Feb 19

Making plans to defeat cancer

I met with Cancer Research UK researchers and ambassadors last week in the build up to World Cancer Day on February 4 to hear how international collaboration is vital in beating the disease.World Cancer Day Luciana B

World Cancer Day is designed to raise awareness of cancer and to promote its prevention, detection and treatment.

I’ve been wearing my Unity Band with its classic reef knot design to with pride to symbolise the strength of people coming together to defeat cancer. Money raised through Unity Band donations will help fund more research, more treatments and more cures – ultimately helping to save more lives.

One in two people born after 1960 in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime. Although survival rates have doubled since the early 1970s, everyone needs to act to help speed up progress and see more people survive the disease.

Cancer waiting times exist so that people referred by their GP get swift diagnosis and treatment, but the national target of 62 days is being regularly missed nationally, but here in Liverpool is being met.

However, in Liverpool we need to get better at spotting cancers early. More than one in five people presents as an emergency case, often when the cancer has developed dangerously.

Better cancer treatment requires planning to attract and keep the best staff so that we can improve public awareness and screening programmes, and ensure that GPs have the training, resources and support they need to identify symptoms and refer patients quickly.

The government published its cancer workforce plan in December last year. If implemented in full, it could save 30,000 more lives per year by 2020.

However, the government has repeatedly missed the national cancer target since January 2014. In the past year, waiting lists have topped 4 million, the number of patients spending more than four hours in A&E has risen 250 per cent and the Royal College of Nursing has warned of a 40,000 shortfall of nursing staff.

NHS England has already warned that treatment targets cannot be met and other benchmarks and standards may be at risk because the Chancellor did not provide the NHS with the money experts said it required at the Autumn Budget.

I recently raised my concerns about this with the Prime Minister, click here to see our exchange.

If the NHS is to deliver for patients and fulfil the Cancer Strategy by 2021, it is essential that Ministers fully support the cancer workforce plan with the funding needed to make its ambitions a reality and to ensure cancer diagnosis, care and outcomes are improved.

Feb 16

Listening to the concerns of school students

Phoenix PrimaryOne of the best bits of my job as a local MP is visiting schools and listening to the concerns of students.

I recently visted Phoenix Primary, where Year 2 students had been discussing the litter that they, and all of us, find so annoying on the streets.Jack Christian Smith

They had been reading a story called The Tin Forest and had discussed the recycling issues that it brought up. They went on to research the impacts litter has on both land and sea, and wanted to talk their thoughts over with their Member of Parliament.

It was clear when I dropped in that litter and promoting recycling were issues that the students felt very passionately about, and I took away lots of ideas.

We talked about what the government can do to support local councils, what schools can do to educate their students and agreed that we all had to take responsibility for not littering in the first place, because it is not fair to expect others to clear up the mess we make.

Lois MeiWhile at the school, I took the chance to thank Joel Doody, 7, for his design for my Christmas card which won a runners-up certificate this year. It was a thrill to meet him and so many lively young people who are rightly the pride of their school.Rafael Hauta

The Christmas card was sent out to over 2,500 local and national contacts and helped to raise the profiles of our Liverpool Wavertree schools locally and nationally.

Each year, I encourage schools across the constituency to help me design the card, and last year had a fantastic 470 entries.

The winner was Savannah Mannhart, age 7, from St. Sebastian’s Primary School who has received book vouchers. In addition to Joel Doody, there were three more wonderful runners-up who also received book vouchers and a certificate – Lois Mei, aged 10, from Rudston Primary; Jack Christian Smith, aged 10, from Heygreen Primary School and Rafael Hauta, aged 9, from St Hugh’s Primary School.

Thank you to everyone who entered and to all the teachers and staff that helped make the competition such a success. I look forward to visiting more schools across the constituency throughout the year.

Feb 16

The epidemic of our time

The lack of emotional support available to pregnant and post-natal women is a serious concern. At a recent Liverpool conference organised by the Improving Me Women’s and Children’s Services Partnership, it was described as ‘the epidemic of our time’.

