A number of local residents have raised their concerns about people rough sleeping during this exceptionally cold spell, and of course amidst the pandemic.
Like many, I believe the Government’s delay in housing rough sleepers during this third lockdown was completely irresponsible and lacked basic human compassion. In London alone, the Office for National Statistics estimates that 1 in 30 people have coronavirus, and we know that sleeping rough - without adequate shelter or access to basic hygiene facilities - leaves people more exposed to the virus.
Today, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick MP announced that councils will collectively receive an additional £10 million in funding to house those currently sleeping rough, as well as an extension to the ban on bailiff evictions. Whilst I welcome this much-needed funding, this money will not help get everyone off the streets, and the ban on bailiffs fails to sufficiently protect renters.
Many residents have contacted me with concerns for those who are sleeping rough outside Tooting Broadway tube station, Buzz Bingo and Sainsbury's. I want to reassure residents that I have recently written to the Head of Wandsworth Neighbourhood Policing Team to ensure these people are supported in the best way possible.
Beyond the coronavirus emergency, there can be no return to business as usual. It is paramount that Ministers end rough sleeping for good. In a country as well-off as ours, we need to ensure that everyone has the right to a safe place to live.
Throughout the ongoing pandemic I have been inundated with emails from parents, school staff, students, and residents alike who have taken the time to outline their views on school closures. Some are concerned about safety, with many teachers and students facing the very real and grave possibility of bringing the virus home to vulnerable family members. Some are concerned about the impact a further lockdown could have on children's wellbeing and their education. And some are concerned about the challenges school closures will cause for working families.
As I am sure you will agree, the current situation is incredibly serious. This virus is spreading exponentially across the country, many people are in hospital, and too many people are tragically losing their loved ones.
We know how difficult another lockdown will be, but I believe that national measures are necessary.
As the Shadow Minister for Mental Health and a working mother, it is safe to say the impact of extended school closures on children’s well-being and working families cannot be overstated. This is why Labour called on Government to do everything possible to avoid it.
Boris Johnson must immediately set out clear plans for every child to return safely to school as soon as possible - and be honest with parents about the timetable for this.
It is also critical that young people’s education is safeguarded throughout this period of remote learning, and every student must have access to the devices they need to learn. Schools and families can request free mobile data increases for students without broadband or who cannot afford extra data for devices. More information on this scheme can be found here: https://get-help-with-tech.education.gov.uk/about-increasing-mobile-data.
It is vital the Government prevent disadvantaged families being priced out of education.
As many families will agree, working parents face huge challenges in balancing work, childcare, and supporting their child’s education. They must have the support they need to do this. Nobody should have to choose between their job and supporting their children, so the Government - and employers - must clearly promote the use of the job retention scheme for those unable to work due to family commitments.
Please rest assured that myself and Labour Party colleagues will continue to hold the Government to account on these issues as we all navigate the ongoing pandemic.
With the Officer for National Statistics estimating that 1 in 30 Londoners now have coronavirus, and the Mayor of London declaring a major incident across all London hospitals, the ongoing situation could not be more serious. NHS services in the capital are at risk of becoming overwhelmed in just a matter of days.
Working as a doctor in St George’s A&E department, I understand how emotionally drained healthcare workers are feeling. Indeed, ‘overwhelmed’ was the word used by nurses, consultants and registrars at our local hospital in Tooting when they were interviewed for a special report by the BBC, with one senior staff nurse saying she has “never felt so demoralised in her life.”
The report conducted by BBC London's Political Correspondent, Karl Mercer, showed the heartbreaking situation in high dependency units at St George’s. The hospital has now had to increase intensive care capacity from 60 to 120, the vast majority of which are for coronavirus patients. Wandsworth alone recorded a further 2394 cases this week – the 13th highest in London.
Whilst better times are on the horizon with the recent announcement of the approved Moderna vaccine, I can only implore residents to continue to follow latest public health advice on the virus to ensure we can protect as many lives as possible.
On behalf of all my colleagues working on the frontline, please stay at home.
The ongoing pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we live our lives, and it is understandable that this will have an impact on our mental health.
As we enter a national lockdown, it is vital that we all take care of our mental health. There are many brilliant services available to offer advice and support, and there is never any shame in asking for help.
If you are facing a mental health crisis, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123, any time, day or night. If you are not comfortable speaking over the phone, you can also text SHOUT to 85258. They also have an advice page offering tips on how to take care of your mental health during the pandemic.
