It will be twenty years tomorrow since the World Trade Center in New York was destroyed by terrorists. As always, my thoughts are with those who lost loved ones on that day, including some British families. On behalf of the residents of Richmond Park I send my heartfelt condolences to all of them, and to all victims of terrorist atrocities.
Twenty years later we still have a great deal of work to do combatting intolerance and violence. Our withdrawal from Afghanistan means even more of this work needs to be done indirectly, through diplomacy, intelligence and promoting peace in every way we can. I thank everyone who is doing their part in this work, no matter how big or small, whether here or abroad. We may not have had the success we hoped we would see by now, but we must not give up.
SOCIAL CARE REFORM PROPOSALS
The Government announced its long-awaited proposal to reform social care funding this week. The plan introduces a new tax, the Health and Social Care Levy, to be added to National Insurance Contributions. The Government estimates that the new taxes will raise around £12 billion a year, which will be ringfenced for health and social care. Details of the levy and what the new revenue will be used for are set out here.
The reforms include:
The introduction of a cap on personal care costs of £86,000.
Increasing the upper capital limit from £23,250 to £100,000. If your assets are over £100,000 you will have to pay for your own care.
Increasing the lower capital limit from £14,250 to £20,000. If your assets are below £20,000 your care will be paid for by local authority funding.
For those who have capital valued between £20,000 and £100,000, the local authority may fund some of their care, but they may have to contribute up to 20% of their chargeable assets per year.
Increasing in line with inflation the amount of income that care recipients can retain after contributing towards their care costs.
While I welcome the attempt to begin much-needed social care reform, I am concerned that this proposal does not address the most pressing problem - the 120,000 vacancies for social care workers. It does not improve pay and conditions for care staff so we can recruit and retain them. It does not fill the enormous black hole in funding supplied to local authorities for social care. And it does not address the challenges faced by unpaid carers.
The Government needed to address the care work staffing crisis with a cash injection to local councils of the size needed to meet their duty of care to vulnerable residents, and a reduction in other barriers to employment. Instead the Government has imposed a vaccination mandate on care home workers as well as a new immigration system that makes it difficult for employers to recruit key workers from overseas, branding them as 'unskilled.'
I was able to ask a question about care home staffing shortages at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday. I told the story of a constituent who has been personally affected by this issue. A care home has informed my constituent that they will be unable to take her son because they are losing staff due to the government requirement for all staff to have two Covid-19 vaccinations.
This requirement is exacerbating the existing recruitment crisis caused by the underfunding of care and hostile immigration policies. You can see my question asking whether the Government would ease the burden on care homes by rescinding the vaccination policy, and the vaccines minister's response, here.
The Government has a great deal more work to do if it wants to properly fix the social care system and integrate it with the healthcare system. I hope they will listen to experts in the sector and to service users about where the most pressing problems and barriers to care lie, and make a good faith attempt to include all parties in finding solutions.
OPPOSING THE ELECTIONS BILL
I spoke out against compulsory voter identification earlier this week because the very small amount of fraud that occurs does not justify creating such high barriers to voting.
The number of legitimate voters who will be put off from voting by this bill is much higher than the number of fraudulent votes that will be prevented.
Many of the voters who will be disenfranchised by this measure will be lower income voters and persons of colour, and I am appalled at this attack on their rights to vote. You can see more about my reasons for opposing this bill in this video.
FEWER SOUTHWESTERN RAILWAY TRAINS FOR RICHMOND PARK CONSTITUENTS
As many of you will be aware, Southwestern Railway recently published a proposed new timetable for this area that included fewer trains coming through Richmond, North Sheen, Mortlake and Barnes. I am vociferously opposing these cuts in service. We should be trying to get more people onto public transport and out of polluting vehicles; making rail travel a less attractive option will not help.
If you would like to help me make the case against these cuts, there are two things I would ask you to do.
