Keeping our homes warm over the winter

It’s that time of the year when our thoughts turn to keeping our homes warm over the winter. Especially with forecasts of a four month return of “the Beast from the East”. I’ve just switched energy suppliers to a 100% carbon free tariff and saved money. While I found it a straight forward process I very much appreciate that not everyone feels able to access the savings and help available to keep themselves warm this winter.
Truro based Community Energy Plus has been awarded £318,000 by the Big Lottery Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. The money has enabled Community Energy Plus to recruit three case workers to provide in-depth advice and support to help vulnerable households escape from the misery, anxiety and ill-health caused by fuel poverty.
The three year project, which is called Energy Wise, provides advice in the home as well as over the phone, aiming to reach 4,000 vulnerable householders who need face-to-face advice, advocacy support and access to grants for energy related issues.
It is expected that more than 800 clients supported by the project will receive in-depth support, which can extend across several months, to improve their situations.
The Energy Wise project got underway in January and has already provided home visits and telephone energy advice to over 700 Cornish householders.  Much of the early support provided by the team has involved helping householders’ access grants for heating systems and insulation, assisting with switching tariffs, resolving billing issues with energy suppliers and dealing with energy debt.  The project also strives to improve access to local services and support and is providing referrals and signposting to multiple organisations to improve the health, wellbeing and finances of clients.
To deliver long-lasting outcomes beyond the three year project, home visits are focused on helping vulnerable people gain improved life skills on how to manage their energy use and bills while maintaining healthy heating levels. Condensation and mould are common in cold homes. Advice on simple behaviour changes to reduce damp, save energy and money are core elements of the coaching provided by the Energy Wise case workers.
Mrs D, a retired social housing tenant from Bodmin, has already benefited from the help from the Energy Wise team. Her granddaughter called Community Energy Plus because the pensioner had multiple heath conditions and was struggling to pay £70 a week during the winter to keep warm. During the home visit the caseworker noticed that the Economy 7 electric meter was incorrectly programmed and her night rate was being billed at the same price as her more expensive day rate. After speaking to the client’s energy supplier, Mrs D was given a refund of £750 and going forward will be able to use her heating with less worry about the cost.
Please don’t suffer in silence. For help from the Energy Wise team call Freephone 0800 954 1956, email advice@cep.org.uk or direct message through Facebook.com/CommunityEnergyPlus
Advertisements

Delivering improvements to our NHS

Last week I met with local people and representatives of Unison to discuss our local NHS. We all want to see improvements in our local NHS and care services.  

While investing more money into the NHS, and securing Cornwall’s fair share, is essential so is ensuring it is spent wisely. So I was pleased that last week the Government set out plans to enable the NHS to make significant improvements in technology and purchasing.  

These will build on the £20 billion long-term plan to transform health and social care so it can improve treatment and deliver better care for patients. 

A new NHS app will be piloted in 5 areas in England from next month, ahead of a planned national roll-out in December. Patients will be able to download a test version of the app, allowing access to booking GP appointments, ordering repeat prescriptions, access to their medical record, 111 online access for urgent medical queries, data sharing preferences, organ donation preferences and end of life care preferences. 

More than £200 million will also be invested to make a group of NHS trusts into internationally recognised centres for technological and digital innovation. The funding will support new Global Digital Exemplars in acute, mental health, community and ambulance trusts in England to set a gold standard of innovation for other services to follow. 

A new HealthTech Advisory Board, chaired by Dr Ben Goldacre, will highlight where change needs to happen, where best practice isn’t being followed, and be an ideas hub for how to improve patient outcomes and experience and make the lives of NHS staff easier. 

Our hospitals operate dozens of systems each that don’t talk to each other. GPs, social care, pharmacies and community care are on different systems. Systems crashing is a regular occurrence. The social care system is not at all integrated, when its integration is vital. 

The generic technology available outside the NHS is a million times better. Now is the moment to put the failures of the past behind us, and set our sights on the NHS being the most cutting-edge system in the world for the use of technology to improve our health, make our lives easier, and make money go further. 

A modern health service shouldn’t involve 234 separate trusts spending time and money negotiating different contracts and prices for the same thing. An example of this price variation includes the lowest priced 12-pack of rubber gloves costing 35p, while the highest priced cost £16.47. That’s why the Government’s work to centralise how the NHS buys goods and services is crucial. 

By streamlining the process and freeing trusts up from having to do this, we will save staff valuable time, save huge amounts of money and be able to reinvest the savings into patient care and frontline services 

The Department of Health and Social Care anticipates the new supply chain will generate savings of £2.4 billion over a 5-year period, all to be ploughed back into frontline services. 

First published in the West Briton 13/09/18

Making mental health a priority makes good business sense

An estimated 300,000 people lose their job every year because of a mental health problem. Many might have remained in employment had they been given the right support.

Earlier this week I spoke at a CBI event to welcome the launch of Front of Mind, their new good practice guidance which helps employers improve health and wellbeing in the workplace.

People with mental health conditions can make a valuable contribution in the workplace. We need real cultural change in every workplace across the country to prevent valued colleagues leaving a job they love because of mental health problems.

