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Government and employers must act in response to the death of Belly Mujinga

I have received a huge amount of emails requesting a thorough investigation into the deeply saddening death of Belly Mujinga.

Belly Mujinga worked on the front lines of the COVID-19 response, ensuring that transport could remain operational for key workers throughout the crisis. News of Ms Mujinga’s death has raised some very serious and concerning questions regarding workplace safety and the UK justice system.

Firstly, Ms Mujinga was not provided with PPE by her employer Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR). This is despite being a key worker throughout the peak of the COVID-19 crisis and her employer being aware of existing health conditions.

I have been calling for WHO standard PPE for all key workers since the beginning of this crisis. Following Ms Mujinga’s death I joined London MPs in re-establishing calls for PPE for all transport workers in a letter directly to the Prime Minister.

The letter, which you can read in full here, asks the Prime Minister:

“To ensure that transport operators have the requisite funds, and your Government’s support, to procure appropriate personal protective equipment to all public front facing staff.”

I have also written to Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) to ask for reassurance that all staff will now be provided with this protective equipment.

Secondly, this incident raises serious issues with the justice system in England. Ms Mujinga’s case was closed with no consequences, British Transport Police said:

“there is no evidence to substantiate any criminal offences having taken place, and the tragic death of Belly Mujinga was not a consequence of this incident”.

Whilst investigations have concluded that the incident involving a man spitting at Ms Mujinga and a co-worker did not lead to her death, it is highly concerning that no further actions will be taken in regards to the assault on Ms Mujinga and the breaking of lockdown guidelines, which in itself puts key workers at risk. On June 2nd 2020, a man who spat at a police officer in Glasgow was jailed for a total of 12 months.

I have written to the British Transport Police to request more information regarding their investigations. The public must be assured that police are taking this crisis seriously and are holding those who threaten public health to account. Closing this investigation without a detailed public explanation sends a message that it is acceptable to act irresponsibly with complete disregard for the lives of those who have put themselves in harms way throughout this crisis.

Finally, the death of Ms Mujinga highlights the human impact of the racial inequalities highlighted throughout this crisis.

In London, more than a quarter of transport workers operating tubes and buses, which remained open during the lockdown and, 67% of the adult social care workforce are from BAME backgrounds.

It has been highlighted, since close to the beginning of this crisis, that BAME residents in the UK are up to twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than their white counterparts. Providing PPE is a necessary part of protecting BAME lives throughout this crisis and must be addressed as such.

Belly Mujinga leaves behind a husband and an 11 year old daughter. At least 33 transport workers have died in London throughout this crisis so far, each leaving behind friends and family.

I have also joined London MPs in calling on the Government to extend the Coronavirus life assurance lump sum scheme for the bereaved families of NHS workers to be extended to cover all transport workers who die from COVID-19.

 

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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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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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Housing a key priority for new local MP

Abena Oppong-Asare MP has pledged that housing will be one of her top priorities as your MP over the course of this Parliament.

Housing is an issue raised often by local people with Abena and she knows that people care passionately about improving housing, tackling homelessness and addressing safety issues like cladding in the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy.

Abena met with John Lewis, Executive Director of Peabody, earlier this month to discuss working together to address issues raised by local people with housing.

She also attended Peabody’s community event to hear the results of their survey of 1,000 Thamesmead residents and commit her efforts to bringing the DLR to Thamesmead.

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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.”

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New MP gets stuck in in first days on the job

Newly elected Labour MP for Erith and Thamesmead, Abena Oppong-Asare, jumped right in to her new role, with a series of meetings and visits with community groups and organisations across the constituency in the days following her election.

Abena met with Greenwich’s Nepalese community at the Royal Greenwich Nepalese Society, visited Thamesmead Meridian Football Club and enjoyed carol services at Erith Christ Church and Abbey Wood Christmas Market with local Labour councillors.

She also visited the A&E department at Elizabeth Hospital on Christmas Eve to speak to staff working over the Christmas holiday to look after those in need and show her support to our brilliant NHS and emergency services workers.

Abena is committed to meeting and engaging with groups and organisations from across Erith and Thamesmead in the coming months in order to hear the concerns of local people and faithfully represent you in Parliament.