Emma Lewell-Buck meets survivors of genocide at launch of theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2015

Earlier this month Emma listened to Iby Knill, who survived the Holocaust; and Safet Vukalić, who survived the Bosnian War; at the launch event for Holocaust Memorial Day 2015.

Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) is commemorated each year on 27 January – the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death and concentration camp. HMD provides an opportunity for everyone to learn lessons from the Holocaust, Nazi persecution and subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. HMD asks people to apply these lessons to the present day to create a safer, better future.

The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) promotes and supports HMD activities in the UK. Each year HMDT selects a theme around which HMD activities can focus. The theme for 2015 is Keep the memory alive.

Iby read a powerful poem based on her memories of the Auschwitz camp – entitled ‘I was there’.

Safet spoke about how he was taught about the Holocaust at school in Bosnia, never expecting that just a few years later members of his family would be imprisoned in concentration camps. He highlighted how HMD commemorates the genocides which have occurred since the Holocaust, and how HMD 2015 will be particularly important, marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the 20th anniversary of Genocide in Srebrenica, Bosnia.

Emma also met with the HMD Trust's North East Regional Support Worker, Sharon Artley, to discuss future events marking HMD in the North East.

Emma said:

‘Iby and Safet’s stories are a reminder of the importance of marking Holocaust Memorial Day – a day where we remember the millions who were affected by the Holocaust and other genocides. I want to encourage people in South Shields to mark HMD on 27 January 2015.’

Olivia Marks-Woldman, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said:

‘We were delighted that Emma showed her support for Holocaust Memorial Day. We hope that many more people in South Shields will organise activities for next year’s HMD – adding to the over 2,400 activities which took place for HMD 2014.’

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Universal credit ‘claw-back’ hurts working families

Last week Emma joined the shopworkers’ union Usdaw to highlight how Universal Credit will ‘claw-back’ employees’ earnings and make it harder for low paid workers to escape poverty.

Under the new Universal Credit system being introduced by the Government, people whose incomes are topped up by Universal Credit will lose up to 76p for every pound they earn.  Some workers could potentially lose thousands of pounds this way. This will penalise hard-working households and mean people have less incentive to work.

Last month Emma pointed out how the increase in the personal allowance announced in George Osborne’s Budget actually did very little to help lower earners, because the gains would be largely cancelled out by reductions in Universal Credit.  Emma’s budget speech can be read by clicking here.

Emma said:

“Universal Credit is a good idea in theory, but the way it is being implemented means hard-working people on low incomes will lose out.  The Government talks about rewarding hard work, but when it comes to those putting in long hours for poverty wages their policies do just the opposite.”

John Hannett – Usdaw General Secretary said:

“We are grateful for Emma’s support. Whilst Universal Credit affects households differently, many of our members working long hours are going to be worse off when they are transferred onto Universal Credit. That loss of income is compounded because they will find it incredibly difficult to make up the shortfall by working longer hours. That is why the claw-back from additional earnings is incredibly unfair, trapping households in poverty and creating a disincentive to work. So we want the Government to ensure that work does pay by lowering the claw-back to 55p in the pound.”

Constituents in South Shields who want to know what their benefit entitlement will be under Universal Credit can find out by visiting www.entitledto.com

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Labour forces humiliating badger cull u-turn on Tories and Lib Dems

Earlier this month the Government was forced to announce that it would not be extending its inhumane and ineffective policy of culling badgers, after many months of pressure from Labour.  Labour’s MP were joined by an unusual visitor as they celebrated this victory for campaigners across the country.

Labour has led the battle in Parliament against the Government’s plans to roll out the culls across the entire country.  The culls were intended to prevent the spread of Tuberculosis in cattle but have failed to hit their targets, even after being extended by six weeks and going over budget.  The Government’s own independent report concluded earlier this month that the culls had been ineffective an inhumane.  Last month MPs voted by 219 – 1 in favour of a motion calling on the Government to abandon the culls, but it took weeks before the Government finally caved to overwhelming pressure and ruled out any more culls.

Labour supports an alternative approach to controlling Bovine TB, which involved cattle control measures and badger vaccination.  In Wales this method has helped to bring about a 50% reduction of TB in cattle since 2009. 

