Congratulations all the candidates who stood for election in Croydon in last week’s local elections, and commiserations to those who stood and lost. We all have our different political persuasions, but I have great respect for anyone who puts themselves forward for public service.
I was pleased to see the residents of Croydon vote for a record number of Labour councillors. I know they will deliver on their manifesto commitments to protect public services like our libraries, keep our streets clean, deliver landmark projects like the Fairfield Halls redevelopment, build a new £6m youth centre and protect our parks and green belt.
On a personal note, I was delighted to be promoted to a new role as Labour's Shadow Housing Minister yesterday. The housing crisis is doing so much damage in Croydon, in London and across the country. It's a great privilege to return to housing after working for Shelter earlier in my career and I'll be working hard to hold the Government to account.
The Windrush scandal
I am a member of the Home Affairs Committee which played the key role exposing the true extent of this scandal, leading to the resignation of Amber Rudd. I will be keeping the pressure on the Government to turn things around.
Yes, we need to have a system which tackles illegal immigration. But this Government's own data shows that its 'hostile environment' has not actually led to more illegal immigrants being deported. I am proud to have joined with over 200 MPs from across the political spectrum to sign a letter to the Prime Minister calling for legislation to guarantee the rights of the Windrush generation.
I am holding a surgery next Thursday for anyone who thinks that they may be affected. I have secured attendance from members of the Home Office's specialist Windrush taskforce, who will be on hand to give expert advice.
The Windrush generation were invited here as British citizens to help rebuild the UK after the Second World War. This is their home and they have contributed hugely to our country. In recent weeks the true impact of the Government's 'hostile environment' policy has been laid clear. Innocent people have lost jobs, rights to healthcare or welfare, and in many cases been made homeless or detained. The Government continues to duck the question on how many people it has ultimately deported or forced out of the country because of this.
Since I was elected last year I’ve dealt with a large number of immigration cases. Like many other MPs, this has shown me the serious failings within the Home Office and the awful consequences of its ‘hostile environment’ for so many people living here perfectly legally. I actually questioned Amber Rudd about this when she appeared in front of the Home Affairs Committee last year, and our committee continue to scrutinise this closely. We had another meeting on
Amber Rudd misled our committee when she appeared again recently and it became clear she had no choice but to resign. However, most of the injustice against the Windrush generation lies at the feet of the Prime Minister Theresa May, who was Home Secretary before Amber Rudd and who was the architect of the 'hostile environment'.
I recently visited a project in Croydon called 'Street Legal', which is a hostel specifically for people who have been made homeless because of their immigration status. Street Legal have helped 10 of the Windrush generation over the past year, and many more from other Commonwealth nations. Many of them are elderly. It was shocking to hear how oversubscribed Street Legal is. It also shows how the hostile environment is impacting people far beyond the Windrush generation, many of whom have every right to be here.
Fighting for better cancer treatment - for Tessa and for Jack
I was proud to lead a debate in the House of Commons paying tribute to the bravery of my friend and former boss Baroness Tessa Jowell, as well as 10-year old Jack Lloyd from New Addington. Both Tessa and Jack have incurable brain cancers, and our debate called on the Government to improve treatment for brain cancers through access to more experimental treatments and better sharing of medical data. MPs from all sides supported our call, including the Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt, Shadow Secretary of State Jon Ashworth and Conservative MP James Brokenshire who recently suffered from cancer himself. I'm now part of a high-level working group chaired by the Health Minister which is looking at how we make these recommendations a reality.
I worked for Tessa Jowell as part of the team delivering the Olympics and I saw first hand her relentless optimism and absolute commitment to changing the world. Since she was diagnosed with a high-grade brain tumour last year she has shown incredible bravery and tirelessness in campaigning to improve prospects for future brain cancer patients. I'm so proud to work alongside Tessa on this campaign which has already seen over £40m committed by Government and charities to improve research and treatment for this disease.
I also want to pay tribute to the strength of Jack Lloyd and his family. Jack is 10 and has an inoperable brain tumour. His tumour was initially treated successfully but, sadly, another developed. Jack and his parents are facing the worst horror imaginable. He was only diagnosed after his mother, Claire, typed “child with persistent vomiting” into Google, and the HeadSmart campaign run by the Brain Tumour Charity came up. Claire told me that she did not for one second think that having a brain tumour was even a possibility for children; it was not something that she had come across before. But in fact, brain tumours are the single biggest cause of cancer death among children. Some 7,000 children and young people are currently living with the disease. Jack’s experience is not unique. Almost half of patients with brain tumours are diagnosed by emergency admission, compared with only 10% of cancers overall.
Claire's message to Parliament was that Jack cannot die in vain. Tessa's was that we must continue her work so that more people can live better lives with cancer, for longer. That is a big responsibility and one I am proud to shoulder.
Success on knife crime campaign – but far more work to be done
All my campaigning on knife crime has had some early successes, although there is so much more to be done to reduce the number of stabbings across the UK. I am pleased that the government listened to the pressure from MPs through my APPG and published a serious violence strategy. There are three funding streams that local Croydon organisations can apply to for funding – from the government, the Mayor of London and from Croydon Council. I would urge any organisations working with young people at risk of violence to apply for these funds.
I am also really pleased that the council responded to my call for more CCTV in Croydon High Street and that this area of concern will now be better monitored.
You may have seen headlines a few weeks back about London’s murder rate overtaking New York. Yes, that’s partly because of the crisis over here, but its also because in New York they have invested over a long time in treating violence as a public health issue – like a disease which we need to immunise our young people from. This is the approach I’ve been campaigning for since last summer, and we are starting to see a shift in the Government’s response, but there is a long way to go to turn this issue round.
