Welcome To My December Newsletter

Welcome to my December Newsletter. It has been one year since I was elected to serve as your Member of Parliament for Luton South and it has certainly been an eventful year. The idea that we would be facing a global Pandemic that would lead to the deaths of tens of thousands and completely alter the way we live our lives was inconceivable. We have all had to quickly adapt to new ways of living and working, myself included.

Over the past year, I have received over 11,000 emails from constituents covering a diverse range of subjects. To help you understand the range of subjects you contact me about I have included the three most common topics below: 

  • Covid-19: whether it was for help understanding the public health advice or to enquire about the economic support available, coronavirus queries have been the biggest issue this year, unsurprisingly.
  • Palestine Annexation: many constituents were concerned by the Israeli government’s proposed annexation of Palestine territories.
  • Reopening of zoos: Towards the end of the first lockdown, many constituents contacted me to ask the government to allow Whipsnade Zoo to open as soon as possible. 

I hope that gives you a flavour of the variety of topics that constituents contact me about. It has been an extremely busy year and next year, I will continue to ensure that me and the team support you. 

In my first year representing you in Parliament I have: 
  • spoken in 92 debates
  • asked 131 questions
  • signed 72 Early Day Motions (EDMs) 
  • sat on two Parliamentary select committees, 
  • led two debates, and 
  • presented 1 petition. 
It is my duty to hold the government to account on your behalf, but too often I find that the government just doesn’t seem to understand the impact of their decisions on most people's lives. I will continue to stand up for Luton South in Parliament in 2021, ensuring your voices are heard in Westminster.  

It has been a difficult year for us all and Christmas will be very different for many of us not being able to see friends and family. While the vaccine will hopefully allow us to return to some form of normality in 2021, please stay vigilant as the virus will be with us for quite some time yet. 

May I wish you all a happy and safe Christmas and I look forward to seeing you in the New Year. 
Tier announcement & Rapid Testing in Luton

Earlier this week it was announced that Luton and the surrounding areas would be moved into Tier 3 of the coronavirus alert system. This is obviously very disappointing and comes as another blow to our already devastated hospitality industry and other local businesses.  

One of the key ways to tackle the virus is through mass testing, and so I was pleased to visit the new rapid testing site at Farley Community Centre. Another site will also be opening at Luton Central Library from Monday. You do not need to book an appointment you can just show up and ask for a test and you will receive your results within an hour. However, you should not go to the rapid testing site if you are showing symptoms. Identifying people who may be transmitting the disease asymptomatically, will break the chain of transmission, help us to control the spread of the virus and then Luton can move down the tiers. 

For more information about testing and the Tier system please see here.
Maintained Nurseries

In October I met with the headteacher Mrs Thompson and her staff from Hart Hill Nursery School. I heard how the government's short term funding approach to maintained nurseries has meant that headteachers are unable to plan for the future effectively. The government is only providing maintained nurseries with a one-year funding settlement. Parents are also left uncertain by this approach as they do not if the services they rely on will exist next year.

To highlight this issue I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate with my Luton North colleague Sarah Owen about the important work maintained nurseries do across Luton. I also enquired as to why nurseries had been excluded from Covid catch-up funding despite initially being told that they would receive it.

Following this debate, the minister Vicky Ford MP has agreed to meet with Sarah Owen MP and I to discuss these issues further.
War Graves Commission and Westminster Hall Debate

Recently, I have been questioning the government over the poor treatment of Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) staff. These committed staff care for the cemeteries of commonwealth casualties of war around the world, including in France and Belgium where three of my own relatives are buried. I have seen first hand the care and dedication given to the war grave cemeteries by CWGC staff.

So I was very disappointed to hear that the staff were being treated so badly. They were informed the day after Armistice Day that they were to either return to the UK or face a c.50% pay cut with just 3 weeks’ notice. I asked the government about this injustice last week. I then followed this up by speaking in a Westminster Hall debate where I asked the government to work with Trade Unions and offer more support to staff. I then had a productive meeting with the Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace who agreed to look at whether certain financial allowances could be retained and for more advice around pensions. Ultimately I would like to see him put the brakes on these unnecessary changes, so will be continuing to support affected staff and the vital work they do. You can show show your support by signing the petition here
Survey Corner

In my last survey, I asked you for your thoughts on pay and benefits, here is what you told me:

  • 84% of you said that public sector workers deserve a pay rise in recognition of there work during the pandemic
  • 87% agreed that the minimum wage should be raised to at least the level of the Real Living Wage
  • 94% believed that statutory sick pay of £95.85 per week was not enough to live on
  • 81% thought that the £20 universal credit uplift, that is due to expire in March 2021 should be made permanent.  

In this month’s survey, I want to hear about your experiences of health and medical services during the pandemic. You can take part here.
Public Sector Pay Freeze

Sadly, the government announced a public sector pay freeze in last month's Spending Review. The Chancellor then tried to justify this by pitting public sector workers against private sector workers. This is simply unacceptable and we should all stand together against low pay. This decision is also extremely short-sighted as workers in the public sector spend their wages in the private sector, which is good for the economy and jobs.

To further highlight this issue, I have tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) which supported a public petition to give public sector workers a 10% pay rise, in recognition of their work during the pandemic but also the real-terms pay cut they have received over the last decade. You can read the full text of the motion here.

Find out more

Meeting Local Shopworkers

Last month I met managers from local Co-Op stores to discuss USDAW's Freedom from Fear campaign and the abuse faced by shopworkers every day. I was shocked to learn that abuse towards shop staff has increased by 25% in the last year. Please sign the petition here calling for Parliament to debate a new law to provide shopworkers with greater protections from abuse.
Support for Musicians

I have repeatedly questioned the government regarding the lack of economic support offered to those working in the creative industries. Last month I raised the issue of Musicians in the West End. They are among the approximately three million people who have been excluded from economic support. Watch my full speech here
Small Business Saturday

In support of small business Saturday I visited various businesses around Luton. I visited AA Carpets and Ambala Sweet & Karahi Centre in Bury Park and Tina's School of Dance and the Lagoa Cafe in High Town. Small local businesses are the backbone of our town and we should do all that we can to support them.
Congratulations to NHS Teams

I was delighted to see that two of the teams I nominated for the NHS Parliamentary Awards won there regional competitions and have now been entered into the national awards. I look forward to seeing them at awards next summer.
Rachel Hopkins MP for Luton South