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I am away from parliament at present because of a family matter but I will return soon.

In the meantime, both I and my staff are attending to constituency and parliamentary business, and I would like to thank everyone for your kindness and support.

Roberta is away from Parliament at present

I am away from parliament at present because of a family matter but I will return soon. In the meantime, both I and my staff are attending to constituency and...

In March I had the opportunity to attend the 62nd Annual Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) for five days at the UN headquarters in New York. The Commission is the UN’s largest annual gathering on gender equality and women’s rights, and I joined more than 4,300 representatives from 170 Member states and over 600 organisations.

I attended as a delegate of the British Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), a global organisation that brings national parliaments together to drive positive democratic change.

The theme of the CSW this year was to address the challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls. 

The Commission hosted a number of seminars, forums and meetings which explored global issues under the umbrella theme of rural women and girls, such as how achieving gender equality is essential to each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, sexism and how it can be prevented, and ending violence against women.

In between attending IPU side-events and NGO meetings my schedule allowed me to join many of the CSW forums and seminars through-out the week including:

  • Under the Spotlight: Ending Violence Against all Women and Girls
  • Addressing Sexism: Speaking Up, Preventing, and Co-operating
  • Participation of Women in the politics in the Western Balkans
  • The Role of Parliaments as Partners in Women, Peace and Security
  • United Nations officer for project SEVICES: What Do You See? An Insight to Gender Mainstreaming in Infrastructure
  • Afghanistan: Afghan Government Initiatives and Measures for the Improvement for Rural Women’s Situation

Two CSW sessions that particularly stood out were the “Ending Violence Against all Women and Girls” and “Addressing sexism: speaking up, preventing, and co-operating” discussions.

In the “Ending Violence Against all Women and Girls” session the question of intersectionality and reaching specific groups of women and girls was the central topic, and it was refreshing to see the panellists discuss the importance of identifying the barriers that prevent engagement with specific groups that face multiple forms of discrimination. The discussions highlighted how analysing these challenges will help to establish methods to end violence against marginalised women and girls.

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The “Addressing Sexism: speaking up, preventing, and co-operating” panel featured  Karen Ellemann, Minister for Equal Opportunities of Denmark, Charles Ramsden, Vice-Chairperson of the Council of Europe Gender Equality Commission, Purna Sen, the UN Women Policy Director and Emma Holten, activist and expert.  The #MeToo movement and reports of pay inequality in high profile organisations such as the BBC have pushed sexism up on the political agenda once again, and the panellists debated the causes and different forms of sexism, in addition to the impacts of sexism and the measures needed to tackle it.

On my last day at the CSW I met with Purna Sen, Head of Policy at UN Women to discuss how the UK can act to support further the work of UN Women.

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Tuesday at the CSW was designated as an IPU day, and as an IPU delegate this was the main purpose of my attendance. The IPU held a parliamentary meeting in cooperation with UN Women which I attended with over 140 fellow MPs from 42 participating countries. The parliamentary meeting was entitled “Parliaments deliver for rural women and girls”.

I attended all of the sessions of the day and each session looked at different ways to remove systemic barriers that prevent rural women and girls from overcoming inequality and discrimination.

 

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Rural women and girls contribute significantly to agricultural production and food security. However, despite this they remain significantly worse off than rural and urban men, especially in terms of leadership and decision making, and access to justice and opportunities.

In the first session titled “Amplifying the voices of rural women and girls”, MPs explored and debated issues including what is needed to fulfil the promises of access to health for all women and girls and what prevents rural girls from being at school with focus placed on the role of parliamentarians in helping to solve these issues.

The second session “Addressing discrimination against rural women and girls”, examined how rural women and girls face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, injustices and violence, and how they disproportionately experience poverty and exclusion including lack of access to land ownership and natural resources. The session was attended by Charles Chauvel who serves with the United Nations Development Programme and I spoke about the importance of nutrition and food for rural women and girls, which as a member of the APPG on School Food is an issue close to my heart.

The third session explored how rural women and girls are closely connected to the environment and are disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change. We discussed the best methods to hold governments, international institutions, donor and multinational companies accountable for the impact of climate change on rural communities, and the disproportionate impact on rural women and girls.

The outcome of the IPU sessions were very positive with MPs reaching several agreements to deliver for rural women and girls. Agreements included a commitment to laws that guarantee rights, justice and equality for rural women and girls, and to repeal discriminatory laws that impact negatively on their lives.