The recent Serious Violence Strategy released by the Government was an example of this, with the Home Secretary choosing to focus heavily on prevention measures and committing £11m to fund community work – there are some fantastic organisations in Croydon who would benefit from this money. However, overall the strategy wasn’t ambitious enough. I coordinated a letter signed by senior chairs of Parliamentary groups asking the Government to commit to a clear target to reduce young deaths. They refused.
There’s still a long way to go and this problem is so complex. The APPG on Knife Crime recently had a meeting on ‘county lines’ – drug networks spreading from cities into towns across the UK and often exploiting vulnerable young people to carry and deal the drugs. The police think this is a big driving factor behind the big rise in knife crime in more non-urban areas and it’s a very difficult issue to solve as the young people often travel huge distances across the country. In our meeting we also heard directly from young people who had been exploited and trafficked as part of a county lines network.
Cracking down on media companies
I have been challenging social media to take more responsibility for their content through my work on the Home Affairs Committee and the APPG on Knife Crime. When it comes to knife crime, social media is just one part of a very complicated problem, but the tragic case of Jermaine Goupall in Croydon showed that these companies need to do more to stop violent content leading to real violence.
Our knife crime APPG meeting with social media companies, charities and young people earlier this year led to several recommendations which we have put forward to Government. One of these was featured on the front page of the Observer last month. I was glad that the Home Secretary promised to look carefully at the proposals. I’ve met again with Google/YouTube and pushed them again on this.
On the Home Affairs Committee we’ve been running an inquiry into hate crime and social media companies have been very evasive, giving incorrect information to the committee and failing to take down illegal content despite agreeing to do so during the committee meeting.
What with all this, as well as the allegations about improper use of social media during the EU referendum, it is becoming clear that we may need to introduce legislation to force companies to take more responsibility for the way their platforms are used.
Why Parliament needs a say in military intervention
In April we saw more atrocities in Syria. A suspected chemical attack resulted in a series of air strikes from UK and US military on Syrian government facilities. Theresa May launched these strikes without consulting Parliament, and with no UN approval.
The situation in Syria is incredibly complicated, there are so many factors at play. But it was widely accepted that Theresa May should have consulted Parliament before taking military action, as Prime Ministers before her have always done.
A debate on potential military intervention would always force the government to address the wider responsibility that comes with military intervention – our humanitarian and economic response as well as our military plan.
I was sadly unable to speak in the Chamber about this in the week after the military strikes because the debate was so oversubscribed. However, I have published the speech which I wanted to give, in full, here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/sarah-jones-mp-standing-up-for-croydon/why-parliament-needs-a-say-in-military-intervention/802612993269092/
Domestic Violence Bill
I was on the Committee taking through a small but important piece of legislation which will guarantee secure, long-term housing for victims of domestic violence. Shockingly, lack of secure housing is a big reason why some women stay in abusive relationships. That is unacceptable.
Alongside Labour’s Shadow Housing Minister Mel Onn, I supported a number of amendments to the ‘Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill’ which would have given greater certainty to domestic abuse victims. These included extending the Bill’s provisions to housing associations to help ensure that there is appropriate accommodation available for victims of domestic abuse in areas with little or no council housing. Disappointingly, the Government did not accept these amendments.
However, the Bill passed its later stages and will now become law. It’s not perfect, and there are big questions over this government’s approach to housing and refuges. But it will provide more security to many domestic abuse victims across the country and I’m proud to have been involved in making that happen.
Back to Brexit
We recently passed the 1st anniversary of Article 50 being triggered, formally beginning the process to take us out of the EU. It’s a sign of the chaos within the Government on Brexit that we feel no closer to a deal than this time last year.
The EU Withdrawal Bill has been passing through the required stages in the House of Lords before it returns to the House of Commons soon for final approval. The Lords have passed a number of amendments which will significantly improve the Bill, including one which strengthens Parliament’s ‘meaningful vote’ on the Brexit deal – ensuring Parliament will decide what happens next if the deal is voted down. Several of these amendments were proposed by Labour MPs when the Bill was in the Commons, but were voted down by the Conservative and DUP MPs.
it was reported that the Government was planning to delay bringing two key Brexit Bills – the Customs Bill and Trade Bill – back to the House of Commons for a vote until the autumn. Failing to bring this legislation back to the House simply because the Government does not have a majority for its vision of Brexit is treating Parliament with contempt. It demonstrates why Parliament must have a meaningful vote on the Brexit deal.
Celebrating our community
What incredible people live in Croydon. Here are a few examples from the last month. I met an inspiring bunch of children in Year 5 at Woodside Academy. Their Paxman-style questioning was wonderful and they had some great ideas about how they would change our community.
The fantastic volunteers at the Food Surplus Project who operate out of Ryelands Academy on a Friday night. These volunteers wait for a delivery of unwanted food donated by Waitrose and others, and they have to decide what to cook with it. They prepare a three-course meal which is then enjoyed by anyone who wants to come – the lonely, the elderly, or the vulnerable. If anyone is interested in volunteering, let me know and I’ll put you in touch.
I showed a group of Guides from New Addington around Parliament, they were clearly inspired by the stories of all the women who fought to secure votes for women exactly 100 years ago. Maybe one day they will be back here as MPs.
Finally I went to see the awesome Croydon Cougars – an amazing basketball club with amazing kids. I really hope to work with them closely in the coming months, projects like this are so important for helping give our young people things to do, keep fit and learn discipline.