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.

A breakthrough in combating alcohol dependency

I was pleased to join the launch of the Liverpool Alcohol Research Centre today. The centre brings together expertise from across our health, university and local authority sectors. It is a really important public health initiative for our city, recognising the importance of cutting edge medical science, social and economic factors and mental health in combating alcohol dependency.

It is an ambitious project with a real vision to tackle the misuse of alcohol, to improve awareness, to join up treatments, and to help some of the most vulnerable people in Liverpool.

Across the Liverpool City Region, the economic cost of misuse of alcohol has been estimated at £750 million a year. In each part of the city region there are higher rates of alcohol dependency, and higher rates of alcohol-related hospital admissions than the English average.

Alcoholism is a terrible disease with terrible human consequences, leading to avoidable deaths, family break ups and increased violence in homes and on our streets. Physical health suffers, mental health deteriorates, jobs are lost, relationships break-down and homelessness increases.

And yet, a staggering 95 per cent of people with a dependence on alcohol are not receiving any support or treatment.

As a member of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, I know that the best way to tackle misuse of alcohol is prevention. I have pressed for control on the alcohol content of drinks, improved packaging, better licensing laws, public awareness campaigns and preventative work in the community.

The government’s NHS Ten-Year Plan recognises the need to shift resources towards prevention, but does not address the funding gap within the NHS and public health.  We need a system of public health which properly intervenes early to really make a difference.

The Liverpool Centre for Alcohol Research enjoys much goodwill from the outset, and will continue to have the support of all of us who want to see serious improvements in public health and an end to health inequalities.

Making a real, practical difference

Today, Parliament has the chance to make a real, practical difference to people’s mental health in the workplace.

In a debate, delayed from the end of last year because of the Brexit debacle, along with the Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb and the Conservative MP Johnny Mercer, I will call on the government to change the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to include mental health.

The motion would ensure that the legal responsibility for employers to have someone in the workplace trained in physical first aid, would be extended to include mental health.

It is a popular move, backed by the Where’s Your Head At campaign, co-ordinated by the mental health campaigner Natasha Devon, Bauer Media and Mental Health First Aid England, supported by a 200,000-strong campaign petition.

No-one expects the trained workplace first-aider to carry out surgery under the present Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, but they have over 45 years proved their ability to offer support, recognise when more urgent, expert help is needed and improve each organisation and company’s general approach to health at work.

A mental health first aider can do the same. Too often people feel mental health issues are too complicated and shy away from offering help and support for fear of making matters worse. But, again, just like physical health first aid, with the right training, knowledge and skills a work colleague can have the confidence to intervene early if someone is struggling with their mental health and signpost them to the next level of support.

That early intervention, support and signposting can make all the difference – and it can take place in workplaces up and down the country. It already does in a few. The aim is to extend this to all our large workplaces.

Mental health first aid training tends to take place over a handful of days and where it has been tried, the results have been impressive with trainees gaining confidence and workforces benefiting from increased mental health awareness and earlier intervention.

Just like the help that is offered by a physical health first aider, mental health first aid is not designed to replace trained mental health professionals but to offer that immediate source of support and signposting when needed.

We know from the government’s own research that over 300,000 people with a long-term mental health condition lose their jobs each year while people having to take time off work with mental health problems suffer enormously and cost the UK economy £8.4 billion per annum.

Mental health first aid being more widely available in the workplace could make a real contribution to reducing the human and financial costs of mental health problems.

That is why I, and colleagues across the House of Commons, believe that giving employers a legal responsibility to ensure someone in the workplace is trained in mental health first aid makes sense. I hope the proposal secures government support.

We need mental health investment

I’m delighted that Liverpool City Council has secured government investment of almost £2.5 million in mental health support in schools.

Liverpool is one of just 25 areas across the country to get the additional funds to employ a team of mental health support specialists to aid teachers overwhelmed by rising mental health issues in the classroom and a lack of services in the community.

The city council will work with Liverpool’s Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Liverpool CAMHS Partnership, YPAS (Young Peoples Advisory Service) to set up three area-based teams to support 120 primary, 33 secondary and 12 special schools, as well as 22 alternative education providers and Liverpool Community College.

Following recruitment and training, the aim is for the Mental Health Teams to be fully operational by December 2019.

The number of school students with identified social, emotional and mental health needs in Liverpool increased from 1,833 to 2,139 between 2015-2017 – around 3 per cent of the school population, and significantly higher than the national average.

The city has introduced mental health first aid champions in every secondary school, a mental health course developed for primary schools, dedicated sessions from specialists and the creation of a mental health toolkit.

Of course, even this fantastic commitment from the council, schools, existing services and charities is not enough to make up for the lack of government investment over the last decade.

I have repeatedly raised in Parliament cuts to mental health services here in Liverpool. See here and here and here to read some of my exchanges with ministers on these issues.