The following day, the IPU also held a series of side events, these were: “Making it safe for Women in Politics: Seeking institutional solutions”, Gender and youth quotas: Complementary or in competition?” and “Advancing gender equality in nationality laws”.

I attended the “Making it safe for Women in Politics” session which the IPU co-organized with UN Women and the Permanent Mission of Canada. The session focused on violence against women in politics, an on-going global issue demonstrated by the IPU’s research which found that 20% of women parliamentarians had experienced sexual harassment, 12.7% had experienced a threat of the use of physical violence against themselves, and 14.5% said they had been denied funds to which they were entitled during their terms in office. The forum was very popular and I was joined by 130 attendees.

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In between attending CSW and IPU events I was also met with many NGOs and attended NGO hosted forums throughout the week. Each evening the UK delegations met with NGOs and representatives from the UK permanent mission to the UN to discuss the events and sessions of the day, and to plan ahead for the upcoming sessions.

Girls’ Education Challenge, a UK aid initiative, was also represented at the CSW and held a forum hosted by Penny Mordaunt, the Secretary of State for International Development. Launched in 2012, the Girls’ Education Challenge is the largest global fund dedicated to girls’ education and focuses on getting girls into school and learning.

I chaired several of the events hosted by the UK NGO CSW Alliance including the “Increasing Prosperity for Rural Women Implementing engendered SGGs targets in many goals”, and the “Young Women’s Roundtable”. The “Young Women’s Roundtable” event brought together young women and parliamentarians, including fellow British MPs Jess Phillips and Maria Miller who are both members of the Women and Equalities Select Committee. The Roundtable discussions looked at different issues including addressing domestic violence and encouraging young women to get involved in politics in rural areas.

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On Thursday I had the opportunity to chair the forum on The Voices of Young Women: Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls. The forum brought women together to discuss the diverse issues that prevent gender equality in rural areas.

Representatives from different NGOs in the forum spoke on the challenges and action required to improve access to sexual reproductive healthcare for rural women and girls, the importance of breaking the cycle of poverty for young women and girls, and how quality education can act as a catalyst for the advancement of women and girls.

It was very insightful to listen to the representatives share stories of women and girls in rural communities and the issues preventing them from receiving gender equality. Issues included lack of access to electricity and technical skills, female medical students receiving threats and judgment from their communities and in some cases being beaten, and poor infrastructure making access to school difficult.

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On Friday my schedule allowed for me to attend a day of seminars and forums hosted by different NGOs, including “Transforming Society through Empowerment of Rural Women” hosted by the International Council of Women and, a forum on Innovating the use of the Media for Rural Women, held by the Pacific Rim Institute for Development Education.

Hosted by the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO), “The Making the media female: action to make the face and feeling of the media female” forum which followed, involved discussions to help highlight key actions and interventions required to drive gender equality in the media. The event allowed for representatives to examine key challenges and systemic barriers to gender equality in the media, and also explored innovative solutions for women to access the media.

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Attending the 62nd Annual Commission on the Status of Women highlighted two key factors for me. First, the absolute necessity of keeping gender equality issues high on the political agenda both at home in the UK and internationally, and second, in order to gain and maintain rights for women they have to be campaigned for constantly.

It was refreshing that the CSW62 agreed a set of strong outcomes to uphold the rights of women and girls, which acknowledged the particular needs of women and girls in rural areas. You can find the outcomes here: http://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/csw/62/outcome/csw62-agreed-conclusions-advanced-unedited-version-en.pdf?la=en&vs=3837

More than ever CSW this year demonstrated the value of women parliamentarians coming together to learn from each other. It showed the value of partnerships be it between governments or between parliamentarians and NGOs in early identification of problems and finding solutions that work. That includes getting women and girls access to employment opportunities and education, securing safe reproductive health, tackling violence and abuse, and addressing climate change.

Finally, I would like to give a huge thank you to the BGIPU and Zarin Hainsworth of NAWO for organising the liaison between the UK parliamentarians and various NGOS at the CSW.

Roberta attends the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN, New York.

In March I had the opportunity to attend the 62nd Annual Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) for five days at the UN headquarters in New...

The End Child Poverty Coalition recently released the shocking statistic that 4 million British children are now growing up in relative poverty, and more than two-thirds of these live in a household where at least one parent is in work.

These statistics mean that child poverty is at its highest level since 2010, with the figure of 4 million representing around 30% of UK children. A child is said to live in poverty if they are in a family living on less than 60% of median household income. After housing costs, this is around £248 per week. 

This level of poverty has a huge impact on both the daily lives, and the wider life chances, of many millions of children, and Labour has been clear that this is absolutely unacceptable in modern Britain.

