Welcome To My January Newsletter

Welcome to my January newsletter, I hope you all had a restful festive break and Happy New Year to you all. It certainly has been a difficult start to the year with coronavirus cases rising nationally and new restrictions imposed. However, amongst the doom & gloom, there are some rays of hope shining through.

The approval of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is good news. We must embark upon a national mission to vaccinate our most vulnerable people among us as quickly as possible. As part of this national effort, the NHS is calling for vaccine volunteers to help achieve this aim.

I also welcome the news that the Oxford Vaccine will be made available to developing countries around the world at cost price. We will only properly beat this virus if we beat it together globally. 

However, with the government failures on PPE procurement, the outsourced test and trace system, exams and economic support it must not fail on vaccine rollout. Last week in Parliament I raised concerns about the country's vaccine manufacturing capability and for the Government to release a detailed plan for the vaccination of frontline workers. I also asked Health Secretary Matt Hancock how the Government planned to overcome any language barriers, to ensure that all communities have access to and understand the importance of being vaccinated.

I also joined local radio station, Inspire FM, to discuss the rollout of the vaccine locally. I made the point that to ensure high uptake of the vaccine, it should be delivered in the local community. One of the best ways to do this is to encourage vaccine delivery by local pharmacies, which are in almost every community across the country, and which have trained staff who could safely administer the jab. The government should work with pharmacists to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible.
School closures and the 'Digital Divide'

Over the festive break, I received many emails from worried parents and staff who were deeply concerned that the escalating number of COVID-19 cases and the impact that would have on school safety. The Government's own scientific advisors (SAGE) recommended before Christmas that schools should remain closed, but the Government initially ignored this advice and said schools should open after the holidays.

In light of community concerns, and as the start of term approached, myself and Sarah Owen MP for Luton North, joined with Luton Council Leader Hazel Simmons, to request that the Government act quickly and decisively to close schools. This would give schools sufficient time to prepare online learning and parents to make home-schooling and childcare arrangements. 

Instead, the Government dithered and delayed - changing its mind from schools should be open to being closed within the course of 24 hours - and the announcement of national restrictions. 

The Government must now ensure that all children have access to the resources they need to continue learning from home. The Office of National Statistics has stated that over 1.2 million children lack access to IT devices and data they need to do so effectively. Children have already seen their education severely disrupted by this pandemic, and the Government have had months to foresee the likelihood that schools may need to return to remote learning and prepared appropriately.
Survey Corner

Last month I asked you about your experiences of health and medical services during the pandemic. Here is what you told me:

- 75% of respondents said they had received a COVID-19 Test.

- However, only 12.5% of respondents had been contacted by the privatised Serco Test and Trace system.

- A worrying 62% of said you had non-COVID related medical procedures or treatments delayed by the pandemic. 

In my next 'Luton South Says' survey, I want to hear about how you are coping with home-schooling and what resources you need to help you. You can take part here.
Supporting Luton Foodbank at Christmas

On Christmas Eve I returned to volunteer with Luton Foodbank, helping wrap Christmas presents and prepare Christmas meals for children and families across Luton. The generosity of Lutonians and our voluntary sector in donating gifts and providing meals was very heartening. However, I will keep campaigning for the necessary changes in our society to tackle poverty and so that food banks are no longer needed.  

January can be a particularly difficult month for many. If you need some help and support please click here for a list of organisations who may be able to help. If you would like to donate then a list of drop off locations can be found here.
Universal Credit

At the start of the pandemic, the Government seemingly acknowledged that Universal Credit (UC) was not enough to live on, as they temporarily increased it by £20 per week to help people through the crisis. Locally, the number of UC claimants in Luton South has increased, and big local industries such as hospitality and travel have been hit particularly hard. As it stands, this £20 uplift is set to expire in April, however, I believe the government should scrap this plan immediately and make the uplift permanent.

This is also at a time, when central government is expecting local councils to increase council tax rates by 5% in order to cover the cost of the pandemic. Shifting this responsibility onto local councils is unacceptable. Families across Luton South are already struggling with rising unemployment, coping with homeschooling and a deadly pandemic. They do not need to even more financial worries as a result of short-sighted government policy. Central government should give local councils the proper funding they need.

Find out more

Dentists Debate

The pandemic and public health restrictions have meant that there is a significant dental backlog which may take years to clear without additional government support. In a recent debate I raised the impact this will have on children's oral health and the need to prioritise tackling this issue.

Alongside Unite the Union, I welcomed the news about the merger between PSA and Fiat/Chrysler. The Vauxhall plant is vital to our town's future and is an important link to its past. PSA should now confirm its commitment to not closing any plants and to investing in Luton for the next generation of electric vehicles.
'Fire and Rehire'

Last week thousands of British Gas workers went on strike over threats to dismiss and re-engage on significantly worse terms & conditions - known 'fire & rehire'. This is completely unacceptable and British Gas should not be using the pandemic as cover to slash pay and conditions. I believe these 'fire and rehire' tactics should be outlawed.
Kashmir Debate

Due to the Government not allowing remote participation in Westminster Hall debates, I was not able to speak in an important debate on the situation in Kashmir this week. However, I put out this statement calling for the Government to raise human rights abuses in Kashmir with the Indian Prime Minister.
Rachel Hopkins MP for Luton South