Liz’s column, March 2019

On Monday I led a debate on behalf of Mr Andrew Ramanandi, the Head Teacher of St Joseph’s Primary School in Blaydon and over 104,000 teachers, support staff, heads, parents and governors from around the country who signed a petition calling for fair funding for schools. Their imaginative campaign, supported by every Headteacher in Gateshead, captured the attention of the public and forced a debate in Parliament.

Their campaign started with a letter. A letter co-signed by Head Teachers of Primary, Secondary and SEND schools in Gateshead, who became increasingly alarmed by the impact that a real-terms reduction in school funding is having on the children and young people in their care. The letter was sent to parents before Christmas informing them that schools may no longer be able to provide the same level of service asked them for their support in raising their concerns with Government.

School leaders acknowledge that more money has been allocated to education this year. But statistics from the School Cuts campaign show that 91 per cent of schools across England are still experiencing real terms cuts in funding per-pupil since 2015. The paltry increase in overall funding does not deal with rising costs and  increasing pupil numbers; over 137,000 more pupils in schools England, according to the Government – that add pressure to school budgets. The respected Institute for Fiscal Studies says schools have suffered an 8 per cent real-terms reduction in funding per pupil.

So, with increasing numbers of pupils and costs, schools have had to make cuts, resulting in 5400 fewer teachers, 2800 fewer teaching assistants, 1400 fewer support staff and 1200 fewer auxiliary staff across England.

In Gateshead, schools have also suffered real terms cuts since 2015 with an average £45,000 shortfall in primary school budgets and £185,000 in secondary schools.

Head Teachers tell me that as funding has become tighter, schools have had to cut back on essential resources: teaching and non-teaching staff, support staff who work with vulnerable pupils, small group work and interventions with children who aren’t thriving, teaching resources, subject choices, classroom and extra-curricular activities, repairs for buildings, including asbestos management and renewal of equipment.

Last Friday, I visited Portobello Primary School in Birtley where the Headteacher and Governors of this great school talked to me about their concerns. In the last year they have lost four members of staff to redundancy – all experienced teachers and Teaching Assistants and a dedicated school counsellor.

These budget reductions have made it harder to deliver key interventions with pupils and made it difficult to provide the personal and emotional support for vulnerable pupils. The school has lost decades worth of experience and curriculum knowledge and they are finding it harder to take children on educational visits and purchase up-to-date teaching resources and equipment.

Staff are taking on extra duties and the local community are fund raising. I applaud the commitment of the staff of Portobello, who are doing everything they can for the children in their care. Most Headteachers in my constituency would tell a similar story.

Steve Haigh, Head of Whickham School, told me that he too faces impossible choices, balancing job losses and cutting the support for vulnerable young people. He told me; “Hard won gains are at risk, effort and sacrifice over the last decade may be thrown away if schools are not adequately funded. I stand proud with my community for our successes and I feel every cut I have to make, well concealed, painfully made, shamefully felt.”

Dozens of MPs from across all parties spoke in the debate, sharing their own local stories with one common theme – there just isn’t enough money going into schools. But despite our best efforts, the Government’s response was shameful, failing to acknowledge what Heads are telling us. I was especially angry for the Heads and support staff who travelled down to listen to the debate. Their concerns were discounted and evidence rejected.

Our school staff simply want to go about their jobs; delivering high standards of education, preparing our children and young people for life and ensuring that they have the best possible start. We can’t afford not to fund our schools properly. The campaign continues.

Angel of the North 21st Anniversary

Earlier today I asked the Leader of the House if she would grant a debate on the importance of culture to local economies. The Angel of the North celebrates its 21st birthday this week, and I am very proud that this magnificent landmark is in my constituency and has been one of the most famous symbols of the North East for the last 21 years.

Tomorrow I will be visiting the Angel to celebrate this milestone. Members of the Low Fell Community Choir and Art Diamonds project will also be there to sing a very special rendition of Happy Birthday, along with another song or two. People have also been invited to come along and board the Go North East Angel bus to take part in some angel themed creative activities with local artists (10am–2pm). Do come along if you can!

Liz’s column, February 2019

This week is Children’s Mental Health Week and as a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Suicide and Self-Harm, meetings and campaigns around mental health play a large part in my Parliamentary diary.

I recently met with Action for Children at the launch of “Build Sound Minds” – a new campaign to help parents to create a positive space to talk about mental health and well-being with their children.

Giving parents the tools for holding conversations about mental health can make a big difference, so that talking over issues of loneliness, low self-esteem, stress and anxiety become a normal part of every day life.