Emma said:

“It has taken far too long, but at last the Government has done the right thing and decided not to roll out this cruel and ineffective scheme.  Culling has been bad for wildlife, bad for farmers and bad for the taxpayer, and I want to congratulate campaigners and my fellow Labour MPs for forcing the Government to admit that it got this issue badly wrong.

“The last Labour government followed an evidence-based approach to tackling TB, and the evidence has shown that culling is not the right solution.  I hope that the Government will now listen to Labour’s call for an alternative approach that is supported by experts.”

As well as voting to abandon the culls, Emma questioned the Environment Secretary about the Government’s controversial decision to extend the culls when he appeared before the Environment Committee in May.  

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Emma joins with Unite to protest first anniversary of Bedroom Tax

Wednesday marked one year since the unpopular and unfair Bedroom Tax came into force, and Emma joined with MPs and Unite the Union to protest against the policy, which has caused financial hardship for some of the most vulnerable households in the country while doing nothing to tackle problems around housing supply.

Wednesday was also the birthday of Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, who introduced the policy and has called it a “great success”.

But in South Shields the majority of people paying the tax do not deserve to do so.  The tax is supposed to encourage people with spare bedrooms to move to smaller homes, but in Shields there are eight households affected by the policy for every smaller home available.  This means seven out of eight people are penalised through no fault of their own. This situation is reflected in constituencies across the country, and that is why Labour has pledged to scrap the Bedroom Tax if it wins the next general election in 2015.

Altogether the Bedroom Tax affects more than 1,400 households in South Shields, and  nationwide the tax affects nearly half a million people.  Shockingly, two thirds of these are disabled people.  Around half of the people affected now find themselves unable to keep up with rent payments, and councils now report that they are seeing shortfalls in their rental income which prevents them from funding new housebuilding work.

Emma said:

“One year on the Bedroom Tax has proved to be a disaster, just as Labour predicted.  Vulnerable people are being punished for under-occupying properties, but the fact is that the vast majority simply have nowhere else to go. It is unfair and ineffective, and I am proud to say that a Labour government will  repeal this policy if elected in 2015.”

Last year Emma led a debate on the Bedroom Tax in Parliament, which can be read here.  She has also voted to scrap the tax together with Labour MPs, but unfortunately the Coalition defeated Labour on this vote.

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Emma welcomes Shields residents to Parliament for Bangladeshi Independence Day Reception

This Tuesday Emma joined with Labour Friends of Bangladesh to host an event recognising the British Bangladeshi community at a reception in the Houses of Parliament.  The reception was held shortly after Bangladeshi Independence Day, the anniversary of the country becoming a sovereign nation.

The event included speeches from the Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander MP, Labour Friends of Bangladesh President Rushanara Ali MP and the Bangladeshi High Commissioner in Britain, His Excellency Mohamed Mijarul Quayes.

Labour’s Bangladeshi parliamentary candidates were in attendance, as were councillors from all over the country and a number of Labour MPs.  But Emma was particularly pleased to be able to invite a large group of visitors from South Shields.

Emma said:

“I was pleased to be able to welcome members of the Bangladeshi community from across the country to celebrate the ties between our two countries, and the fantastic contribution the Bangladeshi community makes to the UK.  I was thrilled that so many of my own constituents were able to make it - the Bangladeshi community has always  been very engaged in politics in South Shields and I am grateful to them for their support. 

“Labour Friends of Bangladesh do a great job providing a voice for the Bangladeshi community in our party, and it was great to see so many of our brilliant candidates and councillors at the event."

Emma is grateful to Labour Friends of Bangladesh’s Chair Howard Dawber and Secretary Motin Uz-zaman for their help in organising the event.  LFB made Emma an honorary patron of the group to thank her for hosting.

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Emma Highlights PIP delays at Prime Minister’s Questions

Today at Prime Minister’s Questions Emma raised the case of South Shields resident Sue Martin, who has been left without vital support because of delays in assessing her Personal Independence Payment (PIP) claim.


Emma asked the Prime Minister:

“My constituent, Sue Martin, suffers from ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) and has been waiting more than nine months for her personal independence claim to be processed. She now has to borrow from her 84-year-old mother just to get by. Why does the Prime Minister think that is acceptable?”

The Prime Minister replied:

“All delays in these sorts of payments are not acceptable: we have to make sure that benefits are paid on time. What we are trying to do with the personal independence payment is to introduce it gradually so that we ensure that the quality of decision making is good.”

