My update

It has been six months since I went on maternity leave to spend time with my new born son, Zion. He has brought great joy to our family, but with parliament has now returned, I wanted to update you on what I have been up to over the last few months.

The Church House Declaration

Last month, in the face of the ongoing Brexit fiasco, together with Stephen Doughty, I worked with MPs from all opposition parties to launch The Church House Declaration. It calls on Members of Parliament to work across parties and nations to ensure we avoid a No Deal Brexit and has so far gathered support from over 230 MPs. We will continue to work together to hold the Prime Minister to account and avoid parliament from being suspended in the most crucial period ahead of 31 October.

You can also see my interview on Sky Newsand read my piece in The Independentimploring that Boris Johnson’s cabinet members resign from the government and join the right side of history.
How can we start to fix the Mental Health crisis?

I was invited to speak on a panel at Tortoise Media to discuss what we should all be doing to improve the mental health of our country. I spoke about introducing a Health In All Policiesapproach; something which I have previously brought forward in parliament. Here, you can see the highlights from the panel.

Similarly, I wrote for Graziaabout my disappointment in the government’s downgrade of mental health contained in its recent prevention paper.

Short on detail, and low in priority, I will be sure to push the government to do more to turn around the challenges for our nation’s mental health.

Just recently, I was speaking at the non-party political Big Tent Ideas Festival about health inequality across the UK.

The festival seeks to find new solutions to problems facing society through collegiate, considered debate. You can read more about why I took part in my City AM column.

Why I have joined the Liberal Democrats

This is a moment of national crisis.

Leaving the Labour party after being a member for almost 20 years was one of the hardest decisions of my life. But Labour has changed beyond recognition.

My values remain the same. I fundamentally believe in equality, opportunity for everyone, social justice and the unequivocal, unqualified condemnation of discrimination.

I am proud to be an internationalist. I know the UK can play a leading role in the world. We can best do this as members of the European Union. That is why I have fought tooth and nail to stop Brexit through a people’s vote.

The Liberal Democrats today best represent my values and are unequivocal in wanting to stop Brexit and are committed to securing Britain’s future as a tolerant, open and inclusive society.

At this moment of national emergency I am joining Jo Swinson and the Liberal Democrats, to offer a vital, positive alternative to Johnson and Corbyn. I want to help build a future that our country deserves.

Raising awareness of cervical cancer screening

Over 220,000 women are diagnosed with cell changes every year in the UK following their smear test – a vital first step in preventing the development of cervical cancer.

This week’s Cervical Screening Awareness Week is highlighting the fact that 80 per cent of women treated for these early cell changes never experience a recurrence.

The consequences of cervical cancer can be devastating and screening is an important prevention tool. That why it is so important that women have all the facts and information to hand about what screening and treatment involves.

The charity Jo’s Trust has produced an excellent jargon buster to help make sense of medical terms and reduce anxiety. I’ve reproduced it above, or you can download a copy by clicking here.

Jo’s Trust also surveyed over 1,500 women about their experience of having cervical cell changes and has made many important recommendations on how treatment and aftercare can be improved. Its report, Not so simple. The impact of cervical cell changes and treatment’, finds that too many women having treatment for cervical cell changes are not being informed about potential side effects. High numbers remain fearful of their cancer risk many years after treatment.

Cervical screening uptake in England is at a 21-year low with more than a quarter of women not attending. This means more women are being given a diagnosis that could have been prevented.

We need to do more to encourage women to attend.

In fact, cervical screening coverage is just 67.1 per cent in Liverpool, which means that almost one in three eligible women do not attend a screening appointment although they receive a letter inviting them for the test.

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust previous research found young women who delay or don’t go for cervical screening feel scared and embarrassed. Yet, cervical screening prevents up to 75 per cent of cervical cancers developing.

That is why it is so important we get all the facts out there and push for services to listen to the experiences of women to ensure they constantly improve

If you think you have missed a test or want to find out more, you can ring the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust on 0808 802 8000.

She deserves a living income

Fairtrade Fortnight 2019 runs until March 10 and is a great opportunity to show support for small scale producers around the world.

The Fairtrade Foundation is this year focusing on the people – in particular the women – who grow the cocoa in the chocolate we love so much.

Its She Deserves campaign highlights the need for the people who grow the cocoa to be paid a ‘living income’. For instance, the foundation says that £1.86 is the amount a cocoa farmer in West Africa needs to earn each day in order to achieve a living income, but a typical cocoa farmer in Cote d’Ivoire actually receives just 74p a day.

The UK consumes more chocolate per person than any other European country, making the UK chocolate industry worth some £4 billion. That provides a huge opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives through what we choose to buy here.

A living income should cover the costs of food, water, housing, education, healthcare, transport, clothing and other essential needs, including provision for unexpected events. The income would provide for the basics of a decent life.

