Rising Living Standards and Wellbeing

How does a country measure its success? The most reported measure of success is economic with gross domestic product (GDP) probably most often quoted. Of course ensuring people have the opportunity to reach their potential in their chosen occupation is important and this week’s good news of record levels of people from all backgrounds and ages in employment and growing wages is welcome. More of our children and young people are receiving a good education compared to 2010 and average life expectancy continues to rise. All these measure progress.

There is a growing recognition that how we are doing as a nation is at least as much about people’s well-being as it is about the country’s economic health.

In November 2010, David Cameron established the Measuring National Well-being (MNW) programme. The aim was to monitor and report “how the UK is doing” by producing accepted and trusted measures of the well-being of the nation. Twice a year the independent Office for National Statistics report progress against a set of headline indicators covering areas of our lives including our health, natural environment, personal finances and crime.

The measures include both objective data (unemployment rate) and subjective data (satisfaction with job) to provide a more complete view of the nation’s progress than economic measures can do alone.

The latest update of the Measuring of National Well-being programme published in April provides a broadly positive picture of life in the UK, with most indicators either improving or staying the same over the short-term (one year) and long-term (five years). It shows the strengths and challenges of different age groups in society. These insights can help target services where they are most needed and can have the best impact.

This programme has led to significant positive changes in the development of policy, particularly the promotion of good mental health and a very welcome focus on understanding and treating mental ill health. We changed the law so that mental health is taken as seriously as physical health.

The fastest growing NHS spending is on mental health £11.86 billion last year, with further growth committed.  Spending by local GP NHS Commissioners on children and young people’s mental health services grew by £103 million between 2015/16 and 2016/17, up to £619 million. This is a 20 per cent increase year on year. I am pleased that our new residential children and young people’s mental health service in Bodmin is underway.

Last week, I visited Roseland Community College, an outstanding local school, and listened to children and staff who are participating in HeadStart Kernow. It’s a partnership between Cornwall Council, our local NHS, schools, voluntary sector organisations and the National Lottery. It aims to build resilience and mental wellbeing for children and young people and from what I heard is doing a good job. This vital prevention work matters to children now and in the future as the causes of mental ill health in adults often starts in childhood.

First published in the West Briton 17/05/18

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In too many workplaces, mental health remains the last taboo – and this needs to change

Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, Virginia Woolf. These are some of history’s greatest names, best-known for their genius and creativity. And rightfully so.

What many people might not know is that they battled with poor mental health at various points in their lives. The taboo of mental ill health kept these struggles from the history books.

I’m heartened to see that in my lifetime we are much more open and willing to talk about mental ill health, with Mental Health Awareness week an opportunity to turn up the volume on these conversations.

But in too many workplaces it remains the last taboo – and this needs to change.

There is a growing body of evidence that good work is good for our health and that being out of work can have a detrimental effect on our health and wellbeing.

The latest employment figures show that there are now 32.3 million people in work – including more than 3.5 million disabled people. There are opportunities for everyone to enjoy the benefits of employment if they are well enough to do so, including those with mental health conditions.

But if we are to feel those benefits, what is equally important is that our workplace provides an environment that supports good mental health.

The theme of this week’s Mental Health Awareness Week is stress. The latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive show that 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety, affecting 526,000 workers.

Failure to address poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year – that’s a cost of between £1,205 and £1,560 per employee. This is something which cannot be ignored, and it’s essential that Government and businesses join forces to tackle this taboo.

Already, we’re taking innovative action across employment and health services to ensure support is joined up around people so they get the best possible chance to succeed in work.

We’re more than doubling the number of employment advisers working in the NHS 2019, enabling greater provision of integrated psychological treatment and employment support. And we’re at the forefront in testing different models to join up health and employment support in a range of healthcare settings, for example in GP surgeries and Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services.

On top of this, our Access to Work scheme provides personalised support for people whose disability or health condition affects them in the workplace and can include assistive technology, interpreters and our Mental Health Support Service. This week we reached a milestone of helping 11,000 people. The support helps provide people with tailored employment support and has an extraordinary success rate with 93% of people who have used the service still in their jobs after six months. We’ve developed an enhanced mental health training programme for Jobcentre Plus work coaches too.

