It was International Women’s Day on Monday, a time to take a moment to reflect on the women whose voices have been silenced by governments that do not care for their freedom or rights. In China, we’ve heard survivors of the Uighur camps speak of systematic rape and abuse, intimidation, and their personal freedoms taken away. Our allies in nations such as Canada have done the right thing and voted to recognise the actions of China against Uighur women as genocide. It is time the UK Government followed and started to lead on this to make us a truly global Britain.
But, as has been so clearly and tragically demonstrated this week, violence against women isn’t just an issue for other countries. The disappearance of Sarah Everard has sent shockwaves through the nation and social media is full of stories from women speaking about the fears they feel walking alone at night or the impact of lockdown’s empty streets on their feeling safe to exercise. A recent YouGov poll shown to the Guardian showed 97% of women aged 18-24 had been sexually harassed, with 80% of all women experiencing sexual harassment in public places. If we are to stand up and speak out against violence and harassment of women around the world, we must have these hard conversations at home. Things have to change.
The Budget last week was disappointing in so many ways, but the 1% pay rise for our hard-working NHS staff was more than that – it was insulting. Not least because it is in effect a real-terms pay cut this year, which will also hit other key workers who have kept the country going throughout the pandemic. Figures show that at least 3,100 public sector workers in Ladywood – nurses, teachers, police officers, and Armed Forces personnel – will be hit by this pay cut, despite everything they have done on the frontline against Covid. The Government voted for a 2.1% pay increase in 2020 for NHS staff, which they then wrote into law. It is an utter disgrace that one minute the Chancellor is standing on the steps of Downing Street clapping our carers in the NHS and the next he is hitting them with a real-terms pay cut. The effort our NHS workers have put in to keep us safe throughout this pandemic is second to none and many of them have risked their own safety to do it; they must be properly reimbursed for their dedication.
This week the Foreign Secretary made a statement on the Chinese Government’s proposed changes to electoral law in Hong Kong. This is a crisis that the Government must address. The proposal is a leap backwards for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and the city’s democratic aspirations. China has shown time and time again that it cannot be trusted with hundreds of Hong Kongers arrested under the new so-called Security Law. People must have the right to support pro-democracy candidates in elections. Dozens were arrested in January and have since been charged under these new security laws, with charges carrying sentences of up to life imprisonment. Thousands of people have rallied around these pro-democracy campaigners to defend their rights which China wants to deny. These security laws are aggressive and damaging. Almost every prominent leader from the Hong Kong democratic movement is now on trial, in exile or jail. Our allies understand this so why isn’t the UK Government taking action? The Chinese state has a record of harm against those wishing to speak up. The Uighur oppression is ongoing, with millions disappearing into China’s hidden prison camps and facing sexual abuse, forced sterilisation, and enforced labour. China’s actions are in direct breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration. It is clear that legitimate political pluralism is not tolerated in Hong Kong, and our Government has a duty to stand with people who want their rights protected.
This week the issue of fire safety and residential leaseholders living in unsafe housing returned to Parliament in the form of a Westminster Hall debate led by fellow Labour MP Florence Eshalomi. That there are still so many of our constituents living in unsafe buildings more than 3 years after the tragedy of Grenfell is a national scandal. But it is not only the remedial works that we need to discuss. Leaseholders are facing eye-watering charges for compulsory interim fire safety measures while they wait for the remediation work to be completed. These interim costs have life-changing impacts, with the potential for huge debts and bankruptcy facing too many who share no fault for the situation that they have been forced into. We also have to remember that these interim fire safety costs are a daily reminder to leaseholders, many young, first-time buyers, that they are living in unsafe housing with their families and that this nightmare is ongoing with no end in sight. The costs are hardly interim. The Government must do more.
If there are issues you want 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.
Keep your social distance, stay safe and healthy – and please, keep washing your hands!