The first is to fill in Southwestern Railways' consultation survey here, to make your views known to them. I spoke about this issue in the House yesterday, pressing the Government to abandon this ill-conceived idea. You can see my question to Minister of State for Transport Chris Heaton-Harris, and his response recommending filling out the Southwestern Railway consultation in this video.
The second action would be to sign petitions against the cuts, including this petition organised by the local Liberal Democrats. Twickenham MP Munira Wilson and I will be using the petition response in our fight to protect our local rail services.
OPPOSING THE UPCOMING UNIVERSAL CREDIT CUT
Up to 9% of families in my constituency will be worse off at the end of this month when the £20 uplift to Universal Credit is removed, including 14% of families with children. I strongly oppose this cut to benefits because of the effect I know it will have on lower-income families in Richmond Park. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published a new estimate that the Universal Credit cut alone could force 500,000 people, almost half of them children, into poverty. You can see more information here.
HAMMERSMITH BRIDGE UPDATE
This week I had a meeting with Historic England to find out more about the Bridge’s listed status. I was reassured to hear that they continue to be constructive and collaborative partners in the pursuit of a long-term solution. While the Bridge is an aging structure, they are clear that from a technical standpoint, they have no reason to believe that it cannot take modern traffic patterns. Rather, it is a case of ensuring the Bridge is repaired in the correct way, technically-speaking, and that enough money is assigned to repair it. They also explained that destroying the Bridge and constructing a new one would not be a less-expensive alternative to repairing the existing structure.
The meeting underlined to me how important it is that the Government is forthcoming with the money it is prepared to commit. With that in mind I was pleased to co-sign a letter to the Chancellor this week with Fleur Anderson, MP for Putney, Ruth Cadbury, MP for Brentford and Isleworth and Andy Slaughter, MP for Hammersmith. We called on the Chancellor to intervene and provide central government funding, given the Taskforce's lack of urgency in resolving this matter.
I was particularly keen to make the point to the Chancellor that the Bridge’s closure is environmentally damaging, limiting the ability of Londoners to access public transport and increasing car journeys. The impact this is having on air quality is devastating. At a time when we are rightly focused on our net zero commitments, we must act urgently. To read our letter, click here.
HAM HOUSE ON ANTIQUES ROADSHOW - AIRING THIS WEEKEND
Over the summer Ham House welcomed the team from Antiques Roadshow to the estate's gardens. If you would like join the Antiques Roadshow experts in exploring the histories behind Ham House's treasures you can see the episode at 8pm on BBC One this Sunday.
THE POPPY FACTORY
Today I had the pleasure of visiting the Poppy Factory in Richmond which has, since 1922, been supporting veterans with health conditions into employment. The first veterans that the organisation supported were wounded, injured and sick veterans of the First World War who produced Remembrance products for the Royal British Legion. In the following years they have sought to build a supportive environment for veterans with physical and mental health conditions.
Today their support reaches far beyond the factory itself, helping veterans find long-term, meaningful employment through its employment service, which launched in 2010. It has grown to make up 90 per cent of the organisation’s activity, helping hundreds of veterans each year not just enter, but thrive in the workforce. Alongside their employment service they employ veterans and dependents of veterans to produce wreaths and other Remembrance products throughout the year.
It was absolutely fantastic to see first-hand that vital work being undertaken right at the heart of our community. The centre features a fascinating and educational range of wreaths and various Remembrance products, along with an array of photo displays and inspirational videos, highlighting the bravery and determination that is typical of the veterans the Poppy Factory supports. It is also partly rented out for commercial purposes, and likewise includes a space for public exhibitions.
I hope that as we continue to emerge from the pandemic, Richmond residents will consider visiting the centre so that they too can gain an even greater sense of appreciation for the critical support they provide our ex-Service men and women. In first instance, they have started accepting private group bookings of 20 or more. For those interested, they can sign up for more information at poppyfactory.org/visit, where a booking system will be operational within the next couple of weeks.
