Universal Credit rollout will increase poverty

Government must rethink the roll out of Universal Credit (UC) to Liverpool, before more people are plunged into debt.UC front cover

I’m backing the call from Liverpool Council Mayor Joe Anderson and community leaders for Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey to act.

Last year Liverpool City Council made more than 13,000 crisis payments to assist people with the cost of food, fuel and clothing.

The continued rollout of Universal Credit in the city in its current form will lead to more people going into crisis, experiencing extreme hardship and the risk of homelessness.

The council reports an increase in council tax arrears from those who have already transitioned to UC and lengthening queues at our foodbanks.

Around 55,000 Liverpool households will eventually move on to Universal Credit. People with disabilities, the long-term sick, single parents and working families on low incomes are amongst those disproportionately affected.

Simply put, if UC continues in its current form, people in Liverpool already facing enduring hardship will be left with even less. Levels of debt will rise, rent arrears will increase, families will be forced into food and fuel poverty and ultimately hardworking people will face the spectre of homelessness and destitution.

The council-backed report Universal Credit: Unintended Consequences highlights warnings from the Bishop of Liverpool, Rt Rev Paul Bayes, the chief executive of The Women’s Organisation, Maggie O’Carroll and the chief executive of the city’s Chamber of Commerce Paul Cherpeau.

The report is being presented to ministers with a demand to cut the wait between applying for UC and receiving payment. Currently applicants have to wait up to 35 days without any money.

It also calls for councils to be given more ring-fenced funds to provide a ‘local welfare scheme’ based on local needs and an end to the 30-40 minute waiting times for connection to the Department for Work and Pensions advice and information phonelines.

Liverpool City Council spends £23 million on a range of crisis issues surrounding poverty and homelessness and offers a range of crisis payments and housing support above and beyond the statutory threshold. In stark contrast, the council will have experienced a £444 million reduction in its funding from central government by 2020 since 2010.

The National Audit Office recently urged ministers to ‘pause’ the roll-out of UC, with figures showing 40 per cent of claimants experienced financial difficulties transitioning to the new benefit, with a fifth of claimants not paid on time.

Esther Mcvey must urgently listen to these voices of concern and act today. I will be seeking to raise this in Parliament when the session resumes in two weeks.

Protecting our shopworkers

Carrying out an attack on a shop worker should be a specific offence to help protect those working in our retail industries.  USDAW logo

That is why I am sponsoring a new clause to the Offensive Weapons Bill that will be debated in Parliament next month.

The new clause has the backing of shopworkers’ union Usdaw and employers in the British Retail Consortium.

Indeed, the Home Secretary has already recognised that the protection of shopworkers requires further action. 

Now the government has the opportunity to back this new clause.

The Bill aims to further restrict the sale of knives and chemicals that could be used as weapons, following an upsurge in knife crime and acid attacks.

However, the outcome of the Bill puts shopworkers in the frontline of policing the new law. That means that they need the law’s protection if they are abused or attacked for refusing to make a sale.

It is absolutely right that we do everything possible to reduce knife crime and acid attacks, and we all need to support shopworkers in helping to achieve that. 

Shopworkers deserve our respect, but they also deserve the protection of the law.

Gambling plans to aid mental health

I’m delighted that Labour Party Deputy Leader Tom Watson has pledged to clampdown on addictive online gambling.

Live sports gambling ads would end

Live sports gambling ads would end

He and Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth have promised to give people the power to block gambling transactions through their bank or card provider. 

Money and Mental Health, the charity committed to breaking the link between financial difficulty and mental health problems,.of which I am an Advisory Board member, has welcomed the results of the year-long review into problem gambling.

Problem gambling can lead to spiraling debts and cause real harm to someone’s mental health. 

The review also promises to ban gambling advertising in live sport, place a compulsory levy on gambling operators, produce new clinical guidelines and increase resources for the treatment of gambling addiction as well as introduce a ban on credit card betting.

There are 430,000 identified gambling addicts in the UK, 25,000 of which are 16 or under. The gambling levy would yield about £140 million a year which would go towards funding more treatment.

Gambling companies have to take more responsibility for harm caused by their products and contribute more to research and treatment.

People can now self-exclude from gambling by registering through the industry, but the process is complex and different types of gambling have different systems. Currently, blocking gambling can require contacting multiple operators.

Labour’s plans mean that people can ask banks to step in to help, allowing customers to block all types of gambling transactions in one go.

It’s a simple change which will make an enormous difference, putting control back in the hands of people, rather than the gambling firms.

Fire won’t extinguish development plans

I have seen for myself the enormous effort that went in to tackling the blaze at the Littlewoods building and have been hugely reassured that the blaze will not destroy plans to bring the site back to life as a new film and TV hub.Luciana Berger - Littlewoods fire visit

The essential fabric of the building has survived the suspected arson attack, thanks to the efforts of our fighters, as I and local councillors Nathalie Nicholas and Abdul Qadir saw on our recent visit.

It was horrible to see the scale and intensity of the blaze, and I know that the local community will support every effort by the police to identify the cause of the fire and who was responsible.

