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 and my response 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.
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 year as the weather turns colder I am contacted by my constituents about the plight and increase in homelessness.
Homelessness and rough sleeping are not inevitable in a country as decent and well-off as ours, yet since 2010 the number of people sleeping rough has increased by 169%. I believe this figure is a terrible reminder of eight years of failure on housing which has seen a steep drop in investment for new affordable homes; billions of pounds cut from housing benefit; inaction on short-term lets and soaring rents in the private rented sector; and significant cuts to funding for homelessness services.
I support meaningful action to tackle housing inequality, end homelessness and ensure that everyone has a place to call home. At the general election last year, I stood on a manifesto which pledged to end rough sleeping within five years and prevent the need for anyone to sleep rough on the streets. The manifesto included a commitment to build one million genuinely affordable homes to rent and buy to give those on low incomes more options for a place to stay.
As part of a wider plan to fix the housing crisis, the Opposition has also proposed a levy on second homes that are used as holiday homes, to give homeless families the chance of a first home. It is estimated that this could raise £560 million a year to help tackle the crisis.
Meanwhile, the Government has confirmed that its rough sleeping strategy, published in August, contains no additional funding. If Ministers are serious about ending rough sleeping, I believe they should back the Opposition's plans to: make 8,000 affordable homes immediately available for people with a history of sleeping on the streets; end the current practice of 'no-fault' evictions; and take action to strengthen tenants' rights by bringing forward a consumer rights revolution for renters. This would ensure more secure tenancies, new legal minimum standards and controls on rent rises.
Animal welfare is a real passion to the communities of Bootle judging from the volume of contacts I get on these matters. Puppy smuggling has proven to be an issue that many are really concerned about. I share your concerns about the illegal importation of puppies into the UK and I pay tribute to Dogs Trust for its crucial work on this issue.
I have long believed that more should be done to block wholesale puppy imports that are abusing the Pet Travel Scheme and to ensure that all puppies have legitimate documentation. It is also vital that government agencies have the resources they need to enforce the current legislation.
The Government says that leaving the EU will open up new opportunities for managing our pet travel arrangements and ensuring there are robust controls on disease and animal welfare after Brexit. These warm words must be matched with real action and I can assure you that I will hold the Government to account on this issue.
At the 2017 General Election, I stood on a manifesto that pledged to prohibit the third-party sale of puppies. This is very important to improve welfare for all dogs and to help deter irresponsible breeders from trafficking puppies into the UK to sell them on for financial gain.
I am therefore pleased that the current Government has recently consulted on plans to ban third-party sales of puppies and kittens in England. This would require a prospective pet owner to buy or adopt a pet directly from a breeder or a rehoming centre. I look forward to the outcome of this consultation being published.
I believe we must send out a strong message that the illegal importation of puppies is a cruel practice that must stop. The Opposition recently consulted on its draft Animal Welfare Plan, which includes proposals to reintroduce rabies testing before entry to the UK, to increase the post rabies test period to three months and to introduce a microchip database and record microchip numbers upon entry.
I will continue to press for improved measures to tackle puppy smuggling.
High Cost Credit
Another issue that my constituents are concerned about it is high-cost credit. I agree with you on this important issue. We need better regulation of consumer lending.
As you know, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is responsible for regulating high-cost credit in the UK. I know that in a letter to payday lenders in October 2018, the FCA said they should reassess the quality of their affordability tests. The Government says the FCA has tough enforcement powers to protect consumers and act against firms that do not meet its standards. It states that since 2014, the FCA has been proactive on consumer credit, to ensure that all consumers who use high-cost credit products are treated fairly.
However, I believe we need urgent action from the Government to change this broken model of consumer credit and review the way lending is regulated. The business model of payday lenders such as Wonga, which collapsed in August 2018, is exploitative and immoral. Furthermore, I believe that payday lenders demonstrate much of what is wrong with our economy - too many people are stuck in insecure employment and reliant on short-term debt just to keep their heads above water.
At the recent Budget, the Chancellor announced plans to pair up banks with debt charities to run a pilot no-interest loan scheme. He said that a feasibility study to help design the pilot scheme would be published in early 2019. I believe that this announcement is inadequate and I remain deeply concerned that the Government has overseen the expansion of high-cost problem credit on an industrial scale.
I am committed to lifting living standards and tackling the persistent debt spiral that many working families have already become trapped in. I believe we should tackle the issue of high-cost credit by capping exploitative lending, increasing real wages and ending austerity.
Food Labelling – method of animal slaughter
Many residents contacted me about the labelling of meat products by method of slaughter.
As you know, British and EU law requires animals to be stunned before slaughter but makes an exemption for religious slaughter carried out by members of the Jewish and Muslim communities.
I appreciate that organisations including the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming and the British Veterinary Association have expressed concerns about the animal welfare implications of non-stun slaughter. However, I am also aware that these are strongly contested by Jewish and Islamic communities.
Although I would prefer all animals to be stunned before slaughter, it is important to recognise the rights of certain communities and to accept the importance they attach to their religious beliefs. There are no plans to ban religious slaughter in the UK and I agree it would not be appropriate to implement a ban. I believe we must strike a balance between animal welfare law and important cultural and religious practices.
Each UK nation has national rules which are stricter than the relevant EU regulation and which are aimed at reducing stress and providing greater protection for animals slaughtered in accordance with religious rites. In addition, it is an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (in England and Wales) and the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 (in Scotland) to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal.
I am aware that there is concern about meat products from animals that are not stunned before slaughter being sold to consumers who do not require their meat to be prepared in this way. There are currently no requirements to include information on the method of slaughter on meat labelling. However, any information provided voluntarily must be accurate and not be misleading to the consumer.
The UK Government has said that consumers should have the necessary information to enable them to make an informed choice about their food and is considering this issue in the context of the UK leaving the EU.
I believe food labelling must be clear and unambiguous so that consumers know exactly what they are buying, and so that farmers can compete fairly within any new trade deals after Brexit.