The Bootle constituency community is committed, involved and passionate about issues that affect us in our “neck of the woods”, and more broadly, the country. Every month I hear from constituents about issues close to their hearts. Here I will try to summarise the issues that have generated a high volume of correspondence from constituents so that you can keep up to date with my work in the constituency, as well as in Parliament. I hope you find this information helpful, and if you would like to get in touch about a particular matter, please send me an email.
Breathing Space from Debt
Many constituents have contacted me recently regarding the issue of debt, and in particular the idea of a "Breathing Space" scheme.
A "Breathing Space" scheme would give people a period without interest, charges or debt collection activity while they seek advice and try to improve their financial situation. The idea has been supported by both the debt charity Step Change and the Children's Society.
In 2015 the Government accepted the need to conduct an in-depth review of this by the end of the year. Unfortunately, the review is still ongoing. I appreciate the very serious problems that can be caused by personal debt. I am concerned that many young people are facing a lifetime of debt and uncertainty whilst the Government are not going far enough to protect families from falling into unmanageable debt.
Total household debt rose to £1,834 trillion at the end of September 2016. While prices are rising earnings are still below where they were before the financial crash and people are struggling to make ends meet.
I hope that the Government will listen to the very serious concerns raised by organisations and individuals regarding household debt and I can assure you that I will continue to follow this issue closely.
Green Investment Bank
A number of constituents have been in touch recently regarding the proposed sale of the Green Investment Bank (GIB).
The Green Investment Bank (GIB), in public hands, has been a great British success story. It has funded innovative technology to fight climate change and created export opportunities for a decarbonising world. It can continue to maintain an important economic role, helping to drive innovation, green energy and infrastructure in the UK. I therefore believe that the Government should stop its proposed sale.
The green infrastructure that our future low-carbon economy will need requires patient, long-term investment. The Government states that sale of the GIB will enable it to access greater capital to invest in green infrastructure. However, the GIB is designed introduce initial high risk capital into research and development projects to encourage the green technology innovation we need. The Australian bank Macquarie, reportedly the Government's preferred bidder, has been charged with having no interest in this approach. I am therefore concerned that the market failure that the GIB has been fixing will remerge and the UK will lose out on the development of exportable green technologies.
A number of individuals and organisations, including the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, are worried that far from investing its own money in new green technologies, Macquarie is planning to break up the Bank and sell off its most profitable assets. Furthermore, the Government has confirmed that 11 new companies have been set up within the GIB, which would enable the quick sell-off of these assets, so it would appear these fears may be justified. I am therefore concerned that the measures the Government has put in place will not be sufficient to protect the green purposes of the GIB, or to prevent the institution from being broken up and sold off.
NHS/Adult social care
In January I supported an Opposition motion which called for a new funding settlement for the NHS and social care to be part of the Spring Budget. I was disappointed that the Government opposed this motion.
The House of Commons held an debate on health and social care on Monday 27 February. The Government repeatedly defended its healthcare spending, yet the NHS is required to find £22 billion of annual efficiency savings and there are concerns that increasing demand for health services and pressure on local authority budgets are threatening the financial stability of health and social care systems.
I believe the sustained underfunding of the NHS is stretching the finances of NHS hospitals beyond their limits. Hospitals have already run up a deficit of £886 million this year and independent health charities the King's Fund and Nuffield Trust have said that six years of "unprecedented" budget reductions is exacerbating pressures on the NHS.
In December it was announced that councils would be granted the flexibility to raise council taxes to pay for adult social care. However, this has already proven to be an inadequate and short-term sticking plaster for a problem which requires long-term answers. It will not meet existing need and I believe that shifting the burden onto council tax payers creates a postcode lottery in social care services.
In the Spring Budget the Government announced £2 billion over the next 3 years for social care support but that is in stark contrast to the £4.5 billion cuts in social care support already made.
Our country has a proud history of helping those fleeing conflict and persecution and as we face the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War it is, of course, right that we continue to play our part.
I acknowledge the Government's work helping those refugees who have stayed in camps in the region, but I have long believed that there is more we could do to reunite refugees with family in the UK and to help unaccompanied children in Europe.
I am very disappointed that the Government recently announced the Dubs scheme will end after resettling only 350 unaccompanied children. 350 children is far short of what was expected - when Parliament debated and accepted the Dubs amendment last year the frequently mentioned number was 3,000.
We know that unaccompanied child refugees are highly vulnerable to trafficking, sexual exploitation and other forms of abuse. I was of the strong of the view that the Government should recommit to meeting the obligations of the Dubs amendment, restore this scheme, and accept some of the most vulnerable children in the world. But they have rejected that in Parliament.