Westminster is now in recess, but my diary is as full as ever, with daily visits to local charities, community groups and kids summer activities. I’m also using my time in Blaydon constituency to visit our brilliant independent businesses, new and long-standing, to see how they are getting on in these difficult times.
Last week I joined local councillors Chris Buckley and Alex and Freda Geddes to congratulate the staff at Stargate Chippy, who have fed so many of our older and vulnerable people, working with Ryton Health Hub to provide fish and chips to local residents.
I would also like to recognise Winlaton’s Hilton and Son Butchers, who are just one example of a local business that has continued to operate throughout lockdown, with queues stretching down the street at times. Like so many of our small, family run shops, they offer a free delivery service to shielding and self-isolating residents, in a real show of community spirit.
I’d like to pay tribute to two of our long-standing business owners. Tamara from Buttercups and Daisies in Crawcrook has been running this wonderful florist for 17 years, with over 25 years experience going into this business. Les, who runs a local greengrocers on Dean Terrace, Ryton, has been there 22 years and is still attracting new customers after all this time.
There are far too many independent businesses to mention, but my visits have really affirmed how these entrepreneurs are often the backbone of our local communities. They often go without credit too, working long, hard hours to make their dreams a reality whilst adding life and colour to our towns. Run by local owners, keeping local people in local jobs and driving the local economy, the more we can support them, the stronger our communities will be in the months and years ahead. The current pandemic serves as a reminder of that.
Following my Kids’ Question Time a few months back, I have continued to call for more support for our young people. Coming out of lockdown it is vital that our young people have access to the support they need, with the last six months being immeasurably tough for them. So, last week I joined Kim McGuinness, our Police and Crime Commissioner, and Councillor Gary Haley, at the opening of the new headquarters of NE Youth, who have relocated to Blaydon after 85 years in the West End of Newcastle.
With schools, colleges and workplaces closed, NE Youth continue to ensure that our young people have the opportunities they deserve. This move demonstrates the commitment of NE Youth to all our communities, including the smaller and more rural villages. I look forward to seeing their engagement with young people in Gateshead grow.
I also paid a visit to the Mount Community Association in Eighton Banks with Mayor Michael Hood, Mayoress Janice Scott and Councillor Sheila Gallagher. For two years the team there have been making exciting plans, clearing the space, digging up muck and raising funds to transform the site into a beautiful community centre, which serves as both an indoor and outdoor venue. It’s surrounded by green space and nods to our heritage, and it couldn’t be a more inspiring place for young people.
I was pleased to attend a number of children’s activities too, armed with an array of fresh fruit from Les’ greengrocersfor the kids. Our community groups and schools, supported by Gateshead Council, are offering a brilliant #BrightentheDay programme, which builds on many years of work across Gateshead to provide much needed food and activities during the summer holidays.
The family activities range from bike rides and nature walks, to healthy cooking ideas and much more. For more information on the activities available for you and your family, visit the council’s website at http://www.gateshead.gov.uk.
We all know volunteers, groups, organisations and businesses who have worked solidly to keep our communities going during the pandemic. It is important that the contributions of local people are recognised, so with this in mind I have launched the Blaydon Angels Awards.
I would like to hear about those unsung heroes, those who just get on with it without making a fuss, but who make a real difference. If you think someone living, working or volunteering within my Parliamentary Constituency of Blaydon should receive an award for their contribution, you can make a nomination on my website http://www.liztwist.co.uk or by telephone on 0191 4142844.
The pandemic has doubtless dealt a hammer blow to our towns and villages, but as Anne Brontë once said, ‘the ties that bind us to life are tougher than you imagine’. I, for one, am proud to say these ties are stronger than ever in Blaydon constituency.
You can watch and read Liz’s contribution to the Autism Community: Mental Health and Suicide debate below:
“First, I thank the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron)—sorry for my pronunciation—for her thoughtful and comprehensive speech, and for setting out the difficulties that people with autism face. I am tempted to say, “What she said,” but I do not think that does justice to the situation.
I just want to touch on a few points. Earlier this year I met Autistica, a charity that does research into autism. If other hon. Members have not seen its report “Personal tragedies, public crisis”, which looks into why people with autistic spectrum disorders die early—up to 16 years early, as the hon. Lady said—I would encourage them to do so. It makes shocking reading. The key points include the point that autism in itself is not a mental health problem, but that eight out of ten autistic people will face mental health difficulties, such as anxiety and depression. Four out of 10 children with autism have two or more mental health problems. The research also shows that suicide is a leading cause of death among people with autism. Autistic adults without a learning disability are nine times more likely than others to die by suicide, and autistic adults with a learning disability are twice as likely to be die by suicide. Those are shocking figures. Suicide is preventable, and we need to do much more to reduce those figures.
We also need to recognise some of the specific problems people face. As other Members have said, many mental health problems can look different in autistic people. We need to recognise that and make sure that the issue is addressed, and that people have the appropriate treatments and are dealt with properly.”
“Intervention from Barry Sheerman MP for Huddersfield:
My hon. Friend is quoting from an excellent piece of research, but is she aware that the autism commission I chair has conducted a piece of work about the spectrum of obstacles and the difficulty that people with autism face in getting through to the right people in the health service? Those two pieces of research are so powerful.”
“I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I absolutely agree that the two pieces of work go together and can help us to improve services for people with autism spectrum disorders.
As others have said, it is becoming increasingly obvious that some mental health therapies are not right for people with autism and do not work in the same ways that they do for other people, and we need to do more research into those areas.
