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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...

I, for one, am not sick of experts.

In fact, I'm inclined to listen to experts very intently when it comes to safeguarding nuclear products used, for example, in medical imaging technology.

And when experts commenting on this issue tell me they've got severe concerns about the government's plans to make us leave Euratom, I think that the government should sit up and take notice.

On Tuesday I sat on the bill committee for the Nuclear Safeguards Bill. It's part of my job as a whip to recruit Labour MPs to that committee who have the expertise to challenge the government on their plans. We scrutinise - line by line - the legislation that will govern the regulations and safety structures around nuclear material used in many industries in the UK.

On Tuesday, senior nuclear energy lawyers who were giving evidence to the committee stated that we do not have to leave Euratom if (and it is still very much an if) we leave the EU in 2019. You can see the Hansard transcript here.

And at the same committee, the Deputy Chief Inspector for the Office for Nuclear Regulation said we will not be able to create a structure that replicates Euratom by the time we are due to leave the EU under the terms of Article 50 (again, the Hansard transcript is available here).

So today, I asked the government to consider the risks, and keep our membership of Euratom on the table as part of any Brexit deal. The minister Steve Baker MP refused, claiming we need to leave Euratom if we are to leave the EU.

I listen to experts. I consider it a vital part of my job as someone who contributes to shaping UK law. And on something as vital as the safety of our nuclear industry, I wish the government would listen too.


You can watch my question to the Brexit department - and the answer - below:


Leaving the EU shouldn't risk nuclear safety

I, for one, am not sick of experts. In fact, I'm inclined to listen to experts very intently when it comes to safeguarding nuclear products used, for example, in medical...

This month I helped to launch a new group to support children and young people with cancer and to strength their voice in Parliament. It had been a long time in the planning, and there’s now a huge amount for us to do, but the All Party Parliamentary Group on Children, Teenagers and Young Adults with Cancer (APPG CTYAC) is now up and running. And I’m proud to be its Chair.

The launch in Parliament on 11 October saw children, young people, their parents, several MPs and charity representatives come together to speak about what matters to young people with cancer. 

Recent developments in cancer care have recognised that young people with cancer have unique needs, but we still need to make progress in cancer services to improve diagnosis, access to age-specific care and post-treatment support for this patient group.

As experts in children and young people with cancer, Teenage Cancer Trust and CLIC Sargent have teamed up to provide administrative support as the secretariat for this pioneering group. And I’m delighted that Filton and Bradley Stoke MP Jack Lopresti has agreed to be Vice-Chair, with fellow MPs Jim Shannon, Ruth George and Mark Tami all agreeing to be officers of the group. A further 29 MPs either attended the launch or have expressed an interest in joining the group.

 

For those who missed it, here’s the column I wrote for the Bristol Post on Friday 20 October.


As a Member of Parliament, I fight for what the people of Bristol West care about. Sometimes this means campaigning on things that affect us all, like pollution or climate change. Sometimes it means helping individual people in difficulty.

But sometimes it means prioritising something which affects very few people, but which hurts those it affects so badly that pretty much everyone would probably want me to prioritise it.

Hearing that a child you love has cancer is devastating. Thankfully it’s rare, but that’s part of the problem with childhood cancers –because they’re rare, they’re tricky to research and this makes treatment hard. Often it makes treatment very harsh, with horrendous side-effects. There are also longer-term impacts of the treatment, such as the risk of infertility, or disability.

Parents, on top of the fears and anxieties of their child’s illness, often struggle to keep their job at the same time as caring for a very sick child. Brothers and sisters miss their sibling and may also miss out on time with their parents, or be preoccupied at school worrying about what is happening.

Since I became an MP I’ve met families living in the CLIC Sargent house in Kingsdown for families affected by childhood cancer. I’ve spent time in the teenage cancer ward at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, talking to staff and young people. I’ve worked closely with CLIC Sargent and Teenage Cancer Trust, raising questions of Health Ministers, launching research on the costs of childhood cancer, and listening to children, young people and families, about how cancer has affected them.