Supporting Fairtrade certified products ensures that decent labour and environmental standards are met, helps protect farmers from extreme price changes by setting a Fairtrade Minimum Price, and provides farmer organisations with a sufficient income to support much-needed education, clean water, healthcare and housing projects.

Look out for the Fairtrade logo on the chocolate you buy. You can find out more by clicking here.

Celebrating the best of Jewish writing

Jewish Book Week runs until March 10 and is a great opportunity to sample the fantastic writers from the political left, right and centre, and those who have made such important contributions to science, education and philosophy.

Here in Liverpool, News from Nowhere, the radical and community not-for-profit bookshop run by a women’s collective, has put on a great display of just some of the titles it has on offer.

In London, and around the country, the initiative is being celebrated with a week-long festival featuring over 80 events and including writers and speakers from the worlds of history, journalism, philosophy, science, art, music, poetry and fiction.

This year marks the 67th year since Jewish Book Week was established as an annual event. Its original aim was ‘to stimulate and encourage the reading of books on every aspect of Jewish thought, life, history and literature.’ Organisers noted that ‘no generation in Jewry which neglects the basic importance of the book can hope to survive. The book retains a unique significance as an everlasting emblem of the Jewish way of life.’

There is a real need to engage with these issues today, with antisemitism on the rise.

Just a glance at some of the titles on offer in News from Nowhere underlines the diversity and the breadth of subjects covered.

The Jewish Joke by Devorah Baum looks at humour through the ages and what makes Jewish jokes distinctive and why they are important to Jewish identity.

Look out to for books by Jewish chemist, writer, and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi, including The Last Interview made up of conversations just days before his death in which in which he looks back at his youth, schooling, factory work and being in the Italian Resistance. Movingly, the story halts just before he was captured and sent to Auschwitz.

Novelist Howard Jacobson won the Booker Prize with The Finkler Question in 2010, described by the Guardian at the time as a ‘laugh-out-loud exploration of Jewishness.’ Look out too for his dystopian novel J set in the near future in the aftermath of a cataclysmic social breakdown akin to a second Holocaust. The breakdown came about because people just grew too tired of fighting the hatred spreading like a virus around them.

Jewish Book Week is a great opportunity to browse the bookshelves.

We need to tackle eating disorders early

I’m backing #DumpTheScales, the campaign run by campaigner and author Hope Virgo, that is demanding the government acts to improve the diagnosis, treatment and support for people affected by an eating disorder.

Thousands of people with eating disorders are being turned away, like what happened to Hope,  because the measure of their ‘thinness’ – Body Mass Index – is not seen as low enough.

Official NICE Guidelines on treating eating disorders are not being implemented properly, not least because there is a lack of understanding and a lack of funding.

The #DumpTheScales initiative comes during Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

Eating Disorders charity Beat points out that stereotypes about eating disorders can pose significant barriers to people getting help early.

It found:

  • 39 per cent of adults mistakenly believe eating disorders more commonly affect white people;
  • Six out of ten adults mistakenly believe eating disorders mainly affect young people;
  • 37 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual people say they would not feel confident seeking help about eating disorders from healthcare professionals compared to 24 per cent of straight people;
  • Only 52 per cent of people from minority ethnicities would feel confident asking for help about eating disorders from healthcare professionals – compared to 64 per cent of white British people.

We need to reduce the barriers to people seeking help in the first place and then make sure that the help is readily available.

Early diagnosis is critical in treatment success for eating disorders. By the time ‘obvious’ signs of eating disorders have shown themselves, it is likely that the illness will have become more serious and more difficult to treat.

Early diagnosis and fast access to the right treatments will help prevent people getting more unwell, save the NHS money, prevent hospital admission and save lives.

You can add your name to the #DumpTheScales petition by clicking here.

For more information on eating disorders, please click here.

Making change happen on mental health and debt

I’m delighted that – after two years of hard campaigning – GPs will no longer charge people with mental health problems for the supporting letters necessary to fend off lenders when they get in to debt.

One in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in our lives, and one in four people with mental health problems also find themselves with a problem debt.

A number of banks recognise that chasing people who are unwell over debts can stall the person’s recovery and the eventual recovery of the debt. They can offer support to freeze interest payments or even write off some debts when people are struggling.

To access this help customers may be asked to provide evidence of their mental health condition, usually a form signed by a doctor. Until this week, one in three GPs have charged for processing one of these supporting letters.

The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, of which I am an advisory board member, launched its Stop the Charge campaign in October 2016, to end the practice.

In January 2017, the Department of Health launched a review of the charges and brought together people with personal experience of mental health problems, creditors, mental health professionals and debt advice charities to devise a solution.

Working together, the complex form was redesigned and simplified, the financial industry agreed to reduce the number of cases where the form was even needed, and now the British Medical Association has agreed to stop its GP members charging for the new, shortened form.

