Helen speaks in debate on free school meals

I pay tribute to the powerful work of Marcus Rashford and other campaigners in forcing the Government to act to stop the 1.3 million children eligible for free school meals in England from going hungry over the summer holidays. It is shameful that childhood hunger is such a huge issue in the UK after ten years of austerity, made worse by coronavirus. This problem has been getting worse for many years, but the Tories have refused to act.

As we begin to rebuild our country following the coronavirus, there cannot be a return to business as usual. Our recovery strategy must reform housing and social security, address low pay and insecure work and ensure that no child has to go to bed hungry again. You can watch my speech here>>

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Statement on Southwark Metal's Windsor Grove planning application

I have been contacted by many constituents in Gipsy Hill and West Norwood about the planning application by Southwark Metals for a large metal recycling centre on Windsor Grove. I share residents’ concerns about this application and believe that Windsor Grove is an entirely unsuitable site for a large waste facility. I have written to Lambeth Council to object to the development.
My concerns focus on the impact this application would have on traffic and air pollution in the local area. Windsor Grove is a narrow cul-de-sac, bordering a housing estate and visited frequently throughout the day by pedestrians visiting the Royal Mail delivery office to collect post and parcels. The high number of heavy goods vehicles visiting the recycling facility throughout the day would increase risk for pedestrians and cyclists including residents of Windsor Grove Estate entering and leaving their homes.
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Black Lives Matter - Coronavirus and the deaths of Belly Mujinga and George Floyd

The Government has this week published a review into the tragically high number of covid-19 deaths within BAME communities, after much delay and with a key chapter setting out the responses to consultation missing. This review provides the devastating quantification of what many families knew already – that people from BAME backgrounds have an increased risk of death from coronavirus – twice the risk for people of Bangladeshi ethnicity and high for other Asian, Caribbean and black ethnicities too.  Statistics just add to the pain unless they are used as the basis for action.  The government must now use this report to save lives – we need a detailed plan setting out the action that will be taken to safeguard people who are at increased risk and prevent further heartbreak. Today I called on the Minister to deliver justice for Belly Mujinga and her family, who died from coronavirus after a spitting attack at Victoria station where she worked, and to ensure all BAME workers are protected from coronavirus in the workplace.  

This report is published at the same time as the horrific footage of the death of George Floyd in America has caused outrage across the globe and has resonated with many in the UK who have also suffered the multiple injustices of racism.  It is sickening that Donald Trump is inflaming this situation rather than listening to the anger and pain and making a genuine commitment to root out racism once and for all. 

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Save Nour Cash and Carry

I moved to Brixton in 1996 and I have known Nour Cash and Carry since that time.  It is a wonderful local shop providing both a wide range of fresh and staple foods at affordable prices, and a huge range of ingredients from across the world.  It is a joy and an inspiration to shop there, both in culinary terms and because Nour is an expression of the diverse communities it serves.

I was horrified to learn that Nour Cash and Carry had been served with an eviction notice by the owners of Brixton Village and Market Row, Hondo Enterprises earlier this year.  I proactively arranged to visit Nour as soon as I was able to back in February and discussed the events that had preceded the eviction notice.  I was clear then, and I am clear now that the eviction of Nour Cash and Carry is completely unacceptable and the eviction notice should be withdrawn.  This is further exacerbated by the subsequent coronavirus pandemic, which has created so many challenges for local businesses and throughout which Nour has been supporting our community with generous donations to our local Foodbank.

I have written to Hondo Enterprises on multiple occasions since February, repeatedly asking them to withdraw the eviction notice.  Hondo say that they need to move Nour Cash and Carry in order to build a new substation which can only be located in Nour’s unit.  If this is the case, Hondo must provide indisputable evidence of it and place this in the public domain.  Again, I have been clear about this and I have written to Hondo to say so.  Along with the local Coldharbour ward councillors, I have met with Hondo twice to date to represent the views of Nour Cash and Carry and the strength of feeling in our local community.

We need to save Nour Cash and Carry.  More widely, local independent businesses need more protection from government.  Just as we need reform of the private rented sector in housing, we need to find ways to strengthen the national protections and support for independent businesses which are the heart and soul of our communities.

I stand with Nour Cash and Carry in a battle they should not have to be fighting to remain in their premises. 

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Statement on Dominic Cummings and Coronavirus Lockdown

Thank you to everyone who has written to me in the past few days regarding the Prime Minister’s special adviser Dominic Cummings. I share the anger of local residents at Mr Cummings behaviour and the Government’s response.  Mr Cummings’ decision to travel from London to Durham while his wife had symptoms of coronavirus, and to then travel over 30 miles to visit Barnard Castle. This was clearly in breach of the guidance, which the vast majority of people across the country were following.

