Every month I hear from constituents about issues close to their hearts, whether personal or as part of a national campaign. Here I will try to summarise the issues that have generated a high volume of correspondence from constituents and my response so that you can keep up to date with my work in the constituency, as well as in Parliament.
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.
Mental Capacity Bill
A high number of individual constituents wrote to me about the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill and how this could impact upon their loved ones.
I share concerns that the Bill fails to put the interests of vulnerable adults first. Ministers must immediately pause this ill-thought-out legislation to give time for proper consultation with interested groups.
At second reading, I voted for a reasoned amendment to prevent the Bill making any further progress and to allow for significant flaws to be addressed. While the Government has removed a conflict of interest in relation to managers of independent hospitals, I am concerned that the Bill remains deeply flawed.
The Government rejected crucial Opposition amendments, which would have removed the conflict of interest that will see care homes making arrangements that deprive vulnerable people of their liberty. These concerns were echoed in a report by the Joint Committee for Human Rights last year. The Government also rejected an Opposition amendment to ensure that a cared-for person is provided with an independent advocate by default.
As it stands, the Bill weakens the current safeguards of people who do not have the capacity to consent. While I voted against the Bill at third reading, it passed with the support of Government MPs.
I will press Ministers at every opportunity to pause the Bill, address the conflicts of interest within it, and consult with interested groups to ensure that it is fit for purpose.
NHS Staff vacancies and recruitment
Many people working in the local NHS and people concerned about the NHS contacted me about the Government's proposals for a new immigration system and staff shortages in the NHS and social care sector.
I believe we must ensure our NHS and care sector can recruit the staff needed to care for our sick and elderly. Therefore, I would like to see the rights of all NHS and social care staff from the EU safeguarded, as well as an end to hostile restrictions on international recruitment.
There are over 100,000 vacancies across the NHS in England and an estimated 110,000 vacancies in adult social care. We need migrants, along with training, education and better pay for our workforce, to tackle the skills and labour shortages we are facing.
The Government published a White Paper in December which sets out its plans for the UK's future immigration system. The Government will consult on these proposals for one year before publishing new immigration rules.
There is a great deal of concern that the minimum salary threshold for skilled workers will be set at £30,000, which would rule out many healthcare professionals and people working in the social care sector. This would be very damaging to both the public and private sector and represents an unfair distinction between high-paid and low-paid workers.
The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill had its Second Reading in the House of Commons on 28 January 2019. I voted against this Bill as I was concerned by the broad powers within it. The Bill could allow the Government to introduce an-as-yet unknown immigration system without parliamentary oversight or scrutiny.
Unfortunately, the Bill passed Second Reading with the support of Government MPs and has now proceeded to Committee Stage. I will follow the passage of the Bill closely and will continue to press to safeguard the rights of all NHS and social care staff from the EU.
I would like to see a fair system for future immigration, based on the needs of our society and economy. I oppose numerical immigration targets, as I think the criteria for migration should be rational and evidence-based - allowing the immigration we need and with equal treatment regardless of the countries migrants come from.
Parental Leave for premature babies
Many residents with personal experience contacted me about parental leave for parents of premature babies.
I appreciate the special needs of parents of babies admitted to neonatal care units. It is shocking that, as a 2014 report from the charity Bliss found, they face extra costs of over £280 a week during their baby's stay in hospital. I share your concern about the financial pressures placed on families of premature babies at a very stressful time.
As you know, the Government is conducting a review of the employment provisions for parents of premature and sick babies. I understand that it is reviewing guidance published by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) on this issue in 2017 and could come forward with improvements to the guidance and possible further provisions. I also understand that it is working with organisations such as Bliss that have been campaigning on this issue.
I have long supported measures to help families spend more time with a new baby. Indeed, in 2017, I stood for election on a manifesto that pledged to extend maternity pay to 12 months, rather than the current 39 weeks that Bliss states is not long enough for parents of babies born very early or sick. I also committed to taking action to stop maternity discrimination, to doubling paid paternity leave to four weeks and to increasing paternity pay.
I appreciate that parents of babies born premature or sick, in particular, will want to be with their children as much as possible at what is an incredibly difficult and stressful time. I therefore hope that the Government will listen carefully and respond to the concerns that have been raised about the need for extended leave for parents of premature babies when it brings forward the conclusions of its review.
Children's services provide a lifeline to thousands of vulnerable children and families in our area and across the country, but I am concerned they are on the brink after eight years of austerity.
These cuts have created a crisis in the early intervention and support services that help our most vulnerable children, just at the time when there are more children in need than ever before.
The Local Government Association (LGA) note that councils have worked hard to protect budgets for essential child protection services, but funding pressures have led to difficult decisions elsewhere, leaving children and young people unable to access support until they reach breaking point. I have raised this issue in parliament.
I am alarmed by the LGA findings that children's services are facing a £3 billion funding gap by 2025.
In the Budget in October 2018, on children's social care the Government provided £84 million over five years for up to 20 local authorities. This will come nowhere near to addressing the national emergency facing children's services.
At the last general election, I stood on a manifesto which pledged to give local government extra funding. It also pledged to refocus social care to work with families in local communities to prevent children becoming at risk of going into care. It further committed to tackle child poverty with a new Child Poverty Strategy, and pledged to invest in early intervention by increasing the proportion of mental health budgets spent on support for children and young people.
I believe that the Government must take urgent action to provide councils with the sustainable funding that is needed to meet demand for children's services. I can therefore assure you that I will continue to urge the Government to tackle the funding crisis facing children's services across the country.