The government now needs to deliver the final elements to ensure maximum positive impact, by bringing together the organisations needed to produce the new simplified version of the form – and providing guidance to creditors, debt advisers and people with mental health problems about how to use it.

It has been a long road and has involved thousands of people contributing their experiences and expertise. This campaign – in which I am proud to have played my part – is proving that change can happen, if the government acts.

Warm reception in Childwall

Thank you to everyone who came to my latest coffee afternoon at King David High School in Liverpool Childwall ward. Thank you also to our two local police and community support officers and local Councillor Jeremy Wolfson for attending as well.

This latest of my long-running community engagement events once again threw up the issue of Brexit, which is clearly a significant concern for constituents across Liverpool Wavertree.

I voted against triggering Article 50 to begin what has proved to be an ill-prepared disastrous process. I made clear that I would never vote on anything that would compromise the Good Friday Agreement that has brought peace to Northern Ireland by backing a Brexit deal that creates a hard border in Ireland.

Indeed, there are many additional problems that need resolving, including trade, the economy and immigration, to name a few.

This is why I, along with 40 other MPs, voted to extend Article 50 for at least three months and why I support a People’s Vote that would give back the final say over Brexit to the entire country.

People were also concerned about the increasing difficulties of securing a doctor’s appointment, the quality of social care and the lack of funding for education.

Traffic congestion, road safety and safe parking are growing concerns in the ward which is a gateway from the motorway into the city.

Liverpool City Council’s efforts to support people hurt by a decade of cuts imposed by successive Tory governments, including making hardship payments from both the Mayoral Hardship Fund and the Liverpool Citizen Support Scheme, were recognised. However, too many people have been hit hard, including being made homeless.

You can find out about the benefits support the Council can offer by clicking here and the support on offer if you are threatened by homelessness by clicking here.

I hold regular surgeries and if you want to speak to me or my caseworker Emma about community issues in your area or have other issues you want to raise, please book an appointment by telephoning 0151 228 1628 or emailing luciana.berger.mp@parliament.uk.

Church hosts Brexit discussion

Thank you to St Barnabas’ Church in Liverpool Church ward for hosting my latest coffee morning and to everyone who came along.

In particular, thank you to our two local police and community support officers who do such a great job in our community.

Once again, as with all my previous community engagement events, Brexit was a real concern to people, particular its potential negative impact on big employers like Jaguar Land Rover that provides the relatively well-paid skilled career opportunities that the people of Liverpool Wavertree want.

People raised concerns over the legitimacy of the 2016 referendum result given what is now emerging about the financing and running of the Leave campaigns.

I pointed out that in 2016, a study by the University of East Anglia found that 64 per cent of the people in Liverpool Wavertree voted to remain in the EU. Across Liverpool, 58.2 per cent voted to remain. The most recent analysis shows that 72.5 per cent of constituents in Liverpool Wavertree now support remaining in the European Union, with 74 per cent of people – however they voted – wanting a People’s Vote.

These figures show very clearly that there is no majority of any kind in Liverpool Wavertree for the botched or potentially no-deal Brexit we are now facing.

That is why, I continue to support a People’s Vote so everyone can have the final say now that we really know the alternatives that are on offer.

Liverpool City Council is under significant pressure but has prioritised supporting the most vulnerable and tackling homelessness.

The recent introduction of Universal Credit and the impact of a decade of cuts on the welfare state was raised as a real concern amongst people.

It means that some other issues, like implementing local parking restrictions, or increased instances of fly-tipping have left some people frustrated.

I will be raising all these issues with the council in the coming days and weeks.

You can find out about the benefit support the Council can offer by clicking here and the support on offer if you are threatened by homelessness by clicking here.

I hold regular surgeries and if you want to speak to me or my caseworker Emma about community issues in your area or have other issues you want to raise, please book an appointment by telephoning 0151 228 1628 or emailing luciana.berger.mp@parliament.uk.

Action to tackle fuel poverty

Fuel Poverty Awareness Day today is an urgent reminder that too many people struggle to keep themselves warm without falling in to debt.

Fuel poverty affects over 3.5 million people across the country, almost 400,000 in the North West. Numbers are increasing.

Fuel poverty is caused by low incomes, high energy prices and energy inefficient housing. Each demands government action to get to the root causes.

However, National Energy Action has produced a useful Warm and Safe Homes Action guide, with tips on reducing energy costs, paying bills and seeking help when it is needed, that make a real difference to individuals.

It’s ‘The Nation’s Biggest Housewarming’ day today aims to raise awareness of the issues and encourage people and government to act.

When people can’t keep warm at home, it can have a serious impact on physical and mental health. Cold homes increase the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory problems. Low temperatures also reduce resistance to infection. Cold homes have also been linked to poor mental health such as anxiety and stress.

With news of energy providers due to impose further price increases, we need action now.