With the fifth anniversary of the devastating fire at Grenfell this week, I want to send heartfelt condolences on behalf of my constituents to everyone who lost a friend or family member that day. I wish I could say that the Government has acted to ensure that nothing like this will ever happen again, but sadly we still have many tower blocks with dangerous cladding and other fire safety risks.
Earlier this year, the Government announced that it is creating a national Building Safety Regulator, now being established by the Health and Safety Executive. The Government also says it has a plan to reform the building safety system. I am pleased to hear the acknowledgement that far more needs to be done, and I hope the new regulator will act swiftly to correct the shortcomings in our building regulation.
This week saw the first efforts from the Government to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing, with a view to permanent settlement. I firmly believe these plans are immoral, unworkable and incredibly expensive for taxpayers, in addition to doing nothing to stop dangerous Channel crossings or combat human trafficking.
Many of those who the Government seeks to deport are refugees seeking protection, who have been sufferers of torture and various other human rights violations. I see this plan as a clear violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention. In response, I have signed a cross-party letter to register my clear opposition to the plan, and urge the Government to reconsider this policy. You can read this here.
The UK has a proud history of providing sanctuary for those in need, and I have been so proud to see many across Richmond Park opening their homes to refugees from the conflict in Ukraine. I will therefore continue to campaign for safe and legal routes to sanctuary for those fleeing persecution and war.
CRISIS IN CAMHS
On Tuesday, I wrote a letter to the Department of Health to highlight the urgent need to tackle the dangerously long waiting lists for accessing Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS.) We must improve the professional mental health support available to our children and young people.
An estimated 1.5 million children are thought to have a mental health disorder. An increasing proportion of these children are suffering in silence with no access to professional support. Children are getting sicker and sicker while they wait months or even years treatment. We have underinvested in training clinicians and expanding services for many years now and our vulnerable children and young people are paying an appalling price.
I have called on the Government to introduce a ring-fenced wellbeing fund and a cross-Government strategy to improving child wellbeing following the pandemic, including a review into the service provided by CAMHS. This is in addition to demanding that we place a dedicated qualified mental health professional in every school to provide first-level support for young people and to help teachers deal with this issue.
You can read my letter here.
INFANT MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK
This week was Infant Mental Health Awareness Week 2022. Yesterday, I was delighted to speak in the Parliamentary debate on the topic, where I yet again highlighted the importance of giving babies the best start in life. I chose to focus particularly on the impact that health visiting can have in supporting both parents and babies.
Each family should be entitled to five in-person visits between pregnancy and age two and a half. Even before the pandemic, many of these core contacts were not being conducted or were virtual. We cannot allow phone calls or Zoom visits to become the new normal, as vital issues can be missed.
I also underlined the challenges faced in employing staff to fill health visiting vacancies. In North Kingston, 25% of the current health visiting team will retire in the next few years, and a recent opening received just one application.
The Government must prioritise health visiting to ensure it remains a universal service, and support every family through the challenges brought through pregnancy and the early years. You can see a clip here.
Last week I went to visit the Ukrainian Cafe at the ETNA Centre in East Twickenham. It was a privilege to meet some of the refugees building new lives here in Richmond and Kingston. In addition to support from the Council, a number of our amazing local charities are offering them help in various forms, and my office is assisting them wherever we can, particularly with immigration issues.
While visiting the Ukrainian Cafe I also met with the staff of HealthWatch Richmond, who were there to give out guidance about Richmond's NHS Care and Support and promote their latest survey. HealthWatch is the independent champion for people who use health and social care services. Their purpose is to understand the needs, experiences and concerns of people who use health and social care services and to speak out on their behalf. You may have seen some of their advice, information and surveys in my newsletter.
On Tuesday I had the pleasure of attending one of the concerts in Richmond Music Trust's annual
Primary Singing Festival. Each year more than 2000 children take part in the Primary Singing Festival, which aims to inspire and support schools in their development of vocal work. The festival is the musical highlight of the year for many schools. There were 10 schools participating in the delightful concert I attended, all singing with great pleasure and enthusiasm!
TRAIN AND TUBE STRIKES
Next week, workers from South Western Railway (SWR), Network Rail, and 12 other train operators across the country will be participating in three days of planned strikes on Tuesday 21st, Thursday 23rd, and Saturday 25th. Representatives from Network Rail and SWR have warned that these strikes will cause far more disruption than previous industrial actions and have advised that individuals should only travel by train if they have absolutely no alternative.
