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Last week Mary Glindon MP and I met with Grandparents Plus to hear some of the problems faced by kinship carers. Around 220,000 children across the UK are being cared for by grandparents and other family members, around 570 here in North Tyneside. Grandparents often step in rather than see the child go into local authority care sometimes at a time in life when, having seen their own children grow up, they might expect greater financial security and time for themselves. Then circumstances intervene, from substance abuse to bereavement, and they find themselves with full time caring responsibilities. As legal guardians, effectively fostering within the family, they could expect support but the people we spoke to told a different story. The children often have significant healthcare, particularly mental health care, needs and sometimes have difficulty at school. Social services are keen for kinship care, a cheaper care option, but there’s no entitlement to support. Perhaps an Independent Advocate for such families would make a difference. But it’s the financial challenge which many carers talked about. Bringing up any child is costly but sometimes the children arrive with only the clothes they stand up in. Kinship care children are three times more likely to be impoverished than their classmates yet they often achieve higher outcomes than other looked after children. Kinship carers take up the challenge for all the right reasons. It’s important they get the support they need.

Meeting with Kinship Carers

Last week Mary Glindon MP and I met with Grandparents Plus to hear some of the problems faced by kinship carers. Around 220,000 children across the UK are being cared...

Last week a statue of the suffragist Millicent Fawcett was unveiled in Westminster, the first statue of a woman in Parliament Square. The week before I attended the funeral of Zola Zembe, Tynemouth resident and South African trades unionist who had shared a cell with Nelson Mandela. On the face of it the two, born a century apart, had little in common. Yet they shared a commitment to education as a means of improving the human condition and a deep commitment to politics and voting as a way of bringing about change.

On Thursday 3rd May we have important local elections. On Friday the votes will be counted. Apart from the difference in choice of candidate, each ballot paper looks much the same. You cannot tell the voters name, their age or the street in which they live. You cannot tell their gender, their ethnicity, their religion or their sexual orientation. You cannot tell their job or whether they have a family. What they have in common is that for a few minutes on a particular day they took part in the democratic process. They probably had their own reason for doing so but in their own way each backed a vision of what their community could be like. And in doing so they assert their right to be heard. It’s why elections are important and humbling and I hope everyone takes a few minutes to be part of it.

The importance of the democratic process

Last week a statue of the suffragist Millicent Fawcett was unveiled in Westminster, the first statue of a woman in Parliament Square. The week before I attended the funeral of...

Thirty six stabbings this year alone might suggest that knife crime is just a London problem. The reality however is that knife crime is a national problem with recorded knife crime in the Northumbria Police area also up. As a Home Office Minister I learned we have to deal with surges in knife crime but also to tackle the issue long term. Unfortunately neither seems to be happening at present.

The Government’s recently announced Serious Violence Strategy risks falling short. The £40 million promised is not new money and does not address the problem of police cuts. It stands to reason that if you cut 900 officers as has happened in Northumbria Police you cannot have enough frontline officers to engender trust, gather information and provide a reassuring presence. Neither can you guarantee enough officers to set up specialist teams where needed.

We need to move beyond laissez faire policing and bring police forces together to learn lessons from the best performers. Government has the power to introduce stronger laws if necessary and to take on social media and retailers who may be part of the problem.

We need a responsible debate about how public services share information about people at risk, including schools and the NHS. We need to accept that taking resources out of communities sometimes starves groups trying to keep young people out of trouble. There are no simple answers but much more can be done.

Rising crime a reality

Thirty six stabbings this year alone might suggest that knife crime is just a London problem. The reality however is that knife crime is a national problem with recorded knife...

The schools in our area are amongst the best in the country and a lot of people, particularly headteachers and teachers, are working hard to make them even better.

The stark reality however is that that task is being made harder by cuts to school budgets and growing child poverty. Don’t take my word for it. The Institute for Financial Studies says school budgets have fallen by 4.6% in the last three years and class sizes are increasing in our local schools.

According to the respected Child Poverty Action Group in their report “The Austerity Generation”, in some areas a third of children in any class will live below the poverty line. Given that poverty is not evenly distributed, in some schools the proportion of poor children will be much higher.

Headteachers say after every weekend some children are coming to school hungry. It is now widely accepted that school holidays have a negative effect on some children’s diet and health. Some teachers report they are showering children, washing their clothes and feeding them at the start of each school day.

We should take it seriously when headteachers say welfare issues are taking precedence over grades. But it’s more than just a school matter; it’s also about the welfare safety net and about household income. After their social mobility advisers quit in protest, the Government produced a Social Mobility Action Plan. Let’s hope it’s more action and less plan.

Schools hit by cuts

The schools in our area are amongst the best in the country and a lot of people, particularly headteachers and teachers, are working hard to make them even better. The...

Each year A-level Economics students from Whitley Bay High come to the Commons to see for themselves the workings of Parliament. This year their visit coincided with the Spring Statement, the Government’s assessment of the economy which replaced the Spring Budget.

What seemed of most interest was the opportunity to link the theories and phrases they have learned about in lessons with a real-time debate on economic policy.

Language is important. Not just the mobilisation of terms like fiscal responsibility but the Chancellor and his Shadow describing, in stark terms, their economic differences. On the one hand there is an acknowledgement austerity may be coming to an end but there is a world of economic difference between a continuing monetary straightjacket of cuts, tax cuts for a few and a wage freeze for many, against a more Keynesian approach of investment putting people in work, able to pay tax.

Language was also important the next day in exchanges over the incident in Salisbury when Russia used a deadly nerve agent to exact revenge on two of their former citizens. There is a shared view about the appalling nature of the incident and a strong view amongst most MP’s that Russia must be held to account. But the proportionate and necessary actions the Government proposes were also carefully worded. Deterring further aggression demands clear communication. It also demands the credibility which comes from a united, if not unquestioning, response.