Exciting plans were agreed before the fire to bring high-quality jobs to our constituency as part of the huge investment in a new film studio on the site.

The good news is that when we met with the developers, CAPITAL&CENTRIC, it was clear that we can all work together with the council and others to progress these plans.

The plans will see film, TV and creative industries locate to the site, with the former Littlewoods buildings restored and new sound stages built on the adjoining land.

CAPITAL&CENTRIC plan to transform the iconic 1930s art deco style building into a £50 million destination for big-budget TV, film and supporting industries. The development will see the existing buildings restored and two 20,000 sq ft Hollywood-ready sound stages built on the adjoining land. Earlier this year, the company announced a deal to bring Twickenham Studios – the UK’s longest established film studios – to the site.

The plans build on Liverpool being used as a filming location for scores of international productions such as Florence Foster Jenkins, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Peaky Blinders.

You can click here to see an overview of the development plans.

Government must get Royal built

It is long past the time when the government should have stepped in to secure the opening of the new Royal following the collapse of construction company Carillion earlier this year.royal new

It is totally unacceptable that a desperately needed hospital that should already be open is now going to be further delayed.

Work stopped on the £335 million hospital in February this year when Carillion went bust. Since then it has emerged that even the existing work was not up to standard.

A new contractor will have to deal with cracked support beams and now there is a possibility that existing cladding will have to be stripped off and replaced because it is a fire hazard.

The existing Royal is under a lot of pressure and additional costs will be incurred as essential building works are carried out to ensure that it can still operate safely while the new hospital is completed.

Clearly, all these problems will add considerably to the cost, and the government needs to urgently step in to support the hard work of the local NHS in pressing for work to re-start.

I met the Health Minister Steve Barclay this week, as did my colleague Louise Ellman, in whose constituency the new Royal is being built.

She, I and other local Labour Members of Parliament have repeatedly raised our concerns with ministers and I know that we will continue to do so until they listen and act.

Sign up to the stem cell register to save a life

Every year in the UK, around 2,000 blood cancer patients require a stem cell donor to save their life – but too often a donor isn’t available or can’t be found quickly enough.

Luciana Berger MP meets Kevin Dunne from Stemcell Scousers

Luciana Berger MP meets Kevin Dunne from Stemcell Scousers

The odds are particularly low for patients from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

There are already 1,210 incredible lifesavers on the stem cell donor register in Liverpool, Wavertree.

As a previous winner of the Anthony Nolan Trust Political Supporter of the Year award, I know the hard work that has gone into achieving this, but I believe we can do even better.

That ranks Liverpool Wavertree 193rd of 650 parliamentary constituencies across the UK, so we could get higher.

Every 20 minutes someone in the UK is told they have a blood cancer such as leukaemia. A bone marrow or blood stem cell transplant from a healthy person with the same tissue type may be able to replace and repair their own damaged cells.

The Anthony Nolan Trust charity already makes around 1,300 of these matches a year from the 500,000 people signed up to its register. It could achieve even more if new people add their name and register.

In particular, there is an urgent need for more young men aged 16-30 to sign up, and for more people from Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds.

I met with #stemcellscousers recently to hear about the work they are doing to raise awareness and encourage more people to sign up.

If you’re 16-30 and in good health, you can sign up by clicking here. You’ll stay on the register until you turn 60. The charity will send you a pack in the post so that you can do a cheek swab and send it back.

Whenever a patient with blood cancer or a blood disorder needs a lifesaving stem cell transplant, the charity searches the register, looking for a match.


Words save lives

Over 34,000 people joined the NHS Organ Donor Register during last year’s Organ Donation Week, a huge testament to people’s generosity and thoughtfulness even in times of tragedy.Organ donation

No-one wants to contemplate the awful circumstances that lead to organ donation, but people do want to make sure that if tragedy strikes, some good can come of the loss of life.

However, too often a person has registered as an organ donor but not talked to their families about their decision. During the difficult moments when the family is faced by the loss of a loved one and are asked to confirm that person’s positive organ donation decision, the family sometimes feels unable to agree.

On average, three people die every day in need of an organ transplant because there just aren’t enough organ donors. It only takes two minutes to join the NHS Organ Donor Register and a few minutes more to let your family know that you have registered.

This year, Organ Donation Week runs to September 9 and we are all being encouraged to talk to our families about our choices. That is because words save lives. It can be difficult to start a conversation about organ donation within families

That is why it so important to tell people if you have chosen to register. If you haven’t registered and want to, please click here, and then let others know the choice you have made.

Zero suicide initiative launched

Luciana speechLiverpool City Region is leading the way in tackling suicide. In partnership with Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, it today brought together employers from across the region to pledge to roll out suicide prevention training.

As Mayoral mental health adviser, I was delighted, alongside city region mayor Steve Rotheram, to bring employers from across the public, private and voluntary sectors to the event.

The initiative comes before World Suicide Prevention Day on Monday, September 10 and sets out to make our region the first to adopt the ambition of reducing suicides to zero.

