Like many people, Roberta has been concerned by the appointment of Toby Young to the board of the newly created Office for Students. Both his lack of experience in academia,...
On Tuesday this week, I held a Westminster Hall debate on the plight of the Rohingya in Bangladesh, following my visit to the refugee camps earlier this month as part of a cross-party delegation organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and the UNHCR
The debate was heavily oversubscribed, with many colleagues making powerful speeches calling on the government to do all it can to help the plight of the Rohingya people.
I focussed on the situation in the camps, and on the humanitarian response by the Department for International Development, UK aid agencies and the international community. I wanted to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the amazing work done by British NGOs on the ground during this crisis, and I reiterated that the UK needs to do all it can to provide assistance to allow life in the camps to improve for the hundreds of thousands of residents, who at present are struggling to have even basic needs met.
As my visit brought home to me, both the scale of the camps, and the scale of need is vast. In the debate, I raised how the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has estimated that nearly 300,000 people need food security assistance, more than 400,000 people need health care and of the 453,000 Rohingya children requiring education in the camps, only around 40,000 are receiving any form of education. For as long as the Rohingyas are living in the camps, the UK and international community must ensure that international aid is providing for the everyday needs of the Rohingya, so that camp life can improve and that education at all levels is available.
In the longer-term, it is imperative that the issue of statelessness of the Rohingyas is addressed, as it was clear from my visit to the camps that resolving the issue of citizenship is essential to the future of the Rohingya.
I also raised the issue of the recent deal signed between Myanmar and Bangladesh, and urged the UK government to use its leverage to ensure that any refugee returns are safe, informed and voluntary.
On Tuesday this week, I held a Westminster Hall debate on the plight of the Rohingya in Bangladesh, following my visit to the refugee camps earlier this month as part...
Last week, when Parliament was in recess, I had the opportunity to travel to Bangladesh to attend the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) annual conference. The CPA is a global organisation that brings together Parliamentarians from across the Commonwealth and supports them to promote good governance in Parliamentary systems around the world.
After the Conference, along with a cross-party group of MPs, I went to Cox’s Bazaar to visit the Rohingya refugee camps, which are currently home to over 800,000 people.
My visit helped me to understand the action that I can take as the Shadow Minister for International Development to push the UK government to do all it can to help with the crisis. It also made clear the vast scale of the camps, as the mass exodus from Myanmar following the violence in Rakhine state is one of the largest population movements in living memory.
This is the equivalent of a city the size of Manchester establishing itself overnight with no prior infrastructure, housing, or sanitation. Walking around the camp, which was possible on our visit because the rains had stopped and the mud was dry, what struck me most apart from the obvious destitution was the scale. Wherever we turned the camp was visible far into the distance. Given the speed of the exodus from Myanmar, it had not been possible to properly plan the camp, and with new people arriving all the time the camp was a sea of makeshift shelters stretching as far as the eye could see.
Upon arrival, we were keen to hear from the Rohingyas themselves about what they thought the camps most urgently needed, and so on arrival at Kutupalong camp we met a group of community leaders, both men and women.
The conversation started off as expected – they described how there was not enough of anything; space, water, education, sanitation, clothes, food, shelter. But perhaps what surprised us most was that despite the very real hardship they were experiencing, what they most wanted was citizenship. This was to be a recurring theme of our visit.
One encounter has particularly stayed with me. In our first meeting at the camp, I spoke with a young man aged 25, who had been born in the camp, as his parents had fled from Myanmar in an earlier displacement in 1992.
He recognised the need for more food and other supplies but said what he most wanted more than anything was citizenship, because then he could make his own way in the world. Unfortunately, this will not be easily achieved at present. The military in Myanmar have a long history of refusing citizenship to the Rohingyas, and Bangladesh is reluctant to give permanent residency to so many people in a very poor area of a low income country. International pressure to solve this particular issue is of the utmost urgency and importance.
