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Everyone, just about, loves the National Health Service.

I’ve had hundreds, if not thousands, of emails from Bristol West constituents on the NHS and many, many, conversations on the same topic.

Of all these interactions, no-one has ever asked me to ask the government to spend less on the NHS. In fact, most suggest the country should spend more. I agree.

Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt recently announced extra funds for the NHS. This is good news. Independent organisations such as the King’s Fund and the National Audit Office as well as influential policy makers from across all parties have said the NHS needs more money.

So why am I not thrilled by the announcement?

Firstly, it falls short of what the NHS needs. The Health Foundation, a recognised authority on NHS finance, has said that this is “simply not enough.” The 3.4% increase is little more than the 3.3% increase the NHS needs to maintain current levels, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Secondly, much of this funding is just reinstating some of the cuts made during eight years of successive Tory and Tory-led governments. Over this period, health workers have repeatedly been asked to do more for less, and while increasing efficiency is positive, health staff tell me they can cut no further without risking patients.

And the NHS is affected by cuts to other departments too. Cuts to local government funding have slashed social care provision by £7 billion. This means some people are unable to leave hospital, even when they are ready, as they need help at home. This delays others in receiving the treatment they need.

A failure to prioritise public health more broadly has other negative consequences for NHS budgets. Cuts to sexual health services lead to increased rates of sexually transmitted diseases, for example. Failure to implement a sugar tax or minimum alcohol unit pricing has an impact on levels of obesity. All this puts the NHS under even more strain.

This situation means morale in the NHS is often low, leading to staffing shortages. There are chronic shortages in certain areas, such as radiology. A large number of GPs are taking early retirement while an insufficient number of doctors are entering general practice to replace them. In turn, this means hospitals and other providers are forced to buy in expensive agency staff and locums, to the tune of £3 billion per year – another hit to the NHS budget.

The Tory programme of cuts was leading to disaster, something which has been evident for some time. Waiting lists have gone up to 4 million and 26,000 cancer patients had to wait more than 60 days for treatment. In January 2017, the NHS was so underfunded it caused a “humanitarian crisis” according to the Red Cross.

Many of these stories are human tragedies too, no doubt resulting in avoidable complications, illnesses and deaths. The announcement of more funding for the NHS is long overdue, but the Government should not be congratulated for getting us into this mess in the first place.

NHS funding announcement is a sticking plaster after years of savage cuts

Everyone, just about, loves the National Health Service. I’ve had hundreds, if not thousands, of emails from Bristol West constituents on the NHS and many, many, conversations on the same...

This week is Refugee Week.

This is an opportunity to celebrate the huge contribution that refugees make to this country. My own constituency of Bristol West has been particularly enriched by people who have made long and arduous journeys across continents, fleeing war, persecution and disaster.

Refugee week is also time for serious reflection. It’s a time to ask ourselves, can we improve the way we treat refugees? I believe we can. Earlier today I gave a speech in the House of Commons outlining key policies which could change many people's lives.

We are currently living through a global migration crisis. 65 million people were forcibly displaced in 2016 through poverty, environmental disaster, war, conflict and persecution.We have moral, as well as legal, obligations to assist. We currently take a tiny fraction of these people.

Refugee Family Reunion is one area where can make a difference. Current laws and international agreements exist to help reunite families separated by wars and disasters. But they do not go far enough, leaving many refugee families separated by international borders.

This may be changing. MPs from across the country turned up in significant numbers recently for a Second Reading of a Private Members’ Bill on Refugee Family Reunion and a right to Legal Aid. The high attendance was all the more remarkable since this happened on a Friday, usually a constituency day. This indicates not only that MPs care about the rights of refugees to be reunited with their families but that their constituents are also concerned.

It seems the argument has cut through: someone with confirmed refugee status should be able to live with their family. Coordinated lobbying by refugee organisations has made a difference to public and political opinion. I will be working to capitalise on this and push for the progress of this Bill and a separate, similar Bill from the House of Lords.

Child refugees and the EU Withdrawal Bill

The Brexit process sometimes feels like one step forwards, two steps backwards. Under EU law, the UK is currently obliged to reunite children with family members, but this will no longer apply after the UK leaves the EU, potentially blocking a vital route for desperate children who are extremely vulnerable to traffickers and criminals.

The Labour Peer (and my friend) Alf Dubs tabled an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill, aiming to maintain the law which allows children to be reunited with their siblings in the UK. Few people are better placed to make the case for child refugees than Lord Dubs, who himself arrived in the UK as a child refugee.

