Helen calls for targeted extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, I have been contacted by constituents facing a devastating loss of income. Whilst the Government’s job-retention scheme and self-employed income support scheme protected many people from severe financial hardship, I have long been calling for gaps in both schemes to be closed and for a more flexible approach.

We are now just weeks away from the end of both schemes, with no safety net remaining for the hundreds of thousands of people still relying on the support. Earlier this week, I called on the Chancellor to prevent catastrophic job losses, abandon his one size fits all approach, and provide the targeted support needed to save jobs in Dulwich and West Norwood >>

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Helen challenges the Secretary of State on Covid-19 testing for schools

An effective test, trace and isolate system is absolutely essential in enabling us to live as normally as possible while coronavirus is still circulating in our communities. As schools return and many children suffer the inevitable round of colds which the autumn brings, it is vitally important that testing is available so that coronavirus infections can be identified and isolated quickly to stop infection spread and to enable anyone who doesn’t have coronavirus to return to work or school as soon as possible.
The past week has shown the Government’s testing regime is not fit for purpose and is close to collapse. Some of my constituents have been asked to travel as far as Scotland for walk-in testing. Coronavirus cases are sadly going up across the country and testing has never been more important and the Government must act to sort the system out. I asked the Secretary of State today when children, teachers and school support staff will have reliable access to testing and results – he simply didn’t have an answer >>
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Exam results scandal

I have almost no words for the Tories’ appalling treatment of young people across the country who took A-levels, BTECs and GCSEs this year. These students have faced challenges more difficult than any generation since the end of the Second World War, and they have been failed multiple times over by the government.

I wrote to the Schools Minister and to Ofqual multiple times in June and July  to query the formula for awarding grades and to raise concerns that it would increase inequality and deliver profoundly unfair outcomes, and I raised this with him in person shortly before the results were released.

But the Tories ignored all warnings and issued algorithm-generated A-level grades. The impact was utterly devastating, as students who had received offers from top universities found their places being withdrawn because their moderated grades were too low.  Local students who got in touch with me included a young man whose parents currently work five jobs between them to support their family, who had been offered a place to study law at a Russell Group university; and a young black woman from Brixton who would be the first in her family to go to university with an offer to study medicine.  These young people saw their dreams slipping away in an instant.

I spent the weeks following results day working with my small team to fight for justice for these local students and many others, supporting our local schools and writing to many universities on behalf of individual students urging them to honour their offers and accept teacher-assessed grades.

Although the government finally U-turned on their unfair algorithm, some of these same students are now living through intolerable chaos as they start university, many local students have still had to defer their university places until next year and some remain unable to take up places they were offered.  There is still a long way to go to undo the damage caused by the Tories’ exam chaos. 

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Planning application for Pope's Road

I have been contacted by many constituents who are concerned about Hondo's planning application for Pope's Road. I share these concerns and have written to Lambeth Council to oppose the application. You can read my full objection below. 

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Helen challenges the Prime Minister on youth violence

Last week 18 year old Donnell Rhule was tragically murdered with a knife on the Kingswood Estate, leaving his family utterly devastated and the close-knit Kingswood community reeling. I have spoken with members of Donnell’s family and many local residents to offer my support at this unbearably difficult time.

Today I asked the Prime Minister to accept in full the recommendations of the cross-party Youth Violence Commission and implement a cross-government public health approach to serious violence, investing in our youth services, mental health services, early years support and community policing, and reforming the criminal justice system to stop more families from having to face the unbearable pain of losing a young person to knife crime. The Prime Minister chose to play politics instead. You can watch my question here >> 

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Helen speaks in debate on the NHS and Social Care

Today marks the 72nd anniversary of our precious NHS, appreciated and valued this year perhaps more than ever. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, health and social care workers have been on the frontline caring for vulnerable people and saving lives.

I pay tribute to their tireless work, and my thoughts are with the families of the health and care workers who have tragically lost their lives to coronavirus. Shamefully, the Government’s testing regime has been poorly planned and slow to scale up to the challenges of the virus. This left far too many health and social care workers exposed and allowed the virus to rapidly spread through care homes.

Last week, I called on the Minister to bring forward to meaningful reform needed to ensure staff are properly paid and to take action to give care homes and providers access to frequent, regular testing.

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Coronavirus and the arts

Lambeth and Southwark are both home to world leading theatres, and British theatre is one of our most successful exports abroad. I have been contacted by many constituents working in theatre and the performing arts.

Theatres and other performance venues in England receive very little public funding, unlike in other European countries, and rely on ticket sales to stay viable. With no clear date or plan to allow theatres to reopen, many performers, designers and technicians face the threat of redundancy.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to call for immediate action to help theatres throughout the closure but little support has so far been announced.

Last week, I wrote again to urge the Minister to consider acting to ensure British theatre survives. You can see my letter here>>

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Helen speaks in debate on Covid-19 and inequalities

Yesterday marked the third annual Windrush Day, on which we celebrate the enduring contribution of the Windrush generation to life in the UK. This celebration must never be sentimental, it takes place in the context of the reality of the structural racism and injustice that BAME people still experience today. Whether the government’s failure to deliver justice and compensation for the victims of the Windrush scandal, or the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on BAME residents in the UK, Windrush Day is a celebration but it must also be a time for deep national reflection, a redoubling of our commitment to address racial inequality once and for all and an urgent call for action. I spoke last week in a debate in Parliament on the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on BAME communities.

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Update on Nour Cash and Carry

Many local residents have been involved in the campaign to save a wonderful local independent shop in Brixton, Nour Cash & Carry. I’m delighted to share that yesterday Nour Cash & Carry reached an agreement with their landlord which means they have a secure, long term future in Brixton at a level of rent they can afford.

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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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