Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Covid-19 Testing for NHS Staff
"Thank you for contacting me about the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) to people working in health and social care and testing for the Coronavirus.
I would like to reassure you that ensuring our frontline staff are properly protected is of paramount importance to me, and to my colleagues on all sides of Parliament. I have been pleased to learn that the army has been working to distribute supply of the equipment despite the worldwide shortage. Having raised this matter with the department, I know that my colleague the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is taking this issue extremely seriously. However, I will continue continue to closely scrutinise steps being taken to ensure that all health and social care staff, whether they work in the NHS or other care facilities, are adequately protected and able to carry out their vital roles safely.
I agree that it vital there is access to testing where it is needed the most. I know that the Government has said that it is aiming to get to a point where everybody who wants to get tested is able to get tested, but that at the moment tests are reserved for patients, especially those in intensive care. The Government has committed to testing 25,000 people each day within four weeks. I have asked colleagues whether this can go further but recognise that it is vital we get testing right; no test is better than a bad test.
It is only right that NHS staff will be first in line for a new coronavirus (COVID-19) testing programme being developed in collaboration with government and industry. This new service, which will be free, will help end the uncertainty of whether NHS staff need to stay at home. Those who test negative for coronavirus will be able to return to work - enhancing the capacity of the NHS and social care to treat patients and care for those in community settings, with plans for a full roll-out for health, social care and other frontline workers."
Support for the Self-Employed during the Covid-19 Outbreak
"Thank you for contacting me regarding support for the self-employed.
Today, the Chancellor has announced the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. The Government will pay self-employed people across the whole UK who have been adversely affected by Coronavirus a taxable grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits over the last three years, up to £2,500 per month, for an initial period of three months.
For those who do not have three years of returns, HMRC will look at what you do have. The scheme will be open to those with trading profits up to £50,000. HMRC estimate that the scheme will cover 95% of self-employed, the scheme has proven difficult to put together because of the diverse range of self-employment. HMRC will also ask people to demonstrate that the majority of their income comes from self-employment, and to those who are already in self-employment and who have a tax return for 2019.
Self-employed people who are eligible will be contacted by HMRC directly and then asked to fill out a simple online form, and HMRC will pay the grant directly into their bank account.
HMRC are working day and night to get this scheme up and running as soon as possible. The Self-Employed Income Support Scheme also allows late tax filers a month to get their 2018-19 tax returns in over the next four weeks. For more information on this and other support available to help businesses through this difficult time, please contact: https://www.businesssupport.gov.uk/."
Sanctions on Iran and the Coronavirus
"Thank you for contacting me about sanctions on Iran and coronavirus.
The UK is working with the international community to ensure Iran receives the humanitarian support it needs during this global pandemic.
The UK, alongside its E3 partners (France and Germany) is offering Iran a comprehensive package of support to stem the rapid spread of coronavirus, including equipment for laboratory tests and protective body suits and gloves, as well as financial support.
The UK, France and Germany have also committed to provide a further €5 million to tackle the covid-19 epidemic in Iran, through the World Heath Organisation or other UN agencies.
I hope this reassures you that Iran is receiving the humanitarian support it needs, despite economic sanctions."
"Support Animal Sentience and a Ban on Cages" Campaign
"Thank you for contacting me about the welfare of farm animals.
I understand your concerns on this matter. I am proud that the UK has some of the highest standards of animal welfare in the world. There is comprehensive legislation to uphold these standards, as well as guidance on how best to protect the welfare of specific animals living on farms, such as hens, pigs and cattle. The Government has already banned cages or close confinement systems where there is clear scientific evidence that they are detrimental to animal health and welfare.
The new statutory Code of Practice for the Welfare of Laying Hens and Pullets came into force in August 2018. The Code provides improved guidance on welfare legislation and reflects the latest scientific and veterinary advice. I am also aware that all major supermarkets have said they will stop selling eggs from hens kept in enriched cages by 2025.
On pig welfare, the aim is to get to a point where traditional farrowing crates are obsolete and where any new system protects the welfare of the sow, as well as her piglets. I understand that important steps have been made on the use of free farrowing systems, but further advances are needed before compulsory replacement of farrowing crates can be recommended.
The Government is committed in making the UK a world leader in protection of animals no we have left the EU. This includes increasing maximum penalties for animal cruelty from six months’ to five years’ imprisonment and an update of statutory welfare codes. These codes strengthen guidance on how to meet the needs of livestock animals and enhance their welfare."
School Uniform Costs
"Thank you for contacting me about school uniform.
Ultimately it is for the school’s governing body to decide whether there should be a school uniform in place. However, I know that colleagues in the Department for Education strongly encourage schools to have a uniform as it can play a valuable role in contributing to the ethos of a school and setting an appropriate tone. Schools are expected to consult with parents and pupils, and take their views into account when setting the school uniform policy.
School uniforms should always be affordable and should not leave pupils or their families feeling that they cannot apply to a particular school. The Department for Education’s guidance makes clear that schools’ governing bodies should give cost considerations the highest priority and ensure value for money for parents when setting their uniform policy. I know that Ministers have been looking for an opportunity to put this guidance on to a statutory footing. Accordingly, the Government supported a Private Member's Bill on this topic on 13 March.
Schools are expected to fulfil their duties under equalities legislation and be willing to consider reasonable requests to vary their uniform policy to accommodate an individual pupil’s beliefs, disability, or other special consideration. I would strongly encourage any parent concerned about the uniform policy at their child's school to discuss this with the headteacher in the first instance."
Extreme Abortion Framework & Northern Ireland
"Thank you for contacting me about abortion in Northern Ireland.
I am pleased that the Government recognises the sensitivity of this issue and the range of views expressed by people on all sides of the debate. It is a highly sensitive issue, regardless of where your view lies and one where it is important that the matter is considered with due care and sensitivity. The strength of feeling from MPs was clearly demonstrated during the votes on the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation & Exercise of Functions) Act 2019.
The Government is working towards the laying of regulations for a new legal framework for the provision of abortion services in Northern Ireland, as required by the 2019 Act. The new framework will be in force by 31 March 2020.