But despite the Prime Minister’s reassurances, the backlog of delayed PIP claims is quickly spiralling out of control.  Ms Martin is not the only constituent to have experienced severe delays in her claim being processed – other constituents have reported waiting for their claim for more than six months, and following Emma’s question even more people contacted Emma to say they had experienced similar problems.

Last month the Chair of Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee called the delays “completely unacceptable” after a National Audit Office report found that the average wait for an assessment claim was 107 days, over a month longer than expected when the system was set up. 

You can read the official transcript of Emma's question and the Prime Minister's response by clicking here.

Speaking after Prime Minister’s Questions, Emma said:

“The Prime Minister’s answer ignored the real problem, which is that the organisations delivering PIP are utterly failing to process claims on time.  The fact that many parts of the country aren’t even covered by PIP yet makes this failure even worse, and suggests that we can expect even longer delays in the future.  That will mean more hardship for vulnerable people like Ms Martin.”

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Inequality between rich and poor areas getting worse under Coalition, warns Emma

Councils in the UK’s poorest areas are facing bigger cuts than their richer counterparts, Emma warned in the House of Commons today.

Speaking at Communities and Local Government Questions, Emma asked Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis MP to explain why areas with the greatest need faced spending cuts ten times greater than areas with relatively little poverty.

Emma said:

“Despite having higher levels of deprivation local authorities like my own are seeing deeper cuts than well-off areas.  By 2016 spending per household in the North East will have fallen by £296, compared with the national average of £233.  Does the Minister recognise that this will make existing inequalities between the regions worse?”

Mr Lewis claimed that total spending in South Tyneside is still higher than in other areas, but his own department’s Local Government Finance Settlement South Tyneside’s spending power will have been cut by 24% between 2010 and 2016.  You can read the official record of Emma’s question and the Minister’s reply by clicking here.

Altogether the ten most deprived local authorities in the country face spending power cuts of over a quarter, while in the ten least deprived areas the figure is just 2.5%.  The Prime Minister’s own authority of West Oxfordshire will actually see its spending power increase during this period, despite being one of the least deprived council areas in Britain.

Speaking after Communities and Local Government Questions, Emma said:

“The Minister is not fooling anyone.  Local government has had to find £20bn worth of savings between 2010 and 2016 because of the Coalition’s budget cuts, and by the Government’s own definition of spending power it is clear that most of the burden is falling on poorer areas. 

“During a cost of living crisis vulnerable people such as the elderly, carers and looked after children and their families need to be able to access local support, but the Government is cutting these services exactly where they are needed most.”

Labour will end the bias against poor areas by reviewing the funding formula used by the Government to make sure funding is spread more fairly.  

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Emma calls for more action to protect children from sexual exploitation

Emma has joined with Sarah Champion MP and the children’s charity Barnardo’s to demand that more is done by government and other agencies to combat child sexual exploitation.

Emma sat on a panel of parliamentarians that heard evidence as part of an inquiry into child sexual exploitation, led by Labour MP Sarah Champion. The cross-party panel of MPs and Peers heard from young victims as well as representatives from the police, legal profession, local authorities and the voluntary sector. 

A snapshot survey of Barnardo’s specialist services for those affected by sexual exploitation revealed that in September last year the charity worked with over 50 per cent more young people in the North East compared to the same period in 2012.

The inquiry tested the effectiveness of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and a report published today by Barnardo’s and Sarah Champion MP has made a wide range of legislative and policy recommendations, including:

  • Strengthening Child Abduction Warning Notices to make it a criminal offence to breach the conditions of the notice
  • Amending the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to remove the need for a second contact in the offence of ‘meeting a child following sexual grooming’
  • More powers to be given to  Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards
  • Removal of the term ‘child prostitution’ from legislation
  • Changes to the way children learn about sexual exploitation in schools with a focus on prevention
  • Specialist training to be given to all judges and lawyers involved in cases of child sexual exploitation
  • Information about the myths and stereotypes about child sexual exploitation to be provided to jurors on relevant cases 

Emma said:

“I was pleased to be able to support this inquiry in its important work.  Thanks to the help of experts and the bravery of young people who spoke about their experiences we have come up with practical steps that Government can take to strengthen child sexual exploitation legislation.”

