Harriet Harman

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

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Demanding Secretary of State for Health step in to reverse cruel policy banning single women from IVF treatment

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We regard ourselves as a civilised society with a respect for human rights. And it is right that we should take extra care to support young people and those with disabilities. But the brutal truth is that we are failing to protect some of our most vulnerable children and young people - those with autism and learning disabilities. And indeed, worse than that, we are currently detaining and inflicting terrible suffering on them and causing anguish to their distraught families.

The horrific reality is that children and young adults with autism and learning disabilities are being sectioned under the mental health act and taken to specialist hospitals with poor conditions, far away from their families. They are being detained for months, or even years on end when they should be in their community. The recent Panorama programme showing the taunting and abuse of vulnerable young patients in Whorlton Hall exposed this horrific reality and it has put the inhumane treatment of people in institutions back under the spotlight, eight years on from a similar scandal at Winterbourne View hospital. 

The pathway from diagnosis to detention is tragic. What happens is this: A family grow worried about their child and raise concerns with the GP and with the child’s nursery or school. It takes ages before they get an assessment and yet more time passes before they get a diagnosis of autism. All the while, families are struggling on their own, without the appropriate help for their child.

Parents who ask for government support soon find they have to battle for it - on top of holding down a job, whilst also trying to provide a peaceful home not only for their child with autism but also for their other children. Their living situation becomes impossible.

As the child gets older, families find it harder to cope. The problems mount and the mother gives up work so she can be there for her child at all times. The family income suffers, which leads to them relying on a complex, inadequate benefit system. Families ask for extra care support, but due to austerity,  find their care package is going to be cut back. There are not enough specialist beds or local services to support the child.

As the situation worsens, parents are told that their child will have to go into hospital temporarily. Families are not being told about the proposal before it goes to the panel which makes the decision. They are not allowed to attend the panel.  Then, the child is taken miles away from their home and placed with strangers - losing the familiarity and routine which is so essential to their wellbeing.

The parents are desperately concerned. They have difficulty visiting their children. But their concerns are treated as hostile and they are seen as a problem. The child gets worse and suffers physical restraint and solitary confinement - which the institution calls ‘seclusion‘. The child gets even worse, so plans to return home are shelved. The days turn into weeks and then months. 

This is such a grim picture, yet they are the stories of families up and down country. And their experiences have come across powerfully in their evidence to the inquiry being undertaken by the parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, which I chair. The media has exposed some of this, and we’ve had a compelling report too from the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield.

Action is urgently needed – and the solutions are not complicated. First, there must be extra resources so that diagnosis is prompt. There must be extra funding too to support the child continuing to live with the family at home. (Institutional care is, in fact, more expensive to the public purse but it comes from the NHS rather than cash-strapped councils). Parents must be supported to continue to work. Councils’ housing policies must ensure that families with a child with autism can be appropriately housed.

The family should be recognised as the people who know the child best and care for him/her the most and must be put at the heart of the decision-making process. Residential hospital care - where it’s absolutely necessary and not just because of lack of community support - must be near the child’s home to allow the parents to visit regularly.

The parents should be asked regularly if they are happy with the care their child is getting and any concerns immediately acted on. There should be proper complaints procedures which can be anonymous. And there remains a major question mark over the Care Quality Commission, the regulator of this provision. It had certified Whorlton Hall as ‘good’. In doing so it provided parents with false reassurance and helped shield their children’s abusers. A regulator which gets it wrong is worse than no regulator at all.

Our country is prosperous and values human rights. We cannot turn away from the suffering of these children and their families. It’s time to act.

 

This article originally appeared in the Fabian Society Review, July 2019

Time to act - detention of young people with autism a national scandal

We regard ourselves as a civilised society with a respect for human rights. And it is right that we should take extra care to support young people and those with...

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Most of us are starting to change what we can day to day to minimise the harm we inflict on the planet and tackle climate change, whether it’s stopping using plastic carrier bags and disposable coffee cups, doing more recycling, using less water, driving less, or cutting down on our food waste.

Hundreds of Southwark people have contacted me about this and I’ve been so encouraged by the thousands of young people who’ve taken to the streets over the past few months to protest and demand government action on the climate crisis.