Our next stop was at a school, which children attend in shifts due to a lack of places. Like all young children they were excited by visitors and keen to show us what they were learning. The teachers made much of the fact that the school was actually functioning because just a few short weeks ago it had to close to accommodate 600 newly arrived Rohingya pupils in a small area. As with all schools, it was a place of hope, but this glimpse of normality was short lived. On our way out, we noticed that two families were living under a single piece of tarpaulin, and this was a warning of what was to come.
We passed a large queue for food and saw the distribution of new shelter materials and basic household and personal items, including basic clothing packages.
We also visited a transit camp, recently established by the UNHCR, where new arrivals traumatised and injured by their experiences in Myanmar and long journey are given space to have their medical and personal needs assessed before moving to the camp. This showed the difference that international efforts are making to the lives of the displayed Rohingyas, and the contrast between the care and compassion showed by the staff, and the violence so recently suffered by the Rohingya in Rakhine state was heart-wrenching to consider.
We were moved and distressed by what we had seen, but we were determined to remain focused on what we could do to help the situation. Our discussions with the camp residents, local officials, UNHCR and NGOs left me with four issues to take up in Parliament.
Firstly, the UK and other international aid is essential in ensuring the basic needs of the Rohingya are met and that camp life can improve. In my role as Shadow Minister for International Development, I am determined to protect both an independent Department for International Development, and the UK’s commitment to spending 0.7% of GDP on international aid against Tory threats to cut both.
Secondly, the camps need more space, and it is urgent that Bangladesh determines as soon as possible how this can be achieved.
Thirdly, staff and volunteers from UNHCR and NGOs are doing an amazing job servicing the camp and supporting the Rohingya. They don’t seek recognition for their efforts but their amazing work in difficult times circumstances should be acknowledged.
Fourthly, the underlying problem of the Rohingya is not only the violence and persecution they face in Myanmar, but also their lack of citizenship. Without citizenship, they cannot access the support and services needed to rebuild their lives in Bangladesh, as it is unclear whether the Rohingya will ever be able to return to Myanmar following the violence they have experienced at the hands of the Burmese military.
While my trip to the camp was in many ways a harrowing experience, it was a privilege to meet the amazing staff and volunteers at the camps, and to speak to some of the Rohingya refugees myself. It has re-affirmed my commitment to doing all I can to make sure the UK plays its part in these humanitarian crises.
Last week, when Parliament was in recess, I had the opportunity to travel to Bangladesh to attend the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) annual conference. The CPA is a global organisation...
Roberta has today called for the Government to rethink their plans around free school meals under Universal Credit, along with The Children's Society and other Labour MPs.
Currently, as Universal Credit is rolled out, all children who live in a household receiving this new benefit will receive a free school meal.
However, under current proposals set out in a consultation by the Department for Education, this will change when an earnings threshold of £7,400 will be introduced and will be for all new Universal Credit claimants come April 2018. This consultation runs until the 11th January 2018.
Yet, according to analysis of the proposals by The Children’s Society, these proposals will mean one million children living in poverty will miss out on the benefits of a free school meal and locally this will mean 7,032 in County Durham missing out.
This figure is roughly the same as those children currently living in poverty who don’t receive a free school meal; showing that Universal Credit will do nothing to alleviate child poverty rates in the UK.
That’s why Labour have announced that in addition to providing Free School Meals to all primary school children, we would also ensure all secondary school children in families who are eligible for Universal Credit would receive a free school meal.
Roberta has said:
“Labour have always stood up for the benefits of free school meals on a child’s education and health and alleviating persistent child poverty levels in our society.
“That is why the current proposals on the future of free school meals under Universal Credit are deeply concerning and show how this Government is out of touch with the importance to seriously address poverty levels across the country.
“These changes will affect many families here in Durham, especially the poorest in our communities, and it is important the Government rethinks their approach. Ministers must hear the views of local people on this matter and how we should be alleviating poverty, not entrenching it.
