriers in accessing education. Greenwich Council joined the programme to offer 1000 free printed worksheets to students facing barriers with technology.
The Get Ready For September summer programme truly echoed the community spirit we have seen rise during the past few months. As the Member of Parliament for Erith and Thamesmead I am pleased to have been able to harness the amazing talent and compassion in the constituency to provide students with access to spaces for learning and discussion.
Thank you to all students, parents, teachers and service providers who made this programme possible, enjoyable and informative. Best of luck to all students on your return to school!
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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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I’ve called on the Government to fund free school meals this summer to ensure a ‘holiday with hunger’.
Today, on 15th June 2020, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Education demanding he reverses his decision to withdraw funding for free school meals over the summer holidays as part of Labour’s ‘Holiday without Hunger’ campaign.
In Erith and Thamesmead 3,759 children are at risk of going hungry this summer as the government withdraws support for the provision of free school meals. The added pressure of the coronavirus crisis is plunging families into deeper poverty. Social distancing rules have also raised questions on whether holiday lunch schemes may run, leaving many families rightly concerned about how they will afford food during the summer holidays.
Children must not go hungry this summer, as the Covid-19 crisis hits family incomes and charities and food banks struggle to provide the same level of holiday support. The government has to continue funding free school meals throughout the summer holidays. It is callous that they are refusing to do so.
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An extra 4.5 million people across the UK have taken on unpaid caring responsibilities as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. This is on top of the 9.1 million unpaid carers who were already caring before the outbreak, bringing the total to 13.6 million.
Unpaid carers are consistently undervalued by the Government and unrepresented in health and social care policy changes. Carers save the economy £132 billion per year, an average of £19,336 per carer, with 1.3 million providing over 50 hours of care per week. According to Carers UK, 600 people give up work everyday to care for an older or disabled relative.
I am sure these figures will shock many people as they are publicised during this week but the realities of being an unpaid carer are lived everyday by millions of people. Being an unpaid carer can be socially isolating and cause physical and mental health problems.
72% of carers responding to Carers UK’s State of Caring 2018 Survey said they had suffered mental ill health as a result of caring
61% said they had suffered physical ill health as a result of caring
8 in 10 people caring for loved ones say they have felt lonely or socially isolated
As well as the health and social challenges faced by unpaid carers, millions are also facing daily financial hardship. Carer’s Allowance is the main carer’s benefit and is £67.25 for a minimum of 35 hours, this equates to just £1.92 an hour.
No one should have to face the choice between caring for a loved one or receiving a fair living wage for their work, yet hundreds face this choice every day.
Unpaid carers contribute massively to the economy and to the lives of the people they care for but they need much more than our gratitude. They need a fair allowance to be able to support themselves and family members whilst still caring for loved ones. They need support from the Government, including a National Care Service so that everyone can access high level care for free.
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for carers both employed in the care sector and those taking on unpaid care responsibilities. If we continue undervaluing care work and failing to provide support systems for people as they get older, we risk pushing more people out of secure employment and into unpaid caring roles.
This National Carers Week 2020, I am pledging my support for unpaid carers – across Erith and Thamesmead and beyond.
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.
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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.
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.
Through my work I am determined to work with local residents, community groups, businesses and public services to ensure that Erith and Thamesmead is put on the map and we get a fair deal for our community.