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Today, I’m proud to launch the "Refugees Welcome?" report - the product of a public inquiry conducted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees which I chair. Refugees from across the country shared their experiences with the inquiry, and the report highlights a clear two-tier system in how we treat refugees which is leaving thousands homeless and destitute.

We found that those who arrive in Britain through a resettlement scheme receive more support than those who are given refugee status after they arrive as asylum seekers. For instance, when someone is given refugee status, they have only 28 days to find accommodation and to access public services before government support is withdrawn.

This can't go on.

The testimony I heard from refugees who contributed evidence to the inquiry was powerful, including those who I met during the enquiry’s visit to the Malcolm X Centre in Bristol. And it was frustrating to meet so many people capable of making important contributions to our society thwarted by delays in receiving documents, patchy English language provision, and a lack of employment and skills support.

Creating a two-tier system for refugees, loading the dice against people who come here to build a new life, is not just the wrong thing to do, but a costly missed opportunity for Britain. Most refugees want to return home when the conflict is over but they want to contribute to this country in the meantime. These are often skilled professionals and, by definition, they all have strength and determination to offer.

The report recommends:

  • A Minister for Refugees overseeing a National Refugee Integration Strategy.
  • Increasing the “move on” period to 50 days to give families enough time to find adequate housing once they are granted refugee status.
  • A Home Office review to examine why there has been a sharp increase in the number of asylum applications that aren’t being decided within the target time of six months.
  • A strategy to increase provision of English language teaching.

I’m very grateful to all those who provided evidence for the report, especially refugees in Bristol who spoke so movingly about their experiences. I hope that this report will help to put an end to this unfair two-tier system, and force the government to look afresh at the welcome we give to people who seek sanctuary in our country.

Media coverage of the report today includes:

BBC News: Two-tier system leaving refugees in UK destitute, says report

The Guardian: Two-tier refugee system leaves many destitute and homeless, say MPs

The Times Red Box: We must fix two tier system that stops refugees contributing to Britain

Daily Express: Thousands of refugees risk homelessness because the government doesn’t provide enough help

Independent: Refugees arriving in UK immediately becoming homeless once they're granted asylum, report finds

Huffington Post: Refugees ‘Consigned To Homeless And Hunger By Government Policy’, Parliamentary Group Says

The National: UK can learn lessons from Scotland in supporting refugees, say MPs  

Refugees Welcome? Today's landmark cross-party report

Today, I’m proud to launch the "Refugees Welcome?" report - the product of a public inquiry conducted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees which I chair. Refugees from...

Election night 2015

As your MP, I have always stood up for what is best for Bristol West. And I always will.

Theresa May says she wants to make this election about Brexit: bring it on! My constituents voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, and I represented them in Parliament by voting against Article 50. My constituents don’t want this clueless government to inflict damage on our environment, our jobs, and our rights through the ‘Hard Brexit’ this government wants. As the MP I’m campaigning against this and for the best possible deal for Bristol. This election is the chance for people in Bristol West to tell the Tories loudly and clearly that they don’t want our country to career recklessly towards a hard Brexit.

Labour offers people an alternative government, built on fairness for everyone. We need a government which can rebuild our economy, tackle climate change, protect our vital services, and lead the country confidently into the challenges of the 21st century. Bristol West needs an MP who knows how to represent their interests in Parliament – I am that MP now and I hope to be after 8 June.

I will be doing everything I can in this campaign to help Jeremy Corbyn and the whole Labour team to make the case for a Labour government.

Fighting for Bristol West - my statement on the General Election

As your MP, I have always stood up for what is best for Bristol West. And I always will. Theresa May says she wants to make this election about Brexit:...

Last Friday, I was pleased to host representatives from major employers in Bristol West for a roundtable discussion on barriers to employment for those with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD).

The National Autistic Society’s recent research into autistic people’s experiences of work highlights some stark inequalities. Just 16 per cent of autistic adults are in full-time employment. Furthermore, those with ASDs often experience negative treatment at work: 48 per cent of respondents reported that they’d been bullied or harassed at work.

There has been an increased awareness of the needs of those who have an autistic spectrum disorder. Yet the National Autistic Society has shown that many employers feel under-equipped to support staff, with 60 per cent of employers stating they didn’t know where to go for support and advice about employing an autistic person.

I was pleased so many large employers were able to join the discussion – many of whom had already taken great steps to recruit and support workers with ASDs. Representatives from Rolls Royce, Airbus, Bristol City Council, the University of Bristol, Network Rail, North Bristol NHS trust, Avon Fire and Rescue and Lloyds Banking Group all attended and spoke about what support their organisations put in place for autistic staff.

I was particularly pleased to work with the National Autistic Society’s Henry Barnes for the event, and to hear from a local worker on the autistic spectrum. Henry particularly emphasised that individual needs should be attended to, and that even positive myths surrounding ASDs can have the unintended effect of stereotyping and glossing over needs.

Autistic people have important skills they can contribute to a workplace, and many of the employers present shared great success stories from the processes they have put in place.

