Wavertree ward coffee afternoon

Thank you to everyone who came to my latest coffee afternoon at The Cricketers social club in Liverpool Wavertree ward, including our three ward councillors Clare McIntrye, Angela Coleman and Dave Cummings, and our two local police and community support officers.

Once again, there were serious concerns about the impact Brexit is likely to have not just on the ward, but on big local employers like Jaguar Land Rover. People were frustrated that the Tory government was failing to get the issue sorted out and I shared the case for the final say over any deal to be put back to the people.

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. 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 wanting a People’s Vote.

Residents in Wavertree want to see investment in our dilapidated rail services and there were calls Northern Rail to be stripped of its franchise after months of delays and cancellations that were impacting on people’s ability to get to work.

People were understandably worried about cuts to police and youth services and rising levels of knife and gun crime and anti-social behaviour. The police and I encouraged people to report every single incident by dialling 101 or online by clicking here. Every report helps the police build up intelligence and knowledge of where best to deploy resources.

Serious concerns continue to be raised about the changes to the benefits system, including the introduction of Universal Credit. Liverpool City Council is working hard to support people, including making hardship payments. If you are concerned, you can contact specialists by clicking here.

I am working with our councillors to support them in representing constituents’ views on planning issues across the constituency and nationally, I am continuing to press the government to give local areas more flexible planning powers.

I hold regular surgeries if you want to speak to me 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.

Helping to build sound minds

I was pleased to join young people and Action for Children in Parliament to hear more about the importance of building better mental and emotional wellbeing.  

The meeting took place on the eve of this week’s Children’s Mental Health Week – and it is clear that we have a long way to go before children and young people across the country have access to all the support they need. 

Latest figures show that around one in seven 11-16 year olds experienced a mental problem in 2017, rising to roughly one in six 17-19 year olds. Emotional issues, including anxiety and depression, were the most common type of mental health problem experienced by 5-19 year olds in 2017. 

The charity’s Build Sound Minds campaign aims to improve children and teenagers’ mental health by providing families with accessible information, tools and tips. 

Acting early can help stop problems in their tracks and it’s vital we do everything we can, not only to help young people with existing mental health issues, but to prevent these problems coming about in the first place. 

I encourage young people of all ages across Liverpool, Wavertree to look out for their own wellbeing and to seek support early if they’re struggling. 

Just like our physical health, our emotional wellbeing needs care and attention. And the first step in doing this is to create a positive conversation about mental health. 

Let’s start a conversation about mental health

Conversations about mental health can change lives. I’m pleased to have the chance later today on Time to Talk day to get into conversation with staff at communications firm Vodafone at the launch a new Mental Health First Aid initiative.

Wherever you meet people today – in the gym, over tea and cake, on the phone, or on social media – consider a conversation about mental health.

Mental ill health affects one in four of us at any given time – and that means that mental health is something for all of us to talk about.

Unfortunately, some people are still afraid to talk about it. Time to Talk day encourages everyone to start a conversation.

Time to Change, the campaign behind today’s initiative, provides lots of useful tips about how to start a conversation, whether it is with a group of friends, one-to-one, or in the family. You can check out its top tips by clicking here.

This year, Time to Talk day is all about bringing together the right ingredients to start a conversation about mental health. Whether that’s a cup of coffee, biscuits and close friends or a room full of people challenging mental health stigma.

When the ingredients are right the conversation will flow.

Important backing for new long-term rail plan

The government should respond positively and urgently to Transport for the North’s new strategic investment programme that sets out an achievable long-term plan to bring the region’s dire rail infrastructure up to scratch.

The £70 billion plan to transform the North’s transport infrastructure over the next 30 years is backed by Liverpool City Region and would link our city to HS2 via a new twin-track line between Liverpool and Manchester and then on to other Northern cities.

The investment is based on an economic return that would see £15 billion in economic growth, 24,000 new jobs, 11,000 new homes and 3.6 million more visitors a year to the region.

Northern Powerhouse Rail and its connections with HS2 will offer faster passenger journeys and crucially provide the capacity needed for the doubling of passenger numbers over the coming decades.

It would free up capacity on the existing network for freight, helping the Port of Liverpool make the most of its prime position on the country’s West Coast.

Transport for the North brings together Network Rail, the Department for Transport and local authorities from across the North but the government now needs to put its money where its mouth is so that the plans can be put in to action. I will continue to promote this plan.

Ending poverty pay

Shopworkers across the country are this week pressing the case to end poverty pay.

The Time For Better Pay campaign is calling on the government to strengthen workers’ rights to tackle in-work poverty. Too many people working in retail are paid too little, with too few guaranteed hours and too much uncertainty about their regular income.