Their voices need to be heard throughout Parliament. They have specific needs and experiences which government needs to listen to. And families affected by childhood cancer need champions in Parliament to do this.

So over the last six months I have worked with CLIC Sargent and Teenage Cancer Trust to establish the All Party Parliamentary Group on Children, Teenagers and Young Adults with Cancer.  This cross-party working group will promote the very specific experiences and needs families affected by childhood cancer have. We launched the group last week and I was delighted that MPs from all parties came along to hear the young people and parents who spoke, and to offer to help. We have a lot to do, but we’re very determined.

During my time as a Member of Parliament I’ll always work hard on problems affecting most or all of the people I represent. But I know you will also back me in prioritising childhood cancer, even though this is something which, thankfully, affects very few people.


 More about the APPG CTYAC

The APPG CTYAC intends to provide a valuable opportunity to raise awareness of the issues affecting children, teenagers and young adults with cancer and their families in Parliament.

In particular, the group aims to: scrutinise the effectiveness of the system supporting young cancer patients throughout their experience of cancer; influence Government policy to reflect the needs of children, teenagers and young adults with cancer; provide a forum for discussion in Parliament of the key issues affecting children and young people with cancer; champion the voices of young cancer patients and their families to ensure their experiences are represented to Parliament and government; and bring together and engage with relevant stakeholders supporting young cancer patients and their families.

For further information on the work of the APPG CTYAC you can visit: www.clicsargent.org.uk/youngcancervoices. To contact the group, email APPG@clicsargent.org.uk

A new parliamentary group to support children and young people with cancer

This month I helped to launch a new group to support children and young people with cancer and to strength their voice in Parliament. It had been a long time...

As a Breast Cancer Now Ambassador, I was proud to dress in pink today (Friday 20 October) to lend my support the charity’s flagship fundraiser, Wear it Pink.

I know thousands of other people across the UK, including my office staff and many fellow MPs, also added a splash of pink to their outfits to show their support for all the women and men affected by breast cancer each year.

The event, taking place during October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is now in its 16th year and has raised over £30 million to date for Breast Cancer Now’s life-saving research.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. One in eight women will face it in their lifetime, and every year around 11,500 women and 80 men lose their lives to the disease. Over the years this event has shown itself to be a fun and easy way to raise funds Breast Cancer Now’s vital research, and help stop breast cancer taking the lives of those we love.

 


More information about Breast Cancer Now:

  • Breast Cancer Now is the UK’s largest breast cancer charity.
  • Breast Cancer Now’s ambition is that by 2050 everyone who develops breast cancer will live. The charity is determined to stop women dying from the disease, working in a new, collaborative way and bringing together all those affected by breast cancer to fund research, share knowledge and find answers.
  • Breast Cancer Now’s world-class research is focused entirely on breast cancer. The charity supports nearly 400 of the world’s brightest researchers at more than 30 locations across the UK and Ireland. Together, they’re working to discover how to prevent breast cancer, how to detect it earlier and how to treat it effectively at every stage so we can stop the disease taking lives.
  • Breast cancer is still the most common cancer in the UK. Nearly 700,000 people living in the UK have experienced a diagnosis and one in eight women will face it in their lifetime. This year alone, more than 50,000 women will be told they have the disease.
  • The UK still has one of the lowest breast cancer survival rates in Western Europe and this year alone around 11,500 women and 80 men will lose their lives. It’s time to act.
  • Breast Cancer Now launched in June 2015, created by the merger of leading research charities Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer.
  • For more information on Breast Cancer Now’s work, visit breastcancernow.org

In the pink for breast cancer fundraiser

As a Breast Cancer Now Ambassador, I was proud to dress in pink today (Friday 20 October) to lend my support the charity’s flagship fundraiser, Wear it Pink. I know thousands of other...

I am horrified at the death and destruction caused by a bombing attack in the Somali capital Mogadishu on Saturday. At least 276 people have lost their lives and many more have been injured.