Conversations about autism and supporting autistic adults need to include employment. It was great to hear so many local employers keen to learn more about autism and how to support workers with ASDs in the workplace.

I’ll continue to campaign for Bristol to become a truly autism-friendly city, and I’m delighted that so many of Bristol’s employers are so keen to join me in achieving this goal.

Tackling the autism employment gap

Last Friday, I was pleased to host representatives from major employers in Bristol West for a roundtable discussion on barriers to employment for those with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). The...

On Wednesday, I was in the House of Commons listening to the Chancellor deliver his budget speech. I waited and waited for the elephants in the room to be addressed: Brexit, the housing crisis, infrastructure in the West of England. I waited in vain. 

This was an opportunity to bring the country together and give hope to those who fear for the future, who are worried about Brexit, or about climate change, or about the housing crisis. It could have set out a bold vision for how the UK will rise to these challenges and to others that the mid-21st century present, such as finding better ways to value older people, or tackle mental ill-health, or build the health and social care system we need for today’s problems. It could have set out how we make the most of the knowledge, digital and creative economies; how we protect and grow our industries as the country’s relationship with our nearest neighbours changes.  

It could have set out a great future. It did not. 

As Theresa May’s fingers hover over the Article 50 button which will begin our negotiations with the 27 other EU members, Brexit is the biggest threat to our economic stability. So it was incredible that Philip Hammond barely gave it a passing thought. Businesses of all sizes in Bristol have told me how access to EU markets is essential for their trade. From the aerospace industry to the financial services sector to traders on the Gloucester Road, Bristol businesses face huge uncertainties as our future relationship with the EU is negotiated. For the Chancellor to blithely ignore this uncertainty hanging over our city’s economy is an insult. 

On housing too, mention came there none. Mayor Marvin Rees and his team at Bristol City Council are working creatively to help tackle our city’s homelessness problem, and to get more homes built in Bristol West. But the government clearly needs to take action too, and the Chancellor had absolutely nothing to say – despite the acknowledged housing crisis that is particularly affecting young people in Bristol West who face soaring house prices and growing rents.

When it came to discussing infrastructure spending, Philip Hammond was more interested in coining soundbites than getting Bristol moving. He announced extra funding for improving roads in the north and the midlands, while the West didn’t get mentioned. Bristol people have had to put up with the inconvenience and cost of work for railway electrification, followed by its postponement. We’ve had all the bother with none of the benefits, but the Chancellor ignored this. I have impressed on the government time and again that it needs to take action to help Bristol improve our infrastructure – not least to help bring down the dangerous levels of emissions which pollute our city daily. Despite this, the government once again overlooked the West of England. Bristol deserves better.

Philip Hammond did, however, find the time to break promises. Specifically, the 2015 Conservative Manifesto commitment not to raise National Insurance contributions. This was not a commitment buried in the small print. It appears on page three of the manifesto, and throughout the document.

The government plans to raise £2bn self-employed low and middle earners, at the same time as boasting about cutting tax for big corporations. This will affect many of my constituents in Bristol West. The Office for National Statistics estimates that there are 12,800 people in Bristol West who are self-employed – above the national and regional average. That figure includes freelance workers in the technology and creative sectors. It also includes taxi drivers, decorators, plumbers, hairdressers and electricians. All earning, on average, 40 per cent less than employees but now faced with having to pay more in taxes in an already uncertain economy.

Bristol thrives on the work of freelancers and the self-employed, but they do not have the same levels of rights and protections as employees. Work can be precarious, and making ends meet can be dependent on the prompt payment of invoices. If the Chancellor is going to take from Bristol’s self-employed with one hand, he should give something back with the other: statutory maternity pay for self-employed women, and statutory sick pay if you fall ill and cannot work, for example.

Then there are genuine fears over business rates among many of Bristol West’s small businesses, already under pressure with rent rises – worries not alleviated by a Chancellor more interested in making jokes than fixing our economy.

Growth has been revised down in 2018, 2019 and 2020 compared to the Autumn Statement. Average earnings have been revised down next year and every remaining year of the Parliament. Wages are still worth less today than nine years ago. Six million people now earn less than the living wage.

What’s more, there was nothing to fix the crisis in the NHS or properly fund our social care system. There was no mention of mental health at all. And our schools face continued struggles, with real-terms funding per pupil set to fall and a total budget cut of £3bn by 2020 – the worst funding cuts since the 1970s.

This could have been a budget to prepare our country for the journey ahead. To reassure Bristol West’s businesses and citizens in this time of uncertainty. To put Britain’s families, schools and hospitals on a firm financial footing. It could have been a budget to put minds at rest, and to help us look outward and fulfil our potential in the global economy.

Instead, it’s a budget that threatens the jobs, growth, and vibrancy of Bristol West. It’s a budget built on oversights and blind spots. And it’s a budget that fails to face up to the issues threatening our national economic stability.

What a missed opportunity.