Kew Bridge, Chiswick, Barnes Bridge, Barnes, and Putney will remain open and will be served by 4 trains an hour on strike days. SWR have indicated there will be serious wide-spread disruption throughout the week with a limited ‘Sunday service’ available on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. You can find the full timetable published by SWR here.
The effects of the strike will be worsened by the walkout of over 10,000 TfL staff. This will take place on Tuesday 21st and last until 8 am on Wednesday 22nd. TfL has advised that all services will face severe delays including the Tube, London Overground, and the Elizabeth Line.
You can hear me discussing the strikes on Times Radio here.
CUTS TO BUS SERVICES
Until 22 July, TfL will be consulting residents over the proposed closure of 16 bus routes across London. These cuts are the result of the Department for Transport and TfL failing to come to an agreement over long term funding for the capital’s transport network.
I was pleased to hear from TfL representatives that the plans include extending, shifting, and adapting nearly 45 existing bus routes to prevent the vast majority of areas losing access to the bus network. However, it is truly concerning that TfL is being forced to make these cuts.
The Government’s calls to make TfL ‘financially sustainable’ by slashing services entirely misses the point of investing in public transport. As we tackle climate change, work to improve air quality, and cut congestion, we need high quality public transport more than ever. I hope that the Government and TfL will carefully consider any move that could have long-lasting repercussions before making their final decisions. You can have your say on TfL cuts by clicking the link here.
POLICING IN BARNES
A number of residents have recently informed me of rising levels of anti-social behaviour, intimidation, and harassment near Barnes Station. While extra lighting and other security measures are in place, these procedures are not a full deterrent.
This week, I wrote to officers from the Barnes Safer Neighbourhood team to coordinate on an effective solution to this issue. They have since accepted the need for increased evening patrols and reassured me that they will be paying particular attention to the area surrounding the station. Should you ever need to alert the police to an ongoing local issue in your area, you can find the contact details for your Safer Neighbourhood Team here.
BRITE BOX MATCHING DONATIONS
My friends at BRITE Box have written to tell me about their Childhood Trust Champions for Children match funding campaign. All donations made to BRITE Box during the campaign week 14-21 June will be doubled!
An increasing number of families are struggling with the cost of living and referrals to BRITE Box are rising. BRITE Box helps with the family food budget but also aims to bring families together around food, providing healthy family meal ideas which can be made again for less than £5, introducing different cooking skills, new flavours and delicious foods to encourage a love of cooking and a healthy relationship with food from a young age.
ROUGH SLEEPING IN HOT WEATHER
While most people will enjoy the warm weather, for homeless individuals can be a challenge to find drinking water and cool spaces to spend time in. They are often wearing extra layers or carrying heavy bags all day. Many people who sleep rough also have underlying physical health issues such as lung and heart problems which can be exacerbated by the heat.
People sleeping rough are at particular risk of heat exhaustion. Some of the symptoms include headaches, dizziness and confusion, loss of appetite and nausea, excessive sweating and fast breathing and pulse. If it's safe, you can:
Move them to a cool place
Get them to lie down and raise their feet slightly
Get them to drink water
Cool their skin by spraying or sponging them with water
For people who don’t exhibit symptoms, you can offer items such as water and sunscreen. And of course, send a StreetLink alert to help the local outreach team offer support. You can do this here.
There are lots of great events happening in and around my constituency in the upcoming weeks. Some opportunities I am particularly excited about are:
BARNES CHILDREN'S LITERATURE FESTIVAL
The Barnes Children's Literature Festival will be happening in various locations around the town on Saturday 25 June and Sunday 26 June. They have booked an outstanding lineup of renowned authors and illustrators to read, talk about and sign their wonderful books. You can see the whole programme here.
RICHMOND MUSIC TRUST CONCERT
Richmond borough secondary school pupils will be performing with professional musicians to showcase the work they have done this year. This will be on Friday July 8 at 7:15pm at The Exchange in Twickenham (opposite Twickenham Station.) If you would like to attend please rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org
KINGSTON INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (KIFF)
KIFF will bring the Kingston community together for three days of screenings, workshops and events from Friday 24 June to Sunday 26 June. Supported by BAFTA award-winning director Mike Newell and Dame Vanessa Redgrave, KIFF 2022 will present over 50 events at venues across Kingston. You can see the full programme here.