To help inform the shape of the legislation that is introduced, a consultation was held. This has now closed, and the Government is due to publish its response shortly. I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to ensure that the health and safety of women and girls, and clarity and certainty for the medical profession, are at the forefront of their considerations."
The Agriculture Bill & Food Safety Standards
"Thank you for contacting me about food safety standards and the Agriculture Bill.
I am told that the Government is currently reflecting on concerns about the Bill raised during Committee Stage, as well as those raised by colleagues and interested parties. I look forward to the Bill coming back to the House, at which point I will have the opportunity to vote on any amendments brought forward there. However,
It is absolutely vital that people across the UK have confidence in the food they eat. I therefore welcome the Government’s very clear commitment that any future trade agreements must uphold the UK’s high levels of food safety, animal welfare standards, and environmental protection. I am also aware that the EU Withdrawal Act transferred all existing EU food safety provisions onto the UK statute book, and Ministers have made clear these standards will not be watered down in pursuit of any trade deal now that the UK last left the EU.
Public consultations will be run ahead of any negotiations for new trade agreements, while any final agreement will be scrutinised and ratified by Parliament. These measures will ensure that both Parliament and the public can have their say on the content of any potential new trade agreements, including in the area of food standards. I am aware consultations have already taken place in the US, New Zealand and Australia, as well as with the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
I am encouraged by the Government’s commitment to uphold our high food standards, ensuring we will all continue to have confidence in the food we eat."
Israel Apartheid Week
"Thank you for contacting me about Israel Apartheid Week campaigns and anti-Semitism on campus.
Free speech is vital to the independence and innovation that embodies higher education, but no student should face discrimination, harassment or racism, including anti-Semitism. I am assured that the Government is committed to addressing anti-Semitism wherever it occurs and I am encouraged that the UK became the first country to formally adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.
Ministers have called on all higher education institutions to accept the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism, which is a tool to help front-line services better understand and recognise instances of anti-Semitism. I believe this would send a clear message that anti-Semitic behaviour will not be tolerated and will be taken seriously by higher education providers.
All universities and higher education institutions have a responsibility to provide a safe and inclusive environment and have a responsibility to ensure students do not face discrimination, harassment, abuse or violence. Universities are expected to have robust policies and procedures in place to comply with the law, and to investigate and swiftly address any hate crime and anti-Semitic incidents that are reported.
I am encouraged that progress has been made in implementing the recommendations of the Universities UK Taskforce which considered how harassment, hate crime and religious intolerance can be combatted on campus. Indeed, I welcome that this work has been supported by £4.7 million of investment in 119 projects by the Office for Students and its predecessor. These projects are addressing online harassment, hate crime and religious intolerance.
More broadly, Ministers have provided over £144,000 for a programme to support universities in tackling anti-Semitism on campus, delivered by the Holocaust Education Trust, in partnership with the Union of Jewish Students."
"Thank you for contacting me about the Independent Press Standards Organisation’s (IPSO) approach to discrimination in the press.
There is no place for hate speech anywhere in society. While freedom of speech is a vital cornerstone of our society, everybody has a responsibility not to spread hatred or fear. The press is subject to independent self-regulation, primarily through IPSO and Impress. These regulators issue their own codes of conduct. These aside, incitement to hatred is a criminal offence. If IPSO believes that an article has broken the law in this way, it will report it to the police.
IPSO’s Editors’ Code of Practice states clearly that the press should avoid making discriminatory references to an individual's race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical and mental illness or disability. In general, complaints can only be taken forward from the party directly affected, because it might involve sensitive information about that person, or it might not be able to be investigated properly without their input. In certain cases, where there is sufficient public interest, IPSO can also take complaints from representative groups affected by an alleged breach.
These are difficult issues. The media must have the freedom to ask uncomfortable questions and challenge the actions and opinions of specific groups; but it is right that we challenge harmful narratives when we see them. In an update to the Hate Crime Action Plan last year the Government set out how harmful narratives need to be challenged before they develop into hatred.
Given the media’s role in influencing wider society, the Government is working with the Society of Editors, the Media Trust and IPSO to update the ‘Reporting Diversity’ guide, which helps journalists to report issues relating to different communities without causing offence."
Joint Replacement Waiting Times
"Thank you for contacting me regarding NHS waiting time targets, and in particular the wait for joint replacement surgery.
NHS waiting time commitments are set out in the NHS Constitution. This sets out patients’ right to a maximum 18 week waiting time from referral to consultant-led treatment (RTT) for non-urgent conditions, with a target that this is achieved for 92% of patients.
In 2018, at the request of the Prime Minister, NHS England carried out a clinical review of standards across the NHS to determine whether it would benefit patients to update and supplement some of the older targets currently in use. The interim report was published in March 2019 – the Clinically-led Review of NHS Access Standards. It recommends changes to current NHS waiting times, with the aim of achieving the following:
• First, the NHS will be rolling out short waits for a far wider range of important clinical services. Patients will now benefit from newly established standards covering areas such as mental health and community health services that previously have been neglected.
• Second, greater emphasis will be given to standards that help improve clinical quality and outcomes - such as earlier diagnosis of cancer and faster assessment and treatment for major emergencies such as heart attacks, stroke and sepsis. To be clear: we are not proposing that new standards should require non-urgent patients to wait longer than they do now. But we do believe there should be focused effort on further improving and speeding up care for the most urgent conditions.
• Third, we want to lock-in short waits for A&E and planned surgery. To help incentivise that we need to track the whole wait experienced by every patient. The current A&E and elective care targets do not do that. For example, they do not distinguish between the hospital where 10% of its patients wait five hours to complete their A&E treatment versus the hospital where 10% of its patients wait eleven hours
• Fourth, the new standards will help, rather than penalise, hospitals who modernise their care. For example, if a GP is able to discuss a patient’s diagnosis directly with a hospital specialist, so that the patient doesn’t have to travel to a hospital outpatient appointment, that actually makes the hospital’s waiting time statistics look worse given the way the statistics are currently calculated.