As I told Parliament during a recent debate on maternity leave, I have had a baby, and as a new Mum, I have been acutely aware of the need for pregnant women and new Mums to keep a close watch on their mental health. During pregnancy and the year after birth, many women will experience common mental health problems, including anxiety disorders and depression, and Dads will too. The risk of developing a severe mental health condition, such as postpartum psychosis, schizophrenia, severe depression or bipolar disorder, increases after childbirth. For women, it is the time that we are most likely to experience those conditions. You can read more about the debate here.

Of course, the government says it is boosting funding to mental health, but my concern is what is happening on the front-line, and I hear again and again that services are under enormous pressures and strains. For instance, in relation to children’s mental health, the Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt again made the funding claim in Parliament. I told him about Liverpool’s Young Person’s Advisory Service, which is the main service for young people’s mental health in the city. It has seen a £757,000 cut – 43 per cent – of its budget in this financial year. In fact, there are now 412 children in Liverpool waiting more than 28 weeks for an assessment – and that’s before they get access to treatment. You can read the exchange here.

The Liverpool conference brought together clinicians, academics, community partners and local families to focus together on the mental health provision accessible to women before, during and after pregnancy. It encouraged more integrated working across geographical and organisational boundaries to help improve experiences for all women.

The first 1,001 days of a child’s life, from conception to age two, still largely determines their life chances and life outcome, which means it is crucial that emotional and mental health support is readily accessible to women before, during and after pregnancy.

The conference saw the Merseyside launch of The Female Mind: a Users’ Guide – a new book published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists which explores themes such as anxiety, motherhood, eating disorders and living positively with mental illness.

It’s great to see those on the frontline exploring new ways of working for local women’s and children’s services. I’m determined to play my part in making sure that the government provides the right support needed to make change happen.

Feb 09

Taking the next steps for gender equality

Vote 100This week we celebrated the centenary of women getting the vote. The Representation of the People Act 1918 enfranchised 8.4 million women over the age of 30 who had property and was the start of the process for all women to get the vote.

The anniversary was a great opportunity to celebrate the struggles that opened the doors of Parliament to women, but also an important time to reflect on how much still needs to be done.Labour women

As I pointed out on the Adam Boulton debate on TV, we have a lot to thank the Suffragettes for, but cannot pretend that the job has been completed. You can see the debate here.

Labour has a strong record of advancing women’s rights and freedoms that we can be proud of. Almost every major piece of legislation that has improved the lives of working women has been introduced by a Labour government.

Our challenge now must be to build on past achievements and push for full equality and protection for women: financially, in the workplace, in families and homes and in public spaces.

Many policies introduced by this government are turning back the clock on equality for women. Cuts to public services and social security are landing disproportionately on women. Women are facing unacceptable levels of sex discrimination, harassment, misogyny and violence but the government have taken limited action to improve gender equality and ensure better access to justice.

Labour in government will strengthen legislation around sex discrimination and introduce policies to tackle the structural and economic barriers that stop women from reaching their full potential.

Labour women 2I enjoyed persuading the Tory Home Secretary Amber Rudd to join me in congratulating the Labour Women’s Network and Fabian Women for the great work they do in supporting women to enter public life. You can see our exchange here.

For all the enormous progress that has been made in recent years to make Parliament more representative of the country it serves, there is still a marked deficit. For instance, 51 per cent of the population are women yet there are twice the numbers of men than women elected in parliament.

Since 1918, just 489 women have been elected as Members of the House of Commons. At the last election there were only an additional 12 women elected – at the current rate it will take 50 years to achieve gender equality in Parliament.

Labour is seeking to secure gender equality among our MPs in Parliament as soon as possible. That is why in 2017 it was agreed that candidates for 46 of Labour’s top 76 target seats will be picked from all-women shortlists.