It can be difficult for autistic people to approach services for support, and we have already heard about the issues with going to a GP surgery. Autistic people and their families are also left fighting the system too often, because information is not shared.
We need to do a number of things. First, as others have said, we need to diagnose autism much earlier so that appropriate interventions may be offered to people with autism and their families. Secondly, we need to record people who have autism on GP records and collect data so that we can identify the issues and develop appropriate services. It is good that, in the Westminster Hall debate in September, the Government committed to gathering data. I hope the Minister can update us on progress on that.
Next, it would be useful to hear from the Minister what progress is being made on developing the autism care pathway proposed in the “Five Year Forward View for Mental Health”, and whether it will address suicide specifically.
There is concern that suicide prevention measures are not well designed for autistic people. I hope that the Minister will look at what needs to be done differently to reach and support autistic people in crisis.
Finally, none of the recent Cross-Government suicide prevention strategies make reference to autism. Given that we now know that the risk of suicide is so high in the autism community, and that there are very different issues to be considered, as we have heard, will the Minister commit to ensuring that the next strategy looks directly at how to help autistic people in crisis?”
I spoke in the Universal Credit debate last night. Universal Credit is being rolled out for most of Blaydon Constituency on the 1st November. We know from experience that Universal Credit is causing real problems including increased debt and more reliance on Gateshead Foodbank as people wait at least 6 weeks for their first payment. The Government must pause the roll out.
You can watch my contribution below:
“I was going to talk about the real problems experienced in my constituency—initially with the live service, the comparatively straightforward bit. I was going to talk about the huge amount of help needed by people applying for universal credit. I was going to talk about the delays in payments, and the practical problems that that causes, and about the arrears that people on universal credit are experiencing: an average of £625, as against the general average of £121. I was going to talk about the evidence that private landlords are beginning to refuse tenancies to people on universal credit and about the fear that some children could go without free school meals while their parents wait for their claims to be assessed, which is a problem that we really need to look at.
But the House has heard about all that from everyone else, so instead I am going to talk about Gateshead Foodbank, which covers my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns). In 2016 it issued 4,861 food parcels to keep families going, largely owing to the roll-out of live universal credit—and that is before we see full service.
This is about people. It is about families and children who are building up debt and going without, choosing between heat and food and making other difficult choices, and experiencing all the frustration of dealing with the new system. I ask the Government to think again about pausing. We have talked about “test, learn and rectify”; let us do that.”
For the Party faithful, conference season is always the highlight of the year. But the contrast between red and blue gatherings this year was stark. In sunny Brighton Labour was buoyed with a packed hall, spirited debate and united in common cause around our popular manifesto whilst tory conference was overshadowed by the usual clumsy comments by Boris, a half empty conference hall, dull speeches and empty gestures.
Britain hasn’t had a pay rise for a decade, economic growth is being driven by expanding household debt and productivity is slowing at an alarming rate. The Tories have been in power for seven of those ten years and they failed this week to acknowledge that the economy is collapsing on their watch. While they teetered around the edges, Labour made bold announcements on real issues.
Last month Labour committed to end PFI, which has drained money from our public services. There will be no new PFI deals and existing contracts will be brought back in house. We’ll make sure that NHS trusts, local councils and others don’t lose out, and there is no detriment to services or staff.
Earlier this year, the PM was asked why nurses were being forced to resort to foodbanks and she replied that the issue was complex. It isn’t complex. It’s dead simple. They aren’t being paid enough.
That’s why Labour will scrap the cap on public sector pay and deliver a real living wage of £10 an hour. We will also address the gender pay gap that leaves women’s wages still trailing men’s by 14 per cent. And we will ensure every piece of legislation will be measured against its impact on women.
This Tory Government plans to invest in the north just one-fifth of what it will spend on transport per head in London. This is no surprise, looking at their Cabinet, in which 85 per cent of their senior Ministers are from constituencies in the South.
Labour are committed to a fair distribution of investment. We’ll build new regional transport links; Crossrail for the north, connecting our great northern cities from west coast to east, and extend HS2 through the North East into Scotland.
Bringing conference season to a close yesterday, Prime Minister Theresa May spluttered through a half-hearted Leader’s speech and was presented with her own P45. What a contrast with a policy-packed, confident speech from Jeremy Corbyn setting out Labour’s vision for a Britain for the many, not the few.
Next month will see the roll out of Universal Credit across my constituency. Up until now only a small number of new claimants, mostly single people, have been on universal credit but the experience in Gateshead for those few people has been extremely difficult. Rent arrears have increased and there have been long delays in payments. Now Universal Credit is being rolled out to families, many of whom will see a big drop in the amount they receive.
We know from experience to date that there have been massive delays in people receiving payment. It’s easy for many of us to think these days that we can easily find money to “tide us over”, whether that’s by credit card, overdrafts or family loans, but our experience from working with constituents is that for many people, delays in receiving benefits means real hardship and in many cases, a trip to the food bank. With families now being hit by Universal Credit, that situation will inevitably get worse. What’s more, this change will also affect many people in work but currently receiving working tax credits.
Whatever you think of Universal Credit – and I think it’s truly awful – it can’t be right to set people up to fall into rent arrears, struggle to pay the bills and feed the family while they wait six weeks or more to be paid. Many of us in Labour urged Work and Pensions Secretary, David Gauke MP, to pause the rollout and work through the problems. David Gauke rejected that call, so I fear we will see more misery for many people in the future.