Please see below for my weekly round-up of what I've been up to in Hackney and Westminster. This week I spoke about shoplifting in the Criminal Justice Bill debate, challenged the Government's record on onshore wind, and saw Aladdin at the Hackney Empire.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt MP, unveiled his Autumn Statement. Unfortunately, there was very little in there to help people in Hackney. Thanks to the thirteen years of failed Conservative government, households are paying more tax than they have for decades. And although the Chancellor made a great deal of cutting National Insurance by two per cent, this will do little to help the one in two Hackney children growing up in poverty. There was also little support for local government, which has had its budgets squeezed both by inflation and cuts.
The Government unveiled its forthcoming legislative agenda this week in a ceremony called the King's Speech. This lays out the laws the Government want to pass in the next session of Parliament, which is likely to be the last one before the next General Election. Unfortunately, this Government has run out of steam, and its plan for the next year is very thin. There are some welcome changes - on renters' rights and leasehold reform - but the proposals aren't enough to satisfy the problems so many renters and leaseholders are facing.
I was really pleased this week to welcome a number of students and young people from Hackney to my Westminster Experience Day. They got the chance to talk to me and another MP, as well as senior members of staff at the House of Commons, about career opportunities in Parliament. Seeing such bright and politically engaged young people is always reassuring – they asked focused, sharp, and pertinent questions about the issues of the day. It is good to know the future of Hackney and the UK is in safe hands.
The Public Accounts Committee took evidence from the most senior civil servant at the Department for Education on reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete, also known as RAAC. The Government promised swift action for the children left out of classrooms and the schools with reduced facilities, but from the answers we heard this is likely to go on for some time. See here for the full hearing.
Parliament returned from its summer break this week and the one topic of discussion was about the Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) in some schools. This is a material used in the construction of many public buildings between the 1960s and 1990s. Its ability to support buildings is much lower than other types of reinforced concrete – and this gets worse if water is present (for instance from leaking roofs).
The Public Accounts Committee published its report on NHS mental health services today. Currently one-in-six adults have a mental health problem. The Government has pledged parity of esteem, which means mental health is given equal priority to physical health with equal access to services. There is some progress in recruiting more mental health professionals but this has been outstripped by the huge increase in demand for mental health support. Too many people are still waiting too long for the treatment they need.
The Public Accounts Committee looked at the Asylum Transformation programme, which is the Home Office's plan to deal with the 173,000-case backlog in asylum claims. We also took evidence on the accommodation provided for asylum seekers. At the same time, the House of Commons was voting on the Illegal Migration Bill.
I met with the CEO of Peabody this week and pressed him on repairs, cladding, and support for leaseholders. I’m also organising a walkabout Peabody estates with residents and representatives from Peabody so watch this space. I regularly meet local housing associations to discuss issues raised with me by constituents – please get in touch if ever you need my help.