But there is more to do. We know that poor mental health affects people of all ages, genders and backgrounds. It doesn’t discriminate, and affects around one in four across their lifetime. That’s why this Government has put improving mental health at the heart of our plans to improve wellbeing, and that’s why we are working with employers to get the support right.

First published on Politics Home 17/05/18
https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/health-and-care/illnesstreatments/opinion/house-commons/95217/sarah-newton-mp-too-many

Reducing Plastic Pollution

Ministers announced new funding for scientists at the University of Plymouth which will use it to research how particles from tyres, polyester clothing and fishing gear enter the oceans and affect marine life.

The project comes after the Government introduced a ban on miniature plastic beads or ‘microbeads’ in the manufacture of wash-off cosmetic and personal care products where the plastics can be washed down the drain. There are many other sources of small plastic particles – found in places as remote as the Arctic sea ice – including from car tyre friction on roads or through fibres from synthetic clothes released during washing. The 11-month project will build on research already under way, with scientists estimating that tyres contribute 270,000 tonnes of plastics per year while a single wash load of acrylic clothing could release more than 700,000 microfibres into the ocean.

I know that many of my constituents share my view that the impact of plastic pollution on our oceans is one of the greatest environmental challenges of our generation.  I am grateful to Surfers Against Sewage, based in St Agnes, who I have been working with for some time. They keep me updated on the latest research so that I can effectively lobby for change in Government policy. The UK is already leading the way in this area, but we want to go further – and faster. Robust scientific evidence should support our policy proposals, and through this exciting project we will build on work under way to understand better how microplastics end up in the marine environment and what we can do to tackle this in the future.

The project is being led by Professor Richard Thompson, who said: ‘The types of microplastics entering the marine environment are incredibly diverse, but recent estimates in Norway and Sweden have suggested that particles of tyre and debris from the road surface could be a substantial source. With very limited real data available to confirm the impact from these sources, there is a genuine and pressing need to establish the true scale of this issue. By combining this with an assessment of the quantities of microplastic from synthetic textiles, we can develop a more complete picture on the relative importance of various sources. We will be able to use our findings to work with the Government, scientists and industry to try to prevent these particles entering the marine environment in the future.’

It is vital that we all play our part in reducing the chances of plastic getting into our marine environment by decreasing our use of single use plastic and disposing of it carefully if we do.  It is great to see so many people, scientists, industry, businesses and organisations working together to tackle this problem and to see so many local ‘plastic free’ initiatives as well as beach cleans.  It’s difficult to kick the plastic habit but each of us doing something will add up to a big difference.

First published in the West Briton 10/05/18

Debating intervention in Syria

I have faced many challenges as your Member of Parliament, the most significant is deciding whether UK military intervention in another country should be undertaken. I fundamentally believe in our values enshrined in the rule of law and that wherever possible diplomacy should be used to resolve conflict. I know that any action has consequences, sometimes unforeseen, but so too does inaction.

I am also a mother of three children and am acutely aware that a decision to commit our armed services personnel will be putting another mother’s son or daughter in harms way. I know that during the Labour Government of Tony Blair, MPs were not always given accurate information upon which to base their decisions.

When I was elected in 2010, I joined colleagues calling for much greater Parliamentary scrutiny of national security policy and decision makers. I share the deep concerns arising from the Labour Government’s intervention in Iraq.

The Coalition Government led by David Cameron, put in place processes that are enabling far greater scrutiny of information about our national security, including intelligence, by MPs than previously.

The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament is composed of cross party members and its job is to scrutinise the work of those responsible for our national security.

The members of the committee are notified under the Official Secrets Act 1989 and are given access to highly classified material in carrying out their duties. The committee holds evidence sessions with Government ministers and senior officials.

The work of the committee is invariably conducted in secret, but its members do speak in debates in Parliament. I think that the work of this Committee provides MPs some assurance that decisions are being made on the best possible information.

Had this Committee with the new powers it acquired in 2013 been in operation during the Tony Blair years, I doubt so many MPs would have voted for military intervention in Iraq.

Most weeks in Parliament, we debate the UKs role in the world, including our involvement in the Middle East and Syria.

It is now almost 100 years since the treaty to prohibit use of chemical weapons. We have seen nation after nation sign up to this global consensus. The universal abhorrence of chemical weapons, and the programme of destruction of declared stockpiles is a considerable achievement.