A budget that fails Bristol

On Wednesday, I was in the House of Commons listening to the Chancellor deliver his budget speech. I waited and waited for the elephants in the room to be addressed:...

This morning government MPs – including the Conservative MP for Bristol North West, Charlotte Leslie – supported an exemption which could allow companies to start constructing fracking wells in national parks. 

Tories’ dirty exemption opens door for fracking in national parks

This morning government MPs – including the Conservative MP for Bristol North West, Charlotte Leslie – supported an exemption which could allow companies to start constructing fracking wells in national... Read more

Thangam speaking at the After many years of campaigning on this issue, I am pleased that the government has confirmed that it will finally make sex and relationships education (SRE) compulsory in schools in England.

The Education Secretary Justine Greening has heeded Labour's calls to amend the Children and Social Work Bill so that all schools in England will have to teach children about safe and healthy relationships from the age of 4 upwards.

Victory for compulsory sex and relationships education in schools

After many years of campaigning on this issue, I am pleased that the government has confirmed that it will finally make sex and relationships education (SRE) compulsory in schools in... Read more

TD_UQ.jpg

I am delighted that Bristol City Council and South Gloucestershire Council have successfully bid for £500,000 of funding to assess how to implement a Clean Air Zone in the city.

Bristol wins grant for Clean Air Zone study

I am delighted that Bristol City Council and South Gloucestershire Council have successfully bid for £500,000 of funding to assess how to implement a Clean Air Zone in the city. Read more

Today (Friday 17 February) I’m supporting Fuel Poverty Awareness Day – the national campaign, organised by charity National Energy Action (NEA), to highlight the problem of fuel poverty.

It’s a scandal that, in Bristol West alone, 8983 households (15.9 per cent) live in fuel poverty, according to the government’s own data. And, nationwide, over four million households are unable to afford the energy they need to stay warm and healthy in their homes. It’s obviously a particular problem for those on low incomes who live in energy-inefficient homes that are expensive to heat.

Living in a cold, damp home can lead to very poor health – especially in those who are vulnerable, such as older people, young children, and those with disabilities. This also places a huge strain on our already stretched health services. According to the NEA, cold-related ill health costs the NHS £1.35 billion each year. Even worse, in the year 2014/5 there were 43,000 excess winter deaths, with at least 14,000 of these attributable to cold homes. Without proper interventions, these figures are set to get worse.

Eradicating fuel poverty is, in fact, a statutory target to be met by the government. But it’s failing to achieve this target because it won’t commit to proper funding. Year on year, it has actually cut funding. In the last Parliament, major energy efficiency measures installed in homes declined by 80 per cent, and it’s estimated there will be a further decline of 73 per cent this Parliament. The total level of investment has declined by 53 per cent between 2010 and 2015.  

Clearly much more needs to be done nationally. We should, for example, make energy efficiency a major infrastructure priority; insulate more homes; build new carbon-neutral homes; require landlords to ensure their properties meet minimum standards of energy efficiency.  However, I do know there is good work going on in my constituency and across the UK to tackle the problem. This morning, for example, I visited an excellent development of well insulated, energy-efficient homes, 20 per cent of which are owned by a housing association. In the next development they're planning to increase this proportion. 

I’ll continue to work alongside others in the community to help raise awareness, and continue to press the government to make ending fuel poverty a priority, so that nobody is forced to live in a cold home.  


 

More information

For more information on National Energy Action visit www.nea.org.uk

Latest government statistics indicate that there are over 4 million UK households in fuel poverty. Fuel poverty is caused by a combination of low incomes, high energy prices and poor quality energy-inefficient housing. https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/fuel-poverty-statistics

Statistics for each constituency are available at http://www.fpeeg.org.uk/

Fuel Poverty Awareness Day is coordinated by NEA and supported by many organisations across the UK. For more information visit http://www.nea.org.uk/campaigns-policy/fuel-poverty-awareness-day/

It’s time to end the ‘cold homes crisis’

Today (Friday 17 February) I’m supporting Fuel Poverty Awareness Day – the national campaign, organised by charity National Energy Action (NEA), to highlight the problem of fuel poverty. It’s a...

Only a few months after the government agreed to take unaccompanied child refugees from Europe, the Minister for Immigration tried to announce quietly this week that the scheme would end in March. 

It's a shameful decision, and you can see my intervention in today's urgent debate.  


 

The government's U-turn on child refugees

Only a few months after the government agreed to take unaccompanied child refugees from Europe, the Minister for Immigration tried to announce quietly this week that the scheme would end in... Read more

New_Mems_Meeting_cropped_Jan_17.jpgYesterday on 1st February 2017 I voted against the second reading of the Bill to give the government the power to trigger Article 50 and start the process of the UK leaving the EU. I did this because I cannot support the Tory Brexit we are being presented with, when there are other viable alternatives which have been rejected at the start.

Update on Article 50: 2nd February

Yesterday on 1st February 2017 I voted against the second reading of the Bill to give the government the power to trigger Article 50 and start the process of the... Read more

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