Welcome To My March Newsletter

It has been a year since public health restrictions were introduced to tackle the Coronavirus pandemic. It has been incredibly tough on all of us, with too many people losing loved ones. However, there are now positive signs that the pandemic is subsiding with significant drops in cases both locally and nationally. You can find information on the latest local Covid-19 figures on the council's dashboard here.

The most important development since last March has been the development of Covid-19 vaccines. The vaccination rollout into our community has been going well. With our local NHS teams working hard to make it a success. All those deemed most at risk of the virus have now been vaccinated with the programme now progressing through the population in descending order by age. Anyone over 50 can now book a vaccination online, via 119 or their GP.

The uptake of the vaccine has greater than anticipated nationally but there have been challenges locally. Health data shows that Luton has one of the lowest vaccine uptake rates in the East of England and this is especially pronounced amongst ethnic minority communities. Healthcare professionals are concerned that the uptake in these communities is being harmed by myths and untruths circulating on social media.

To encourage greater vaccine uptake amongst all of our communities, I teamed up with people from across our town to produce a video to help dispel some vaccine myths and encourage all of us to get vaccinated. Those that took part ranged from healthcare professionals to local education leaders. The vaccination is the best weapon we have in the fight against the virus and we shouldn't let myths and hearsay put our population at risk. We should all do our part to protect ourselves, our families, our communities and our town and get vaccinated.
The Budget

This month saw the Chancellor's latest budget statement. The country needed a Budget that would support us through the crisis and commit to a green recovery. Instead, we got more of the same policies that will take us back to the same insecure, unequal and unsustainable economy we had before.

The Government has also been under scrutiny for the vast amount of money wasted on the ineffective privatised Test, Track and Trace system. Despite spending an estimated £35bn on it, a recent Public Accounts Committee report said the system had virtually no impact on containing Covid-19. The Government has also faced allegations of cronyism in its Covid procurement policy with large contracts awarded without proper transparency or accountability. This resulted in the Government being taken to court and being found to have acted unlawfully by not publishing the details of its contracts.

I also appeared on BBC Look East querying the Government's decision-making process over the Town's Fund. Where funds designed to tackle poverty in deprived areas were allocated to wealthier areas represented by Conservative MPs.
Survey Corner

In my last survey, I asked if the pandemic would influence your voting method in May's elections. Here's what you told me:

- 35% did not feel confident about voting in person as a result of the pandemic

- 45% said they would be voting early by post.

- 30% felt that not enough information was available to highlight alternative methods

In my latest survey, I want to hear about your views on policing and crime. You can take part here.
Business Roundtable Discussion

Prior to the Budget, I held a virtual roundtable discussion with local businesses and trade unions to hear about what they would like to see in the Budget to enable them to safeguard jobs and reopen safely. I then wrote to the Chancellor informing him of their needs. I was pleased to see that some support was offered to businesses but the Government must still go further.

I plan to host further such roundtables in the future to keep in touch with local businesses to hear how they are faring as the coronavirus restrictions are eased and ensure that the Government in Westminster hears the voices of businesses in Luton.
Fairtrade Fortnight

It was great to take part in Fairtrade fortnight and virtually meet with tea farmer Patrick on his beautiful farm in Kenya. He also told about how the climate crisis was affecting farmers now and that urgent action is needed to help farmers adapt. 

By supporting Fairtrade you will not only be helping to reduce global inequality but you will be helping producers adapt to climate challenges to come. Find out more about what the Fairtrade Foundation is doing to tackle climate change here.

I'm proud that Luton is doing its part to promote Fairtrade and has been certified as a Fairtrade Town. It's great to know that people from across our communities are doing what they can to promote fairness, equality and sustainable development.
Police Crackdown Bill

Earlier this week I spoke against the Government's Policing Bill that is seeking to increase the polices powers to restrict peaceful protests. I believe that the right to protest is fundamental to our democracy and should not be curtailed under the guise of preventing "nuisance". I voted against it this week and will continue to resist its passage through parliament. You watch my full speech here.
Women's History Month

Each year on 8th March, International Women's Day celebrates women and our contribution to our society. An opportunity to challenge stereotypes and encourage all women to take up leadership roles, be that in business, politics or community action.

Sadly, this month we also saw a reminder of how much further there is to go in protecting women from violence and harassment. Following the death of Sarah Everard, many women have been sharing their experiences of harassment and intimidation that women are subjected to every day. I will continue standing up for women's rights, including the right to be free from violence and harassment.

If you need help after experiencing any form of violence or abuse please find out more information here.

Find out more

Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen

The UN has said that Saudi led war in Yemen has led to a persistent pattern of harm to civilians. Yet the Government are continuing to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, even as other countries have stopped citing humanitarian concerns. I questioned the Government on this in the chamber and wrote to the Foreign Secretary to demand an immediate halt of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Vauxhall and Green Infrastructure

The has been a Vauxhall factory in Luton for over 100 years. With generations of Lutonians working at the plant. The Government now needs to help the industry prepare for the next 100 years by investing in green infrastructure to support the automotive sector as it transitions to electric vehicles. See my question to the Minister here.
Homelessness and Council Housing

There are now over 250,000 people declared homeless and living in temporary accommodation - double what it was a decade ago. I asked the Government what their plan was to help councils like Luton tackle this issue. We need a national strategy to build genuinely affordable social housing.
National Census Day 2021

Sunday 21st March is Census Day. The census is carried out every ten years to give the Government data on demographic changes in the population. It is vital that we all complete it accurately because this is the data that the Government will be using to make important decisions about our town in the future. For more information about the census please see here.
Rachel Hopkins MP for Luton South