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Coronavirus update - Education

The Covid-19 pandemic has had huge impact on the normality of all of our lives, and this is especially true for children and young people. The closure of schools, whilst necessary to limit the spread of the virus, has left young people without their usual routines and created uncertainty about their education and future. I have been in regular contact with our local schools and I pay tribute to the hard work of teachers and other school staff who are continuing to support their students in these challenging circumstances. I have been working hard to raise the concerns that teachers and young people have raised with me with the Government.

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Helen challenges the Chancellor on the Coronavirus Job-Retention Scheme

I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement this week that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will be extended to October, avoiding a dangerous income cliff-edge for many people.  However, there are still far too many people who are falling through gaps in the government’s support, both in relation to the Job Retention Scheme and the Coronavirus Self-Employed Income Support. I am continuing to raise my concerns about the schemes with the Chancellor and to call for action to ensure that anyone who is at risk of financial hardship because of the pandemic receives the support they need to get by.

Yesterday I called on the Chancellor to ensure new starters who are currently ineligible for the furlough scheme because their employer had not yet notified the Inland Revenue of their employment can prove their employment and access the furlough scheme by presenting a signed contract of employment. It isn’t acceptable that anyone is denied support because of the timing of a change of job. 

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Coronavirus Update - 04 May 2020

The Coronavirus pandemic is having harrowing implications across the globe, affecting all communities. This week I met (virtually) with Refugee Rights Europe to discuss their work responding to the pandemic in refugee camps in northern France and Greece. It is deeply concerned to hear about the harrowing conditions many refugees are experiencing. Large numbers, including unaccompanied children and pregnant women, are being forced to continue to sleep rough on the edges of Calais and Dunkirk in northern France with no access to basic sanitation including handwashing facilities. Camps are increasingly overcrowded making physical distancing impossible, and refugees and relief workers are terrified at the prospect of the Covid-19 virus spreading rapidly.

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Domestic Abuse Bill - Second Reading

Today, the House of Commons debated the second reading of the Domestic Abuse bill. This is an incredibly important piece of legislation, which will make vital steps forward in strengthening support for the victims and survivors of domestic abuse. I support the principle of this bill and its provisions, but it is important that it is scrutinised closely and that every detail is right, in order to provide the strongest possible set of protections. To this effect, Labour will be seeking amendments to the Bill during its committee stage in Parliament.

Crucially, I believe that the Bill must ensure survivors of domestic abuse have easier access to social housing. There is a clear link between domestic abuse and homelessness. In 2018/19, an estimated 23,430 families who were at risk of homelessness has experienced domestic violence. I regularly support abuse survivors attempting to flee to safety who are unable to due to difficulties accessing safe and secure housing. You can see my intervention in an earlier reading of the bill below.

I also fully support my colleague Harriet Harman’s cross-party campaign to end the use of the ‘rough sex’ defence. No perpetrator of violent attacks or murder should be able to blame their victim or use their victim’s sexuality as a defence in court. I am pleased that as a result of this campaign, the Home Office has also committed to a review of the ‘rough sex’ defence.

I am very concerned to see an increase in reports of domestic abuse during the Coronavirus lockdown. Labour is calling for emergency aid for shelters and services to maintain their provision throughout the current crisis. If you feel that you are at risk of domestic abuse at this time, it is important to seek help when it is safe to do so.

Advice from Women’s Aid on how to seek help can be found here: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/?gclid=CjwKCAjwqJ_1BRBZEiwAv73uwDNCTb-Lw5lPe9kL7Q7xvHHfvozCAwgC8VrAoeoi3tCxZH3MCPpeABoClkIQAvD_BwE

If you are living in Lambeth you can contact the Gaia Centre on 020 7733 8724.

If you are living in Southwark you can contact the Southwark Advocacy and Support Services on 020 7539 1290

In an emergency you should always call 999.

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Helen visits West Norwood and Brixton Food Bank

Yesterday, I visited the distribution warehouse for the Norwood and Brixton food bank.  The team of staff and volunteers are working exceptionally hard to support people who are struggling to afford the essentials at this very difficult time, and they are distributing more food than ever – around as much in just two days as they would usually distribute in a whole week.

The physical foodbank locations in Brixton and West Norwood are currently closed, but the foodbank is delivering parcels of food and other essentials to residents who are facing financial hardship caused by the pandemic or other reasons.

There is an urgent need for donations, especially of UHT Milk, tinned vegetables, tinned puddings and custard, toilet roll and reusable bags. Financial donations enable the foodbank to source supplies directly from suppliers, and are also hugely appreciated.  You can learn more about where to drop off donations of food and how to give financially here: https://norwoodbrixton.foodbank.org.uk/

You can also donate to the Southwark Food Bank here: https://southwark.foodbank.org.uk/

Please donate if you can. Any support you can offer will go straight to provide a lifeline for residents in desperate need.

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