Southwark Council were one of the first councils to declare a climate emergency and this month they hosted their first Climate Change Summit, bringing together local residents, NGOs like Greenpeace and central government officials to develop a plan to ensure by 2030 Southwark achieves ‘carbon neutrality’ which means we are removing as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as we’re putting in.

But the good work of individuals, charities and Southwark Council will never be enough. It needs government action.

The science shows that unless governments back up local work and take strong action on climate change within the next 12 years, it will be too late.

The consequences of unchecked climate change would be catastrophic.  It's already a reality for millions of people around the world – with more wildfires, longer droughts and intense tropical storms. And it is the poorest and most vulnerable people who are always hit hardest. Climate change is forcing increasing numbers of people to abandon their homes and farms and become climate refugees. Last year, climate change displaced 16.1 million people. It is estimated that, by 2050, between 150 to 200 million people are at risk of being forced to leave their homes because of droughts, rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions.

Our government urgently needs to play its part in leading action against climate change. Everything the Government and Parliament does must be judged by whether we are making progress on reducing harmful carbon dioxide emissions.

Labour has been leading the fight against climate change in Parliament. In May this year we voted to make the UK Parliament the first in the world to declare an “environment and climate emergency”.

But in the 2 months since then the Government has not taken any decisive action.

The UK is still not on track to meet our targets to cut our use of harmful coal and gas by 2030. 

The Government must use all their powers to achieve this – by increasing the use of clean energy sources such as wind and solar power, stopping big supermarkets using low grade and single use plastics, investing in buses, walking and cycling to cut car use and by making bus travel free for under 25s.

The children leading the climate change school strikes have made a powerful case. They are right to be worried about the kind of planet they will inherit.

We stand in solidarity with them. Their action is a wake up call to the Government and to all of us as MPs. We can see the science. It is our responsibility now to act.

We have the science. Now it's time for the Government to act on climate crisis

Most of us are starting to change what we can day to day to minimise the harm we inflict on the planet and tackle climate change, whether it’s stopping using...

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Monthly report - May / June 2019

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Access to affordable, quality childcare is essential for parents to able to work and it helps children get a good start in their life.

 

Yet after all the progress on childcare when Labour were last in government, working parents are now finding it harder to get the childcare they need.

 

Under this Tory government since 2010, the cost of childcare is rising faster than people’s wages. 1,000 Sure Start children’s centres across the country have closed and many more have reduced the services they provide.  

 

And this is hitting hard-working parents in Southwark.  

 

The Government’s scheme of 30 hours free childcare a week for 3 and 4 year olds is not working. Because The Government has failed to ensure that funding keeps up with the rising costs of providing childcare for nurseries to actually deliver the extra hours of free care the Government has promised parents.

 

Providers are being asked to deliver more, whilst facing a real term funding cut between now and 2020. The current funding level was set almost 4 years and doesn’t take into account significant operating cost increases in that time, such as business rate rises, rent, increases to the National Minimum Wage and pensions.

 

This has left parents and child carers subsidising the Government’s new offer. Which is simply not sustainable.

If this funding crisis continues, more childcare centres will close. More parents will be unable to afford a childcare place meaning they will be unable to work and earn for their family. This hits single parents and those on low incomes disproportionately hard.

 

I am backing the parent-led Early Years Alliance’s Fair Future Funding campaign and will continue to do all I can in Parliament to demand the Government properly funds universal childcare. All parents with children in primary school must have the certainty that childcare is available from 8am to 6pm.

 

Universal childcare is the missing part of our welfare state - a product of an old reality decades ago, where women did not get to go out to work, but stayed home to look after children. We need a universal free childcare system to reflect the reality of parents’ lives today and to liberate parents from the expense and worry of juggling home and work.

Universal childcare is the missing part of the welfare state - Southwark News Column

Access to affordable, quality childcare is essential for parents to able to work and it helps children get a good start in their life.   Yet after all the progress...

Attacks on MPs are not just criminality against individuals; even more importantly than that, it is a fundamental attack on our democracy.

How does the hon. Gentleman think we should address this issue? Obviously, there are actions the Government need to take, and we know they are concerned, but in a way the issue is wider than that. It is an issue for all the parties and for the House as a whole, not just for the Government. What does he think about the mechanisms for taking action? One of the things I have considered—I do not know whether he thinks this is a good idea or whether he has an alternative proposal—is that we should have a Speaker’s conference on this issue. That would need the Government’s support. It would bring together the CPS, the police, the political parties. 

