Celebrating World Mental Health Day

Last week, I joined World Mental Health Day, in a global expression of how far we have come in understanding mental illness and breaking down stigma.

Last week it was reported that Local Clinical Commissioners spent £9.7 billion on mental health this year – £574 million more than last year.

The Cabinet also discussed plans to train a million people in basic mental health first aid skills – the first country in the world to have this scale of ambition. We will continue to invest in NHS mental health services, training more professionals, aiming to treat more people.

Applications were also opened for a new £15 million fund to improve support for people who experience a range of mental health conditions that put them at risk of experiencing an acute mental health crisis.

The Beyond Places of Safety fund is the successor to the original Places of Safety programme, which was established, alongside the Crisis Care Concordat, to confront one of the quiet scandals within mental health system – namely the thousands of people left in a police cell following a detention under the Mental Health Act.

Since then, the ingenuity and partnerships forged between statutory and voluntary organisations under local Crisis Care agreements has seen the number detained in police custody following a mental health crisis drop by over 80 per cent over the last five years.

Simple innovations – driven by passionate voluntary sector organisations, working in partnership with the NHS – are making a huge difference to how people are treated when they become acutely unwell. I hope that local organisations will work together and consider applying to the new Beyond Places of Safety Fund.

There may be no magic bullet to stem the rising tide of mental ill health – but innovative community initiatives can make a make a real difference to keeping people safe.

First published in the West Briton

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Tackling Modern Slavery

Just over two years since the Prime Minister’s landmark Modern Slavery Act came into force, Anti-Slavery Day represents an ideal opportunity to assess just how far we have come in our fight against this horrendous crime.

Impressive progress has been made in raising awareness of this barbaric crime and sending a resounding message that the UK will not tolerate the exploitation of the vulnerable.

Three years ago this scourge was firmly restricted to the shadows; the term ‘modern slavery’ was hardly in the public consciousness, while it remained a brutal reality for thousands of people living all around us – often exploited in plain sight.

Today you would struggle to find someone who couldn’t name an example of this appalling crime – from a domestic servant, to a young man or woman forced to work for many hours at a car wash for little to no pay. We as a country are now painfully aware of the suffering being inflicted every day. And thankfully we are seeing new prosecutions brought each month and thousands of innocent victims protected.

But the problem is far from solved and it is not going to be without further action to develop our knowledge about this appalling crime and adjust our response accordingly. Earlier this year, the Home Office undertook a comprehensive analysis of the nature of modern slavery in the UK. We were already ahead of most countries in producing a rigorous assessment of the scale of the issue in the country – with an estimated 10,000-13,000 potential victims – but we also wanted to know more about the nature of the crime, to help build on the very limited evidence base around it.

Our research, published recently, identified 17 distinct types of modern slavery under four broad groups – domestic servitude, sexual, labour and criminal exploitation. This includes British children being groomed and subsequently enslaved by urban gangs to bring illegal drugs to people in Cornwall and around the country, collecting the money and returning.

This knowledge, while shocking, is essential to developing the best possible response to this terrible crime. We will use it to improve our understanding of how to prevent people falling into slavery. And it will help us to develop further guidance for front-line workers, and to help banks and other institutions identify patterns of behaviour so they can disrupt these predators and help us further raise awareness of this terrible form of abuse.

But no matter what we do to eradicate the sickening and inhuman crimes associated with modern slavery here in the UK, true success can only be achieved by looking beyond our own borders and taking the fight onto the global stage.

In 2015 world leaders agreed a new set of universal goals and targets which all countries need to strive for to achieve sustainable development, and the UK successfully pushed for a target on eradicating human trafficking, modern slavery, forced labour and child labour. And in September this year during a Meeting of the UN General Assembly, 37 countries endorsed the Prime Minister’s call to action. At the same time the UK pledged to double its aid spending on modern slavery to £150m.

This includes £33.5m funding towards achieving that goal by targeting it in high-risk countries, from where we know victims are regularly trafficked to the UK.

Last year the Prime Minister announced £5m of this funding to address modern slavery in Nigeria, and today I am pleased to announce that we will be investing £3m to tackle the issue in Vietnam, from where we know so many victims are trafficked with the promise of a better life, only to find themselves enslaved in brothels, cannabis factories or nail bars.

This money will help to catch offenders, support victims and stop people falling into slavery in the first place.

The Prime Minister’s Modern Slavery Taskforce is driving forward the domestic and global response, and just this week agreed improvements to the National Referral Mechanism, the system we use to identify and support victims in this country.

