It’s been another packed week in Parliament. Alongside the usual business of debates and Committees I was privileged to welcome Jake Ogborne to Westminster for this year’s Rare Disease Day event. Jake is a constituent of mine who lives with a condition called spinal muscular atrophy. He and his family are fighting for access to a medication called Spinraza, which will help stop the progress of his disease and improve his quality of life. Spinraza was made available to people with all forms of Jake’s disease in 2019 – however, the current eligibility criteria mean that Jake cannot access the drug. This was particularly galling for Jake and his family as some of the criteria were related to his ability to walk – and Jake would have previously fulfilled these criteria, but by the time the decision was made he could not take enough steps to access the treatment.
This Tory Government’s response to Jake’s campaign has been woeful; as well as raising it at Prime Minister’s Questions, I asked the Health Secretary Matt Hancock back in October for a meeting to discuss this and have as yet, despite 3 follow-up emails, heard nothing from his office. They didn’t even mange to send a Minister along to the Rare Disease day reception. The Government has it in its power to improve the quality of life of around 150 people living just out of reach of this life-changing medication – and I’ll keep fighting with Jake and his family until they do.
Jake’s case really drives home the frustration of being in opposition, and having to campaign for change rather than take the decisions that will actually improve people’s lives. So on Monday, I was pleased to join in the phone bank canvassing for Keir Starmer’s leadership campaign in Camden, with fellow MPs David Lammy and Ben Bradshaw and Dave Prentis, the General Secretary of UNISON. I know that not only will Keir hold this Tory Government to account – he will help us forge a path back to power so that we can fulfill our mission as a Party of Government. It was incredibly heartening to speak to to so many members who feel the same way as me.
On Tuesday and Thursday, I was in Parliament for the Public Bill Committee on the Agriculture Bill. In the face of a climate emergency, it’s frustrating to see the discussion focused on fossil fuel use and industry with very little consideration given to farming methods and land use, which are also vital to meeting our global climate targets. There are clear road maps for other sectors in how they will reach net zero, but no such clarity in the Government’s approach to agriculture – and because of this we are missing so many opportunities to make change in the sector.
I also spoke during the debate on the Environment Bill on Wednesday and expressed my disappointment that we are not showing the global leadership required of us, especially considering we are hosting COP 26 later this year. The Bill needs to be strengthened in so many ways, with targets that force us to take action immediately, and proper accountability for Government is how we achieve them. Commitment to planting trees is simply not enough, we need to look at our land use and our protections of peatlands and saltmarshes, which are natural carbon sinks. The Government must show leadership in this; we cannot wait another five years before someone willing and able can show the necessary leadership to make the significant changes that will make our country greener and help halt the climate emergency.
I was back in my constituency today, visiting St Anne’s House, a winter hostel for the homeless in Brislington. The visit was particularly timely as the Secretary of State for Housing gave a statement on rough sleeping in the House of Commons yesterday and spoke of the “moral shame of people sleeping on our streets”. Warm words are all very well, but the statistics speak for themselves – rough sleeping figures are 141% higher than in 2010. If this Tory Government are serious about combating rough sleeping, then they need to address core issues: a lack of permanent, safe housing, a lack of facilities and resources for treating drug and alcohol abuse, a lack of facilities and resources for diagnosing and treating mental health conditions. They should also repeal the Vagrancy Act – which traps people in a vicious cycle of being fined for begging, having no money for accommodation/food, having to beg for money for accommodation/food, and being fined for begging – and so it continues. Moral platitudes mean nothing – if the Government are serious about ending rough sleeping they need a considered and well-funded strategy that recognises the complex causes of the problem. Sadly their actions thus far give no indication that they actually understand this.
I also held one of my regular surgeries in St Anne’s and visited Lost and Grounded, a fantastic local brewery. And of course, Greta Thunberg was in Bristol today too!
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I hope you all have a great weekend!