With regards to the 18-week RTT, the review proposes two options:
• Defined number of maximum weeks wait for incomplete pathways, with a percentage threshold. This replicates the current model of an 18-week maximum wait, with a target that this is achieved for 92% of patients – but the NHS will be testing whether these numbers are appropriate.
• Average wait target for incomplete pathways. The NHS says that introducing an average waiting target, rather than communicating to patients an upper most length of time that they could wait, may better reflect how long they are actually going to wait.
With regards to average waits, the review said:
‘The current target can also be misleading to patients, who may believe that the majority of people will have to wait as long as 18 weeks for their treatment. In fact, the majority will wait fewer than eight weeks, and even accounting for the long-waiters, the average (mean) wait is fewer than 10 weeks.’
At this stage it is not clear whether varying standards for different areas of care will be introduced – this will be examined during the testing phase. The proposals also shift the responsibility from the patient to the NHS to make alternative arrangements for people who have been waiting a long time (26 weeks and over). Additionally, commissioners now will have the same incentives as providers to secure treatment for the patients they are responsible for and who have waited over 52 weeks.
The NHS has committed to field testing and extensive engagement across the wider health service, ahead of presenting the evidence and making final recommendations to Government, and full implementation beginning spring 2020.
I hope you find this information helpful. ."
Affordable & Social Housing
"Thank you for contacting me about social housing and the housing market.
I am fully committed to supporting the social rented sector and its 4 million households. Over 1.5 million new homes have been delivered in the last decade including almost 500,000 affordable homes and over 300,000 homes for social rent.
I agree that more funding is needed to build social housing and that barriers to development must be addressed. The £9 billion Affordable Homes programme will help deliver more affordable housing and socially rented homes.
However, funding alone will not solve the problem, which is why I welcome action to make the development system simpler and more robust. A new Housing Infrastructure Fund will be established to unlock more homes by putting in place vital infrastructure in high-demand areas.
I agree that more needs to be done to improve housebuilding, which is why I welcome that the recent Spending Review promised continued support through Help to Buy loans and other housing programmes to deliver more homes where people need them."
Dementia Care Funding
"Thank you for contacting me about dementia care. This is an important issue and a personal one as my own mother died suffering with dementia.
I can assure you that dementia is a priority for the Government. In 2015, the Challenge on Dementia 2020 was launched and I know that the Government remains committed to delivering this. This sets out the vision for dementia care, support, awareness, and research to be transformed by 2020. I fully support the ambition to ensure England offers the world’s best dementia care.
Progress in the care, support and treatment of people with dementia has been made, with more people receiving a diagnosis of dementia than ever before. Over 660,000 NHS staff have received dementia training with further training opportunities rolled out to all NHS staff by the end of 2018. Over 100,000 social care workers have received some form of dementia awareness training. Since 2015, new care staff have been trained to receive the Care Certificate, which equips them with the knowledge and skills to provide safe and compassionate care, including for those with dementia.
I believe it is important to increase public awareness and understanding of dementia among the wider public to ensure that people are supported to live well with the condition and I am encouraged that there are almost 2.5 million Dementia Friends.
Research is crucial to understanding and tackling dementia, which is why the Government has doubled research spending on dementia and remains committed to maintaining the current expenditure on dementia research of at least £60 million a year through to 2020. I am encouraged that over £83 million was spent on dementia research by the Government in 2016/17, the latest year for which figures are available, well in excess of the £60 million target.
The Government is integrating and improving health and social care to protect people at every stage of their lives. I am informed that the Government is committed to publishing a Green Paper this year, which will outline a new social care policy, which is financially sustainable, accessible, and properly integrated with the NHS."
Hunger & Homelessness
"Thank you for contacting me about homelessness.
I firmly believe that just one person without a roof over their head is one too many, and it is vitally important that the most vulnerable people in society, including homeless people and rough sleepers, are helped to get their lives back on track. That is why I am pleased that £263 million was announced in December for 2020-21 to help local authorities tackle homelessness in our communities.
Between 2010 and mid-2018, there have been over 1.6 million cases of homelessness prevention and relief across England. While this is welcome progress, there is much more to be done, which is why I am glad that over £400 million in additional funding was announced this September toward tackling homelessness and rough sleeping.
I am glad that £112 million has been announced for the Rough Sleeping Initiative to provide 6,000 beds in 270 areas across England in 2020-21. A recent study showed that in 2018 alone, the Initiative helped reduce the number of rough sleepers by over a third in funded areas. The Initiative complements the £28 million Housing First pilots which are supporting the most entrenched rough sleepers off the streets by providing them with stable accommodation and intensive wrap-around support.
I am confident that these measures will reduce homelessness not only in Finchley and Golders Green, but across our country and help to achieve the aim of ending rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament."
Hospital Parking Charges
"Thank you for contacting me about hospital parking charges.
I agree with you that patients and their families should not have to deal with the added stress of unfair parking charges at what may already be an extremely difficult time. That is why I am pleased that the Government is taking steps to make parking free for those in greatest need, including disabled people, frequent outpatient attenders, parents of sick children staying overnight and staff working night shifts. This will eliminate costs for those in need while making sure there are enough spaces for everyone.
I understand that, following publication of Department of Health and Social Care guidelines for managing parking, NHS trusts were encouraged to consider concessions for other groups, like volunteers and staff who car share, as well as establishing 'pay on exit' schemes to ensure that drivers only pay for the time that they have used. NHS trusts are required to publish their parking policy, implementation of NHS car parking principles and financial information relating to their car parking to ensure that patients are able to hold them to account."
NHS and Trade Deals
"Thank you for contacting me about the NHS and international trade.
Like you, I cherish our National Health Service and its guiding principles: that it is universal and free at the point of need. The Government has been repeatedly clear that our NHS will never be on the table in any trade agreements, a position I fully support.
Free trade is a driver of economic growth which can raise incomes, create jobs, and lift people out of poverty, which is why I am glad that outside of the EU the UK will be able to strike new trade agreements with countries across the globe. But more trade should not come at the expense of the high levels of quality and protection enjoyed in our country.
The UK will continue to ensure that the NHS is protected in all trade agreements it is party to, whether transitioned from an EU context or as a result of new negotiations. Indeed, outside of the EU, rigorous protections for our NHS will be maintained and included in any future trade agreement to which our country is party.