The government’s much-delayed NHS Long Term Plan was published recently but didn’t include any information about the need to invest in the mental health workforce.

For instance, it promised a new mental health telephone helpline, but there is no use directing people in a crisis to a helpline to signpost care that either doesn’t exist, or they will struggle to access quickly.

Investing in young people’s mental health and supporting our schools with specialist services is vital, but this must be investment for the long-term.

I will vote against the Brexit deal

On Friday, I spoke in Parliament in the Brexit debate. I have been contacted by many hundreds of constituents in the run up to this crucial debate and the vote tomorrow, Tuesday January 15. I wanted to share in full what I said in Parliament and make clear that when it comes to the vote next week, I will vote against the Prime Minister’s deal.

Few debates in this House have ever had such an impact on the people of Liverpool Wavertree and on the country as the one we are conducting this week. Every home, every business and every citizen in Liverpool will feel the impact of Brexit. The stakes could not be higher for jobs, the price of our goods, wages, the cost of mortgages, businesses large and small, our economy and our standing in the world.

It is hard to see what has changed since the Prime Minister delayed the meaningful vote in such a discourteous fashion before the Christmas recess. The only tangible change is that the hands of the clock have moved ever closer to the Brexit deadline, with the Prime Minister presenting her false choice of her deal or no deal. She should tread carefully.

There are those who wish to see Britain crash out of the EU without a deal in place, as the final act in their anti-EU drama. No responsible Government should even entertain the prospect of a no deal Brexit, and it is beyond belief that that option has not been ruled out, given the uncertainty that it is creating across our country and the billions being spent in preparation for that possibility.

We should be crystal clear about what a no-deal Brexit would mean for our constituents and the country, including for our food prices given that 30% of our food supplies come from the European Union. Our gas and electricity prices would also increase disproportionately, having an impact on the poorest and most vulnerable, as about 5% of our electricity and as much as 12% of our gas is imported from the EU.

With no alternative currently in place, our constituents will no longer be covered by the European health insurance card, and will need to pay for health insurance when they go abroad. The manufacturing sector that I represent in my constituency will be hard hit, with firms relying on just-in-time production unable to properly guarantee their production. I have heard from many of my constituents, including Rob, the owner of a small chemicals business, who would struggle to source raw materials or maintain the same level of sales. He is an employer, and many of my constituents rely on jobs in his firm.

Worst of all, our public services, including the National Health Service and social care, would suffer as we would be unable to recruit from countries within the EU. In the Select Committee on Health and Social Care, we heard that there is a real threat to medical supplies. The permanent secretary at the Department for Health and Social Care told us that he was having sleepless nights over the continuation of imports of vital medical supplies, and that the issue was very complex.

In Liverpool, we are proud of our universities, and we have welcomed students and academics from across the EU. Our university leaders tell us that crashing out of the EU is one of the biggest threats to our higher education sector. The Russell Group reported just last week that postgraduate student enrolment from EU countries has already fallen by 9% this academic year, starving our universities of cash. More than 100 universities have warned of an academic, cultural and scientific setback from which it would take decades to recover, because a no-deal Brexit would isolate and hobble Britain’s universities.

Those are the things that we can predict with confidence, but the real threat comes from the unintended consequences – the 1,001 things that we cannot foresee that will have a negative impact on our citizens’ lives. The bottom line is that things will be worse for most of the people we represent. That is the reality that we are contemplating in this debate. Our politics is broken and our system has failed, and neither the Prime Minister’s deal nor the no-deal scenario has the support of a majority in this House. Our Parliament is in a state of gridlock, so how can we break it? The Prime Minister could draw a magical rabbit from the hat – a political masterstroke of some kind – that breaks the logjam and enables Parliament to move ahead beyond the current paralysis. While we live in hope, the chances of that happening appear incredibly slim.

The opposition to the Prime Minister’s deal is about more than the backstop on the Northern Ireland border, critical though that is. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) for analysing the debate that was abruptly brought to a close before Christmas. He found that Members from across the House had many concerns about security, migration, citizens’ rights, and trade and the economy, which was the No. 1 issue. However, the backstop, on which we are told this whole debate rests, came fourth. I thank my hon. Friend for articulating clearly that, although the nub of the issue has rested on this point, there are actually many other issues. For many colleagues on both sides of the House, the backstop is not the issue that is consuming them. In The Daily Telegraph this morning, an unnamed Minister said that the Prime Minister is likely to lose by 200 votes next week because the situation will not be resolved by addressing the backstop alone. If the vote is lost next Tuesday, a motion of no confidence in this Government should be brought immediately, and we should see whether there is a majority in Parliament for a General Election.

With fewer than 80 days to go until we are due to leave the EU – around 40 sitting days – time is pressing.