In 2013 the Syrian regime committed to destroy its chemical arsenal while Russia – the mentor of Syrian Regime – guaranteed to the process overseen by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The National Security Council of the United Nations, the Prime Minister and Cabinet have seen a significant body of information, including intelligence, that indicates that the Assad regime was behind the chemical attack at Douma on April 7 that killed about 75 people and resulted in hundreds of casualties.

The Douma massacre is part of a pattern of use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Regime. International investigators mandated by the UN Security Council have found the Assad regime responsible for using chemical weapons in four separate attacks since 2014.

The military action undertaken by the UK on Saturday was carried out to alleviate further humanitarian suffering by degrading the Syrian Regime’s Chemical Weapons capability and deterring their use. The legal basis for this intervention has been published. Many countries and organisations, including NATO and the EU support this action. In degrading Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities the Prime Minister made her intensions clear – we want to do what we can to protect Syrian people from chemical weapons.

These carefully targeted and calibrated strikes were not designed to intervene in the Syrian civil war or effect regime change.

At a time of understandable tension in our relations with Russia it has been important to stress that this action does not entail an attempt to frustrate Russian strategic objectives in Syria. 
This does not represent an escalation of UK or western involvement in Syria.

I don’t believe the global community can simply turn a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons. Along with partners and as members of the EU, we have tried non military interventions, including peace talks and sanctions.

The UN have considered resolutions but Russia has repeatedly shielded the Syrian Regime from investigation and censure, vetoing six separate UN Security Council resolutions, including the UN mandated Investigative Mechanism set up to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

Of course every diplomatic effort must continue to be made to secure a political solution to the civil war in Syria but we cannot allow the use of chemical weapons with impunity.

First published in the Falmouth Wave

Lithium Mining and Stadium for Cornwall

My Cornish tin mining ancestors would have been amazed had they joined me at my recent meeting with Cornish Lithium. Cornish Lithium has partnered with the government backed Satellite Applications Catapult, which has raised £850,000 from government funded Innovate UK to see if it can develop techniques for spotting the metal.

Cornish Lithium hopes to extract lithium from salt water, which it will pump out of the ground from wells as much one kilometre deep. Most lithium is produced in South America, Australia and China, but the UK government has identified lithium as a strategically valuable resource to our country and Cornwall could have important reserves.  There are records from the 19th century of lithium being found in Cornish mines but there was no market for it at the time.

Now that lithium has become a crucial material for the development of electric car batteries, the lithium in Cornwall may represent an important resource. Lithium consumption is expected to grow rapidly over the next few decades as electric vehicles become mainstream. Additional demand is expected to come from power storage batteries that will be used to store electrical power harvested from renewable sources such as wind and solar.

The challenge posed by the study is to understand whether satellite techniques can assist in prioritising areas for exploration for the future production of lithium. The British Geological Survey, the Camborne School of Mines, which is part of Exeter University, environmental consultancy North Coast Consulting and Goonhilly are all involved. I hope that this exciting use of satellite technology will develop a new, less intrusive approach to mineral exploration, which can be exported to the mining industry around the world.

This is a good example of the Industrial Strategy in action, investing in all our futures, supporting inclusive growth in high skilled employment in Cornwall.

I also want to update you on my work with the Stadium for Cornwall partnership. As you know, I have always supported the concept of a Stadium for Cornwall as I believe it could enable the Pirates and Truro City to make progress in their respective leagues. As importantly, it could also provide a great facility for community and children’s sport in Cornwall too. I am pleased to have helped enable the current proposal of a shared, single stadium and am pleased it is supported by Truro & Penwith College who could use the proposed new facilities for a range of educational and training purposes.  Now that Cornwall Council has worked with the partners to develop an investable business plan that the majority of Cornwall Councillors have voted for, I am working with Derek Thomas MP to secure the £3 million taxpayer funding requested by the Stadium partnership from the Treasury.  We have had a number of preliminary meetings. The plans and business case will go through a rigorous process before taxpayer funding is secured and I am pleased that Sports England will be actively involved in this process.

First published in the West Briton 03/05/18

Government measures to support pensioners and savers

Every week I speak with constituents seeking advice on a wide range of everyday issues that are effecting them and their families. Many are concerned about the issue of debt, and are seeking quality, free, independent debt advice. Some want guidance on pension options. Some are worried about pensions cold calling to their families and are worried about financial scams. Others think we should have a breathing space to stop debt getting out of control.