I hope this reassures you that all future trade agreements will continue to protect our vital NHS."
Primary School Assessments (Tests for Four and Five Year Olds)
"Thank you for contacting me about statutory assessments in primary schools.
Primary education is fundamental to ensuring every child receives the best possible start in life. The primary assessment and accountability system plays an important role in ensuring that every child, no matter what their background or where they go to school, benefits from a high-quality primary education. These assessments help ensure great schools are recognised and help to improve those that can learn from others.
The reception baseline assessment (RBA) will be used to inform the way the Department for Education measures the educational progress that primary schools help their pupils to make. The RBA is not a test. It is a short, teacher-led assessment of children’s communication, language, literacy and early mathematics skills. No preparation will be required, either at home or at school. It will enable the Department for Education to develop improved progress measures which will take into account the work that primary schools do with their pupils in the reception year and throughout the first two years of schooling. Data from the assessment will only be used once children reach the end of primary school, and will not be used to judge, track or label individual pupils.
It is important to note that this assessment will replace existing end-of-key stage 1 tests, which will be made non-mandatory once the new reception baseline has become established."
"Thank you for contacting me about No. 10 media briefings.
A free and vibrant press is at the heart of any thriving democracy and accredited lobby journalists are an essential and highly-respected part of our parliamentary community.
As I understand it, lobby briefings typically take place twice a day. All journalists with a Press Gallery pass are able to attend those briefings and to question the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson however they wish.
It is also standard practice for additional technical or specialist briefings to be hosted by the Government, as I understand was situation in the case you raise. That particular briefing was an additional briefing led by a special adviser in order to improve the understanding of the Government’s negotiating aims for the future relationship.
High-quality journalism is essential to hold those in positions of power to account and to shine a light on society’s important issues. I hope this reassures you that journalists are considered a vital part of our political system."
Trump's Middle East Peace Plan
"Thank you for contacting me about President Trump’s proposed Middle East Peace Plan.
The Government welcomes the release of the proposal by the United States for peace between Israel and Palestine, which clearly reflects extensive investment in time and effort. A peace agreement between Israeli and Palestinian people that leads to peaceful co-existence could unlock the potential of the entire region and provide both sides with the opportunity for a brighter future.
The UK’s position has not changed. Our view remains that the best way to achieve peace is through substantive peace talks between the parties, leading to a safe and secure Israel that lives alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state.
That said, this is not our plan. However, right now we have a vacuum in which there is no negotiation. The UK wants to see a return to negotiation, and we need something that will get us going in that respect. If this plan enables negotiation between the parties, then that would be welcomed. Clearly, this has not been negotiated, so those who suggest that it is in some way a final settlement is way far of the mark. This clearly must be the subject of a great deal of further work
We encourage all parties to give the latest plan genuine and fair consideration, and to explore whether it might prove a first step on the road back to negotiations."
Help Protect the Oceans
"Thank you for contacting me about the world’s oceans.
Oceans are currently facing unprecedented challenges, including climate change and over-fishing. It is more important than ever to take action to ensure our seas are healthy, abundant and resilient.
I am encouraged that the UK is on course to protect over half of its waters and I join Greenpeace in calling for the UK and other countries to work together towards a new global commitment for a UN high seas treaty. This would pave the way to protect at least 30 per cent of the world's ocean by 2030.
I am pleased that 41 new Marine Conservation Zones have recently been created. The UK now has 355 Marine Protected Areas of different types, spanning 220,000 square km. No new activities deemed damaging will be allowed to take place in these areas and existing harmful activities will be minimised or stopped to allow important habitats to recover. A review has now been launched into whether and how Highly Protected Marine Areas, the strongest form of marine protection, could be introduced in English seas.
I am also pleased that the UK is on track to protect 4 million square kilometres of ocean across our Overseas Territories by 2020, and is backing an Ascension Island bid to protect 100 per cent of its offshore waters.
The Government is working hard to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean and is leading global efforts to tackle the problem through support of the G7 Oceans Plastics Charter, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy and the Commonwealth Blue Charter. In April 2018, the UK launched the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance alongside Vanuatu, encouraging its 25 member countries to take steps to eliminate avoidable single-use plastics.
Finally, the forthcoming International Ocean Strategy will set out plans to work with international partners to secure a sustainable, prosperous and secure ocean future."
"Thank you for contacting me about smart motorways.
I do appreciate your concerns about smart motorways. It is essential that people feel safe and indeed are safe on smart motorways, and road safety remains an absolute priority for the Government.
Ministers recognise that there are issues with smart motorways around awareness, information, the positioning of refuges, as well as vehicle monitoring and the safety of vehicles re-entering the highway.
While work has already gone into remedying some of these issues, for example through the decision to reduce the spacing of emergency areas from one and a half miles to one mile, a wider range of actions needs to be taken.
I therefore welcome the fact that in October last year the Secretary of State for Transport asked officials to carry out an evidence stock take to gather facts on the safety of smart motorways and to make recommendations for a package of measures to deal with this issue.
Ministers have reassured me that this work is being undertaken at pace and that the results will be published very soon.
I hope this response has offered some reassurance, and I will continue to follow this matter closely."
Single Parent Families
"Thank you for contacting me about support for single parents.
It deeply concerns me to hear of single parents who are struggling in our society, and I agree that more can be done to support them.
Good quality childcare provision is vitally important for single parents. There is now more generous support available for parents who receive Universal Credit who can claim up to 85 per cent of childcare costs subject to a monthly cap.
I know that the Department for Education offers 15 hours' per week free childcare for all 3- and 4-year-olds, along with the additional 15 hours per week for working parents of 3- and 4-year-olds, which provides more secure employment, enhances career opportunities, and improves the work-life balance. The tax-free childcare scheme is also intended to support working parents with their childcare costs and parents who are eligible for both Universal Credit and Tax Free Childcare will have the freedom to choose which scheme best meets their needs. Universal Credit claimants may also be eligible for 15 hours per week of free childcare and early education for disadvantaged 2-year-old children. These offers mean that for some claimants’ childcare costs should not present any barriers to entering work.