That level of uncertainty makes it really difficult to budget, plan and build a future.

The government has re-labelled the National Minimum Wage as the National Living Wage, but the name change doesn’t disguise the fact that it is not the Real Living Wage that I want to see introduced to help end poverty pay.

The Time For Better Pay campaign is urging the government to implement four measures:

  • A minimum wage of £10 for all workers;
  • A minimum contract of 16 hours per week for everyone who wants it;
  • A contract based on an individual’s normal hours of work;
  • A ban on zero hours contracts.

Shopworkers’ union Usdaw’s has launched a petition to back the campaign as part of its Membership Week. You can show your support and back the campaign by clicking here.

Cervical cancer can be prevented

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week provides an annual opportunity to spread the message that the disease can be prevented.

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.

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.

Cervical screening (smear tests) can prevent cervical cancer from developing. They aren’t always easy for everyone, but they can and do prevent cervical cancer.

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust provides lots of useful information and tips, helpful videos and encouragement to anyone who is a little bit nervous or wants to find out more.

Over 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year in the UK, yet it is one of the only cancers that can be prevented and one day become a disease of the past.

Smear tests are the best protection against the disease, followed by the HPV vaccine which is offered in secondary schools.

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has published new research which has found young women who delay or don’t go for cervical screening feel scared (71 per cent), vulnerable (75 per cent) and embarrassed (81 per cent) at the thought of going. A worrying two thirds (67 per cent) say they would not feel in control at the prospect of a test.

Cervical screening prevents up to 75 per cent of cervical cancers developing, so it is worrying to hear that so many women are not attending this test when invited, particularly due to embarrassment.

Women aged 25-49 are invited every three years and women aged 50-64 are invited every five years. Women can feel comfortable talking to their nurse and asking questions. It’s not making a fuss and there are many ways to make the test easier.

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.

 

Government’s attack on Liverpool further documented

I pressed Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government James Brokenshire to boost local funding after new figures showed Liverpool has been hardest hit by Tory cuts to council budgets.

The Centre for Cities Outlook 2019 report showed a shocking cut equivalent to £816 per head since 2009-10, compared to a Britain-wide average of £287 per head. By way of comparison, Oxford has had a £115 increase in council spending per head in the same period.

In fact, all five of the hardest hit cities are in the North of England. Northern cities have seen an average of 20 per cent cuts compared to an average of 9 per cent for the South West, East and South East, excluding London.

The response on the Tory benches was to grimace and gurn when I explained the impact of government cuts on rising poverty across the North. The Secretary of State simply refused to engage with the question at all.

Liverpool’s Labour council has worked hard to focus spending on the neediest, including vulnerable children, the homeless and social care for adults. That means that cuts have been felt elsewhere – spending on public conveniences such as toilets in the city has fallen by 98 per cent over the past decade, spending on bringing tourism to the city down 67 per cent and arts development and support by 57 per cent.

We can all see the difference on our streets and in our communities as cuts to council spending accompany police spending cuts and public health spending cuts too.

The government is due to carry out a major spending review later this year – and I called on the Secretary of State to take the opportunity to take the pressure off our city and support its people to rebuild.

As the Centre for Cities Outlook 2019 explained: ‘Fair funding must mean more funding for Liverpool.’

We cannot stand by and let words of hate take hold

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. It takes place on January 27 every year so that we never forget the millions of people murdered during the Holocaust, under nazi persecution and in the genocides which followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

I marked the event with civil, community and political leaders across the city at Liverpool Town hall on Friday. Today, I will be attending the national commemoration. Parliament held a powerful debate last week in which due recognition was given to the Holocaust Educational Trust, which plays such an important part in helping the next generation understand what happened and the important lessons to be learned for today.

You can watch my speech in full by clicking here.

In my speech I noted that it sometimes feels beyond our ability to comprehend that humans are capable of inflicting such horrors on other humans. And yet even after the greatest annihilation in history – the Holocaust – we have witnessed horrors in our own times in Cambodia, in Rwanda, in Bosnia. More recently still we see the plight of the Rohingya in Burma, driven from their homes, their villages in flames.

We celebrate the lives of survivors, like Susan Pollack MBE, who I had the privilege to share a platform with at Labour Party conference in Liverpool a few months ago, because each survivor’s testimony aids our understanding, adds to our history, and helps educate our children. Susan was in Belsen when the British liberated it, and still visits schools to talk about her experiences at the age of 88.

Of course, the Holocaust didn’t start with the gas chambers. It began with words. The words expressed the warped racial theories – many of which were commonplace in Britain as well as Germany, and could be heard on the left as well as on the right – of eugenics.

