Conversations and post bag issues March 2017
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.
Animal cruelty sentences
Constituents have been in touch about animal cruelty sentences.
Groups such as Battersea Dogs & Cats Home have expressed concern about sentences for animal cruelty, and argue they do not always appear to match the abuse suffered by the animals, especially in the case of extreme cruelty such as dog fighting. I agree that any sentences given by the courts must reflect the seriousness of these crimes. Cruelty to animals is worrying and it is important that we send out a strong and powerful message that animal cruelty must stop.
At the 2015 General Election I stood on a manifesto which included a commitment to improve protection for cats and dogs.
The Government is yet to make any significant changes to ensure that the punishment for animal cruelty reflects the gravity of the crime. The Government recently said that it has no plans to introduce an animal abusers register. I believe it should consider increasing magistrates' sentencing powers, and ensuring that the most serious cases of animal abuse are heard at the Crown Court. Any review should consider the prevalence of these offences and whether the current sentencing guidance is being applied properly.
I can assure you that I support efforts to increase sentences for those convicted of animal abuse and I will continue to press for clear and enforceable penalties against anyone who commits animal cruelty offences.
I sympathise profoundly with anybody who has been affected by bowel cancer.
The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme for 60-69 year olds was rolled out between July 2006 and December 2010, in which time over 7,000 cancers were detected. The programme has been extended to men and women aged up to 74 and those over 74 can self-refer for screening every two years if they wish.
Bowel Scope Screening (BSS), an additional one-off examination for men and women aged 55, is currently being rolled out across the country. However, I am aware that current guidance from NHS England states that BSS may not be offered in certain areas of England, and I appreciate that concerns have been raised about this.
Early diagnosis is critical to improving cancer survival. The UK National Screening Committee, which advises ministers and the NHS about all aspects of population screening, recommended faecal occult blood testing should be extended to those aged 50 to 74. I know the Government has received Parliamentary Questions on this issue, and a related online petition has been signed by more than 274,000 people. I hope the Government considers this carefully when responding.
I believe investment in local screening programmes can make a real difference to the nation's health. However, the Government has pushed ahead with short-sighted cuts to public health budgets without considering the impact on people's health. This is a false economy and I believe the NHS and social care sector must be provided with the funding that is desperately needed.
I will follow this issue closely.
NHS and social care funding
I have been contacted recently regarding health and social care funding.
I share my constituents’ concerns about this issue. 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.
As you are aware, the House of Commons held an Estimates Day 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 on to council tax payers creates a postcode lottery in social care services.
Media reports say that the Chancellor is considering a short-term, ring-fenced cash injection for social care worth hundreds of millions of pounds for councils, however adult social services directors say they need an immediate injection of £1 billion for social care to prevent the weakening and collapse of some parts of the sector.
Thank you once again for contacting me. I can assure you that I will continue to press for a new and improved funding settlement for the NHS and social care.
School funding cuts
School funding cuts are a concern for me and my constituents.
At the 2015 General Election I stood on a manifesto which pledged to protect the entire education budget and I share your concern that we are facing the first real-terms cut in the schools budget for over two decades. Indeed, the National Audit Office has revealed there will be an 8% cut in per pupil funding between 2015 and 2020. It appears that schools in Bootle, Crosby, Orrell, Litherland, Ford, Netherton and Waterloo are losing out in this Government review of formula funding.
I support the principle that all schools should receive fair funding. However, I fear that the proposed new funding formula will simply redistribute a sum of money that is inadequate to support our schools and provide our children with the excellent education they deserve. Clearly this current review has failed to take into account local need and once again our local area is on the receiving end of Government cuts.
Schools are struggling to manage significant budget deficits and there are shortages of teachers, not enough good school places, thousands of children in super-sized classes, and a widening attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their better-off peers.
I appreciate that head teachers are reporting that they are increasingly faced with difficult choices such as whether they can afford to have classrooms cleaned, or to keep hold of support staff who are essential to school communities. With three quarters of school budgets taken up by staffing costs, the concern is that classroom teachers could be cut next. It is already the case that recruitment targets are being missed year-on-year while teachers are leaving the profession in high numbers.
I believe that all schools should be given the funding they need to provide an excellent education for every child and I will continue to press the Government for the investment that is needed to improve standards across all schools and to deliver an education which enables all of our children to reach their full potential.
Many families contacted me about the changes to support for widowed parents and families. I believe this support is absolutely crucial for widowed parents and their children and I oppose the cuts to this vital payment.
It was announced in January that the current three tier system of support for bereaved families would be replaced with a Bereavement Support Payment, effective from April 2017. The payment will consist of an initial lump sum of £3,500 for people with children and £2,500 for those without children, and a further 18 monthly instalments payable to the surviving spouse or civil partner of £350 for those with children and £100 for those without.
I am aware that many organisations have raised concerns about the changes, particularly that instead of parents receiving support until their youngest child leaves school - or for a maximum period of 20 years - they will receive financial help for just 18 months.
These changes are a new low and I am particularly concerned about the impact they will have on the four million children currently living in poverty. The majority of bereaved families will lose out financially and this will only compound the grief families are already feeling and limit the ability of parents to comfort their children. It is also the case that the proposed changes will not automatically be uprated with inflation.
I can assure you I oppose the reforms to bereavement allowance. My Opposition colleagues on the Delegated Legislation Committee which considered the draft Bereavement Support Regulations 2017 voted against the regulations that will implement the changes.
Unfortunately, however, the regulations were approved and the Government has confirmed the changes to bereavement support will be going ahead from April 2017. However I will continue to oppose the proposed cuts to support for widowed parents and call for them to be reversed.