Employers should do their best to create flexible working arrangements for those who are caring for children, and I am glad that the new Employment Bill will legislate to encourage flexible working, ensuring that both employers and employees get the maximum benefit.
Looking to the future I have spoken with colleagues about how we can best support the Employment Bill, which will protect and enhance worker’s rights, support flexible working for everybody, and establish a new £1 billion-pound fund to help create more quality childcare."
"Thank you for contacting me about the Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR).
I firmly believe that nobody should be without a roof over their head. That is why I welcome the Government’s commitment to end rough sleeping for good, with the aim of halving it by 2022.
Colleagues tell me that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has no plans at present to extend the exemption from the SAR to people aged under 25. I would note that there are already a number of exemptions to the SAR, such as for those with children or non-dependents, certain homeless people, those requiring overnight care, and those on the daily living component of a Personal Independence Payment. The DWP has also provided over £1 billion in Discretionary Housing Payment funding since 2011, enabling local authorities to protect the most vulnerable.
The cross-government Rough Sleeping Strategy was published set out an ambitious £100 million package to help people who sleep rough now, but also puts in place the structures that will end rough sleeping once and for all. In the recent Spending Round, the Chancellor committed £422 million in funding to help reduce homelessness and rough sleeping. I am pleased that £263 million was announced in December for 2020-21 to help local authorities tackle homelessness in our communities, coupled with an extra £112 million for the Rough Sleeping Initiative.
The Government launched the Rapid Rehousing Pathway to help rough sleepers and those at risk of rough sleeping. The Pathway includes Somewhere Safe to Stay Hubs, where people can shelter while their housing and support needs are assessed. The Pathway provides support to local lettings agencies to help rough sleepers into affordable settled accommodation.
I know this is not the answer you are hoping for, but I can assure you that action is being taken to tackle homelessness and I will continue to support improvements."
'Wild West Web' - NSPCC Campaign
"Thank you for contacting me about the NSPCC’s Wild West Web campaign.
The internet has become an integral part of our lives. Whilst being online can be a hugely positive experience for children, we have to be alive to the dangers. I believe it is vital that we do all we can to protect our children from the negative impacts the online world can have, so that we make the UK the safest place in the world to be online.
I know the Government fully recognises the importance of tackling online harms, including harmful content to children on the Internet. That is why the Online Harms White Paper, jointly published by the Home Office and DCMS in April 2019, sets out plans for world-leading legislation in this area.
As championed by the NSPCC, the Bill will establish a new duty of care on companies towards their users, which will be overseen by an independent regulator. This will make companies take more responsibility for the safety of their users and tackle harm caused by content or activity on their services. The regulator will have a suite of powers to take effective enforcement action against companies that have breached their statutory duty of care. The regulator will take a risk-based approach, prioritising action to tackle activity or content where there is the greatest evidence or threat of harm, or where children or other vulnerable users are at risk.
I also welcome that, as set out in the Online Harms White Paper, the Government will be developing an online media literacy strategy. This strategy will lead to a coordinated and strategic approach to online media literacy education and awareness for children, young people and adults. Online media and digital literacy can equip users with the skills they need to spot dangers online, critically appraise information and take steps to keep themselves and others safe online."
Animal Testing for Warfare
"Thank you for contacting me about animal testing for warfare.
The site of which this testing happens is at Porton Down. Subsequent work done by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) at Porton Down helps deliver the latest scientific and technological advantages for the UK’s defence and security. This includes the means to tackle chemical and biological attacks as well as injuries from conventional warfare. I know it is not the answer you were hoping to receive, but part of Dstl’s role is to find solutions to problems that unfortunately cannot currently be addressed without the use of animals in research. Animals are essential in supporting the scientific processes that save British lives at home and abroad. However, quite rightly, there are rules in place to make sure the testing of animals meets certain ethical standards.
Experimental procedures have to be in line with the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which aims to ensure the suffering of the animals is minimised. This legislation requires the Dstl to report to the Home Office how many animals are used in research every year. When research programmes are being planned, Dstl also follows the 3Rs principle to seek experimental procedures which either replace the use of animals, reduce the number of animals used, or refine how the animals are treated.
As necessary as animal testing is for scientific research, I am glad that Dstl has made significant efforts to keep its levels of animal testing under control, while still helping contribute to the security and defence capability of the UK. Animal testing by Dstl only makes up less than 0.5 per cent of the national total."
World Cancer Day
"Thank you very much for contacting me about improving outcomes for cancer sufferers.
Cancer is a priority for the Government and survival rates are at a record high. Since 2010 rates of survival from cancer have increased year-on-year. Around 7,000 people are alive today who would not have been had mortality rates stayed the same as then.
In October 2018 the Prime Minister announced measures that will be rolled out across the country with the aim of seeing three quarters of all cancers detected at an early stage by 2028 (currently just over half are detected at an early stage). The plan will overhaul screening programmes, provide new investment in state of the art technology to transform the process of diagnosis, and boost research and innovation. This is part of the NHS Long Term Plan, published in January 2019, and forms part of how the Government will achieve its ambition to see 55,000 more people surviving cancer for five years in England each year from 2028.
The 2015 Cancer Strategy for England, prepared by the independent Cancer Taskforce, set out a vision of what cancer patients should expect from the health service: effective prevention; prompt and effective diagnosis; informed choice and convenient care; access to the best effective treatments with minimal side-effects; always knowing what is going on and why; holistic support; and the best possible quality of life, including at the end of life.
NHS England has confirmed funding of over £600 million to support delivery of the Cancer Strategy for England. £200 million of this funding was used in 2017 and 2018 on a transformation fund for Cancer Alliances to encourage local areas to find new and innovative ways to diagnose cancer earlier, improve the care for those living with cancer and ensure each cancer patient gets the right care for them.
I congratulate Cancer Research UK on all campaigns to raise awareness of the importance of early diagnosis. I know that the NHS Long Term Plan focuses on the need for early and speedy diagnosis, to give patients the best chances of long term survival, and I wholeheartedly support this commitment.