Terrorist atrocities like this are an affront to ongoing efforts to secure peace in Somalia. I of course hope that the perpetrators are brought to justice but, more immediately, I know many in Bristol's Somali community have lost family members and friends in this attack - and that many are still waiting for news of their loved ones.

If you live in Bristol West and if there is any assistance that my team or I can offer, please do not hesitate to get in touch: http://www.debbonaire.co.uk/casework_mp.

Terror attack in Somalia

I am horrified at the death and destruction caused by a bombing attack in the Somali capital Mogadishu on Saturday. At least 276 people have lost their lives and many...

At the Labour Party Conference I tested my taxi-hailing skills in a football-themed game with Guide Dogs. While trying to get a taxi to take guide dog owner Jacqueline to her local football match, I heard about the real problems assistance dog owners face when being illegally refused by taxis and minicabs.

Let’s just say my performance didn’t quite get me into the top ten on the leaderboard.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal for a taxi or minicab driver to refuse to take an assistance dog or to charge extra for carrying it. But Guide Dogs research found that 42 per cent of assistance dog owners have been turned away by a taxi or minicab in a one-year period because of their dog. The research also revealed that 38 per cent of assistance dog owners have been asked to pay an extra fare for carrying their dog.

Imagine being turned away by a taxi driver for no good reason. This can clearly undermine the independence guide dogs bring to their owners and stops them doing the everyday things that most people take for granted – going to a café, meeting friends, going to the doctor’s or to their local football match.

That’s why I’m supporting Guide Dogs’ call for all taxi and minicab drivers to receive disability equality training so they understand the rights and needs of disabled passengers and feel confident to offer assistance. This campaign is supported by more than 30 organisations, including trade bodies, local government representatives and disability groups.

I’ve also arranged with Guide Dogs to do a blindfolded walk in Bristol next month. I’ll let you know how I get on.

 


Further information about the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association provides independence and freedom to thousands of blind and partially sighted people across the UK through the provision of guide dogs, mobility and other rehabilitation services. It campaigns for the rights of those with visual impairments. Guide Dogs is working towards a society in which blind and partially sighted people enjoy the same freedom of movement as everyone else.

Guide dogs and taxi refusals

At the Labour Party Conference I tested my taxi-hailing skills in a football-themed game with Guide Dogs. While trying to get a taxi to take guide dog owner Jacqueline to...

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 in 2015, and one my whole team is committed to.

Constituents tell me that many autistic people in Bristol, and their families, encounter barriers in accessing public services, receiving support in education and in finding employment. So recently I held a constituency surgery specifically for autistic residents.

The appointments allowed people to raise specific issues and gave me a better understanding of what’s important to autistic constituents, and how to set about resolving any problems. I want to help create the changes that could transform the lives of those on the autism spectrum, and I hope other MPs and politicians will hold similar events.

Thanks to Henry Barnes from National Autistic Society (NAS) for organisation and Ian Ensum from Bristol Autism Support Service (BASS) for hosting. BASS and NAS have both helped train me and my team on autism awareness and keep us well informed.

I was really pleased to see coverage of the surgery in the i newspaper. Here’s the full text of the story, as it appeared on 19 September: 


Thangam Debbonaire holds ‘UK’s first MP surgery’ for people on the autism spectrum

by Serina Sandhu

A Bristol MP has held what is thought to be the UK’s first constituency surgery specifically for people on the autism spectrum and for parents of children with autism. Thangham Debbonaire, the Labour MP for Bristol West, met with her constituents to find out their specific needs and the barriers they face in accessing services and receiving support, in the hope of making the city more autism-friendly. Many people brought up issues that Ms Debbonaire usually hears during her surgery. “But it was all through the prism of what it’s like for me as a person on the autism spectrum,” she tells i.

Changing employment practices

“People on the autism spectrum have very high rates of unemployment. The graduate unemployment rate is much higher than the rate for other disabled people. There [are] all sorts of things an MP can do to try and change that.

“I changed my own employment practices. I altered the job descriptions to be more accessible for someone on the autism spectrum. There is someone in my office who is and it works extremely well.”

