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.

Why I’m backing the CASA

The Community Advice Services Association (CASA) does amazing work in supporting people who are struggling to negotiate the complexities of the benefits system.

I know from the work we have done together to support constituents, that they offer a personal service that helps people take back control of their lives. It was good to see the team today to back their latest fundraising drive.

This is a handful of the issues the CASA has dealt with in the last couple of weeks:

  • A man with severe and widespread brain damage found fit for work after the Independent Assessment Service scored him zero points in his health assessment.
  • A woman who cannot walk after a serious accident at work lost her Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and was told she would have to return her mobility car, despite using it to attend hospital appointments at least three times per week.
  • A man in his 50s found fit to work despite heart attacks, arthritis, a frozen shoulder and an injured right arm.

And, of course, there is the appalling story of Stephen Smith who has a progressive lung disease and was hospitalised at 6 stone. He had repeated failed DWP assessments and appeals turning him down for benefits because he was deemed fit to work.

Mr Smith turned to the CASA who contacted me and it was only after this intervention that the DWP took action.

Even the Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd expressed her ‘indignation’ at his treatment when I raised it with her in Parliament.

The Initiative Factory/CASA was set-up in the aftermath of the Liverpool Dockworkers Dispute to uphold the aims and objectives of the ‘Sacked Liverpool Dockworkers’ in promoting ‘Fairness and Justice’ for all.

From August 2004, a Welfare Rights Caseworker based at the CASA has been available to anyone seeking advice benefits, form-filling, representing people at appeals and tribunals, supporting small businesses with employment law and much more.

However, the CASA is running short of funds to keep this valuable advice service open and will have to start turning people away in the coming months, just as the full impact of the roll out of Universal Credit hits Liverpool. In fact, its valuable advice and tribunal representation service could end on March 1.

Its free legal advice, representation and support for those in the local community who are living with poverty risks being severely reduced in the coming months.

Unfortunately, both I and the CASA know from the casework we deal with every week that there are far too many people in Mr Smith’s situation. They need organisations like the CASA and that is why I am backing its latest fundraising campaign. If you are able to donate, you can do so by clicking here.

Fabulous day at school

I had a fabulous day visiting four schools in the constituency to award certificates and book tokens to the runners up of my Christmas card competition and to answer some great questions from the students too.  

Congratulations to: Adnan, Nicole, Alita and Alina from Smithdown Primary, St Sebastian’s, St Clare’s and St Hugh’s – and, of course, to the overall winner Grace from Bishop Eton Primary School who received her prize and certificate before Christmas. 

Thank you to all the students and schools from across the constituency who took part in the design competition. Each year, I invite primary schools from across Liverpool Wavertree to enter. This year, saw another wonderful response underlining all the great creative talent that is out there. 

The competition is made possible by the kind support of Eureka Greek Restaurant, Romal Capital, Titanic Hotel and Capital&Centric. Thank you to each of them.

Children’s Mental Health Week

Award-winning Radio City host Mick Coyle used his 100th Mental Health Monday show to highlight the human cost of childhood suicide in the most moving way.

The radio station came together with national support group Papyrus during Children’s Mental Health Week to lay out over 200 pairs of children’s shoes on the steps of St George’s Hall, commemorating the number of young lives lost to suicide in the last year.

I appeared on the first Mental Health Monday and on the 100th programme I raised the importance of investing in prevention if we are to achieve a city region with zero suicide.

Government plans, announced to tie in with Children’s Mental Health Week, to test different mental health approaches in 300 schools across the country are welcome, but the scale of the mental health crisis facing our young people demands leadership from across every government department.

However, as I uncovered in Parliament this week, despite the government saying the inter-ministerial group for mental health would co-ordinate action it last met 10 months ago and has no plans to meet again.

One-off initiatives that are not sustained over time will not match the scale of ambition required to make a real difference to children’s mental health.

I am a member of Parliament’s Health and Social Care Select Committee. Our joint report with the Education Select Committee found that the government’s approach was ‘failing a generation.’

To make a real, lasting difference we must use Children’s Mental Health Week to renew our commitment to prevent child and adolescent mental ill health in the first place, include all vulnerable groups, take pressure off teachers by putting mental health support in to schools, build the specialist workforce needed and provide the funding to underpin these vital changes.