All these legitimate issues were addressed this week in the House of Commons as the Government’s new bill, the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill, completed its journey through Parliament and into law.

With the success of auto-enrolment in work place Pensions resulting in nine million new savers, including 11,000 employees in this constituency, this Government has helped create a whole new generation of savers, including many young people who are now saving for the first time.

As well as making it easier for people to save for their future, we want to provide high quality, impartial debt advice. Last year, the Government’s Money Advice Service supported almost 500,000 people across the country with debt advice sessions. But we can and will do more. We already provide pensions guidance for people across the UK through Pension Wise and The Pensions Advisory Service but, on an agreed cross-party basis, it has been agreed that merging these three organisations into one new Single Financial Guidance Body is the right way forward for better free services and greater coverage. This development has been welcomed by the Citizens Advice Service. I know from my close working with our local CAB that advice about debt remains the most sought after type of advice they provide to local people.

We know that free, high quality, independent advice is often most effective when it is delivered at important moments in someone’s life – such as when someone leaves school, gets their first job, has a baby or retires. But we need fundamentally to change the way people think about their finances, so that people more regularly seek help and guidance throughout their life. That is why we are pioneering the mid-life MOT, which would introduce a financial stock-take for older workers. This would enable people to make informed choices around savings, retirement and their pension together. And if they do get into debt problems a breathing space allows them to address the problems before they get out of control.

And, finally, we are also banning pensions cold calling, which has become a concern for many. There are tweaks and amendments that will be needed to sort the Bill into its final form but this is a Government that has identified problems and is working on the solutions.

The Government wants to open up free, impartial, debt advice and pensions guidance to more people. The new Single Financial Guidance Body will do just that, helping people to manage their finances better throughout their life.

First published in the West Briton on 26/04/18

Military Action in Syria

I face many challenges as your Member of Parliament, the most significant is deciding whether UK military intervention in another country should be undertaken. I fundamentally believe in our values enshrined in the rule of law and that, wherever possible, diplomacy should be used to resolve conflict. I know that any action has consequences, sometimes unforeseen, but so too does inaction.

This week we debated the recent decision to use military force to degrade the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability.

It is now almost 100 years since the treaty to prohibit use of chemical weapons. We have seen nation after nation sign up to this global consensus. The universal abhorrence of chemical weapons and the programme of destruction of declared stockpiles is a considerable achievement.

In 2013 the Syrian regime committed to destroy its chemical arsenal while Russia – the mentor of the Syrian regime – guaranteed to the process overseen by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The National Security Council of the United Nations, the Prime Minister and Cabinet have seen a significant body of information that indicates that the Assad regime was behind the chemical attack at Douma on April 7 that killed about 75 people and resulted in hundreds of casualties.

The Douma massacre is part of a pattern of use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. International investigators mandated by the UN Security Council have found the Assad regime responsible for using chemical weapons in four separate attacks since 2014.

The military action undertaken by the UK on Saturday was carried out to alleviate further humanitarian suffering by degrading the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability and deterring their use. The legal basis for this intervention has been published. Many countries support this action. In degrading Syria’s chemical weapons capability the Prime Minister made her intentions clear – we want to do what we can to protect Syrian people from chemical weapons.

These carefully targeted and calibrated strikes minimising harm to Syrians were not designed to intervene in the Syrian civil war or to effect regime change.

At a time of understandable tension in our relations with Russia it has been important to stress that this action does not entail an attempt to frustrate Russian strategic objectives in Syria. 
This does not represent an escalation of UK or Western involvement in Syria.

I don’t believe the global community can simply turn a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons. Along with partners, and as members of the EU, we have tried non-military interventions, including peace talks and sanctions.

The UN has considered resolutions but Russia has repeatedly shielded the Syrian regime from investigation and censure, vetoing six separate UN Security Council resolutions, including the UN mandated Investigative Mechanism set up to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

Of course we must continue our humanitarian and diplomatic effort to support the Syrian people and to secure a political solution to the civil war in Syria but we cannot allow the use of chemical weapons with impunity.

First published in the West Briton 19/04/18