Ms Debbonaire says she believes that many adults with autism are being excluded from mainstream services due to a lack of understanding and awareness.

“If you meet somebody who may be having difficulty maintaining eye contact with you, your first response, if you’re not autism aware, might be: ‘This person is really shifty, I don’t trust them.’ When you become autism-aware, my first response is: ‘It’s possible this person is on the autism spectrum. I just need to lower my expectations about them maintaining eye contact.'”

Since the constituency surgery, which took place on Friday 15 September, Ms Debbonaire says she has already spoken to businesses about being more autism-aware and that she will be dealing with individual problems that her constituents raised.

Her surgery has also encouraged her fellow Bristol MPs to hold similar meetings and Ms Debbonaire hopes MPs across the country will follow suit after they realise that people with autism may be unintentionally excluded from their surgeries.

Making Bristol an autism-friendly city

Her long-term vision is to make Bristol a thoroughly autism-friendly city.

“That’s my goal. It’s very personal but it’s one as a team we believe in really, really strongly.”

It may even benefit neurotypical people (who are not on the autistic spectrum), adds Ms Debbonaire.  “For instance I’m not on the autism spectrum but when I watched a video of a little child having difficulties in the shopping centre – very busy, lots of bright lights, lots of noise, lots of confusing information, sensory overload – I was thinking: ‘Yeah, I’ve had that feeling.’ I think quite a lot of people have that feeling in shopping centres.

“If we could convince city planners, from people who plan cities to people who plan their own small shop, dance class or museum to think about how to make sure that people don’t get sensory overload, it not only becomes more accessible to adult with autism, it becomes more accessible to a child with autism. But also the spin-off benefits are that the rest of us don’t have sensory overload either.”

You can read the story online here in the i newspaper.

There was also good coverage on Bristol 24/7

 

First MP surgery for people on the autism spectrum

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...

Today in parliament (Monday 11 September 2017), we will be debating and voting on the second reading of the European Union Withdrawal Bill. This is one stage in the bill's process through parliament. There will be further stages, and opportunities to debate and amend the bill, this autumn.

I regularly consult residents of Bristol West. Four out of five of them voted to remain in the European Union last June. Four out of five of them continue to tell me that they believe that the best relationship for the UK to have with Europe is full membership of the European Union (EU). I agree with them.

Full membership of the EU is best for jobs, for workers' rights, for environmental protection and for our place in the world.

If, reluctantly, we are to accept leaving the EU, I want us to keep full membership of the Single European Market and Customs Union for as long as possible and keep both on the negotiating table for our future relationship with the EU. You can read more about what these terms mean here (see especially Annexe 2, p.25).

It's important to note that membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union help maintain free movement of goods, services, labour and capital; reduce trade barriers, and maintain consumer rights. They also help our universities by keeping us in the Horizon 2020 and ERASMUS schemes. Other countries such as Norway are outside the EU but are part of the Single Market, for instance.

I believe it is best for my country and my constituents that we have as close a relationship with the EU as possible.

This government is recklessly throwing away all of the best possible options. Labour wants to keep them on the negotiating table. With this bill, the government is giving itself sweeping powers to make huge changes, virtually unchecked by parliament. They have also failed to protect environmental standards. This is worrying, because the only protection we have from air pollution for example, currently derives from EU rules and the government had to be taken to court to stick to them.

I voted against triggering Article 50 because the government had shown itself to be singularly ill-equipped to start the process of leaving the EU. I will be voting against the bill tonight because I believe this is the best way of making the government reconsider their strategy.

There is a long way to go in this process so I need your views and thoughts. I will continue to hold regular EU meetings, consult you through surveys, listen to your views in person and through my inbox.

Please do complete this short survey and add in anything you think I need to know or any questions you have. 

The EU Withdrawal Bill

Today in parliament (Monday 11 September 2017), we will be debating and voting on the second reading of the European Union Withdrawal Bill. This is one stage in the bill's...

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