Newsletter 15 February 2021

 

My condolences are with the loved ones of those who sadly lost loved ones over the past few weeks in the pandemic. Reports from the Royal London Hospital have been extremely worrying I have met with local health leaders to discuss how they are managing this crisis.

This Government has failed time and time again to keep us safe. The delays in implementing lockdown and closing our schools before Christmas caused thousands more deaths in January. The vaccine can allow us some cautious optimism going forward however we cannot allow the Government to escape accountability.  

I am continuing to fight for the local community, and you can see a snapshot of my work below. If you do have any questions or know anyone in need of some support, feel free to get in touch with me at apsana.begum.mp@parliament.uk

You can also see all of my written parliamentary questions this month here.

Warmest wishes,

Apsana

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Communities & Covid

 

I have long been concerned that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 especially given the high proportion of these communities represented in our constituency. Evidence suggests that this is due to socio-economic factors rather than genetic factors with poor quality, over-crowded housing and work in unsafe conditions explaining the overexposure to the virus.

Over the recent period, I have led a campaign to include BAME communities as a priority group for the vaccination roll-out. 

organised for a number of MPs write to Nadim Zahawi MP (Minister for Vaccine Deployment) and Matt Hancock MP (Secretary of State for Health) requesting the Government prioritise BAME communities for vaccination and tabled a motion in Parliament calling on the Government to take action gathering cross party support. I directly challenged the Prime Minister to recognise the role of structural racism in the pandemic – followed up again with the Leader of the House asked the Health Secretary whether he will publish much needed data in relation to these communities. 

I secured cross party support for a parliamentary Early Day Motion and have tabled numerous written questions in this regard. I was delighted to join colleagues from all parties to encourage BAME people, when called, to take the vaccine. However, believe that vaccination programme which prioritises BAME communities will save more lives and protect our already overwhelmed NHS. 

You can I read my latest full article on this issue n my Labour Outlook column or listen to my interview on Times Radio.  

Local healthcare & the Royal London hospital

On New Years Eve, I wrote to the Government urging them to address with urgency the resourcing and staffing crisis at the Royal London Hospital to ensure they are able to provide the standard of care people need and will continue to follow up accordingly. It was clear by this time that the hospital and staff were delivering patient care and saving lives against enormous pressure and demand on their service. I thank them for the work they are doing in the most difficult of circumstances but it is clear that the Government do need to address concerns on resourcing at the hospital and the Trust to ensure that staff are supported to deliver services that is both of high quality and responds to the needs of local constituents of all backgrounds.

I continue to meet with local NHS leaders on a regular basis to take up concerns relating to care and support for patients and I am glad that through these meetings a number of improved measures have been implemented including an enhanced Family Contact Centre at the hospital.

Cladding and fire safety

End Our Cladding Scandal
 

I am continuing to campaign to unsure that buildings are made safe in Poplar and Limehouse. It is a disgrace that anyone should be living in the same cladding that we all saw burning on Grenfell Tower.

Recently I spoke in Parliament urging Government to front up to the mistakes made in the past and work quickly to undo them – emphasising that the burden must not in any way fall on those, particularly leaseholders, currently living in flammable buildings through no fault of their own.

I am also continuing to meet with constituent groups and also with developers to represent their views and encouraging applications to the Building Safety fund where appropriate.

Rough Sleepers

I remain concerned about the numbers of people who are on the streets during this lockdown. I tabled a parliamentary motion calling on the Government to ensure resources to tackle homeless were available to end homeless during lockdown but to make it part of a strategy to eliminate rough sleeping for good.

Universal Credit

 

I am continuing to call on the Government to urgently rethink their plans to remove the £20 Universal Credit uplift from people. In particular, I have been  calling for a reform of Universal Credit more generally.

Poplar and Limehouse has the fifth highest number of Universal Credit claimants in the country and will lose a combined £22.6million per year as a result. We are still in the midst of the pandemic; the economy is in deep recession and Tower Hamlets foodbanks are experiencing an increase in need.

Free School Meals

The Government's excuse for a free school meal
 

The pictures that circulated on social media around the utterly insufficient school lunches provided to children at home sums up the Tory government attitude to our young people. Privatisation of school catering has led to businesses being more interested in profit that providing nutritious meals for those who need them. A coin bag full of tuna to sustain a family for a week is frankly an insult. As a member of the Education Select Committee , I challenged the Education Secretary  about the impact of outsourcing on school meals. I also pressed the Government to guarantee that whenever schools do reopen, households on Free School Meals have access to vouchers, if their children are out of school due to a case of coronavirus. 

School Openings and Early Years Sector 

 

The Government consistently ignored the National Education Union, whose members knew full well from on the ground experiences that schools were acting of vectors of transmission of the virus.

I was proud to join other MP, trade unionists and members of Labour’s national executive committee to support the National Education Union (NEU)’s call for schools not to open in January 2021 – except for vulnerable children and children of key workers and was pleased that the Government finally saw sense in the end.

I remain concerned that Early Years Settings remain open and have heard from a number of local staff who fear for their health by going into work. Childcare workers, parents, grandparents, key workers, nannies & childminders – they are all at risk due to years of failures of  #earlyyears policy and as such I’ve signed this open letter. 

Any return and recovery for our schools and children must be embarked when it is safe to do so and with the appropriate safeguards in place. I am looking forward to the important  public meeting on 17th February with the NEU and parents to discuss this further.  