Companies an organisations from across the region agreed to back the initiative and ensure that their staff took the Zero Suicide Alliance training. The training is free, takes just 20 minutes and can help save a life.

I was delighted to see our emergency services support the initiative, alongside housing provider Plus Dane, Citizens Advice Liverpool and Deloitte.

Across the UK around 6,000 people die by suicide each year and every one has a huge effect on the people impacted by it. The emotional and social reprucussions are enormous.

There is a perception that suicide is inevitable and there’s nothing anyone can do about it, but that’s just not true. No-one should feel they can’t reach out.

We can all help make suicide a thing of the past and to ensure that the Liverpool city region is a leading light in the battle against suicide.

This initiative has the backing of Cheshire and Merseyside NO MORE Suicide Partnership Board, which has set itself the target of eliminating suicide. It is leading the work to become a Suicide Safer Community accredited region.

The more people who take this training, the more support we will have in ensuring that vision becomes a reality.

Suicide is preventable. We can see from the long term trends that reducing the number of suicides is possible.

What we need to do – each of us in our personal and professional lives – is to use the tools available to us in this fantastic short, and effective training package to take the conversation further.

I know that, together, with determination and focus, we can make the difference.

Click here to share and complete the 20 minute training.


Fire service needs emergency support

Mersey fire webMerseyside Fire and Rescue Service is underfunded and overstretched, yet crews continue to offer a first-rate service.

We have every reason to be thankful for Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service’s prompt action last night to prevent the total loss of the iconic Littlewoods building on Edge Lane.

Their action prevented any risk of loss of life or injuries and stopped the fire spreading to damage the essential external fabric of the building.

In the coming days and weeks, I will be working with the council, the developer Capital & Centric and others to ensure that plans for a northern film studio complex at the site can go ahead.

The fire underlines how vital our fire service is. There can be no doubt that Tory government cuts are now having a severe impact on the service. The number of firefighters and fire appliances on Merseyside has fallen by 38 per cent.

Yet there has been a summer of wildfires, including on Winter Hill and Saddleworth Moor, to which Merseyside fire and rescue sent crews to assist colleagues from other services.

The horrors of Grenfell Tower and terror attacks in London and Manchester underlined the need for a fire and rescue service that is able to respond at a moment’s notice.

A prompt and skilled response saves lives and reduces property damage. Delays put lives and property at risk.

Between 2010 and 2016 Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority suffered the largest reduction in government grant of any service in the country. By 2020, the authority will have had a real terms cut of 50 per cent in its central government grant.

I have raised these cuts many times with Ministers since 2010. I previously convened a meeting with the fire service, all Merseyside MPs and the then Local Government Minster Bob Neil. Pressure actually got the then Fire Minister Brandon Lewis to visit the city.

Like Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram, I now believe these cuts pose a significant danger to public safety. I will continue to lobby ministers to urgently provide the funding needed for a safe service.

The level of the cuts have gone way past the ability of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service to make savings from back office functions or efficiency savings. The government has said that the fire service should raid its reserves, but this ignores the fact that 97 per cent of that money is already allocated to capital projects designed to save money in the future and to deal with any major incidents.

The truth is that these cuts are damaging the frontline. This cannot be acceptable. Our Fire Authority and the Chief Fire Officer have also spoken out many times against these cuts and the impact they are having.

We all need to stand with them in demanding that the government makes an immediate financial contribution to prevent the latest cuts, offers a meaningful review of future funding and agrees to work with our fire service and leaders across Merseyside.

Occupational therapy plays a vital role in our NHS

Occupational therapy can play a vital role in supporting people with chronic pain to live a full life.

VISIT (l-r): ex patient Daryl Evans, Lead PMP Occupational Therapist John Tetlow, Luciana Berger MP, Volunteer Alan Pendleton, Volunteer Linda Schrimshaw and ex patient Collette Dowd.

VISIT (l-r): ex patient Daryl Evans, Lead PMP Occupational Therapist John Tetlow, Luciana Berger MP, Volunteer Alan Pendleton, Volunteer Linda Schrimshaw and ex patient Collette Dowd.

I recently had a fantastic visit to The Walton Centre’s Pain Management Programme Occupational Therapy team to hear about their work, in particular with young people and people aiming to get back into work.

The specialist neurosciences trust’s programme works with the Royal College of Occupational Therapists to support people with chronic pain to re-engage in a wide range of meaningful activities such as volunteer work, education, hobbies and paid work. The programme also has a Work and Employment Clinic.

There can be huge psychological and emotional demands of living with chronic pain. People with chronic pain on the programme attend a number of therapy sessions, ranging from target setting and activity management, to communication and mindfulness.

Crucially, occupational therapists work with people to address both physical and mental health needs, drawing on a whole-person approach to wellbeing that should be central to the overall approach of the NHS.

Many more people could benefit from occupational therapy, especially those living with chronic pain, who don’t feel like they can engage fully in society because of their condition.

However, the NHS is facing tight financial constraints.

It proved a really insightful day. This is a part of the NHS that cannot be overlooked.