A self-assessment tool produced by Action for Children showed that a third of 15 to 18-year-olds were found to have worries about their mental health. I know that our local services here are struggling to cope with increasing demand, as young people face more pressures at school and at home.

Action for Children are also pioneering early help interventions for teenagers coping with depression. Their “Blues” Programme is the first of its kind, which aims to reduce the early signs of low mood and negative thoughts in adolescents.

Their evidence shows the impact that this early intervention can have, and I am pleased to hear of similar intervention work in Whickham School, in my constituency, who have embedded mental health workers to support pupils who need to talk.

A fortnight ago I also hosted an event with Samaritans and other MPs to reach out to anyone who might be lonely over a cup of tea. We turned ‘Blue Monday’ – often described in the media as ‘the most difficult day of the year’ – on its head by renaming it ‘Brew Monday’.

Brew Monday is about asking people to do something simple and practical to help others: take time for a cuppa and a chat with anyone who may be going through a tough time. I’m delighted to support Samaritans in this initiative.

I am always pleased to support our many different charities and health services who provide vital support to people dealing with mental health issues. The government says it is working towards parity between mental health and physical health and its about time they put their money where their mouth is.

With one in four of my constituents working in the retail sector, my constituency, Blaydon, is reliant on our high street, the MetroCentre and the Team Valley retail park.

These are difficult times for retail and before Christmas we received notice that Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct intended to pull their House of Fraser store out of the MetroCentre, causing real uncertainty for employees.

As a member of the Communities, Housing and Local Government Select Committee I was able to ask Mike Ashley about the decision, when he attended a session to give evidence of the challenges in retail. I am pleased to report that House of Fraser and the other Sports Direct-owned stores in the MetroCentre are now set to stay.

Micropubs are popping up in many of our local centres. Last week I was pleased to visit the lively One Eyed Stag in Whickham. Across my constituency we have a number of other new micropubs including Awa The Road in Swalwell, The Red House in Chopwell, Wig’s Place in High Spen and The Lane Head in Ryton. Its great to see many of these smaller venues selling locally brewed real ales.

Speaking of pubs, a year ago I joined local residents to start a campaign to save our local pub, Ye Olde Cross, in Ryton. The pub, in the heart of Ryton old village has a long tradition of being at the heart of local events such as the Carols and the “Ryton Hirings” fair.

A year on more than 300 of us have clubbed together to purchase community shares in the pub and we are now raising money to refurbish, re-open and re-establish it.

So, to everyone who is taking part in the Save Our Ye Olde Cross campaign, lets raise a glass and say cheers!

The year ahead in British politics

So, here we stand at the start of a new year. For me, the run up to Christmas was a time for getting out and meeting constituents making their Christmas preparations and taking the time to thank and celebrate their local communities. It was a privilege – and a huge pleasure – to watch children from St Joseph’s Primary school, Blaydon, present their nativity; to be part of Northumbria Police’s Biggest Coffee morning in Ryton, raising funds for mental health charity Mind; to be part of the Blaydon Angels awards ceremony organised by the Deacon Tracy Hume and to be a part of the community carol service at St Mary’s Church, Whickham. These are marvellous local events, showing how positive the Christmas spirit can be as people join together and show real concern for others.

Sadly, it is also at Christmas time that the differences within our society become stark. While many of us will be enjoying delicious foods, good company and joyous spirits – some will not be so lucky. For them, this time of year makes the struggle a little harder. Our foodbanks are under huge pressure from people who simply don’t have the money for food, or energy, let alone gifts for the children. Foodbanks, churches and many other local organisations make a huge effort at this time of year, distributing gifts and hampers of seasonal food and I thank them for their contribution – but it cannot be right that there can be such huge differences between those who have and who have not. Foodbanks should not be necessary in 2019.

Most notably, this time of year affects the homeless in such a cruel way. Homelessness has rapidly increased across the UK since austerity hit the poorest in our society with the harshest consequences. It is right that after a year of hard work, we all enjoy this time of year – but important that we remember that our country has a long way to go before it works for everyone.

Next week sees the start of a new Parliamentary term and a return to the debate about Brexit. The Prime Minister will at last put her botched Brexit deal to debate and a vote in Parliament. The vote, when it comes, will be four weeks later than it should have been, losing valuable time in which Parliament could have moved forward on this issue. Labour has made clear that we will vote against this deal. We will do so because it is a bad deal for workers and a bad deal for our economy and particularly for our economy here in the North East. Any deal must protect workers’ rights, our economy, jobs and living standards – and bring Britain together. This deal doesn’t do any of that. It is time for Theresa May and her Tories to step aside.

