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Carers Week 2020: making carers visible

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.

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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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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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MP seeks improvements to Environment Bill

Abena Oppong-Asare, MP for Erith and Thamesmead, has been working to improve the Government’s Environment Bill.

A small number of MPs have been scrutinising and proposing amendments to the Government’s Environment Bill as part of its passage through Parliament.

Bill Committees consist of a small number of MPs who provide line by line scrutiny of legislation and propose changes to it. Abena Oppong-Asare as serving as a member of the Bill Committee for the Environment Bill, which sets the UK’s environment policy for years to come.

Abena has used her role to question Ministers and experts and support proposals to strengthen the Bill in order to take tougher action to tackle climate change and clean our air.

You can watch the Bill Committee hearings here, here and here.

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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 weighs in on major changes to law

Local MP Abena Oppong-Asare has been working hard in Parliament to improve two major pieces of legislation which will impact the UK for years to come.

Abena sits on the Bill Committee for the Agriculture Bill, which will determine Britain’s food and farming policy post-Brexit. She’s part of a small number of MPs who are scrutinising the Government’s Bill line by line and proposing amendments to support British farmers, protect food safety standards and animal welfare regulations.

Abena has also been working as a member of Labour’s Shadow Defra team on the Second Reading of the Environment Bill, which will determine our environmental policies. Abena and Labour colleagues are putting pressure on the Government to improve the Bill to introduce tougher commitments to improving air quality and tackling plastic waste. These are issues of great concern to many people in Erith and Thamesmead.

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MP fights Government deportations

Abena Oppong-Asare, Labour MP for Erith and Thamesmead, has used her platform in Parliament to oppose the Government’s deportation policy.

Abena challenged Home Office Ministers at Parliamentary Question time about the shameful deportations to Jamaica, spoke at a rally outside Parliament and also raised awareness of the issue in an interview with the BBC.

Abena said “I continue to liaise with Movement for Justice who keep me appraised of developments and I will be monitoring the situation closely in order to hold the Government to account over this disgraceful policy.”

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MP reports back on first weeks in Parliament

Abena speaking in Parliament

Labour MP for Erith and Thamesmead, Abena Oppong-Asare, reports back on her first weeks in Parliament since December’s General Election.

With Christmas in the way, Parliament has only met for a short time since December’s General Election. However, that hasn’t stopped Erith and Thamesmead’s new MP from getting to work in Westminster on behalf of local people.

Since her election on 14th December, Abena has been busy attending and speaking in debates, scrutinising Government legislation and challenging Ministers.

Abena gave her maiden speech in the Commons and took the opportunity to criticise the Government’s appalling record on homelessness. She committed to fighting for safe and secure housing for all during her time in Parliament. Watch here

Abena also challenged the Government’s proposal to introduce a voter ID law which will make it more difficult for people to exercise their right to vote. This will particularly impact poorer communities and ethnic minorities who are less likely to have a passport or drivers licence. Abena and Labour will continue to oppose this proposal, for which there is no evidence to justify its need.

After being appointed as a member of Labour’s Shadow Defra team, Abena has joined efforts to protect British farmers and secure our tough animal welfare and food quality standards post-Brexit and in any trade deal the Government attempts to negotiate with the United States.

Abena was delighted to attend the first meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for London and looks forward to working with colleagues across all parties to champion London and its citizens.

Abena spoke to BBC Radio Five Live about her first weeks in Parliament on the John Pienaar show as Backbench MP of the Week.

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MP joins Shadow Environment Team

Erith and Thamesmead MP Abena Oppong-Asare has taken on a new role as a member of Labour’s Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs team in Parliament.

Abena will serve as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Shadow Secretary of State, Luke Pollard MP, working with him and Labour’s team to hold the Government to account and attempt to improve the law on environmental and food issues and rural affairs.

With a new Environment Bill, the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill going through Parliament in the coming months, it will be a busy time.

Abena said “The climate emergency means we need bolder and swifter action to cut carbon and water use and protect vulnerable habitats and species. In the next three months the Government will be introducing mammoth changes to laws governing fishing, farming, food, chemical regulations and environmental protections. The Shadow Defra team will be holding the Government to account, strengthening what we expect to be weak legislation and ensuring that the climate doesn’t play second fiddle to the Tories Brexit ambitions.

“Labour won’t accept any lowering of environmental protections or animal welfare standards and we will keep pressure on Ministers to enact the urgent action we need to address the pressing climate crisis.”