The Department for Education’s consultation runs until 11th January 2018. It can be read here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/eligibility-for-free-school-meals-and-the-early-years-pupil-premium-under-universal-credit
Debbie Abrahams MP, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, also said:
“Labour are committed to making Universal Credit works as it should. That is why a future Labour Government would ensure that in addition to providing Free School Meals to all primary school children, we would also ensure all secondary school children in families who are eligible for Universal Credit would receive a free school meal. This would remove the cliff-edge in Universal Credit and help to lift more children out of poverty.”
Angela Rayner MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, has said:
“It should be a national scandal that children are going hungry at school, yet the Conservatives’ plans for Universal Credit could leave a million children living in poverty going without a meal in school.
“It cannot possibly be fair or justified that so many children should lose out, and be made to struggle through the school day without a hot meal, which, for many children in poverty, could be the only hot meal they get that day.
“I am proud to say that the next Labour Government will build on our pledge to make free school meals universal in primary schools, by ensuring that no child in secondary school who’s parents receive UC will go hungry. If this Conservative Government was really committed to doing the right thing, they would do the same.”
Roberta has today called for the Government to rethink their plans around free school meals under Universal Credit, along with The Children's Society and other Labour MPs. Currently, as Universal Credit...
Roberta has this week commented on the proliferation of To Let boards across the city centre prior to the start of the fifth Lumiere festival.
A voluntary scheme for landlords was introduced in 2009, which limited each landlord to one board per street, however in January 2017 Durham County Council ran a consultation asking residents whether they would prefer to retain the voluntary code, or whether the local authority should apply to the Government to formally tighten the controls on To Let boards.
Lumiere is set to run from Thursday 16 November to Sunday 19 November 2017, and is expected to attract over 200,000 visitors to Durham City, with a series of light installations from artists across the world for people to explore.
“While I am pleased that Durham County Council have consulted with residents on tighter regulations to curb the number of To Let boards in Durham, this has been an issue in Durham for some time, and having regularly raised this issue with the Council, and discussed steps that have been taken in comparable cities around the country, I had hoped that action would have been taken on this already.
As Lumiere is upon us and we are ready to welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors to Durham City, Durham should be doing everything it can to make the city attractive, and the preponderance of To Let boards throughout the city is not only unattractive, but sends the message that Durham is up for rent.
I will continue to press Durham County Council on the need to introduce stronger controls on To Let boards as soon as possible.”
Roberta has this week commented on the proliferation of To Let boards across the city centre prior to the start of the fifth Lumiere festival. A voluntary scheme for...
Roberta has raised concerns about the level of funding provided by the Government for schools in Durham. Local primary and secondary schools have budgets that are already stretched, and analysis of the Government’s proposed National Funding Formula has found that these will be put under further pressure.
Figures from the National Education Union show that 33 out of 41 schools and academies in the City of Durham constituency will receive a cut in funding over the period 2015/16 to 2018/19. Schools in Durham will have, on average, £193 less per pupil in their budgets. Under the Conservative led Governments, school spending per pupil was frozen in real terms from 2010/11 to 2015/16, and further frozen in cash terms from 2015/16 onwards – which represents the biggest fall in per pupil spending for 30 years.
On 14 September 2017, Roberta asked the Secretary of State for Education to guarantee that no school in Durham would face a real terms cut under the proposals. Despite the response that “there will be a minimum 0.5% cash increase per pupil for all schools in 2018/19, increasing to 1% by 2019/20”, the National Education Union’s figures point out that in realty, with inflation running at nearly 3%, this amounts to an annual cut in funding.
“I know that many schools in my constituency are already struggling. Schools are experiencing larger class sizes, a reduction in activities, a decrease in the number of teachers and overall cuts to their budget.
It is completely unacceptable that the majority of schools will be facing budget cuts. I am really concerned about the impact that will have on teachers and school staff generally, but I am also really worried about the impact this could have on the education of our young people in Durham because they deserve a great start in life, and the best education possible.
I am going to continue to press the Government and the Secretary of State for Education to reverse these cuts and give the schools in Durham the proper funding they need.”
Roberta has raised concerns about the level of funding provided by the Government for schools in Durham. Local primary and secondary schools have budgets that are already stretched, and analysis...