As you will know, the cladding scandal is one of my priorities at the moment, and this week I joined a virtual meeting with BrumLAG who are fighting for protections for those affected. I was really pleased to be able to update them on my work in this area and answer some of their questions. I’d encourage all BrumLAG members to contact leaseholders in other constituencies who have the same issues and to urge them to write to their own representatives. The more MPs who get involved in the campaign on behalf of their constituents, then the greater chance we have of achieving results. We need to put pressure on the Government to implement something like the Flood Re scheme – which ensures that homes in high risk areas for flooding are provided with affordable insurance – for leaseholders in high-rise buildings with unsafe cladding.
With the new virtual setup in Parliament meaning that not as many people are able to speak as usual, I have been putting my questions to Government Ministers in writing. One such question was on concerns that the insurance industry is trying to dodge paying out insurance claims for businesses who have been ordered to close by the Government, and this week the Economic Secretary to the Treasury responded to say that the Government is working with the industry and with the Financial Conduct Authority to ensure that the rules are being upheld during this crisis, which is welcome. We know that this is an unprecedented situation but we need insurers to be flexible with their treatment of firms and we need them to work together to ensure that as many businesses as possible remain viable and can begin operating again as soon as it is safe to do so post-lockdown.
I have also written to the Minister for Local Government, alongside Councillor Sharon Thompson, regarding the ongoing approach to death and burials during the coronavirus pandemic. In Birmingham, our Coroner Offices and Bereavement Services have continued to maintain a high level of professionalism, upholding the highest standards that allow people to be laid to rest with dignity, and following the social distancing guidelines while dealing with a significant increase in demand. Cllr Thompson and I have asked the Government to ensure that the Bereavement Services are adequately supported through this time so that they can continue to cope with the demand on their services. We would like to see the Government support local councils to reduce some of the financial burden on families who are struggling to pay the costs of funerals at a time when finances are already stretched.
I also signed a letter this week, along with 127 other MPs and Lords from across the UK, to protest the Israeli Government’s plan to annex areas of occupied Palestine. For the Israeli Government to use the cover of the coronavirus pandemic when Governments are doing their best to work together to fight this virus, find a vaccine, and ensure that everyone has access to the medical care that they need, is appalling. We in Britain believe in the rules-based international system and we must continue to uphold international law, even during this difficult time. We are asking the Government to make clear to Israel that any annexation will have serious consequences, including economic sanctions.
I had another important virtual meeting this week with a Public Accounts Committee on Universal Credit. I have been highlighting the flaws in Universal Credit for some time, as it simply does not provide an adequate safety net. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic many more people have gained first-hand experience of the system. The fact that the Government made changes to Universal Credit by upping the standard monthly rate shows that the amount given to people before the coronavirus hit was insufficient to live on. There are so many misconceptions about benefits and the people who claim them, and we need to start having a serious discussion about how we want our benefits system to work post-coronavirus because it is clear that we cannot continue as we did before. This crisis has shown that many people in our economy live incredibly precariously through no fault of their own and we need a system in place that protects them should the worst happen. We may have a good job, a stable income, and then something unforeseen hits us – a pandemic, an accident, a trick of fate – and suddenly we are living on the breadline, desperate for help. We must ensure there is adequate and compassionate help available in these circumstances.
In happier constituency news, I’m encouraging members of the local British-Chinese community to put themselves forward for a new award designed to recognise their achievements and contributions to national life. Nominations have now opened for The Blossom Awards, which aim to recognise high achievers from across the British-Chinese community – perhaps teachers, NHS staff, charity leaders, or people from professional fields such as engineering, technology, and business. We have such a rich mix of cultures in our constituency and this is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate that. For more information take a look at my post. Good luck!
This Friday we mark the 75thanniversary of VE Day, and although celebrations may be somewhat different to how we envisaged them some weeks ago, it is so important that we still observe this day and honour the sacrifice of all those who fought for freedom. We remember all of them – the men and women who served in the Armed Forces, the police and ARP wardens protecting people at home, the merchant navy and the land army who kept the population fed, the doctors and nurses who cared for the wounded, and all those who contributed to the war effort. They fought so people could live free from oppression and with the right to choose their faith, their friends, and their professions. We must honour their memories by continuing to stand up for tolerance and against fascism.
On a personal note – this week marked the tenth anniversary of my election as the MP for Birmingham Ladywood in 2010. It is an honour and a privilege to represent this amazing constituency in Parliament and I have loved getting to know so many of the brilliant people who live here. I promise you that as we confront the challenges ahead, I will be with you every step of the way. Thank you for your support over the past decade.
As ever, if you have any issues or concerns to raise with me as your local MP, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 0121 661 9440. My team and I are of course subject to many of the same challenges and restrictions as other families in Birmingham Ladywood at the minute, but we will do everything we can to help constituents in these difficult times.