I hope you join me in welcoming the announcement of an additional £33.9 billion investment in the NHS by 2023/24. This will significantly support its efforts to improve cancer services."
'Please support pubs and help cut beer duty' Campaign
"Thank you for contacting me about alcohol and beer duty.
In 2013, the Government took the decision to end the beer duty escalator, and beer duty has been frozen or cut several times since then. Duty on spirits has been frozen over the past two years. I have spoken with colleagues at the Treasury, who assure me that as a result of these changes, a typical pint is cheaper than it would have been had these measures not been introduced.
Following the announcement made in the Queen’s Speech that alcohol duty will be reviewed, I am confident that that the Government will continue to support pubs and will keep costs low for consumers. Any decision to modify alcohol duty is a matter for the Treasury. I have ensured my colleagues are aware of the points you raise and reminded them of the importance of local pubs in our communities."
HS2 & Trees - 'Stand for the Trees' Campaign
"Thank you for contacting me about the environmental impact of HS2.
Ensuring that HS2 strikes the right balance between the needs of affected communities and the environment, and the long-term needs of the country as a whole, is essential. As you may be aware, Ministers have launched an independent review of HS2, which is also considering HS2’s environmental benefits, in particular for carbon reduction in line with net zero commitments. While the review is ongoing, removals of ancient woodland for HS2 have been stopped – unless they are deemed to be absolutely necessary to avoid major cost and schedule impacts in the event the project proceeds.
As matters stand, HS2 Ltd’s Sustainability Policy commits to the protection of the environment through seeking to avoid significant adverse effects on communities, businesses and the environment, including the prevention of pollution.
The policy also commits to minimising impacts where they occur, and delivering enhancements as far as reasonably practicable to attain no net loss to the natural environment. I am pleased that on current plans a green corridor is also being created alongside the railway, including the planting of seven million new trees and shrubs along the Phase One route from London to the West Midlands.
The Government has also previously committed to providing support for local communities if HS2 is constructed, first along the Phase One route. An overall £70 million funding package has been made available which would help enhance community facilities, improve access to the countryside, and help improve road and cycle safety in towns and villages along the HS2 Phase One route. It would support local economies where businesses may experience disruption from the construction of the line."
'Help Clean Up the Air' Campaign
"Thank you for contacting me about air quality.
Poor air quality is the greatest environmental risk to our health. Our air is now cleaner than at any point since the industrial revolution, but there is more work to be done if we are to protect the health of our nation.
The Government’s Clean Air Strategy aims to cut air pollution and save lives, backed up by new primary legislation. The Strategy details how the UK will go further and faster than the EU in reducing exposure to particulate matter pollution. It sets out a goal to halve the number of people living in locations with concentrations of particulate matter above WHO guidelines, legislate to give councils more powers to improve air quality and ensure only the cleanest domestic fuels and stoves can be sold. I am encouraged that it has been described by the WHO as 'an example for the rest of the world to follow'.
The Environment Bill will build on this Strategy, and highlight our drive to go further to clean up our air and fight air pollution so children and young people can live longer healthier lives. The Bill will set an ambitious, legally-binding target to reduce fine particulate matter, and increase local powers to address sources of air pollution, enabling local authorities to work with families to cut harmful pollution from domestic burning by using cleaner fuels. This target will be among the most ambitious in the world and improve the quality of millions of people’s lives.
This action supplements the £3.5 billion plan announced in 2017 to reduce air pollution from road transport and diesel vehicles. The investment includes £1 billion to support the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles, nearly £0.5 billion to help local authorities implement local air quality plans and about £90 million through the Green Bus fund.
Disappointingly, the Mayor of London’s decision regarding the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) has made things worse locally. A high proportion of the worst locations for air quality are next to TfL roads. The ULEZ boundary is the North Circular and so those vehicles that don’t comply are forced into the road. The Mayor needs to reconsider his policies on this."
Access to Medicinal Cannabis - 'End Our Pain' Campaign
"Thank you for contacting me about medicinal cannabis.
There is strong scientific evidence that cannabis can harm people’s mental and physical health, and damage communities. However recent cases have shown the need to look more closely at the use of cannabis-based medicine in treating patients with very specific conditions in exceptional circumstances. This is why the Government decided it was appropriate to review the scheduling of cannabis.
The decision to reschedule these products means that senior clinicians will be able to prescribe the medicines to patients with an exceptional clinical need. Following short term advice issued in September 2018 the ACMD are to review the current rescheduling and its appropriateness by November 2020 and provide further initial advice on synthetic cannabinoids by summer 2020.
Moreover, NHS England has published a review which is aimed at assessing the barriers to prescribing cannabis-based medicinal products where it is safe and clinically appropriate to do so.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has also been developing updated clinical guidance on prescribing cannabis-based products for medicinal use, including for the management of chronic pain. NICE is currently consulting on the draft guidance.
It is crucial that this country keeps in step with the latest scientific evidence, so that patients and their families have access to the most appropriate course of medical treatment.
My Ministerial colleagues have also been clear that given the nature of the medicine, it should only be prescribed be specialist doctors and on a case-by-case basis. I believe these controls are necessary to develop clinical expertise and an evidence base for this treatment’s effectiveness.
The decision whether to prescribe an individual with medicinal cannabis is therefore not a political or financial decision, but a decision by a medical expert, who will have considered whether it is the most effective treatment based on an individual’s particular condition.
I will continue to closely monitor the roll-out of medicinal cannabis."
Brexit – Trade Deal Negotiations
"Thank you for contacting me about agreeing a trade deal between the UK and the EU.
The UK will leave the EU on 31 January. An implementation period will follow during which the UK and the EU will negotiate an agreement on their future relationship. The manifesto I stood on was clear that the implementation period would not be extended beyond December 2020 and this is being put into law. I fully support this approach.
I appreciate that you have concerns about the deadline but I believe that it will focus the negotiations. The Prime Minister has already shown that he is able to negotiate international agreements with speed and efficiency. The Withdrawal Agreement was re-opened and re-negotiated in under three months despite many believing that this would be not be possible.