If the vote falls next week, we will break the gridlock only by giving the country a final say with a People’s Vote, but that does not mean a rerun of the 2016 referendum. The world is a different place nearly three years on. Some 1.4 million young people who are eligible to vote today were too young to have their say in 2016, and the most recent analysis shows that 72.5% of my constituents now support remaining in the European Union, with 74% of people wanting a People’s Vote. Those percentages are hardly surprising, because Liverpool is proudly a European city. We were the European city of culture in 2008 – a year that generated an economic impact of £753 million. In just the past five years, European structural and investment funds have provided Liverpool with nearly £200 million, which has allowed us to invest in hundreds of local enterprises and jobs. People understand the enormous benefits that EU membership has afforded us for decades, and it is regrettable that the Government will not even confirm that funds that the European Union has already committed to Liverpool to the tune of millions of pounds will be guaranteed post Brexit.

Young people, whose lives will be most affected by the decisions taken in this place, should be allowed a say on their future. New facts have come to light. The lies of the leave campaign have been exposed, including, as the House heard earlier from the Home Secretary, the leaflets and Facebook advertising that people were bombarded with telling them that millions of people would come here from Turkey. That was just not true. We have heard strong suggestions of Russian influence in our referendum in line with Russia’s desire to disrupt and weaken the western allies, and it is deplorable that we have not yet seen a full and proper criminal investigation. Rather than the unicorns and rainbows that too many of the public were sold, we now have a much clearer sense of what Brexit actually means for our economy, for jobs, for our public services and for businesses, and public opinion has shifted based on the harsh realities rather than the false, shiny promises on the side of a bus or threats of a Turkish invasion.

Let the people have a say with a People’s Vote. Let us be open and honest with the country: there is no better Brexit. There will be no Brexit dividend, just Brexit chaos and misery. There is no better deal than the one we have already. On every analysis, Government receipts will be lower than if we had remained in the European Union. Of course, we could choose to spend money differently, but that is not a dividend. The decision will affect us for decades to come, and it is in the national interest and for the sake of the people of Liverpool, Wavertree, who sent me to this Parliament, that I will vote against the Government’s motion next week.

We can prevent catastrophe

Today, Parliament will begin five days of debate that should lead to a vote on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

I say ‘should lead’ because the Prime Minister has delayed the vote – and extended the uncertainty and disquiet – once already. She said she wanted more time over the Christmas break to secure concessions from the European Union that would satisfy the demands of her own MPs and those of the Democratic Unionist Party.

The 35 delay hasn’t worked, but has only created a real sense of impending crisis. The government’s farcical, but very expensive, plans to deal with the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit now include a multi-million pound contract with a firm that has no ships.

We can have no confidence at all that the government is prepared for what happens next.

The decisions we take now will set the course of our country for generations to come.

That is why, I believe, we need everyone to be involved in these decisions. The government has failed to agree a deal that its own MPs can support, let alone Parliament as a whole.

I want everyone in Liverpool Wavertree and across the country, to have a say in the momentous decision making that is in front of us.

Time is short. The cliff edge of no-deal Brexit at less than 80 days away is fast approaching.

Parliament needs to assert its authority over the government and pull the country back from the cliff edge. As we saw from the government defeat last night, there is no majority in Parliament for a no-deal Brexit and that option must be closed off immediately. It is reckless for the government to continue peddling a no-deal Brexit as an option.

The choice in front of us – Brexit on the terms agreed by the Prime Minister or continued membership of the European Union – is so important, and with Parliament so divided, that it must be put to a vote of the people.

To be absolutely clear, when the Prime Minister does bring the vote on her deal before Parliament, I will vote against it. I will oppose a no-deal Brexit and I will demand that the final decision be put to the people of our country so they get a final say.

Thank you to the hundreds of constituents who have sent emails, made phone calls, posted letters and postcards in the last few weeks. The overwhelming majority want a People’s Vote.

By working together intensely over the coming few weeks, I believe we can step back from the cliff edge and recognise the urgency of putting the deal to the people.

Setting sights higher

The Sutton Trust is offering a great New Year opportunity to school students across Liverpool Wavertree to break through into higher education.

The Sutton Trust summer school programme opens today to applicants, and it wants to see more children from Liverpool Wavertree applying through their schools.

The scheme is designed to support young people to make informed choices about your future, raise aspirations, and provide the tools needed to navigate the higher education system.

The Trust’s Student Destinations report shows that young people who took part in a UK Summer School between 2006 and 2016 were four times more likely to receive an offer from a top university and four and a half times more likely to accept the offer.

The Trust’s research also shows that students from state schools are less likely to apply to leading universities. In 1997 it ran its first Summer School and over 20,000 students have been through the programme since.

Across all its programmes, around 7,000 young people enrolled at a top university than otherwise would have. 

The summer schools take place at a dozen universities around the country and are open to all Year 12 students who attend, and have always attended, a state school or college in the UK.

There are then additional criteria, the more of which students meet, the more likely they are to secure a place. Click here to find out more and apply.