Weekly update - 7 November

Hammering Philip Hammond

I was furious when the Chancellor’s Budget completely failed to mention climate change – just weeks after the world’s top scientists warned we’ve got 12 years to avoid catastrophe.

When I tried to voice my anger in Parliament, the Deputy Speaker cut me off – but I wrote for the Metro and the Guardian, and appeared on Politics Live to point out that this was the most nature-depleted Budget in decades. And I teamed up with cross-party MPs and environmental groups to write to the Prime Minister calling for urgent action to tackle climate breakdown.

Locally, I spoke to BBC Radio Sussex about how the Chancellor’s pittance for schools to buy 'little extras' was a slap in the face for headteachers in Brighton who can't cover the basic costs of educating our children. And how he once again ignored our struggling colleges.

His extra funding for Universal Credit, which has plunged thousands into financial difficulty across Brighton, doesn’t begin to repair the damage caused by yearly welfare payment freezes and austerity. So I was particularly disappointed to be among just 31 MPs who voted against simultaneous tax cuts for the wealthiest.

The only good news came for our city's vibrant small firms with the drop in business rates I’ve long campaigned for.

This Budget wrote off our children's futures while making no tangible difference to people's lives in Brighton. Philip Hammond won't be forgiven, and I won’t stop fighting until our futures are secure.


Demanding answers on housing

Earlier this year, Brighton and Hove City Council said its night shelter for people forced to sleep rough would open from 2 November until the 20 March.

As 2 November approached with no sign the shelter was about to open, I became increasingly concerned that, like last year, this vital support would be delayed.

I wrote to the Council and was disappointed to learn the shelter isn’t set to open until 30 November – far too late.

The Council has a responsibility to direct government funding to target rough sleeping, and it’s crucial we work across party lines to help the dozens of people who sleep on Brighton’s streets.

I am now waiting to hear about what barriers the Council faces in getting the night shelter up and running. If service pressures play a part, leading councillors should be communicating that to the city's MPs so we can call on the Government for more support.

Meanwhile, those families housed in emergency accommodation are also struggling. At Windsor Court – a dark, damp, seven-storey building the Council leases from a private landlord for people it has a legal duty to house – the lift has been left broken for months.

It's shocking that those responsible have failed to get it fixed – but even worse, when I wrote to the Council I was told it doesn't have the capacity to check on vulnerable residents who may be struggling without it.

I'm aware resources are tight, but the Council cannot keep housing people in these depressing and potentially dangerous conditions. I’m calling on the Chief Executive and the Chair of the Housing and New Homes Committee to urgently explore options to invest in building and buying new emergency accommodation, instead of wasting public money on Windsor Court.


Protecting families from Universal Credit

I recently heard from constituents and local disability charity Contact about how 100,000 families with disabled children will be worse off by more than £1,750 per year as a result of the 50 per cent cut to the child disability payment under Universal Credit.

I tabled an Early Day Motion to urgently call on the Government to stop the £175 million cut when Universal Credit is introduced.

This cruel cut will have a devastating impact on families with disabled children who are already struggling to afford basics like food and heating and is likely to result in increased debt, stress and ill health. It’s vital ministers reverse it.


Getting children back outside

Last week I met Environment Secretary Michael Gove with writer and producer Mary Colwell, to discuss our idea of introducing a Natural History GCSE designed to get children back outside produce environmental leaders for the future.

Mary and I wrote for the Times ahead of our meeting, explaining how education can help to address the nature deficit disorder children are experiencing as they grow up indoors, and give them the tools they need to reverse the disturbing declines we’re seeing in once-common wildlife.


Giving women the right to choose

Women in Northern Ireland still face life imprisonment for getting an abortion. The archaic law preventing them from accessing healthcare and making decisions over their own bodies has been repeatedly labelled a grave violation of human rights.

As we approach two years without a functioning devolved Northern Irish government, it’s about time the UK Government acted to correct this injustice.

I co-sponsored a Private Member’s Bill that would give Northern Irish women the same rights to access abortion services as those in the rest of the UK – and it was fantastic to see MPs overwhelmingly support it. I’ll keep championing this change in the law until all women in the UK have the right to choose.


Saving solar

Towards the end of October I met with campaigners working to protect support for solar energy.

The Government recently announced plans to axe the ‘export tariff’ for new solar installations – which provides a fair payment for the extra clean power homes and businesses with solar panels send to the National Grid.

If these plans go through, householders, schools, churches and other public buildings generating their own green energy will be forced to effectively donate the excess clean electricity they generate to big energy companies for free.

With three out of five people in the UK wanting to install solar panels, this is a bizarre plan. I’m calling on the Energy Minister Claire Perry to bring government policy in line with the public’s desire for clean energy at a fair price.


Ending arms sales

Saudi Arabia is responsible for appalling war crimes against the people of Yemen – where 14 million people are now at serious risk of famine. Our biggest customer for weapons sales has used British-made bombs to kill innocent civilians on a devastating scale.

International condemnation of Saudi Arabia is now impossible to ignore after journalist Jamal Khashoggi died at its consulate in Istanbul – yet the UK Government is still failing to take strong action.

I signed a letter to Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt with representatives from Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru calling on him to end weapons sales to Saudi Arabia now.


Supporting disabled people

The Government’s harsh cuts and poorly-planned changes to disability benefits have had serious impacts on people’s lives in Brighton.

Local charity Possability People deals with more than 400 enquiries each month – 80 per cent of which are about welfare benefits. They’ve found changes to the welfare system directly affect people’s health and wellbeing, and in turn increase pressure on health services.

I set up a meeting between Possability People, Brighton’s Money Advice Plus and the Minister for Disabled People, Sarah Newton MP, to urge her to fix this broken system and give disabled people the support they need.


Challenging unlabelled adverts

I recently complained to the Advertising Standards Authority after the London Evening Standard printed an article sponsored by Uber without making clear that it was an advert.

Even worse, the piece was an exercise in green-washing the corporation – and after Open Democracy reported on the misleading article, the Standard added a sentence to the online version in a pathetic attempt to cover its back.

Newspapers have a crucial role to play in holding big business and those in power to account. In an age of fake news, journalistic integrity is more important than ever, and deals like this only undermine the public's already wavering trust.

The Advertising Standards Authority must urgently investigate and send a signal that the media must make clear the difference between paid-for content and independent journalism.

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