Harriet Harman

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

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Government must set up special Nurseries Fund - my letter to the Chancellor

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There is a lot of confusion and uncertainty about when nurseries can open again. The prime minister mentioned schools in his statement setting out his ‘roadmap for easing lockdown’ but said nothing about nurseries.

We all know how important nurseries are, both for children’s development and enabling parents to work. This is particularly so for people in Camberwell and Peckham and our nurseries are greatly valued.

Under the Coronavirus bill passed by parliament in March, the government instructed nurseries to close during the COVID-19 lockdown to adhere to social distancing guidance and help halt the spread of the virus. Only those caring for vulnerable children and the children of key workers were allowed to stay open. Of the 114 nurseries in Southwark, just 20 remain open.

I have been contacted by parents and nurseries in Camberwell and Peckham desperately worried about the long term future because of the lack of clarity from the government on what financial help is available to them throughout the crisis, and the absence of any indication of how long they will be required to stay closed.

Nurseries in Camberwell and Peckham were already financially very precarious before the Corona crisis. For years low income families have had to subsidise this government’s lack of investment in childcare provision. Nurseries’ unexpected and significant loss of income due to Covid is putting serious pressure on already overstretched budgets. Nurseries are experiencing unsustainable losses through no fault of their own and some tell me they expect to lose half of their income.

I have offered every nursery that has had to close in Camberwell and Peckham my support and asked whether they are confident that they will indeed be able to re-open at the end of the lockdown, whether they and their staff are getting the financial help they need, or if they are being forced to rely on bank loans.

Without knowing what support will be available nurseries tell me it’s impossible to plan ahead and to give their staff the assurances they need about their pay and job security. Many fear they will shut permanently, as staff will be forced to leave the profession to find alternative income.

I’m calling on the chancellor to create a special ‘nursery fund’ to ensure our invaluable nursery provision survives this lockdown and that nurseries will still be there to reopen as soon as the restrictions are lifted. The government has put in place a special fund for zoos. They should do so for nurseries because if the government does not commit to a significant financial package of support for early years providers they may not survive this crisis.

This would be disastrous for parents and the entire economy as without childcare millions of people will be unable to start going back to work as the lockdown eases.

The Corona crisis has exposed the problems in nursery provision that were already there. Increasingly people are realising that childcare is the missing part of the welfare state – a product of an old reality decades ago, where it was assumed women did not get to go out to work, but stayed home to look after children. As we emerge out of this crisis we need a universal free childcare system to give all children a great start, reflect the reality of working parents’ lives today and liberate parents from the expense and worry of juggling home and work.

Government must end confusion and uncertainty over childcare - Southwark News column

There is a lot of confusion and uncertainty about when nurseries can open again. The prime minister mentioned schools in his statement setting out his ‘roadmap for easing lockdown’ but...

British Airways must support worried staff in pandemic, not take advantage of crisis - My letter to CEO

Read my third Coronavirus Crisis Report here.  

 

Coronavirus Crisis Report 3

Read my third Coronavirus Crisis Report here.    

Coronavirus Crisis Report 2

Read my second Coronavirus Crisis Report here.    

In the face of this unprecedented Coronavirus crisis the government is rightly telling people to stay home to prevent the spread of the virus, to protect our NHS and to save lives. 

However for many families in Camberwell and Peckham this is much harder than it is for others. Camberwell and Peckham has, of all the constituencies in the country, the highest number of families living in council or housing association flats.  It is really hard for parents with young children who live in small flats with no outside space.  During this lockdown here’s no nursery or play group and no chance to pop round to hang out with a group of friends.  For these families it’s crucial to have the opportunity to spend one hour getting a breath of fresh air and for the children to be able to run around. 

We have wonderful green spaces in Camberwell and Peckham, from big areas like Burgess Park and Peckham Rye to little gems like St Giles Churchyard and Lucas Gardens. But as it the weather gets hotter they’re getting more crowded.  Our parks are a precious public asset.  In this lockdown they need to be for those who need them most, local people who don’t have gardens. 

I’m suggesting that there should be a rota for our public green spaces.  So that you would know that on a particular day your estate would have priority on a park. 

What about advising those who live in houses with gardens not to use the parks?  They can use their own gardens and walk on the streets.

And what about having a radical extension of road closures?  There is so little traffic.  Side roads could be closed except for access. That would take the pressure off the parks as people could walk in the street instead of crowding onto pavements.  It’s hard to keep 2 meters apart when you are wheeling your buggy on a narrow pavement. And a rota would reduce the danger of the few cars that are on the road speeding dangerously because of the lack of traffic. Let’s give the roads over to people walking and cycling.

Most people are abiding by the social distancing rules.  The police are there to check up on those who don't. Let’s make this lockdown more bearable for children cooped up in flats by giving them the freedom of our parks and let’s make out streets safer by giving children, not cars, priority in our streets.