Of course, child poverty figures necessarily represent an average, with the End Child Poverty Coalition reporting that there are some areas, particularly in large cities, where over half of the children are growing up in poverty. In my own constituency of City of Durham, four wards contain over 30% of children living in poverty, after housing costs are taken into account. Belmont ward has 765 children living in poverty – above the national average, at 32.7%, Coxhoe has 757 and Deerness has 809, at 30.2%. Elvet and Gilesgate has 36.5% of its children living in poverty.

These figures are an indictment of government policy since 2010, and make a mockery of the Prime Minister’s claim that her government is tackling inequality.

Issues like these can seem abstract, but I see in my regular surgeries in Durham how low pay, the increased cost of living, and issues with benefits payments have pushed families, most of whom are in work, to the point of destitution.

It is shocking that in this day and age there are families where parents are having to decide between heating or food, or where working people have to visit food banks to make ends meet. Not only does Durham now have several food banks, it also has a clothing bank for people who cannot even afford second hand clothes and school uniforms for their families.

Aside from the issues of low pay and increased costs of living, the government is making this situation worse for those on low incomes through its policies on in-work benefits. Although Universal Credit was supposed to simplify the benefits system so that people would always be better off in work, in practice the many issues with its implementation mean that working people on low pay will in many cases be worse off once Universal Credit is rolled out.

Labour have called on the government to halt the roll-out of Universal Credit until its problems have been fixed, and have been working in Parliament to tackle the related issue of child malnutrition and holiday hunger in families on low income.

The issue of holiday hunger has been on my radar from some time, after having spoken with many families whose children are on Free School Meals who struggle to provide meals for their children throughout the school holidays. I have visited holiday hunger clubs in Durham to better understand the service they provide, and have put pressure on Durham County Council to widen their provision during school holidays.

I have also met with representatives of various groups in my constituency to discuss setting up a pilot scheme to provide meals for children on Free School Meals throughout the holidays.

In Parliament, I helped set up the APPG for School Food, and remain a Vice-Chair. This APPG is a cross-Parliamentary group which works to provide a parliamentary forum for the discussion of all matters relating to food education in schools and other settings and to push the issue of food in schools up the political agenda.

I have long supported the provision of Free School Meals for all children whose families receive universal credit, and I was proud of Labour’s manifesto commitment to provide hot school lunches for all primary school pupils at the last General Election. Not only does this tackle the scourge of hunger, numerous studies have shown that children who eat a hot, healthy meal at lunchtime have improved educational outcomes.

On 19th January, I voted in support of Labour’s School Holidays (Meals and Activities Bill), which would ensure that children who are in receipt of Free School Meals during term time would also receive meals throughout the school holidays. This Bill passed, and I understand the government is currently trialling pilots based on the Bill, which should work towards alleviating holiday hunger across the country. This is a welcome first step that will materially benefit some of the poorest families in the country.

I have also called on the government to halt its plans to end the current entitlement to free school meals for all children from families who receive Universal Credit. These measures should stay in place, as under the proposed new system, children from families who receive Universal Credit will stop receiving free school meals once their parents hit an income threshold of £7,400 per year. This income threshold represents a cliff-edge that will be detrimental to families and ultimately worsen child nutrition across the country, and will mean that 1 million extra schoolchildren in poverty who could benefit from free school meals now won’t.

It also goes against one of the founding principles of universal credit: to always make work pay.

Along with my Labour colleagues, I believe the current transitional system, whereby all children from families that are on Universal Credit, receive free school meals, should remain in place, and I was pleased that a Westminster Hall debate was granted last week to discuss the issue. Keeping the transitional measures in place will reduce bureaucracy, ensure that all children who need it receive a hot, healthy meal each day, and make sure that work always pays.

Since 2010, child poverty has risen again to its current, unacceptable levels, but I am proud of Labour’s record in government on child poverty. Between 1997 – 2010, child poverty fell by a quarter and we implemented a host of policies designed to tackle child poverty. From increases in existing benefits to new child-targeted assistance, investments in early years’ intervention to programmes to help lone parents into work, a wide range of actions increased incomes and provided tailored services to help families living in poverty.

In my role as Labour MP for the City of Durham, I am doing all I can to push the government to tackle the blight of child poverty, but only a Labour government will take the measures necessary to bring these shocking figures down.