RICHMOND’S TWIN TOWNS
Today I was delighted to take part in the unveiling of a new information board about Richmond's twin towns of Fontainebleau & Konstanz.
The event was organised by the Richmond in Europe Association (REA), of which I am proudly a member. Also in attendance were the Mayor of Richmond, Cllr Geoff Action, Cllr Julia Cambridge and REA chairman, Alan Mockford.
Our political ties to our European neighbours may have changed, but we must protect our sporting, cultural and educational links and exchanges between the three towns & surrounding areas.
ELECTRIC CARGO BIKE GRANTS AVAILABLE NOW
The Department for Transport’s eCargo Bike Grant Fund has made available £400,000 for the purchase of eCargo bikes, to support businesses switching to a more sustainable transport solution.
Businesses can receive up to 40% of the total cost of a new eCargo bike, up to the value of £2,500, for two-wheel models and £4,500 for three-wheel models. The Energy Saving Trust will make a decision on applications within 15 days of receiving them and the £400,000 pot is allocated on a first come, first serve basis. Businesses can apply now. The closing date for applications is Tuesday 14 December 2021.
Richmond Council already runs a partnership with Peddle My Wheels to encourage businesses and residents to hire bicycles, e-bikes or eCargo bikes. Businesses can find out more about eCargo bikes on Richmond Council’s website and view case studies of how eCargo bikes are already being used in the borough.
If businesses would like to discuss the application or speak to existing eCargo bike owners in Richmond upon Thames to find out more about what it is like to own one, email firstname.lastname@example.org
ANNUAL 'FULL OF LIFE FAIR' FOR RICHMOND RESIDENTS WHO ARE OVER 55
Full of Life is back this year with a day of free online activities and talks to promote healthy and independent living, including:
· Zumba exercise class with Age UK Richmond
· Advice on wills and power of attorney from Citizens Advice Richmond
· How to spot a scam talk by the police
· Information on the COVID-19 booster vaccination programme from Healthwatch Richmond
· Advice on looking after yourself whilst looking after others from Richmond Carers Centre
· A guide to the best culture spots in the borough from VisitRichmond
· Understanding and preventing Type 2 Diabetes with Richmond Council’s Public Health team
· Richmond Libraries' guide to using its eLibrary
· Tips and advice on saving energy in the home by Richmond Council’s Climate Change team
RENEWING THE KINGFISHER LEISURE CENTRE AREA
Kingston Council is planning a revitalisation of the historic town centre to make it even more inviting for residents, local businesses, students and visitors. They aim to diversify Kingston's local economy beyond retail and ignite a vibrant leisure and cultural scene.
As part of this, they are proposing to deliver a brand-new, modern community leisure, well-being, and cultural destination on the site of the Kingfisher Leisure Centre. The new centre will be accessible for all residents and offer facilities that benefit everyone, including a range of swimming pools for all ages and uses. They also plan to improve the public spaces near the building, including around the Kingston Museum and Library.
If you would like to see more of their plans, please go to the Transform Kingston website where you can learn more about the town centre regeneration plans. The Council is currently reviewing feedback from their recent residents' consultation and more detailed proposals will be posted on the site soon. In the meantime, if you didn't see them during the consultation period and would like to take a look, the latest proposals and drawings can be found here.
REFUGEE ACTION KINGSTON: LOOKING FOR VOLUNTEERS
Refugee Action Kingston has contacted me to say that if anyone in the area would like to volunteer to help people arriving from Afghanistan they could use their assistance.
If you're looking for a short-term opportunity, their current needs are sorting and delivering donations, particularly by van. Please email them on email@example.com, including information about your availability over the next two months and whether you have access to a vehicle.
They are also recruiting for longer-term volunteer roles, (six months or more of volunteering, regardless of the number of weekly hours you are committing,) including:
English language teachers
Interpreters, particularly Dari, Farsi, Kurmanji, Pashto
Mentors and befrienders
Social media wizards
If you can assist in one of the above roles please click here.