Those who would profit from modern slavery, are finding it more challenging to ply their despicable trade today than at the start of 2015 – while in the UK victims have a world-leading support network.

But we are under no illusion that this is a fight that will be won quickly or easily. it is vital that we continue to develop our knowledge, to adapt our tactics, put invest both locally and globally and, most importantly, put victims at the heart of everything we do if we are to truly consign slavery to the history books.

First published in the Falmouth Wave

Tackling the issue of homelessness in Cornwall

Since my early twenties I have volunteered with charities that provide support for homeless people, providing shelter, food and company. I remain clear that one person without a home is one too many and the Government remains committed to do more to prevent people becoming homelessness in the first place.

The revised statutory Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities has been published this week. The statutory guidance sets out the steps that local authorities should take into account when providing support to people who are homeless and plans to update the current Homelessness Code of Guidance. In consultation with local authorities and the homeless sector the current guidance has been reviewed to cover the new duties created by the Homelessness Reduction Act whilst also streamlining the information on existing law.

The Act is the most ambitious legislative reform in decades and will ensure that more people get the help they need earlier to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place. However, the Act is just one element of our ambitious programme to fundamentally reform the response to homelessness, putting prevention at the heart of this approach.

We’ve allocated over £950 million until 2020 to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. Cornwall Council is receiving dedicated homelessness prevention funding and Ocean Housing funding for new dedicated accommodation for people rough sleeping here.

Cornwall Council will be receiving £697,152 between now and 2020 to fund the administrative costs of the additional new duties contained within the Act. Cornwall Council will also be receiving its share of £3 million to support them in upgrading their data systems to monitor the impact of the Homelessness Reduction Act.

But we know there is more to do. That is why are aiming to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminate it altogether by 2027.

First published in the West Briton

Special Measures

Like my constituents, my family and I depend on our local NHS and care services. We all want Treliske to deliver good quality and safe healthcare with people not having to wait too long for treatment. I know that the staff at Treliske work hard to deliver high quality healthcare, often in challenging circumstances. The government is committed to enabling the staff at Treliske to deliver high quality and safe services at Treliske.

In the last few years, the regulators of our NHS and care services have been given more resources to undertake rigorous, independent reviews. The Care Quality Commission recently recommended “special measures” for Treliske. This means that NHS England will provide additional support to help Treliske make improvements. Other hospitals have undergone the same process and have come out stronger. It’s not an easy process but it can work.

As is well documented, one of the main problems at Treliske is the fact that people who should be treated at home or in a more appropriate care setting are not. The Care Quality Commission highlighted the issue of delayed transfers of care and the need for Cornwall Council to work more effectively with our local NHS. Cornwall Council has been given additional funding for social care and needs to spend this money on social care now.

There will be those that say it’s all about more funding. Of course our NHS needs to be well funded. Every year Cornwall’s NHS does receive more funding. Cornwall currently receives more than the English average funding per person. As important as the amount of money is how that money is spent. With support from NHS England, our health and care system leaders now have the opportunity to deliver improvements. I will continue to do everything that I can to support them.

First published in the West Briton

Backing Small Businesses in my Constituency

Local businesses tell me that late payment remains a significant issue for small businesses.  As of July 2017, the overall level of late payment debt owed to small and medium sized businesses is reported as standing at £14.2 billion according to Bacs Direct Credit. Around 50,000 businesses go insolvent every year because of poor payment practices.

In Cornwall small businesses are the backbone of our economy. Across the UK they are responsible for 48 per cent of private sector employment, with a combined turnover of £1.2 trillion. The appointment of the Small Business Commissioner this week is one of a package of measures intended to tackle late payment and unfavourable payment practices. Others include transparency measures in the private and public sector, as well as a voluntary code of practice – the Prompt Payment Code.

The Commissioner will assist small businesses to resolve payment disputes with larger businesses and avoid future issues by encouraging a culture change in payment practices and how businesses deal with each other.

Throughout the negotiations to leave the EU, I am listening to local small businesses to make sure that their interests are heard loud and clear. I am in regular contact with individual businesses, the Federation of Small Businesses, Cornwall Chamber of Commerce and the NFU.

We have many thriving small businesses locally. Across the country there are nearly 130,000 more small and medium sized businesses than there were in 2010. An important part of my work is to support our local businesses to thrive and this includes ensuring high quality support that is provided via the publicly funded Cornwall Growth and Skills Hub. I have also worked hard to ensure that Cornwall’s EU funding programmes continues, and post Brexit Cornwall receives dedicated economic support through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.