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that might be a way to go beyond discussion and take action?

Read the full debate in Parliament here

Tackling Intimidation in Public Life - Speaking in Westminster Hall Debate

Attacks on MPs are not just criminality against individuals; even more importantly than that, it is a fundamental attack on our democracy. How does the hon. Gentleman think we should...

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Monthly report - April / May 2019

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Older people suffer disproportionately from loneliness and social isolation. Many over-75s have a disability or mobility issues and may not be easily able to leave their homes, and Age UK has found that 400,000 elderly people regularly go a week without meeting up with people or speaking on the phone to family and friends.

The free TV licence Labour introduced in 1999 is one of the few universal benefits available to older people and is particularly important given that for millions who live on their own this is their connection to the outside world, and over a third of older people say their television is their main source of company.  

Currently everyone aged 75 or over is entitled to a free licence and the Conservatives promised voters in the 2017 election that they would protect this right until at least 2022.  

But now they are trying to go back on their promise. From next year, millions of people aged over-75 could lose their right to a free TV licence and if they don’t pay, end up in court despite the Conservative manifesto promising this wouldn’t happen. 

There are 4,140 people aged 75 or over in Camberwell and Peckham who would lose out.  And for many loneliness is worse when they don’t have their family nearby as the next generation move out of Southwark because homes are too expensive here and they can’t get a council home. 

It is so dismaying that pensioner poverty, which was halved when Labour were last in government between 1997 and 2010, is now on the rise again. Under the Tories 300,000 more older people are living in poverty than in 2010. This is unacceptable in a wealthy country such as the UK.  

Age UK has warned that if the Government goes ahead with these cuts, thousands of older people could be forced to go without TV or cut back on essentials such as heating or eating and a further 50,000 pensioners will be living in poverty.   

It would be wrong for the Government to take free TV away from vulnerable and lonely older people.  

I am working with MPs from across the House including the Labour front bench, Liberal Democrats, SNP and the DUP, to demand the Government urgently reconsider and maintain funding for free TV licences for over-75s.

 

Opposing government cuts to free TV licences for over 75s

Older people suffer disproportionately from loneliness and social isolation. Many over-75s have a disability or mobility issues and may not be easily able to leave their homes, and Age UK...

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We’re all hearing about the catastrophic effects of global warming and doing what we can to recycle, use reusable bags and coffee cups and worrying about supermarkets using so much plastic packaging.

Last month, Southwark became one of the first councils to declare a Climate Change Emergency and commit to combating greenhouse gas emissions and rising global temperatures. The council has already worked to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 37% since 2010. And aims to achieve carbon neutrality in the borough by 2030, which means to remove as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as we put in to it.

But while we step up our own efforts locally, what is really urgent now is that the Government must take decisive action.

Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish activist who is leading the charge on climate change around the world, visited Parliament and challenged all of us as MPs last week: “I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

And she’s right. Climate change is not a theoretical future. It is already here - wildfires, droughts and floods are hitting people around the world – and disproportionately hurting poorer communities in Africa, Asia and Far East.

The science is clear, we must act now to have any hope of reversing global warming. This cannot wait. It is for today’s governments.

This message has hit home to the thousands of school students and Extinction Rebellion protesters who, inspired by Greta, have demonstrated in recent weeks. Their message is that the Government must do much more to reduce the carbon dioxide we are releasing into the atmosphere.

In response to people reducing food waste in their homes, to the leadership Greta Thunberg has shown and to the thousands of people protesting and writing to their MPs, the Government should set clear, measurable targets to move away from harmful energy sources like burning coal and gas. And use tax breaks to make clean energy more affordable for people to use, like onshore wind farms, solar panels and electric cars.

Labour are taking this forward in Parliament this week by bringing forward a motion to make our Parliament the first in the world to formally recognise the climate emergency. I am backing this.

We are demanding the Government urgently implements new targets on renewable and low carbon energy and transport, properly funds environmental protection, reverses species decline and puts forward proposals to move towards a zero waste economy, including phasing out single-use plastics and investing in making homes more energy efficient through double glazing and draught proofing.

We need to work together across the House of Commons to try and trigger a wave of action here and from other governments around the world to halt global warming, reduce pollution, make our cities healthier and better places to live, protect our green spaces and deliver climate justice in the UK and around the world.