Politics in action

Each year A-level Economics students from Whitley Bay High come to the Commons to see for themselves the workings of Parliament. This year their visit coincided with the Spring Statement,...

This week is National Apprenticeship Week. Apprenticeships are really important, a fact we recognised in Government when apprenticeships, which had fallen out of fashion, increased from 70,000 in 1997 to quarter of a million in 2010. This Government has proclaimed “apprenticeships, apprenticeships, apprenticeships” but the rhetoric is not always matched by reality. I’ve met and talked to apprentices from pharmaceuticals to fishing and I’ve seen some good practice including “buddying up”. Buddying up is where big companies take on apprentices to ensure a future supply for smaller companies and supply chains, such as Accenture supporting small IT companies. There are however problems including SME’s accessing apprenticeships and attracting younger applicants. There’s also concern for youngsters for whom apprenticeships may be a big step. Take the Northumbria Youth Action project in North Shields. They have around 100 young people on their books. Most have struggled at school and learning in a workplace environment comes as a relief for them and probably for their school. Others arrive as former NEET’s. They begin a study programme to get them work ready and some go on to apprenticeships. Yet small successful projects often find accessing funding difficult. They also face new T Levels which focus on classroom learning, often the reason they struggled at school. On top of that the Education Skills Funding Agency sometimes tends to micromanage. Apprenticeships are crucial but they, and some of the smaller providers, need to be valued.

More action on apprenticeships

This week is National Apprenticeship Week. Apprenticeships are really important, a fact we recognised in Government when apprenticeships, which had fallen out of fashion, increased from 70,000 in 1997 to...

If you see anyone rough sleeping ring Streetlink who will come out.  You can call their 24hr hotline on 0300 500 0914

 

 

Rough Sleeping Hotline

If you see anyone rough sleeping ring Streetlink who will come out.  You can call their 24hr hotline on 0300 500 0914    

Governments often spend their first term blaming their predecessors but after that governing gets harder.  So in recent times Ministers can be seen heading to the Commons either to make a statement or usually answer an urgent question on the latest departmental failure.  Some even seem surprised by the outcome of their actions.  If private companies like Carillion were given further contracts even after multiple profit warnings is it entirely surprising that when they collapse public services are at risk?  If police cuts mean fewer officers does that not explain why crime is rising again?  When the forensic science service was privatised and then some of those private companies fail isn’t it obvious that criminal convictions may be jeopardised?  If the NHS is denied the funding it needs are winter crises really a surprise?  And when grants to councils are cut including money for weekly bin collections is it a shock if those services have to be reviewed or cut?  Some may argue, despite the evidence, that it will be alright in the end. The Brexiteers who say ignore the Governments own regional impact assessments fall into that category.  There are those – often the same people actually – who think there’s plenty of the state left to cut and it’s fun to do so for ideological reasons irrespective of risk.  But there’s always a price to be paid and as the gambling ads say when the fun stops, stop.

When the fun stops

Governments often spend their first term blaming their predecessors but after that governing gets harder.  So in recent times Ministers can be seen heading to the Commons either to make...

This week the House of Commons debated the annual police grant. The background to policing and crime has changed significantly in recent years and not for the better. Northumbria Police have lost £136 million since 2010 with a reduction of 942 officers. That’s 23% fewer officers over the same period that official figures show a 25% increase in overall recorded crime.

As the Office for National Statistics says, crime is not a common experience for most people though the statistics reflect just recorded crime, and we know not all crimes are reported or recorded. But the most recent figures go far beyond changes in recording. Burglary is up, vehicle related crime is up, shoplifting is up and, mainly in London and the Metropolitan areas, knife crime and gun crime are up. There have been falls in some IT based crime, reminiscent of the way better security technology reduced car theft, but that fails to mask the overall increase.

This year’s police grant fails to rise to the challenge. Police forces could see an extra £270 million – but it’s not new money and will only happen if the precept – a local tax – goes up. The increases in funding for new technology and counter terrorism are neither enough nor are they likely to reach our region. Police forces cannot drain their reserves further and still be prepared for emergencies. Our police forces need proper funding, the crime figures show we cannot wait.

Crime on the rise

This week the House of Commons debated the annual police grant. The background to policing and crime has changed significantly in recent years and not for the better. Northumbria Police...

25th January 2018

Now that the EU Withdrawal Bill has passed its Commons stages and goes to the Lords, the Commons is reverting back to a familiar weekly pattern with a day of debate inspired by backbenchers.

Whether last Thursday’s backbench debate on banking was the game changer being claimed, time will tell. The motion was about RBS’s Global Restructuring Group and SME’s, though the debate ranged more widely than just one bank. At the heart of the motion was the proposition that several banks deliberately managed the closure of businesses to suit the banks interests – a claim made in the Tomlinson Report set up to investigate what happened. Calling in loans and selling off assets, it is alleged, recapitalised the banks and made income for the banks plus the professional advisors involved in the process. The clients were left powerless and facing huge debts. Some of their stories are harrowing. I raised two constituency cases but there are many more. I also pressed the Minister to say if there is criminality involved, where are the resources to allow the police to investigate properly.

The Treasury Minister acknowledged the harm done to businesses and to trust in the banks. He said he would examine the case for an independent tribunal system. We need that; we also need regulators with teeth. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and they need a banking system working with them and not against them.

Speaking up for local businesses

25th January 2018 Now that the EU Withdrawal Bill has passed its Commons stages and goes to the Lords, the Commons is reverting back to a familiar weekly pattern with...

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