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I was very happy to support the National Autism Project at the launch of their Autism Agenda at a recent event in Parliament.

An estimated 700,000 autistic people live in the UK. The Autism Agenda showcases the National Autism Project’s recommendations to highlight barriers that autistic people face and how these can be addressed. These include timely identification and diagnosis, removing barriers to accessing social care and fighting stigma and discrimination.

Supporting the National Autism Project on the day were major national charities - the National Autistic Society, Autistica and the Autism Alliance as well as the Westminster Commission on Autism.

I have written previously on this website about autism awareness and about tackling the autism employment gap. Making Bristol an autism-friendly city has been one of my priorities since I was first elected and I recently held the UK’s first MP surgery specifically for autistic people in my constituency. (You can read more about the event in the i-paper).

 


More about the National Autism Project

The National Autism Project is a three-year project that was established in 2015 to analyse the evidence base for autism interventions and identify research gaps. It’s committed to addressing the needs of autistic people through greater investment in research and better practice.

Supported by The Shirley Foundation, the project brought together a wide range of experts including autistic people, resulting in a major research study, The Autism Dividend: Reaping the Rewards of Better Investment, which is widely regarded as the most comprehensive and far reaching review of the field that has been undertaken to date.

In its final months, the project wants to ensure its work acts as a springboard for action on the policy and research recommendations of the report.

The National Autism Project's Autism Agenda

I was very happy to support the National Autism Project at the launch of their Autism Agenda at a recent event in Parliament. An estimated 700,000 autistic people live in...

Air pollution is a silent killer in Bristol. Poor air quality is linked to over 300 premature deaths in the city every year.

On Saturday, I hosted a public meeting in central Bristol to learn more about the scale of the problem in the city, and to discuss what could be done to reduce the pollution in Bristol’s air. I was joined by Councillor Fi Hance – Cabinet Member for Energy, Waste and Regulatory Services at Bristol City Council), Dr Jo Barnes – Senior Research Fellow at the Air Quality Management Resource Centre based at UWE, and Harriet Edwards from the British Lung Foundation.

Harriet explained that 12 million people in the UK are diagnosed with a lung condition, and emphasised that air pollution affects the development of children’s lungs.

Jo described the excellent work of the EU-funded Clair City project, where you can look at an air pollution map of Bristol. Clair City will be launching an app and a game in April 2018 which will allow you to suggest your own solutions to the air quality crisis in the city.

Fi discussed how poor air quality particularly affected different areas of Bristol. In Lawrence Hill, up to 11% of premature deaths are linked to air pollution. She also described how diesel vehicles are responsible for 96% of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) emissions in the city. She then went on to explain that the Council had won a £0.5 million grant to work towards setting up a Clean Air Zone and that they were aiming to present a proposal to the government in December 2018.

I then explained how the government needs to take air pollution seriously as a health and an environmental crisis and how different European cities’ approach to street infrastructure helps promote alternatives to cars as a means of transport.

Over 70 people came along and posed some fantastic questions and suggestions: on how to improve communication when local pollution levels become dangerous; on enforcement of local regulations on using wood-burning stoves and idling their cars; on the importance of including air pollution and air quality in schools’ curriculum and lots more besides.

As a direct result of the event, I will be writing to the Minister for Climate Change and Industry, and the Mayor of Bristol to encourage them to take further action to help us tackle air pollution in the city. I also got lots of ideas for how we can take action to clean up the air in our city.

You can watch a recording of the event below – and do join in the conversation on social media using the hashtag #BristolBreathingBetter.

#BristolBreathingBetter

Air pollution is a silent killer in Bristol. Poor air quality is linked to over 300 premature deaths in the city every year. On Saturday, I hosted a public meeting...

I'm delighted to say that, as part of my ongoing campaign to support the rights of refugees, I've successfully persuaded the government to instruct banks to accept refugees’ biometric residence permits (BRPs) as valid ID for opening bank accounts.

After lobbying from me and the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Refugees, which I chair, Economic Secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay MP has now contacted UK Finance, the association representing nearly 300 of the leading firms in the finance and banking sectors. He has insisted that people with refugee status and a government-issued BRP have a legal right to a basic bank account and must be able to exercise that right.

The move is effectively a sharp rap on the knuckles of some major banks. It means that many hundreds of refugees across the UK, with leave to remain and a right to work in the UK, will find it easier to find employment, pay bills and access other services. 

The recent inquiry of the APPG on Refugees, which I initiated, had uncovered a widespread reluctance by banks to give accounts to people with refugee status, despite their legal right to have one. The removal of this obstacle was one of the key recommendations of the group’s report Refugees Welcome?, published in April 2017 this year, and has been welcomed by refugee support groups.

When granted status, refugees just want to get on with building a new life. But, time and time again, obstacles are needlessly and sometimes illegally put in the way of some of our most vulnerable residents. A bank account is important for many reasons and banks are already aware that anyone with a valid BRP has a legal right to open a basic account. But some banks have been dragging their heels, and I’m grateful to the minister for making it clear to the banks that their actions are unacceptable.

In his letter Economic Secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay MP said that, while understanding the challenges banks face in accommodating a range of customers with different needs, he found ‘any policy decision not to accept BRPs disappointing, given the clear industry guidance to approaches to non-standard documentation’. He stressed that ‘any holder of a valid BRP is legally resident in the UK, subject to any restriction or conditions displayed in the card.’ 

In his reply to the minister (partly redacted), UK Finance CEO Stephen Jones expressed disappointment that refugees had encountered difficulties with the banks and agreed that BRPs are not a cause for concern. He agreed to ‘take this issue forward immediately with those senior staff responsible for personal current accounts across our membership to ensure that their processes reflect this.’

Our ‘Refugees Welcome?’ report also highlighted other problems faced by refugees. One of these relates to the five documents refugees should receive, once granted status, in order to be able to move on from asylum accommodation, get a job, a bank account, a home and all the other basics a refugee need in order to settle and integrate.

Sadly these five documents do not all arrive simultaneously, causing hardship and in some cases destitution. The APPG recommended in our report that all five documents should be provided at the same time, when a refugee is granted status, and I have already taken this up with the Minister for Immigration, who has asked his officials to look at this. I’ll be keeping a close eye on progress here too.

Refugees have the right to a bank account

I'm delighted to say that, as part of my ongoing campaign to support the rights of refugees, I've successfully persuaded the government to instruct banks to accept refugees’ biometric residence...

Thangam Debbonaire became Member of Parliament for the Bristol West constituency in May 2015 and was re-elected at the General Election on 8 June 2017 with an increased majority of 37,366. 

You can contact Thangam by email on thangam.debbonaire.mp@parliament.uk. 

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