Labour wants to make sure every woman in this country has their voice heard, and is able to participate fully and equally across society.

This centenary serves as an important reminder that the right to vote has been hard won, so while we celebrate this important anniversary, I urge everyone to encourage someone new to register to vote and to use your vote whenever the opportunity arises. You can register to vote here.

Feb 05

Speaking out on mental health

I was pleased to host a moving roundtable discussion in the House of Commons this month bringing together broadcasters, actors and people with experience of mental health problems to discuss best practice in the media.C4 Hollyoaks

The event was chaired by news presenter Jackie Long from Channel Four, one of over 500 organisations to sign up to the Time to Change pledge to counter mental health stigma.

The meeting heard that C4 soap Hollyoaks, which is based in my Liverpool Wavertree constituency, has worked closely with Mind and the Samaritans to create mental health storylines, which have formed part of a wider Hollyoaks mental health campaign promoted through the online hashtag #DontFilterFeelings.

In fact, Hollyoaks won Soap of the Year at the recent Mind Media Awards for its sensitive handling of Scott Drinkwell’s (Ross Adams) depression storyline aired in June last year. Ross Adams said that it was a ‘special day’ to be involved in the discussions.

We also heard from Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn. The C4 programme Stranger on a Bridge tells the story of Jonny’s search for Neil, the stranger who stopped him from jumping off a London bridge.

The roundtable heard calls for an end to pressure for unrealistic ‘happy endings’ in dramas and for more people with mental health problems to appear in long-running storylines.

The media in general, and broadcasters in particular, make a significant contribution to reflecting society’s attitudes. They can make a big difference in mental health by recognising the changes that are rapidly taking place as more and more people speak out about their experiences.


Feb 02

Making schools autism friendly

We need a national autism and education strategy to make sure the 120,000 school-aged children on the autism spectrum in England are no longer held back.NAS - Held Back

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism and National Autistic Society published a report in November last year showing that that the education system was still failing to meet the needs of children and young people with autism.

The report was built on research that included a survey of over 3,000 parents, carers, young people and teachers, as well as expert witness evidence sessions in Parliament.

The findings came three years after the government introduced a new special educational needs and disability (SEND) system in England that has simply failed to address the education needs of children and young people with autism

That’s why I lent my support in Parliament to the Held Back campaign organised by the National Autistic Society and Ambitious About Autism to get the government to act on the report’s findings.

I know from talking with constituents and hearing the experiences of families who are still struggling to secure the right school provision and education support for their child, that there is a strong need for a comprehensive strategy.

The government must take the lead and support local councils with adequate resources to make sure that the right type of school and support is close to home.

Feb 01

Let’s talk mental health

I’m talking mental health today. Along with thousands of people across the country, I’m using Time to Talk Day to break down the stigma that still too often surrounds mental health.Time to Talk Day 2 logo

As the Time to Talk Day organisers point out, every conversation counts and ‘wherever you are, any place can be the right space to talk about mental health.’

Time to Talk Day is all about getting people talking about mental health. It could be texting a friend to ask how they are, starting a conversation at work or chatting to family over a meal.

If you use social media, use the hashtag #timetotalk to let others know what you are doing and find out what is happening all across the country.

I am talking mental health with colleagues in Parliament, at my daughter’s nursery and with my family.

Time to Talk Day 2018Too often, it’s left to people with mental health problems to talk about mental health. It can be treated as a taboo subject – something to only be spoken about in quiet corners.

But mental health affects us all, and everyone should feel able to talk about it.

I want to help spread the word that wherever you are, any place can be the right space to talk about mental health – queuing for the cinema, sitting on a bus, or even in a lift.

Whether you are at work, at home – or even up a mountain – please join me and lots of others across the country to have a conversation about mental health. Conversations have the power to change lives, wherever they take place.

Jan 27

The power of words

Thousands of events have been taking place across the country in the build-up to today’s Holocaust Memorial Day.