 

We need a rota for parks for families without gardens of their own - Southwark News

In the face of this unprecedented Coronavirus crisis the government is rightly telling people to stay home to prevent the spread of the virus, to protect our NHS and to...

 

 

Dentists need financial support to survive COVID-19 crisis - My letter to the Chancellor

   

Careworkers might not be the first people we think of when we picture our vital workers leading the fight against Coronavirus. But they are very much on the frontline looking after the most vulnerable and to do their job they have to be in close physical contact with those for whom they are caring and their co-workers.    

There are 8 residential homes care in Camberwell and Peckham and I’ve contacted them telling them how much we value their work and offering to take up any of their concerns. I was dismayed to hear that staff feel that they don’t have the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) they need to protect the elderly people they help, or keep themselves and their families safe, that there are shortages of staff as people have to self isolate and that the government is not properly focussed on them. 

Even before the Coronavirus hit, years of government funding cuts, outsourcing and privatisation had already left the care sector and it’s staff at breaking point. But with this deadly virus we are now seeing the full tragedy of the cuts and neglect play out.

Carers are unappreciated and underpaid, often on zero hours contracts, without entitlement to holidays or sick pay. If they don’t go into work, they don’t get paid. 

This does not help prevent the spread of the virus. One careworker told me she worries every day about whether it’s better for her to come into work fearing she could spread the virus to the vulnerable people she helps, or to stay at home, which would compromise safe staffing levels and the quality of care.

Carers tell me they are worried that because they do not come under NHS management they will be forgotten in the Government’s testing programme of critical healthcare staff.

A number of staff said they’d been turned away from supermarkets during the early access hours for health workers because their ID badges are not NHS, and by the time they finish their shifts the shelves are empty.

I’m pressing the Government to treat dedicated staff working in our already overstretched social care sector with the same priority as frontline staff in hospitals. 

All care workers must urgently be given adequate and effective Personal Protective Equipment, be included in the testing programme and the Government must issue guidance to supermarkets to ensure they recognise and prioritise care home staff for online shops and designated early hours. Before Coronavirus struck there were already vacancies for social care workers. If we don’t protect carers, as they protect society's most vulnerable, we risk losing more of this vital workforce over the coming weeks, and potentially for good.

 

The social care sector and its workforce have been taken for granted for too long. The Coronavirus crisis has exposed how vital they are. 

When this pandemic is over one of the Government’s first priorities must be to create a National Care Service, like our NHS. 

And in the meantime, every Thursday, I’ll be clapping for our care workers as well as our indispensable NHS. 

Care homes cannot be left behind in our battle against Coronavirus - South London Press article

Careworkers might not be the first people we think of when we picture our vital workers leading the fight against Coronavirus. But they are very much on the frontline looking...

Coronavirus Crisis report 1

Read my Coronavirus Crisis Report 1 - 2nd April 2020 here  

Link to letter here

 

Full text below: 

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Fairness for the Self-Employed and Freelancers in the Creative Industries throughout Coronavirus Crisis - Letter to Chancellor

Link to letter here   Full text below:   

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Helping Constituents Stranded Abroad Get Home - My Letters to Foreign Secretary and Transport Secretary

         

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Police officers on frontline need Personal Protective Equipment - Letter to Home Secretary

I have been contacted by a number of people in Camberwell and Peckham who are understandably very anxious about empty shelves, the lack of key groceries and cleaning products and delivery slots. I appreciate this is a very difficult and unsettling time. 

I have written to the 10 major supermarkets with one or more stores in Camberwell and Peckham to ask what reassurances they can offer local people about the steps they are taking to ensure shelves remain stocked with food and essential supplies throughout the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic.

I've also asked supermarket chief executives to let me know what adjustments they are making to ensure elderly and vulnerable people can get the supplies they need, including prioritising them for online food deliveries and creating designated shopping hours.

I enclose the determined and sensible response I've received from Iceland below. I share Iceland's frustration with those whose actions threaten others. 

I will post the other supermarkets' replies I receive as they come in.

 

Coronavirus - my letter to local supermarkets

I have been contacted by a number of people in Camberwell and Peckham who are understandably very anxious about empty shelves, the lack of key groceries and cleaning products and...

The government is rightly taking tough powers to enable it to take action necessary to cut the number of deaths in this corona virus crisis. And they are rightly giving strict advice about what we must do to protect ourselves during the epidemic.

The Prime Minister’s updated advice on 16th March asking people to “social distance” is following the medical evidence but it is affecting pubs, shops and restaurants. The government need to ensure they can survive past this crisis. 

Coronavirus is already hitting small businesses struggling as supplies from abroad dry up or employees have to take time off. So they will need compensation quickly.