For employers this can feel daunting. Mental health charity Mind found that while employers want to make mental health a priority, a third don’t know where to go for information or guidance.

That’s exactly why practical resources like Front of Mind are so important. Highlighting examples from UK employers that are already leading the way, the guidance shows that successful businesses are taking key three steps: prioritising health and wellbeing from the top, targeting action towards early interventions and embedding good health and wellbeing in workplace culture.

Not only does Front of Mind offer practical tips for employers, it also demonstrates the business case for making progress on workplace mental health.

The impact of mental health issues costs UK employers between £33 billion and £42 billion every year. Clearly, making mental health a priority in your workplace is not just the right thing to do – it also makes good business sense.

We don’t expect employers to do this on their own. Government has an important role to play in supporting people with a mental health condition. We’ve made good progress, with a range of support on offer. Spending on mental health increased to a record £11.86 billion last year, with a further investment of £1 billion by 2020/21.

On employment support, we’re investing £115 million in partnership with the NHS, more than doubling the number of Employment Advisers in Improving Access to Psychological Therapies Services. Our new Work and Health Programme is investing £500 million in tailored employment support, helping disabled people and those with health conditions into a job. And our Access to Work scheme has a specialised mental health support service, which has supported over 12,000 people. More than 90% of people who have used the service were still in their job after six months.

I want to encourage senior managers and business leaders to make a real, tangible commitment to improving workplace culture around mental health. This isn’t an issue for other businesses to deal with, or something we can leave HR to worry about. The leaders of any organisation are pivotal in shaping its culture, and exemplary behaviour has to start at the top.

My vision is of a society where everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential and no one loses their job because of poor mental health. It’s now time for every leader in every sector to take responsibility for creating an environment in which people feel able to talk about their mental health condition and get the help they need to thrive at work.

First published in Business Voice

Thousands of people with poor mental health are losing their jobs

We spend much of our lives at work, but stigma can stop us from being honest with our colleagues about how we’re really feeling.

An estimated 300,000 people lose their job every year because of a mental health problem. Many might have remained in employment if they had been given the right support.

Speaking at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) today, I am calling on all senior managers, including chief executives, to make a real, tangible commitment to improving workplace culture surrounding mental health.

This isn’t an issue for other businesses to deal with, or something we can leave HR to worry about. The leaders of any organisation are pivotal in shaping its culture and exemplary behaviour has to start at the top.

The conversation around mental health has moved on substantially over the past few years, to the point that it can sometimes feel like we’re continually being bombarded. Awareness is important, but it’s not enough.

We need real cultural change in every workplace across the country to ensure that anyone experiencing poor mental health feels supported.

We’ve made good progress on supporting people with mental health conditions to get into and stay in work, with a whole range of support on offer. For example, we’re investing £115 million in partnership with the NHS, more than doubling the number of employment advisers in improving access to psychological therapies services.

Our new Work and Health Programme is investing £500 million in tailored employment support, helping disabled people and those with health conditions into a job. And our access to work scheme, which has a specialised mental health support service, has supported over 12,000 people. More than 90 per cent of people who have used the service remain in employment.

The government has an important role to play in supporting people with a mental health condition, but we can’t do this alone.

For any leader there are many ways to make mental health a priority. I want to focus on just one of these approaches by encouraging every senior manager to hold themselves accountable and agree to have one of their performance-based objectives on improving mental health.

The public sector is leading by example. The performance objectives of every permanent secretary, the top civil servant in each government department, are now linked to the mental health standards recommended in the independent Stevenson-Farmer review of mental health and employers.

This might feel daunting for some. The mental health charity Mind found that while employers wanted to make mental health a priority, a third didn’t know where to go for information or guidance.

That’s why it’s so important that today Mind is launching its new Mental Health at Work Gateway. The gateway allows employers to search resources that could support a colleague, challenge stigma, or simply learn more about mental health in the workplace.

My vision is of a society where everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential and no one loses their job because of poor mental health. It’s now time for every leader in every sector to take responsibility for creating an environment in which people feel able to disclose their mental health condition and get the help they need to thrive at work.

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/it-might-feel-like-we-re-continually-being-bombarded-about-mental-health-but-workplace-culture-needs-to-change-7cbcsxrh7

First World War Centenary Commemorations

Joining the local Royal British Legion for the annual services of remembrance commemorating those who served our nation as members of our armed forces, and as civilians who lost their lives, is one of the most moving responsibilities of my role as your local MP. This year will be especially moving, as we mark the centenary of the end of the First World War.  

Congratulations to the local people who have been successful in the recent ballot for the People’s Procession on Sunday 11th November. Ten thousand members of the public will march past the Cenotaph to mark the centenary of the Armistice later this year. 

In July, applications were opened to take part in ‘A Nation’s Thank you – The People’s Procession’. 

At the same time, people are being encouraged to ring bells around the world as the government is seeking to replicate the spontaneous outpouring of relief that took place in 1918. As news of the Armistice spread, church bells, which had fallen silent across the UK during the First World War, rang out in celebration. 