While the country’s attention has been focused on Brexit, many other local and national issues have been ignored. Our local schools face a funding crisis; Children’s services are currently at breaking point; our NHS faces unprecedented pressures; and local authority services, especially social care for the most vulnerable people in our communities, face continuing funding cuts as demand rises. Police and Fire and Rescue services are under sustained pressure. We must make sure that these vital services are not forgotten and I, and Labour MPs across the North East will be pushing to make sure that does not happen – they are too important to our communities.

The United Nations Special rapporteur’s recent report found that austerity had not been driven by economic necessity, but rather by the Tories’ determination to socially re-engineer the UK, which has delivered the “minimum levels of fairness and social justice to the British people.” The report concludes that poverty has been “a political choice”. You might think this damning report has convinced Government Ministers to reconsider their objectives. It has not. The need for change in our country has never been more apparent.

This year I will be working with my Labour colleagues to represent the interests of those who have been let down and left behind by callous Tory policies. Above all, I will continue to stand up for my constituents right across Blaydon constituency so badly hit by this Tory Government .

Job advert: Caseworker

  • Date Added: 03 January 2019
  • Closing Date: 14 January 2019
  • Job Title: Caseworker
  • Working For: Liz Twist MP (Blaydon)
  • Location: Blaydon Constituency Office
  • Salary: £22,000 per annum in line with IPSA pay scale

Job Details

Liz Twist MP is seeking to appoint a caseworker to support her role as the Member of Parliament for Blaydon. The position would suit a flexible, proactive and hard-working individual who can act on their own initiative. Key to the position will be your prior experience in welfare rights, knowledge of Universal Credit. ability to absorb new information and support constituents in resolving a variety of casework enquiries. Excellent written and verbal communication, research skills, the ability to draft correspondence and understanding of the welfare benefits system are essential.

The successful applicant with be a team player, a self-starter, have good knowledge of welfare rights, housing, health, education and other public service. They will work in the Constituency office alongside the Senior Caseworker and will be line-managed by the Office Manager.

Experience of working in welfare rights, politics, public services or a trade union is desirable for this role. Flexibility and team work skills are essential.

Job Description

Responsibilities include:

Dealing with complex casework issues and attending advice surgeries
Drafting responses to constituents
Logging and monitoring all cases in line with GDPR
Undertaking research and preparing briefings for the Member
Flexible evening and weekend work will be required with time off in lieu
Liaising with constituents, agencies, the local authority and other public services
Develop and maintain knowledge in specialist areas as required by Member
Support the Member’s work on APPGs and Select Committees

Personal Specification
Excellent communications skills, both written and verbal with a keen attention to detail
Knowledge of welfare rights and current social issues
Excellent IT skills including Microsoft Office
Good organisation skills, with the ability to prioritise and manage own workload and work to tight deadlines
Ability to work proactively and independently as well as part of a team
Sympathetic to the aims and values of the Labour Party

Upon appointment you will be required to comply with the Baseline Personnel Security Standard, undertaken by the Members’ Staff Verification Office (MSVO). See Members’ Staff Verification Office (MSVO) page for further info. MPs generally pay staff in accordance with IPSA guidelines.

Closing Date: 14 January 2019

Interview/Start Dates

Please note, due to the high volume of applications that are expected, only suitable applicants will be contacted. If your address and contact details are not on your CV, you will not be considered.

Interviews: 25 Janaury 2019 in Blaydon
Start Date: Subject to agreement

Application Details

To apply for this position please send an email titled “Application for caseworker post” your CV (2 pages max) with a covering letter explaining your interest and suitability for this role to Chris McHugh, Office Manager and Senior Parliamentary Assistant on Christopher.mchugh@parliament.uk

For further information telephone 01914142488.

http://www.w4mpjobs.org/JobDetails.aspx?jobid=69239

Traidcraft debate

This morning I led a debate in Westminster Hall on Traidcraft and the future of Fairtrade.

I have been raising the difficulties Traidcraft has been having in Parliament over the past few months. I was therefore pleased to be able to debate these issues in Parliament – with a good number of colleagues contributing.

It’s so important that we keep Fairtrade organisations like Traidcraft running. They do such important work to help those who need it most around the world; and do so by creating good quality products at the same time.

You can watch the debate here: https://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/c70b3b05-301c-4711-ad78-d52ace961ea5

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