Social care, mental health & local services

I am concerned that local day care centres are now facing potentially permanent closure. You can read my article about the care my father received at Sonali Gardens Day Centre which enabled him to spend the last years of his life with dignity as his dementia progressed. I was particularly concerned to hear about plans to shut the Rethink Carers service in Tower Hamlets. Rethink provides a vital service to unpaid carers. The pandemic has placed huge pressures on those with mental illness, we must be strengthening their support rather than cutting back on it. 

The Government’s recent White Paper proposed reforms to the Mental Health Act aiming to introduce more culturally appropriate support, yet this service which caters to one of London’s most diverse communities, is being closed. The reality of austerity is a deepening of structural discrimination and every policy must consider implications for these communities going forward. The story has been picked up by the New Statesman in which I have been quoted – you can read it here. 

Napier Barracks & humane asylum

The situation being reported at Napier Barracks evokes horror, with deteriorating living conditions and a great deal of severe distress amongst migrants held there. I have met with the Helen Bamber Foundation for briefings on the situation, who support victims of trafficking, torture exploitation and are heavily involved on the ground at Napier. I have put in for Urgent Questions to the Home Office and have communicated with over 30 constituents about how we can work together to see an end to the Home Office’s use of ‘contingency accommodation’ in this way. In addition, I have submitted a series of  written parliamentary questions on the subject to gather more information and will continue to campaign around the issue.

Workers Rights 

 

On 25 January I voted in Parliament on a motion that argued to defend existing employment rights and protections and called on the Government to bring forward legislation to ban “fire and rehire” tactics. 

It is particularly alarming that research shows that workers, particularly those from ethnic minority backgrounds, have been faced with “fire and rehire” at nearly twice the rate of white workers – which has particular relevance locally. I have supported GMB union members at British Gas taking strike action due to threats to their job security and working conditions. I have also met with private hire drivers (below) to develop campaigns on their work rights.

Labour’s manifesto pledged supporting changes to employment rights are more important than ever – including our commitment to repeal anti-trade union legislation, to ban zero-hours contracts, to give every worker full rights at work from day one, and to significantly expand rights for working people. 

 

Foreign Policy 

 

I have long campaigned for a foreign policy approach that includes principled opposition to military interventions that cause havoc here and around the world. I recently j oined Stop the War coalition to discuss the Julian Assange case following his extradition to the US was blocked. One of the most important lessons we can learn from the devastation wrought by the invasion of Iraq is the importance of a free press able to hold Governments to account. Assange exposed war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan and it is important for civil liberties that he is not extradited. There have been considerable shifts in the heart of this case, including with a number of UN officials supporting these calls.  

It was also a privilege to speak at the global rally for Yemen (above) where the outbreak of war has left over 250,000 dead. Britain has been responsible for supplying arms and training those who have committed atrocities in Yemen and our Government must follow the lead of the Biden administration and end their involvement in the war. In particular recently, I called out the Government at the fact that £1.4bn worth of weapons exports were licenced by the UK to Saudi Arabia in the 3 months after renewing arms sales to them. 

Since November, hundred of thousands of farmers in India have been protesting laws introduced by Narendra Modi’s BJP party that raise the threat of corporate control of agriculture. Reports of police violence against those protesting is enormously concerning and reporting on the demonstration has been restricted by internet shutdowns and a number of protestors including women have been assaulted and imprisoned. I tabled a parliamentary motion on the wider criminalisation of dissent in India which is being supported by Liberal Democrat, SNP & Green Party leads calling on our Government to do more as an international actor.

Covert Human Intelligence Services (CHIS) Bill

 

I’ve spoken on numerous occasions on the CHIS Bill during its passage through Parliament. Most recently, it returns from the House of Lords to be debated in the House of Commons. You can see my full speech on it  here. The fundamental issue with this bill is its undermining of basic human rights and equality under the law. The communities that would be affected most from this bill would be those already marginalised. With the Prevent programme already targeting Muslim communities, a blanket permission for undercover operatives to commit crimes would be extremely worrying.

Holocaust Memorial Day

 

This theme of this years’ Holocaust Memorial Day  (27 January), the international day of remembrance to reflect on the horrors and atrocities of Nazi Germany and the murder of six million Jews, alongside millions of other minorities – is unity in the face of the rise of the far right and white supremacy.  

 

This is ever more relevant as the far right present a real threat and antisemitism, hate speech and hate crimes are again on the rise internationally – and in particular across Europe and America. I attended the Holocaust Memorial Trust memorial event online.

Paint the Change: can you help?

 

Last year, Paint the Change teamed up with Wapping Youth FC to bring this brilliant mural to Wapping.

Paint the Change are working on their 51st mural. The mural is focused on the environment and they are hoping to launch it on Earth Day at the end of April.

Do you know a wall that needs brightening up?

If so reach out to Sonia at sonia@paintthechange.me.

100 years since the Poplar Rates Rebellion

 

2021 marks 100 years since the Poplar Rates Rebellion, led by George Lansbury, where councillors (in what was then known as) Poplar Borough Council, refused to increase rates for working class residents who could not afford them.

Thirty Labour councillors went to prison for refusing to collect rates that the people of Poplar could not afford.

I was pleased to join Janine Booth at a trade union event to reflect on the centenary of this act of rebellion and what it means for today.

 
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