Much of the detail on the future partnership negotiations has already been agreed in the Political Declaration. The UK and the EU share closely aligned interests and I am confident that the determination and willingness of the Parties to reach a free trade agreement will ensure that the matter is brought to a conclusion by the end of 2020 as legally committed to in good faith by both parties as part of the implementation period. Neither is working towards a no deal scenario although both are prepared for every eventuality. The UK will maintain high standards including for workers’ rights, consumer safeguards and environmental protection."
Withdrawal Agreement Bill – Child Refugees
"Please be assured that Government policy has not changed on this matter, and protecting vulnerable children remains a key priority. The UK has a proud record of doing so through our asylum stem and our resettlement schemes. In the last 12 months, the UK granted protection to over 7,500 children, and 41,000 since 2010. This is more than the vast majority of EU countries have done to help vulnerable children. In addition, in the year ending September 2019, 6,035 family reunion visas were issued to children and partners of those granted humanitarian protection or refugee status in the UK.
Our schemes offer a safe and legal route to the UK for the most vulnerable refugees. As of September 2019, over 18,250 people have been resettled through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme and over 1,700 have been resettled through the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme. Over half of those resettled via these two schemes have been children.
The Prime Minister has been clear that this Government places a high level of importance of ensuring that unaccompanied children who are seeking international protection in an EU member state can continue to be reunited with specified family members who are in the UK, as well as children in the UK with family in the EU> This remains a negotiating objection of the Government. We will continue to reunite unaccompanied children with family members in the UK under the Dublin Regulation during the implementation period, processing and deciding all ‘take back’ requests that have been submitted.
These amendments that create a statutory obligation to negotiate with the EU do no themselves lead to an agreement. That is not in the gift of the UK government alone as it requires EU co-operation at a time of complex negotiations on a range of priorities.
It is right that the statutory obligation to negotiate previously contained in section 17 of the Withdrawal Act is removed and not retained by this amendment, so that the traditional division between Government and Parliament can be restored, and the negotiations ahead can be carried out with full flexibility and in an appropriate manner across all policy areas.
As the Prime Minister told the House of Commons in December, “We remain proud of our work in receiving unaccompanied children. We will continue to support fully the purpose and spirit of the Dubs amendment, but this is not the place – in this Bill – to do so. The Government remain absolutely committed to doing so."
Government Inquiry - Assisted Dying
"Thank you for contacting me about assisted suicide.
Coping with terminal illness is distressing and difficult both for the patient and their families. These cases are truly moving and evoke the highest degree of compassion and emotion.
Assisting or encouraging suicide is a criminal offence under Section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 for which the maximum penalty is 14 years’ imprisonment. I am aware that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) published guidelines primarily concerned with advising the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) prosecutors about the factors which they need to consider when deciding whether it is in the public interest to prosecute a person for assisting or encouraging another to commit suicide.
The House of Commons has discussed the DPP’s guidelines and these were unanimously commended as being a compassionate and measured way of dealing with one of the most emotionally-charged crimes in the statute book. However, they do not change the law; assisting or encouraging suicide has not been decriminalised.
The DPP further clarified the CPS Policy on the likelihood of prosecution of health care professionals, to specify that the relationship of care will be the important aspect and it will be necessary to consider whether the suspect may have been in a position to exert some influence on the victim.
I believe the application of the law should be flexible enough to distinguish the facts and the circumstances of one case from another. To this end, the DPP’s policy offers important and sensitive guidance.
I fully accept that suicide, assisting or encouraging suicide, assisted dying and euthanasia are all subjects on which it is entirely possible for people to hold widely different but defensible opinions. This is why the substance of the law in this area is not a matter of party politics but of conscience, and any vote would be a free one should the law in this area ever be altered"
Withdrawal Agreement Bill – Caroline Lucas MP Amendment
"Thank you for contacting me about the amendment tabled by Caroline Lucas to the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill.
I do not support the amendment. The Government has engaged extensively with Parliament, businesses and civil society throughout the negotiations on the UK’s exit from the EU. I am confident it will continue to do so during the future relationship discussions.
The shape of the future relationship has already been broadly agreed in the Political Declaration. The negotiations will address a range of issues including trade, mobility and security. The Withdrawal Agreement legally requires both sides to negotiate a future relationship in good faith based on that framework and Parliament has voted in favour of it. I know that the Government has no intention of reneging on workers’ rights or environmental protections.
At the General Election in December, the British electorate supported the Government’s proposals for leaving the EU and gave the Prime Minister a strong mandate for the next phase of negotiations. I will be working to help secure a comprehensive agreement that works in the interests of businesses and people on either side of the Channel."
Animal Cruelty Sentencing
"Thank you for contacting me about animal cruelty sentencing.
There is no place in this country for animal cruelty, and we must ensure that those who abuse animals are met with the full force of the law. I am therefore pleased that the Government remains committed to reintroducing a Bill to the House of Commons which will increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years’ imprisonment.
I believe that this increase in sentencing will send a clear message that this behaviour will not be tolerated. The maximum five-year sentence will become one of the toughest punishments in Europe, strengthening the UK’s position as a global leader on animal welfare.
I am aware that a public consultation found 70 per cent of people supported the proposals for tougher prison sentences. I am encouraged that the planned change in law means the courts will be able to take a tougher approach to cases such as dog fighting, abuse of puppies and kittens, or gross neglect of farm animals.
These increased maximum sentences will act as a serious deterrent against cruelty and gross neglect in the future, and builds on recent positive action to protect animals, including plans to ban third party puppy and kitten sales and banning the use of wild animals in circuses."
The Impact of Pension Taxation on the NHS
"Thank you for contacting me about NHS Pensions.
I understand your concerns on this matter, and I know that retaining and encouraging experienced, valued and hardworking consultants and GPs is absolutely a priority for the Government.
For the majority of savers, pension contributions are tax-free. This makes pension tax relief one of the most expensive reliefs in the personal tax system. The reforms to the lifetime and annual allowance made in the previous two Parliaments are expected to save over £6 billion per year, and are necessary to deliver a fair system and to protect public finances. Less than 1 per cent of savers will have to reduce their saving or face an annual allowance charge as a result of the tapered annual allowance.