And switching to a carbon neutral green economy and using more solar and wind energy will create thousands of new jobs.

Unless we step up the action now, people in the future will look back on our generation and say “you knew what was happening, but you did nothing to prevent it”. As well as each of us, and the council changing the way we do things. It is time for the Government to wake up and act with the urgency that the science demands.

Demanding the Government declare a Climate Emergency

We’re all hearing about the catastrophic effects of global warming and doing what we can to recycle, use reusable bags and coffee cups and worrying about supermarkets using so much...

Rape prosecutions are already woefully low, let's not make it even harder for women to come forward

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Earlier this week, news emerged that rape victims will have to hand their phones over to the police - or else risk prosecutions not going ahead. Harriet Harman explains why these controversial consent forms must be stopped now.

There’s a long-standing problem in ensuring men don’t get away with rape. It’s a very difficult thing to stand in a witness box and face what the defence will throw at you as a victim in court. What the defence try and do is to turn the tables to make you feel like you’re on trial rather than the rapist. For years, in fact for decades, it has always been the case that it’s difficult to encourage women to report rape - let alone to be prepared to take it all the way to court.

That’s the background. There is a very low percentage of rape reporting and an even lower percentage of women feeling able to support the case in court. There is also a long-standing rule that it’s up to the prosecution to prove their case – somebody is innocent until proven guilty and this is what happens across all cases. The prosecution shouldn’t sit on evidence which would actually help the defence show that a crime hadn’t been committed. The disclosure rule used to involve the odd letter or statement from a witness about something they saw. Now, people leave their whole lives on the line – their relationships with family and friends, their work, all their pictures, all their hopes and fears; it’s all written down online. There have been a couple of cases where the defence have, late in the day, come across text messages which have shown that the man wasn’t guilty. It’s this that’s led to an overreaction from the prosecution and the police, who are now saying that unless you hand over every one of your devices with passwords and allow them to go back five years and look over every single picture, text and whatsapp message, then they won’t go ahead with the prosecution.

"We already have a big problem with rape prosecutions and this could potentially make it even worse"

This is something that makes it much harder to support a prosecution because it involves not only an invasion of the victim’s privacy and every aspect of her private life being scrutinised, but also those of her friends and family because of what they’ve said to her over message or through pictures that they’ve shared. All this will now be in the hands of the police and will be vulnerable to being used in court.

The way to solve this problem is to enable the woman, if she feels that the police are going too widely and on a fishing expedition for information, to be able to challenge it and have the decision to mine her phone scrutinised by an independent person to ensure that it’s not an unwarranted invasion of privacy. A woman contacted me on the morning that this was discussed in the House of Commons to say that she’d been seriously sexual assaulted by someone who was a complete stranger, so there was no question of a relationship that they needed to discover between him and her. They were just asking for information, so they could find anything that might discredit her. She felt that she was being put on trial.

"It goes back to the idea that a woman who has had sex is immoral and a fallen woman"

The defence think that the way to get off a rape or sexual assault charge is to prejudice the jury by saying that she’s the sort of woman who had sex with a lot of people and therefore she wouldn’t have said no to him. Or that she’s the sort of person who, because she’s had sex with lots of different people, has no integrity. It’s about blackening the woman’s character and a way of getting him off. Shamefully, that still goes on in our courts today. Just because a woman has had sex with A and B, it doesn’t mean she wasn’t raped by Mr C. It goes back to the idea that a woman who has had sex is immoral and a fallen woman, therefore not someone whose word should be trusted against a man who’s standing in the dock. We don’t subscribe to that attitude that a woman can’t be believed because she’s morally doubtful on the basis that she’s had sex.

This is a very serious problem. We already have a big problem with rape prosecutions and this could potentially make it even worse, but we have a solution that would protect the victim without subjecting the defendant to the possibility of wrongful conviction. It’s important to remember that rape is often a repeat offence. If a man gets away with doing it to one woman, he’s likely to do it again. We need to get this form withdrawn and a process in place so that a woman can challenge it. We can’t let this be yet another obstacle in securing justice for rape victims.

Why we mustn't demand rape victims hand over their phones - Harpers Bazaar

Rape prosecutions are already woefully low, let's not make it even harder for women to come forward GETTY Earlier this week, news emerged that rape victims will have to hand their...

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