We can start by urging the government to keep the transitional measures in place for Universal Credit, and not introduce an income threshold for eligibility for free school meals which would mean that low-income families will lose out. Labour will continue to push for children on free school meals to have access to food and activities throughout the school holidays, and we will support all efforts in Parliament to ensure that all children have access to nutritious food, both at school and at home. There is no justification for anything less in modern Britain.

Roberta calls on government to tackle child poverty and provide free school meals

The End Child Poverty Coalition recently released the shocking statistic that 4 million British children are now growing up in relative poverty, and more than two-thirds of these live in...


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Press Releases

Roberta Blackman-Woods, MP for the City of Durham has today welcomed the decision of Durham Constabulary to request a review of the premises licence of Missoula in Durham City.

Following the death of Olivia Burt outside Missoula on Wednesday 7 February 2018, a joint investigation into the incident was launched by Durham County Council and Durham Police. Although investigations are still ongoing, the police have now requested that the council review the premises licence of Missoula, to address concerns relating to the prevention of crime and disorder, and public safety. Following this request, Roberta has written to Durham County Council to support this move, and to call for a wider review into the licensing policy for Durham City.

Roberta said:

“I am pleased to hear that Durham Constabulary has asked for a review of Missoula’s premises licence, and have contacted Durham County Council to support this request and to call for a wider review in the city centre.

I and others have raised the issue of public safety with the local authority for many years, particularly with reference to the number of establishments in the Walkergate development with late licences. While this request by the police is a welcome move to address concerns with this particular premises, it is vital that this is not dealt with as an isolated case.

As I have pointed out to the council on a number of occasions, a blanket licensing policy for the whole county is not appropriate, and does not take into account the unique challenges of a compact city centre such as Durham.

Following this request from the police, I have asked Durham County Council to carry out a review of its licensing policy for Durham, as the wider issues such as the suitability of the locations for many of the licensed establishments in Durham, public safety and the management of the night time economy still remain.”

MP backs review into Missoula and calls for wider review into Durham City licencing

Roberta Blackman-Woods, MP for the City of Durham has today welcomed the decision of Durham Constabulary to request a review of the premises licence of Missoula in Durham City. Following...

Roberta Blackman-Woods, MP for the City of Durham has today welcomed the decision of the Home Office to grant two Durham University academics, Dr Ernesto Schwartz-Marin and Dr Arely Cruz-Santiago, indefinite leave to remain in the UK, despite initially saying they must leave the country. The family has lived in the UK with their daughter for 11 years.

Following the decision to refuse their recent visa application, Roberta and others contacted the Immigration Minister and the Home Office to ask that this decision was reconsidered, and was delighted that the family has now been granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

Roberta said:

“I am so pleased that common sense has prevailed, and that Ernesto and Arely have been granted leave to remain in the UK. This seemed a particularly unfair decision, as this work in Mexico is part of their roles at the University.

It was also heartening to see the huge amount of support that the family received from people in Durham and across the UK. It was clear from the correspondence I received that they are really valued members of the local community, and my thanks go to everyone who took the time to contact me to show their support for the family.

Despite the initial decision to refuse their application, my thanks also go to the Home Office for the quick response both I and the family received once this refusal was challenged, and the speed with which they reviewed the decision. I am delighted at the positive outcome.”

Roberta welcomes Home Office decision on Durham Academics

Roberta Blackman-Woods, MP for the City of Durham has today welcomed the decision of the Home Office to grant two Durham University academics, Dr Ernesto Schwartz-Marin and Dr Arely Cruz-Santiago,...

Roberta has today spoken of her disappointment at the announcement that Marks and Spencer is set to close its Durham City store in April 2018.

In a statement released today, Marks and Spencer has announced that this closure is part of its drive to modernise its estate, and that all 48 staff who are currently employed in Durham will be moving to other stores.

Roberta had already called a meeting with senior officers from Durham County Council to discuss the future of Durham City Centre tomorrow, and will be highlighting the need for Durham to be an attractive location for retailers as well cultural and leisure services.

She said:

“I am very sad to hear that Marks and Spencer will be closing its Durham City store in April this year, however this news was not unexpected.

Despite the good news that all staff will be redeployed to other locations, the loss of this flagship store will be a further blow to residents of the city and surrounding villages.

It is vital that Durham remains a vibrant and attractive centre for residents, tourists and visitors. Losing such retailers to out of town shopping centres means there is a greater pull away from the city, and I will be meeting with officers from Durham County Council tomorrow to discuss this.”

MP speaks of disappointment at M&S closure in Durham

Roberta has today spoken of her disappointment at the announcement that Marks and Spencer is set to close its Durham City store in April 2018. In a statement released today,...


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