On the centenary of the Armistice it is right that we come together to give thanks to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and to those who returned home to help shape the world we live in today.  Sunday 11th November offers us a unique opportunity to show our appreciation for the generation who gave so much to secure this hard fought victory. This will be a fitting conclusion to four years of commemoration of the centenary of the First World War and will ensure that the stories from this important period of our history are passed down to future generations. 

Bell ringing and the People’s Procession will take place after the conclusion of The Royal British Legion’s Veteran Dispersal and March Past the Cenotaph, which follows the National Service of Remembrance on Sunday 11th  November 2018, the centenary of the end of the First World War. 

As you make plans over the coming weeks, please consider joining me in one of the processions and acts of remembrance in Cornwall which provide us all with an opportunity to give thanks to all those who served in the First World War. Their service to the nation secured the victory that helped shape the rights and privileges we enjoy today. 

Throughout the world, and here in Cornwall, the British Government, with the support of the German Government, has invited bell ringers of all kinds – church, military or any other – to ring out their bells at the following times: 

Bells in countries observing GMT and CET are invited to ring at 12.30hrs GMT (13.30hrs CET) 

Bells in countries throughout the rest of the world are invited to ring at either 12.30 GMT or 12.30pm local time 

The Government is supporting an initiative ‘Ringing Remembers’ which is run by the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers. This project aims to get 1,400 people ringing church bells on the centenary of the Armistice, the number of bell ringers lost in the war. 

First published in the West Briton 04/09/18

Working to reduce inequality

As a fairly frequent passenger on the London Underground I am often reminded to ‘mind the gap’ between the train the platform. While this gap is important it’s not the gap that I am most focussed on.  

I don’t think we are destined to travel a certain route just because of the place we start from. Everyone should have the chance to fulfil their potential. It is fundamental to our ideas of fairness and social justice because progress for our society should be progress for all, but especially for the most disadvantaged, the ones who start with the odds most stacked against them. 

Thanks to the hard work of our teachers and to our reforms, 1.9 million more children are now being taught in Good or Outstanding schools than there were eight years ago. That’s 88% of children, up from 66% in 2010. 

The Pupil Premium delivers support for those children who come from a less affluent backgrounds. And, importantly, we’re making sure that those interventions can be based on good evidence – through the independent Education Endowment Foundation. 

Whereas once we measured a school’s performance by its A-C pupils in five subjects at GCSE – now, through progress 8, everyone’s progress counts towards the key measure. This stops a disproportionate focus on the C/D borderline, to the detriment of others at both ends of the scale. The number of 19 year olds without GCSEs in maths and English is now at a record low. And, critically, since 2010 the gap in early years development has fallen by 14%. 

This is a good start in terms of reducing the gap, but there is more to go. Right now, 28% of children finish their reception year without the early communication and reading skills that they need to thrive.  But why do gaps like these matter? Ultimately, our education stays with us. We know there are opportunities for people, whatever their background – great schools, world-class universities and a thriving job market, so there are options. 

However, new analysis from the Department for Education looked at how children on free school meals and children with special educational needs, go on to fare in the job market. 

And the results are striking. Children eligible for free school meals when they are at school are 23% less likely to be in sustained employment at the age of 27, compared to their peers. 

And, in fact, it’s a similar result for children identified with special educational needs – 25% less likely to be in sustained employment at 27. 

Stark facts like these call for an ambitious policy response. Research shows that what happens between the ages of zero and three has the biggest impact in changing someone’s future path. That is why this government has prioritised extending high quality pre-school education and childcare. For the first time, we introduced 15 hours of free early education a week for the most disadvantaged two year olds, including looked after children, children with special needs and children of low income families. That is on top of the 15 hours free childcare offer for all three and four year olds, which we doubled to 30 hours for working parents. And we are now seeing more children start school ready and able to learn. 

But despite encouraging progress, entrenched challenges remain. 

Most pressingly, it is a persistent problem of children starting school and struggling to communicate, to speak in full sentences. 

And this matters. Because when you’re behind from the start you rarely catch up. 

On average, disadvantaged children are four months behind at the age of five. That grows by an additional six months by the age of 11, and a further nine months by the age of 16. 

So, by the time they take their GCSEs they are, on average, 19 months behind their peers. 

It is command of language, being able to express ourselves effectively, that is the gateway to success in school – and in later life. The government is expanding high quality school-based nursery provision and investing in training and development of early years professionals. 

However many more hours of nursery you provide and however much younger and younger you go, the truth is that the majority of children’s time is spent at home. While official statistics show the amount of time parents spend on development activities, such as playing and reading with their children has risen significantly, it has diverged and the gap in this time investment between parents from more and less advantaged families has actually widened. 

I am a parent myself and I know you are not born knowing how to bring up a child.  Some of it is instinctive, but most of it isn’t. I know parents can welcome advice and help. 

Successful public health initiatives like the 5-a-day campaign have become part of the national consciousness. The government wants to find similar simple solutions for busy parents to help their children’s language and literacy and is holding a summit this autumn, with a wide range of organisations, to explore innovative ways to boost early language development and reading in the home.  

Please let me have your ideas to feed into this very important work. 

First published in the Falmouth Wave 03/09/18