If you are aged between 13-25, you can call The Mix on 0808 808 4994, with any question. They will connect you with experts and peers who will give you the support and advice you need. You can also phone Childline on 0800 1111, or speak directly to a counsellor here.
For the LGBT+ community, you can call Switchboard on 0300 330 0630 or email email@example.com. All phone operators identify as LGBT+. Stonewall are also available on 08000 50 2020 for advice on a range of issues.
If you are facing domestic abuse, you can call Refuge on 0808 2000 247, or access their online chat feature here. Women’s Aid live chat feature is also open here. Both of these websites have an option to quickly exit their sites and wipe them from your browser history.
I am aware that many local residents are concerned about the proposed Tooting Triangle development. Plans to upgrade the site’s facilities and amenities – replacing the artificial football pitch with a modern surface, and building new changing rooms, public toilets, a children’s play area, and a café – are welcome. However, the proposal to fund the improvements via a 25-year lease of the new facilities to TFL Leisure – a private company – is more controversial.
The fence set to be constructed around the new football pitch, and the lack of clarity as to whether the upgraded children’s Stay & Play facility will remain free to use, have prompted concerns that the development will put public land behind a literal paywall. I am sure you will agree that if the recent lockdowns have taught us anything, it is that there is a need for more publicly accessible green spaces – not less.
As it stands, the proposed development would see a reduction in the area available to the Balham Boxing Club compared with their current provision. Issues have also been raised regarding the smaller size of the female changing rooms compared to the men's, and the impact floodlighting could have on the Triangle’s resident bat population, among other things.
I understand that discussions on the proposed development are ongoing.
Please be assured that I am keeping a close eye on this evolving situation - we all want what's best for our local community.
I have written to the Housing Secretary to outline residents concerns about EWS1 forms and cladding.
The latest NHS data shows that from July to September this year the number of urgent referrals for children and young people suffering with eating disorders has almost doubled from the same period in 2019.
On 9 December, Alex Norris MP and I spoke with Dr Agnes Ayton, Chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Eating Disorder Faculty, mental health campaigner Hope Virgo, the Centre for Mental Health, Beat and Young Minds UK to discuss eating disorders and explore ways to alleviate them.
We urgently need a public mental health strategy which supports people with eating disorders. Christmas can be an especially difficult period, and it is vital that we remain sensitive to the fact that the focus on food and indulgence can cause individuals suffering with eating disorders real distress.
Young people struggling with their mental health need urgent support. Please rest assured that I will continue to press the Government for it.
I look forward to the New Year, where I will be looking to engage further with the sector as well as individuals with lived experience of eating disorders.
A number of local residents have reached out to ask me why my name was not included in a letter signed by 61 out of 650 MPs about the very concerning deportation flight to Jamaica. I wanted to explain how the process works.
Firstly, let me say that this was an incredibly serious matter, which is why I was pleased to see my colleague, Holly Lynch MP, the Shadow Immigration Minister, send an urgent letter to the Government raising concerns. I added my voice to her letter by writing to Priti Patel myself - requesting that the points Holly Lynch raised were answered urgently. A copy of that letter is below:
As a member of the Labour Shadow Cabinet, my role is to intervene in matters related to mental health (because I am the Shadow Minister for Mental Health). Members of the Shadow Cabinet do not speak in debates, sign letters, sign EDMs or intervene in matters which are not related to their role. This rule has been in place for as long as I know, it was the same when Jeremy Corbyn was leader.
I have noticed that my name was put on a list along with 12 colleagues, suggesting we were the only people not to sign this letter. No member of the Labour Shadow Cabinet signed the letter, indeed, almost three quarters of Labour MPs didn't sign the letter. Does that mean that they don't care? No, of course not. Sometimes they miss the deadline to sign, sometimes they can't sign, sometimes they make representations in different ways. It's very disappointing that some would single out me and 12 other colleagues, suggesting we were the only ones not to sign - simply to fit their political agenda.
My background has seen me work in war torn countries, disaster zones and refugee camps helping the world's most marginalised and vulnerable people. I always care deeply about these issues and to suggest otherwise is incorrect. I'll continue to liaise with my colleagues in the Home Affairs team with regards to this, and other important issues.
The creation of EWS1 forms and concerns about cladding are issues I know a lot of Tooting residents are facing.
Everyone deserves the safety and security of home and I am shocked that so many local residents have found themselves in this situation.
Following discussions with local people, I have written to the Financial Conduct Authority, Aviva, the National Housing and Building Council and the Shadow Secretary of State for Housing. You can see these letters below.
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