NHS doctors are impacted by these reforms like all other individuals. However, the Government recognises they have limited flexibility over their pay and pension arrangements compared to those in the private sector and this is impacting decisions on workload.
I’m pleased the Government is listening to concerns raised by doctors that pension tax charges are driving decisions to retire early or limit their NHS commitments. The Department of Health and Social Care brought forward a public consultation on targeted proposals to make NHS pensions make flexible for senior clinicians. The consultation set out proposals that would allow senior clinicians to set the exact level of pension accrual at the start of each year. This would give them room to take on additional work without breaching their annual allowance and facing tax charges. Employers would then have the option to recycle their unused contribution back into the clinician’s salary. The proposals follow the commitment made in the NHS People Plan to deliver a fairer and more flexible approach to the NHS Pension Scheme for Senior Clinicians.
For more information, please find detailed guidance at the following link:
I will continue to follow this matter closely; the consultation has now closed and the Government is now analysing feedback."
Iraq and Humans Rights
"Thank you for contacting me about the situation in Iraq.
I condemn the excessive use of force by security forces against protestors in Iraq, including the use of live fire. The right to peaceful protest must be respected and those responsible for acts of violence held to account.
Lack of security, access to services and jobs, and marginalisation in general have been the principal concerns for Iraq’s religious and ethnic minority communities. Ministers consistently raise with the Government of Iraq, including the Foreign Minister, the need to protect vulnerable people, including members of minority groups. By December 2018, the UK had contributed over £14.4 million to the UN’s Funding Facility for Stabilisation to help the Government of Iraq rebuild communities in liberated areas, including the Ninewa Plains, which is home to many minority groups.
The UK will continue to support the Government of Iraq to deliver on the legitimate demands of the protestors. This means making substantive reforms to be more inclusive, protect vulnerable people, deliver services to all Iraqis, and ensure that the conditions which enabled Daesh do not return. Ministers will continue to press for improvements on human rights, with a particular focus on freedom of religion or belief. Guaranteeing the rule of law and fundamental human rights are crucial to Iraq’s long-term stabilisation and security.
I support the UK in its call for a peaceful, political solution to the unrest in Iraq, with meaningful reforms that respond to protestors’ legitimate demands. I also encourage the Government of Iraq to work with the UN on credible electoral reform."
"Thank you for contacting me about off-payroll working. Flexible labour plays an important role in the UK economy.
The option to work through an intermediary, including a company, helps support this labour market’s flexibility. While it is important that everyone pays the right amount of tax, I am pleased that the Government has recognised concerns expressed by businesses about changes to off-payroll working rules, known as IR35.
I therefore hope it comes as a reassurance that the Government is taking the concerns about IR35 seriously, and I proudly stood on a manifesto commitment to launch a review into this matter. On 7 January this year, the Treasury announced that it will be launching a review on the implementation of changes to off-payroll working rules.
As part of the review, the Government will be holding a series of roundtable talks with industry representatives and those affected by the reform. I am told that the review shall be published in February and am confident that its conclusions will have the interests of affected parties at heart. As ever, I shall be following developments on this issue closely.
While I believe it is important that everyone pays the right amount of tax, government should at the same time be on the side of entrepreneurs and businesses."
"Thank you for contacting me about climate change.
The threat of global warming has never been more apparent. However, I am encouraged that we are witnessing an unstoppable momentum towards a more ambitious global response, most recently demonstrated by agreement on a 'rulebook' for the Paris Agreement late last year.
Since 1990, the UK has cut emissions by more than 40 per cent while growing the economy by more than two thirds, the best performance on a per person basis of all G7 nations. To continue this momentum, in 2017 the Government published the Clean Growth Strategy, which has been boosted by significant innovation funding made available through the Industrial Strategy.
There are many achievements of this government regarding tackling climate change, such as:
- The UK has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 25% since 2010, faster than any other G20 country.
- The UK was the first country to phase out coal by 2020.
- Invested £52 billion in renewable energy since 2010 with 400,000 people now working in low Carbon businesses.
- 2018 was the cleanest and greenest year with renewable resources supplying a third of our electricity, up from just over 6% in 2009.
- The Government has established the International Climate Fund (ICF) to provide £5.8 billion to help the world's poorest adapt to climate change and promote cleaner, greener economic growth.
- Encouraging Greener Homes by bringing an end to fossil fuel heating systems in all new houses by 2025 and ensuring new housing developments deliver environmental improvements locally and nationally by using the ‘net-environmental gain principle.’
- Introduction of the Clean Air Act in 1993.
There are also many other key environmental achievements, such as:
- Banning plastic microbeads in personal care and cosmetic products; these include face scrubs, soaps, toothpaste and shower gels. Just one shower was sending 100,000 microbeads down the drain and into the ocean, causing serious harm to marine life).
- Ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds and a deposit return scheme for single-use plastics that is underway and subject to consultation.
- Introducing a 5p charge on single-use plastic bags: This has reduced their use by 85% - with each person on average now using 25 bags a year compared to 140 before the charge came into effect.
- Doubling the maximum fine for littering to £150: For the first time, local authorities can also use these littering penalties against vehicle owners if it can be proved litter was thrown from their car.
- Our Resources & Waste strategy: will end confusion over recycling and tackle problem packaging by making polluters pay.
- Securing extra protection for precious Ancient Woodland and veteran trees: New planning rules have at last given ancient trees and woods the highest possible protection from development.
- Protecting our bees and other pollinators by helping secure an EU-wide ban on neonicotinoids pesticides: The UK voted in favour of the proposals that will see a ban on outdoor use of three neonicotinoids - Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam.
- Creating 41 new Marine Conservation Zones around the UK: Safeguarding almost 12,000 square kilometres of marine habitats and marking the most significant expansion of the UK’s ‘Blue Belt’ of protected areas to date.
- Internationally protecting marine habitats with a Blue Belt to protect an area the size of India, including recently protecting 4m sq. kms of pristine waters around Ascension Island.
As of late, the Government has introduced a legally binding net zero target to end the UK’s contribution to global warming entirely by 2050. The foundations to achieve this have been laid and it is expected that other major economies will follow suit."