The events have been organised by local authorities, schools, libraries, workplaces, numerous other organisations and individuals to highlight the power of words – and how words can be used for good or evil.

The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust has put together a series of powerful short videos using people’s real-life experiences to highlight how words have changed people’s lives.

The videos are part of a major social media campaign exploring the power of words – both historically in the Holocaust and genocide, and in our own society today.

The road to the nazi camps where six million Jews were murdered was paved with words of incitement and hate. Too often today words continue to fuel antisemitism, prejudice and intolerance in our society.

Alongside Jews, the nazi words of hate targeted, gypsies, people with disabilities, trade unionists and anyone who stood in their way. Today, any act of genocide begins with words of hate.

The Holocaust was the defining episode of 20th Century European history, destroying families, communities and attempting to destroy an entire people. The response to the Holocaust has shaped our understanding of global responsibility and the meaning of human rights but has not prevented further genocides across the globe.

That is why each year it is vital to mark Holocaust Memorial Day by honouring the survivors, paying respect to those who lost their lives and reflecting on the lesson we must continue to learn – words matter.

I marked Holocaust Memorial Day yesterday at Liverpool Town Hall in a moving event hosted by the Lord Mayor, Councillor Malcolm Kennedy.


Jan 22

Using music to transform lives

The benefits of music for people living with dementia are remarkable. The new report from the Commission on Dementia and Music, What would life be – without a song or a dance, what are we? calls for the growing positive evidence base to support a more co-ordinated roll-out of provision across the country.Dementia music

I was delighted to be able to contribute to the report in a small way as a commissioner. I have already signed up my constituency office to becoming dementia friendly so that a person with dementia will be welcomed and can expect understanding, respect and support from me and my staff. I also recently completed the Dementia Friend training for a second time with the Commons Health Select Committee.

That is because dementia is a pressing issue. By 2025 in the UK, there will be one million people living with dementia and the number of people with dementia is expected to triple by 2050.

The Commission brought together neuroscientists, music therapists, charities, start-ups and academics. It found that music can play an important role in helping with the prevention, management, treatment and care for people with dementia.

Music-based activities can change the lives of people living with dementia and their families by enabling communication and decreasing anxiety, agitation and depression, regardless of gender, ethnicity or background.

However, while the evidence base for the positive impact of music is growing, the commission found that access to appropriate music-based activities around the country is uneven and too often relies on hard-pressed individuals and volunteers.

It called for greater awareness of the benefits of music, improved co-ordination and funding that matches the potential for music to make a difference to millions of lives.

Jan 19

Brushing up on decorating skills

Luciana Berger Visits B&Q-120118-029I was delighted to join housing charity Shelter and its partners B&Q at the DIY company’s new store on Edge Lane to brush up on my decorating skills, alongside local people who use Shelter services.

Luciana Berger Visits B&Q-120118-047I’m always pleased to support businesses like B&Q that team up with charities that use their resources and skills to make a difference.

Shelter’s work across Merseyside is hugely valuable in supporting people to move in to new accommodation and make it their home.

Alongside Shelter service users, I was shown how to prepare and paint walls and hang wallpaper. A big thank you to Peter Halfpenny, B&Q’s Help & Advice manager, and Jo Cutler, Manager for Shelter.

Luciana Berger Visits B&Q-120118-006Shelter say that 26 per cent of private renters in the North West feel that being able to decorate is what turns a flat or house into a home, making it easier to put down roots and stay in one place for the long-term.

B&Q is funding a team of six specialist Shelter DIY advisers located across the country to work with people at risk of losing their home, as well as those settling into a new home following homelessness. The retailer also supports Shelter’s front-line services which provide essential advice and support online, by phone and face-to-face.

B&Q and their customers have raised more than £300,000 for Shelter in the last year, to help fund vital front-line services. Workshop attendees were given a toolbox to support future home improvement projects, including a spirit level, set of screwdrivers, paintbrushes, wallpapering kit, tape measure and hammer.

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