Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons

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Monthly report - December 2018/January 2019

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Autism used to be something that most people knew nothing about.  Now there is growing awareness of the effect on someone of being on the Autistic spectrum - a lifelong developmental disability that means someone has difficulties with communication and social interaction and how they experience the world. But public services and support for people with Autism and their families still have a long way to go.

I’ve been contacted by an increasing number of constituents who have a family member with autism and who need help on a whole range of fronts. The biggest concern I’ve been asked for help with is housing. You might be perfectly settled in your home but as an autistic child grows you become concerned about their safety if you live high up or by a busy road. So moving becomes a necessity.  You might have good relations with your neighbours but end up with complaints if your autistic child is noisy at night, banging on the walls. And you might end up with complaints of the noise your child makes in the garden in the summer. Again, you’ll need a move. All children need their own space as they get older. But it becomes particularly acute for a teenager sharing a bedroom with their autistic sibling. They might be woken many times at night and be too tired for school.  A larger home then becomes essential.   

All children need stability and security and constant moving is never a good idea. But if a family with an autistic member is given notice to quit their private rented home they can end up in a hostel or temporary accommodation. Disruption and change is particularly hard for an autistic child and it is difficult for them to cope in shared accommodation such as a hostel and if they also have to change schools, or make a long journey to their existing school.

Parents complain to me about delays in getting their autistic child assessed which can delay them getting the diagnosis and the support that they need. This is especially important to ensure that they are in the right school with the right support. Parents complain that if it’s to be a special school, they are not fully included in the decision about where their child will be placed.

And meeting the care needs of one or more family members who are autistic can affect the ability of the parent to work and therefore involve claiming benefits. That’s a challenge for any family but for someone who doesn’t speak English or who’s new into the country, finding their way through the benefits system and finding the right help by way of services can be a problem.

The council has a strategy on services and support for families with autism which they agreed with the local health service. But all the services are overstretched. The council needs to be providing more help to those with autism and yet their budgets are being cut.

As chair of Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights I’m leading an inquiry into the Assessment and Treatment Units where some autistic young people are detained.  We are particularly concerned that the concerns of parents about whether the place their child is being held is right for them are not listened to and that parents’ concerns are treated as a nuisance rather than an important warning that things are not right. The Human Rights Committee will be publishing our report later this year.

I’m proposing that the Government ensure that every council has a detailed strategy for supporting people with autism and that they ensure that both the council and health services are fully funded to meet those needs. It’s important that autism is more recognised and understood. But it also essential that with that comes the support to which those families should be entitled. 

Government must properly fund autism support - South London Press Column

Autism used to be something that most people knew nothing about.  Now there is growing awareness of the effect on someone of being on the Autistic spectrum - a lifelong...

We all saw the TV clips of thugs shouting abuse in Anna Soubry’s face and blocking her way to parliament from a media interview over the road. Everyone agreed it was awful. It’s her job to have opinions. She’s elected to speak up not keep her head down. Everyone said it overstepped the mark.

We have been here before (remember the harassment of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s children). About every six weeks there’s an ugly incident and we all gather in the chamber to wring our hands and do nothing.

Attacks on, and threats to, MPs are commonplace. Jo Cox was killed, Rosie Cooper could have been killed and others are threatened with death. This is serious and we don’t know the half of it.

Most assaults or threats against MPs are not even reported, for a whole range of reasons. We are hardwired to present ourselves as tough champions of others — not victims. We don’t want to make the assailant even worse. We don’t want to look like we’re using up scarce police resources when families on our council estates complain to us that their community police are vanishing.

We’re afraid of being called a “snowflake”, who doesn’t have what it takes to be an MP.

Way back when I was a new MP with three young children at home a violent ex-offender threatened me, waited outside my home, came to my surgery, wrote hundreds of lying letters to MPs and ministers. For years I buried my head in the sand.

There were enough people saying that parliament was no place for a young mother of three children. They’d say if I couldn’t stand the heat I should “get out of the kitchen”. It was only when the Maudsley hospital insisted I tell the police as he was telling them he was going to kill me and they believed him, that I faced up to it.

Daily I hear of MPs beleaguered by threats at their home, in their constituency office, in the street and online. Some report and some are driven to taking out injunctions. But we don’t have the official overall picture as no one collects this information.

Parliament is keen to get on with tackling other people’s problems but notoriously slow to address our own, fearing accusations that we’re feathering our own nest. (We’ve been legislating for maternity leave for decades but still don’t have any baby leave for MPs!).

And we’re rightly even more wary if it could be alleged that what we’re doing is against the public right to demonstrate, their freedom of expression and protest.

But we can’t have a situation where MPs are looking over their shoulder, keeping their head down, restricting their advice surgeries, reluctant to go on public transport on their own at night. Yet that is what is happening.

Supposing it had been Tulip Siddiq MP (eight months pregnant and 5ft nothing) rather than Anna Soubry? Would the police still have stood by?

Many different people and organisations need to be thinking about this. The police, the CPS, the leader of the House, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and many more.

We need a process to look to bring this together and consider the balance between the competing rights of demonstrators and the right of MPs to get on with the job for which they were elected. We need to make sure that MPs are not at risk.

Ken Clarke MP (father of the House) and I, (mother of the House) are jointly calling for a Speaker’s conference to look seriously into all this and make proposals. And no one would dare call Ken a snowflake!

Link to story as it appeared on the Times Red Box here.

 

Threats to MPs can’t go on: they are an attack on democracy - Times Red Box Article

We all saw the TV clips of thugs shouting abuse in Anna Soubry’s face and blocking her way to parliament from a media interview over the road. Everyone agreed it...


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