The government has paused business rates which is welcome. There needs to be rent relief, suspension of utility bills and compensation payments too. 
Local help for small businesses in Southwark: 
Southwark Council have set up an advice service for businesses: email SouthwarkBusinessDesk@southwark.gov.uk
They have also set up an emergency support service for those in financial hardship on 020 7525 2434
We can all do our bit as individuals by not risking ourselves and others and sticking to the advice.

The government will be keeping the public informed and also making itself accountable to Parliament. But Parliament will work very differently with only a few MPs allowed in the chamber. The Human Rights Committee which I chair has agreed to suspend our meetings but instead make our decisions by email. My dedicated caseworkers who help with my work for constituents who have problems including benefits, immigration or housing are still doing their work but doing so from home, working online. 

The bottom line is that the government needs to do everything possible to protect lives and we need to act on that advice and play our part in these unprecedented times. 

Coronavirus - help for local businesses

The government is rightly taking tough powers to enable it to take action necessary to cut the number of deaths in this corona virus crisis. And they are rightly giving...

Coronavirus is a new virus, there is no vaccine or treatment and we don’t know what path it will take.  What we do know, though, is that it spreads rapidly and the elderly and ill are most at risk.  So every action possible must be taken to contain it and care for those who fall ill.

King’s College Hospital will be in the front line.  But King's is already overstretched after years of cuts from the Conservative government and with more people needing care. People already regularly wait longer than 4 hours in A & E and bed occupancy levels are 94%, well above the 85% limit  So it’s vital that the government give Kings more money to bring in more staff and open up more beds. And they need to give extra resources to the Maudsley too so that people in mental health crisis are cared for there and not left waiting in Kings A and E.

King's was the first hospital to report that patients had contracted coronavirus and everyone saw that on the news.  But there was no information to tell patients whether they should go in for outpatients’ appointments or if planned surgery was going ahead.  Nothing to tell visitors whether they should come as usual or stay away.  And no information to GPs on whether they should continue to refer patients to Kings as usual despite the coronavirus outbreak.  The NHS communications system needs to be much quicker so everyone knows they can just look on the website for the up to date position.

The Prime Minister has promised that people who stay off work because they are ill with suspected virus or if they are “self-isolating” will get Statutory Sick Pay from the first day off.  But we need to ensure that that change actually happens on the ground. We don’t want people feeling that they have to go in to work when they are feeling ill or risk infecting others because they can’t afford to stay off.  And there will need to be help too for people who are not eligible for Statutory Sick Pay, because they are self-employed or on zero hours contracts. There are 2 million people in this country who don’t earn enough to qualify for sick pay.  The government must set up a special fund and payment system for them. Nor must the government cancel the benefits of people who are unable to go to Job Centre appointments or job interviews because they are ill but can’t get a doctor’s certificate or self-isolating. The benefit sanctions regime can be a blunt instrument at the best of times but it must take account of coronavirus.

Coronavirus is hitting businesses too as they struggle as supplies from abroad dry up or employees have to take time off. So they will need compensation too.

It’s inevitable, as the virus progresses, that there will be new challenges and unforeseen problems.  And there have been reports that Parliament will be shut down so that we don’t spread the virus to the 650 different constituencies represented in Westminster.  But we must keep the pressure on the Government to help people who need it and back up the NHS and that’s Parliament’s job.  It makes sense to consider that at some point we might need to stop the thousands of visitors who come every day to Parliament.  And we might need a slimmed down version of Parliament, with fewer MPs (nominated from each country, region and party) operating out of our mini-chamber in Westminster Hall.  But the Government need to be accountable publicly for what they do in this most challenging of times.  And Parliament must be able to continue to effectively scrutinise it.

Coronovirus will not wait - govt must give NHS money it needs - Southwark News

Coronavirus is a new virus, there is no vaccine or treatment and we don’t know what path it will take.  What we do know, though, is that it spreads rapidly...

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I am contacted by a growing number of people in Camberwell and Peckham who can’t get the quality social care their older relatives need. People come to me distraught, concerned that the care their vulnerable parent with dementia is getting is suffering due to cuts. One man told me that the poor and inconsistent standards of care have caused his 89-year-old mother such frustration and distress it has accelerated the decline in her health.

A decade of Tory cuts to local council budgets and a growing number of elderly people needing care has pushed care services to the brink and is causing thousands of people untold misery. Councils across the country are having to make impossibly difficult decisions about who receives care, there is currently a 122,000 national staffing shortfall and millions of people are left to cope at home, alone, without the support they need. Despite the brilliant efforts of staff, many vulnerable people are waiting longer for treatment and standards of care are not being delivered. And families are pushed to breaking point

The care you receive in your older years should not depend on your income. Quality social care must be a universally-available public service. Families across the country deserve peace of mind that their relatives will be safe and looked after. The measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable.