I was glad to see that the Government took on a large part of Lord Dubs’ amendment. My colleague Yvette Cooper went even further, proposing additional changes to maintain the current situation, allowing child refugees to be reunited with uncles and aunts in the UK. The Attorney General agreed to look again at Yvette’s amendment. This is a small, yet positive, step in the right direction.

The right to work

Refugees should also have a right to work. They often come with skills, and want to work and contribute to the country. They don’t want to depend on state benefits. But currently they are not allowed to work, except with specific permission, until they have been granted asylum by the Home Office.

The Home Office target to complete asylum decisions within six months is frequently missed, often by months or even years. Meanwhile people are left without opportunities to maintain their skills, support their families and contribute to the national and local economy. They even have restrictions on volunteering.

In contrast to the UK, Uganda not only allows refugees to work immediately, it provides them with land to grow food and start-up finance to set up their own businesses.

We should, at the very least, introduce a right to work after six months – which would also encourage the Home Office to end delays – and the right to volunteer until they can work. I would prefer us to move towards a system where they can work immediately.

Fair treatment can save lives

There are many other things we can do to improve the way we treat refugees. This includes ending indefinite immigration detention, restoring Legal Aid, prioritising free, high-quality English teaching and doing more to create safe and legal routes to the UK with refugee schemes. If we made it easier to make in-country or border applications for asylum and resettlement, it could save lives.

Keeping people in refugee camps, at best, leaves people in limbo for years; at worst it creates a recruiting ground for traffickers and people who sexually exploit women.

The forthcoming Immigration Bill may give us scope to support amendments on many of these areas. We also need to create other opportunities to improve the treatment of those looking for sanctuary in this country.

As Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees, in my work in Westminster and my work with constituents in Bristol West, I will continue to fight to give refugees the welcome they deserve.

Refugee Week: We can give refugees the welcome they deserve

This week is Refugee Week. This is an opportunity to celebrate the huge contribution that refugees make to this country. My own constituency of Bristol West has been particularly enriched...

Today was one of the most important days in Parliament since the Government triggered Article 50 -which I voted against - more than a year ago. Today we voted for an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill which would have given Parliament a ‘meaningful vote’ on any final deal the Government strikes with the EU. If successful, Parliament would have had the power to instruct the Government to go back to the negotiating table.

Unfortunately, the amendment was rejected by 26 votes. However, this is not the end of the story – the Bill will go back to the Lords, and then come back to the Commons.

There are reports that the Prime Minister only avoided a humiliating defeat by buying off Tory rebels with a promise: when the Bill goes back to the House of Lords, the Tories will back an amendment to give Parliament a vote. In contrast to the Labour-backed amendment, this vote is unlikely to be legally binding. But the fact that we may have forced compromise on this point gives me some hope. In any case, we will have more opportunities to challenge the Government when this Bill, the Trade Bill and the Customs Bill all return to the Commons.

For anyone watching the Government’s inept Brexit negotiations, the need for Parliamentary scrutiny of a final deal becomes clearer every day, as their promises (and the promises of the referendum campaign) drop away one by one. So it is very important that we can hold them to account, on behalf of our constituents.

This is the real will of the people. Indeed, although only a small majority voted to leave the EU, there was no majority for irreparably damaging our economy. It is worth stating that the will of the people in my constituency was overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. I reluctantly accept that we may now be leaving – but I cannot accept a disastrous deal. I still firmly believe that full membership of the EU is the best possible deal, but failing that, our relationship should be as close as possible.

I will keep fighting to give Parliament an opportunity to make a judgement when the time comes, ensuring we get the best possible outcome.

Other amendments

During this afternoon’s first batch of voting on the EU Withdrawal Bill, there were 15 other votes. All these amendments were voted down by the Tories.

Most were technical amendments that would have improved the Bill. Several aimed to prevent the Government from grabbing additional legal powers through this legislation. Without Tory rebels we did not have the number of MPs to keep these amendments on the Bill.

There will be further debate and many more votes on the EU Withdrawal Bill tomorrow, before it goes back to the House of Lords. Tomorrow’s votes include key amendments which aim to maintain hard-won environmental protections and workers’ rights after we leave the EU. Keep an eye on my Twitter feed, Facebook and website for updates.

A note on voting

Please note that I was a ‘teller’ in these votes – counting the number of votes and reporting them to the Speaker. Tellers are listed separately, but our votes still count.

Another confusing aspect is that I voted NO when I support the Lord’s amendments. This is because I voted against the Government's motions to remove the Lords’ amendments.

The will of the people?

Today was one of the most important days in Parliament since the Government triggered Article 50 -which I voted against - more than a year ago. Today we voted for...

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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