Words fed the conspiracy theories, like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, they helped turn centuries of antisemitism into race-hate laws and facilitated the recruitment of millions of people into supporters of the industrialised mass murder of their fellow human beings.

This is an aspect of the Holocaust that we need to learn the most from.

How many thousands of people in the civilian police, the railways, the civil service never challenged what they knew to be happening, never questioned the plans they were helping to implement, looked the other way?

At what point could it have been stopped?

Today, we must not be bystanders.

Social media is full of antisemitism – the conspiracies that Jewish people run the banks, organised 9/11, profit from wars, manipulate the media, and have loyalties to a foreign power. The Jew-hating, conspiracy theorist David Icke can fill stadiums, and speaks to millions. List are compiled of Jewish people working in the media or Jewish MPs and circulated as evidence of conspiracies.

Whether it’s the neo-nazis, or those who think they belong to the left, we must call out this antisemitism as loudly as we can.

What we learned from the Holocaust is that once hate has taken hold, and the air is filled with the sound of smashing glass and the march of jackboots, it is too late to question the words.

Acting on mental health at work

I was pleased to contribute to the Fabian Society’s new Minds at Work report about how to make our workplaces more mental health friendly. It is the latest initiative from of The Changing Work Centre established by the Fabian Society and the trade union Community two years ago to explore progressive ideas for the modern world of work.

In my contribution I argued that if we are to confront the challenges of mental health in the workplace, it is crucial the National Health Service – the country’s biggest employer – sets a high standard itself.

The NHS is one of the largest employers in the world, with over 1.5 million employees. Indeed, there is scarcely an extended family in Britain without someone who works for the NHS or one of its associated services.

That makes it a great place to demonstrate the best in mental health employment. You can read a copy of the report by clicking here.

I want to see all employers take mental health seriously. That is why I want to see all large employers have a mental health first aider on hand to support staff and encourage prevention and early intervention whenever possible..

The proposal has gained significant support through the Where’s Your Head At campaign outside Parliament and in Parliament I have teamed up with a number of MPs to press the government to change the law. You can read the full debate we had just over a week ago here. The government agreed in the debate that ‘mental health first aid has a role to play’ but stopped short of agreeing to change the law to make it fully possible.

Talking about mental health in the workplace can break down barriers and make a real difference to people, creating space for people to open up about their experiences.

Over 1,000 employers have now signed up to the Time to Change pledge to support mental health in the workplace. This year’s Time to Talk Day takes place on Thursday February 7 and there are some great ideas about how to start a conversation in your workplace. You can find out more and order free resources here.

Let’s think, talk and act on mental health

Words matter. Today, the third Monday in January, has been dubbed ‘Blue Monday’ following some questionable research some years ago that claimed to have found a formula to identify the gloomiest day of the year.

Whatever, the source, Blue Monday does provide an opportunity to reflect on how we think and act about depression and other mental health issues.

That is why I have joined with Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram and Mersey Care chief executive Joe Rafferty to ask people today to think about how the catchy tune Sweet but Psycho by Ava Max has made it to the top of the charts for the past few weeks.

And it is why the three of us are supporting the launch of this year’s Big Brew Campaign which uses the power of the Great British cuppa to get people together and help save lives. You can read more about the Big Brew Campaign by clicking here.

The track may have potential lethal and heart-breaking consequences for young people and families across the country.

Of course, it’s just a pop song but there’s another, darker side to the track.

How we use language and imagery helps to shape the way we think. Promoting language like ‘psycho’ in this context normalises the idea that people with mental health issues are dangerous.

The lyrics and video – which features scenes of irrational violence and threat that involves a baseball bat, darts and knives – casually underline negative perceptions of mental health.

In short, it helps stigmatise the experience of mental illness and could create a barrier to people seeking early help. At its worst, stigma can stop suicidal people from reaching out when they are at their lowest, most vulnerable point.

So, let’s use the opportunity of Blue Monday and this song topping the charts to renew the continuing debate about how we discuss mental health – and raise awareness of the detrimental use of negative language.

Steve, Joe and myself back the Zero Suicide Alliance and have each undertaken its free, short online training. Suicide is the biggest killer of young people in the country. It takes 6,000 lives a year. If we can challenge the negative language and imagery that too often surrounds mental health, we can encourage people to open up, talk and help reduce the toll of suicide.

Together, we have been encouraging employers across the city region to offer the training to staff and many have already done so. Today, we can think, talk and act to make a difference.

Click here to find out more about this year’s Big Brew Campaign.