And if people can’t get the help they need at home or in the community they are more likely to go to A& E or their GP surgery, causing extra strain on already desperately stretched hospital and GP services.

It has now been almost 3 years since the Government promised a consultation on social care and 7 months since the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, stood on the steps of Downing Street and claimed he had a clear plan to fix the crisis in social care. But there is, as yet no plan?

The Government’s proposal this week to increase funding by £1 billion per year does not go anywhere near far enough. 1.5 million people are currently going without the support they need. The local Government Association estimates that by 2024 the funding gap will be £3.5bn.

Locally Southwark Council are working hard to help older residents and people with dementia stay safely in their own home, despite deep Tory cuts. The council has just announced it is building 50 extra care homes and a new day centre at Tayo Situ House in Peckham, named after the late Mayor of Southwark and dedicated Peckham Councillor, Tayo Situ. Extra Care homes are self-contained flats that allow people to live independently in their own homes, but with round the clock care support on site so there is help if they need it and so they  feel less isolated or alone. 

Tackling the crisis in social care is a priority for Labour. I’ve co-signed Helen Hayes MP’s Early Day Motion to demand the Government urgently brings forward proposals to Parliament so we can ensure everyone gets the support they need and can live with dignity in their old age. We are also pressing Ministers to invest in the social care workforce. Carers play a vital role in our society, yet they are often unappreciated and underpaid. We need to pay care workers a real living wage and develop a sustainable, cross-party solution, otherwise the 122,000 staff shortfall and the crisis in social care will grow and more older people and their families will suffer. 

People need dignity in their old age - families need support, social care must be a universal public service

I am contacted by a growing number of people in Camberwell and Peckham who can’t get the quality social care their older relatives need. People come to me distraught, concerned...

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A remarkable symbol of peace. Pleased to attend the unveiling of the dove sculpture in the new Southwark Peace Garden at   Walworth Methodist Church. Made from knives seized by Southwark Police, it represents the local community’s determination to tackle knife crime.

 

Southwark Peace Garden

A remarkable symbol of peace. Pleased to attend the unveiling of the dove sculpture in the new Southwark Peace Garden at   Walworth Methodist Church. Made from knives seized by Southwark...

A number of constituents have contacted me about the recent petition calling for those with British National (Overseas) passports to be granted full British citizenship.

I understand that individuals who were British Overseas Territories citizens by connection with Hong Kong were able to register as a BN(O) before 1 July 1997. 

In recognition of the fact that those with BN(O) status were at a disadvantage compared to those with other British nationalities, the then Government changed the law in 2009 to allow BN(O)s without another citizenship or nationality to apply to register as a British citizen under section 4B of the British Nationality Act 1981. Those with BN(O) status can also register as a British citizen if they have lived in the UK for five years and meet the residence requirements.

To grant all BN(O)s British citizenship would require a change in the law and the Government has said it has no plans to do so.

The Government has noted that the 2007 Review of Citizenship by Lord Goldsmith recognised that to automatically give BN(O)s full British citizenship would be a breach of the commitments made between China and the UK in the 1984 Joint Declaration on the future of Hong Kong.

The relationship between the people of the UK and the people of Hong Kong is built not only on the foundations of our history but on shared principles. The UK has a moral and a legal obligation to the people of Hong Kong and I therefore understand why the matter of British citizenship has been raised.

I am very concerned by the situation in Hong Kong and the erosion of compliance with the Joint Declaration that we have seen over recent years. The recent protests have rightly prompted serious reflection on the condition of democracy in Hong Kong more widely, and on the increasing crackdown on dissent and protest.

Unfortunately, I believe the UK Government has been too quiet on this issue and I think it should reassert to the Chinese Government its commitment to upholding the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong citizens that were guaranteed in the Joint Declaration. I hope the Prime Minister will also speak up and stand firm in defence of the Joint Declaration.

 

Hong Kong: British National (Overseas) Citizenship

A number of constituents have contacted me about the recent petition calling for those with British National (Overseas) passports to be granted full British citizenship. I understand that individuals who...

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Thank you for your service Reverend Rose. Proud that you will be Church of England's first black woman bishop! Congratulations & best wishes!

#Trailblazer

Parliament bids farewell to Speaker's Chaplain Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin

Thank you for your service Reverend Rose. Proud that you will be Church of England's first black woman bishop! Congratulations & best wishes! #Trailblazer

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Packed meeting on the Brandon Estate tonight after tragic killing last week. Fear, anger and frustration. Important Southwark Council sort lighting, tree pruning and CCTV. Residents feel less safe than they did before police cuts. 

Brandon Estate Community meeting

Packed meeting on the Brandon Estate tonight after tragic killing last week. Fear, anger and frustration. Important Southwark Council sort lighting, tree pruning and CCTV. Residents feel less safe than they did...

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