Emma has supported amendments to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill tabled by Sarah Champion MP.  These would change the laws against ‘grooming’ children so that a perpetrator only needs to make contact with a child once rather than repeatedly, making it easier to prosecute offenders.  A second amendment would correct an imbalance in the law that currently defines abduction differently for children in the care system.

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Casework Update - March

In March I was pleased to be able help a number of constituents resolve specific issues they had raised in letters and at my surgeries.  A few of these cases are listed below:

1. A constituent was experiencing problems in his dealings with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) dating back to 2010. He was unhappy because HMRC refused his claim to have underpaid tax for 2010-11 to 2012-13 given up. Following my intervention, HMRC carried out a full review of what had happened. They agreed to give up the £3,180 tax they were asking him to pay. They also made a payment to apologise for the way they handled the matter; £75 by way of an apology for poor customer service; a further £50 to acknowledge the worry they caused my constituent; and an additional payment of £20 to cover his costs. My constituent was “over the moon” and his daughter wrote: “I would like to thank you for sorting out my father’s dilemma. All of your help and support was greatly appreciated and a weight off all our minds. Thank you for your kindness.”

2. An elderly constituent had problems with re-wiring at his home and several unresolved issues regarding his kitchen and relocation of his cooker. He felt that the proposed work as part of the Decent Homes upgrades was unnecessary and he could not cope with the resultant stress. He wanted the kitchen to remain as it is. I arranged for the work to be put on hold indefinitely and for a periodic electrical test to be carried out at his home. He was very grateful that the test was completed on a date and time convenient for him and that he could move on with the quiet enjoyment of his home.

3. A constituent complained about the quality of service and the manner in which he was spoken to during a telephone call to Jobcentre Plus’ call centre. I arranged for the call to be listened to by senior management. It was agreed that the agent had been rude and acknowledged that the agent should have dealt with the matter in a more professional manner. An apology to my constituent was arranged, and a reconsideration on my constituent’s disallowance for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) was revised in his favour, and arrears of benefit were paid to him. 

4. A constituent contacted me regarding her son, who suffers from severe multiple sclerosis (MS). Her son was looking for accommodation, and had been offered a bungalow by the Council.  However, this bungalow was in Jarrow and it was difficult for my constituent to visit her son there. I arranged for a his case to be reviewed and a bungalow was identified nearer to her. He is now happily resettled.  His mother wrote: “I would like to take this time to give you a massive thank you for taking the time to write on my son’s behalf. We are so happy that he has been offered the bungalow and they are going to adapt it to his needs. He will be beside his family. Thank you so much.”

If you have an issue you think I may be able to provide help with, you can either write to me at emma.lewell-buck.mp@parliament.uk or visit one of my fortnightly surgeries.  My next surgery is on Friday 4th April, and future dates can be found on my calendar page. To arrange an appointment, please contact my office on 0191 427 1240.

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Emma demands answers on WaterSure scheme

At Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions on Thursday Emma asked Secretary of State Owen Paterson to explain why the Government had not taken action to promote WaterSure, a scheme which allows some of the most vulnerable low income households to have their water bills capped.

WaterSure is available to people with three or more children living at home or who have specific medical conditions that require them to use extra water, and who claim certain income-related benefits.  Households who qualify for WaterSure will have their bills capped at the average for their area.  For constituents who believe they may be eligible for WaterSure, the water regulator Ofwat publishes full advice on its website.

At the moment just one third of households who qualify are taking advantage of the scheme.  Labour tabled amendments to the Water Bill which would have required companies to display information about WaterSure prominently on their bills.

Emma asked the Secretary of State:

The WaterSure scheme helps vulnerable households to pay their water bills, so will the Minister explain why he did not support Labour’s amendments to the Water Bill, which would have made information about WaterSure prominent on customers’ bills?”

The Secretary of State said that this should be left for companies to decide, and that “there is already a huge amount of information on bills, and there is a limit to the amount of information that can be given on one particular document.”

But as Emma pointed out, the low take-up rate of WaterSure suggests that many people are not aware of the scheme, meaning many vulnerable people are missing out on vital support.  You can read Emma’s question on the official record by clicking here.

The cost of water has risen significantly in recent years -  over 2 million UK households now spend more than 5% of their income on water.  During parliamentary debates on the Water Bill, Emma spoke in favour of Labour’s plans for a National Affordability Scheme to bring costs down for the poorest customers. Unfortunately this call was rejected by the Coalition.

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