Closing tax loopholes to fund our NHS

On Tuesday night the House of Commons voted down the Prime Minister’s EU Withdrawal Agreement.  The Prime Minister showed great statesmanship in the immediate aftermath of the defeat. She made a statement inviting the Opposition parties to table a vote of “no confidence” in the Government.  Jeremy Corbyn MP had previously threatened this but not delivered but on this occasion did accept the challenge. 

I hope the Prime Minister wins and on Monday she will make a statement setting out a plan that will enable MPs from all parties to work together to find a solution to the current impasse.  

I have a section on my website dedicated to the EU referendum and regularly update it. I am easily contactable and always happy to listen to or read the opinions of my constituents. 

Despite Brexit grabbing the headlines, my daily work for you continues at pace. Many and varied issues are raised with me during my weekly constituency meetings. Sometimes these require changes to a particular “system” and working with local people to do this is a rewarding part of my role, especially when I am able to help to bring about positive change.   

A good example was a local business person who told me how overseas sellers were undercutting his business by selling their products online and not paying their fair share of taxes. Having raised this with Treasury Ministers, HMRC has taken action and in 2016 introduced new powers that has enabled the collection of £200m lost VAT. HMRC recently reported issuing over 4,600 ‘red flag’ notices to online marketplaces such as Amazon, ASOS, Etsy and Ebay since 2016. 

The number of overseas businesses making applications for VAT registration has grown to 58,000, in comparison to just 1,650 applications between 2015 and 2016. 

These new rules protect thousands of local entrepreneurs as well as enabling previously uncollected taxes to fund our vital public services. This is just one tax avoidance and evasion measure amongst more than 100 introduced since 2010 that has generated more than £200 billion revenue. 

As regular readers know, I work closely with our local NHS leaders, doctors and nurses. During meetings with local GPs the impact of the increasing costs of indemnity insurance on their ability to provide local GP services was discussed. I raised these concerns with the Department of Health and after a great deal of work with the medical profession, I am pleased that a solution has been found. 

April this year will see the launch of the long-awaited government backed GP indemnity scheme. This was announced in October 2017 and will cover all practice staff performing clinical roles under a General Medical Services (GMS), Personal Medical Services (PMS) or Alternative Provider Medical Services (APMS) contract. 

The scheme will be free at the point of use and will cover all practice work, as well as extended and out of hours services. This will enable more GPs and healthcare professionals to work flexibly and improve the accessibility of healthcare services that we all depend upon.

First published in the West Briton 17/01/19

Advertisements

Supporting High Streets in Truro & Falmouth

New Year sales shopping is such a treat with so many wonderful shops and markets selling a wide range of locally produced items, including food and drink. There is no doubt that our local high streets are a crucial part of our communities and local economies.   

However, the rapidly changing behaviour of many customers presents a significant challenge for retailers in our town centres and I am pleased that the government announced in the recent budget more action to help our local town centres to evolve.    

Building on previous business rate reductions and increases in the VAT threshold, Our Plan for the High Street was one of the announcements.  While out Christmas shopping I heard first hand from local independent retailers the positive difference these savings are making to their sustainability. 

From April 2019 small retailers will benefit from a further business rates discount, cutting their bills by a third for two years. The discount will be available to occupied retail properties with a rateable value below £51,000. Up to 90% of all retail properties will benefit, subject to state aid limits. This represents a maximum saving of around £8,000 per property per year. A retailer with an annual bill of £16,203 in 2019-20 (based on a rateable value of £33,000) will save £5,401 a year. In total, the relief is worth almost £900 million to retailers. The relief will be available to a range of retail properties including, but not limited to, shops, restaurants, pubs and hairdressers and local newspapers. 

To support the transformation of the high street, the government will create a £675 million Future High Streets Fund which will support the establishment of a new High Streets Task Force to help local areas make their high streets fit for the future.  

The fund will also support the regeneration of heritage high streets, helping Historic England restore the historic buildings that make our high streets special and become destinations that people want to visit.   

It will also support community groups looking for affordable space by trialling a service to register empty properties. The government is taking further action to strengthen vital community assets, including a 100% business rates relief for public lavatories, many of which are run by our town and parish councils. Cornwall Council will be fully compensated for loss of income as a result of business rates measures.   

The government will also trial a register of empty commercial properties, helping prospective retailers to find empty properties and help local people tackle fragmented ownership on their high street.  

The government is also taking longer term action to help high streets and town centres evolve and keep up with changing consumer behaviour so that they can remain at the heart of local communities. The £675 million fund will also invest in improvements to town centre infrastructure, including increasing access to high streets, reducing congestion, supporting redevelopment around high streets and enabling housing and new workspaces to be created.  

Wishing you and your family a Happy New Year! 

 First published in the West Briton 27/12/18

International Day for Persons with Disabilities

Monday was the International Day for Persons with Disabilities. It is a United Nations-led day, and the theme this year is “Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”. 

To mark this occasion, I launched a new stakeholder engagement forum to bring the voices of disabled people closer to Government, especially those living outside London. I also launched a call for new Sector Champions to improve accessibility of services for disabled people. 

I often meet disabled people who tell me about the challenges they face in work, using services, or simply trying to buy goods in a store or online. For retailers, this is a lost opportunity as they are missing out on £249 billion annual spend of disabled people and their families. 

I believe these initiatives will contribute to delivering our vision to create a society that works for everyone, where all can participate fully and be included, and to our progress on implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

The Network will create face to face and online forums for disabled people to share their views and experiences about policies and services that affect disabled people and will complement existing stakeholder relationships across Government. I hope local people will join our regional network. 

To bring about change, my Ministerial Retail Forum was instrumental in supporting the UK’s first ‘Purple Tuesday’ on 13 November 2018. It was funded and organised by the disability organisation Purple. Over 500 organisations signed up to take part, of which 50 were disability organisations. Hundreds of thousands of retail staff engaged in accessibility and inclusivity initiatives, supported by a range of campaign resources to help improve retail awareness of what good customer service means for disabled people. The venture was popular with the public too: it trended on Twitter and was reported by many major news and broadcast networks. 

The new Sector Champions for the countryside and heritage, product design, website accessibility, fashion, technology, food and drink will build on the work of my current 14 Sector Champions who work across diverse sectors – from music to insurance, and from arts and culture to transport.  They use their influential status as leaders to drive improvements to the accessibility and quality of services and facilities in their sector. 

Finally, I was pleased to work with Channel 4 and Purple Space, who have, together with a range of Disability Confident employers, produced a short film entitled “I don’t work properly”.  The film features disabled colleagues from a range of Disability Confident organisations talking about disability employment, along with Last Leg presenter and comedian Adam Hills. Channel 4 has created a destination www.Channel4.com/purple to accompany the film and act as an information hub for those interested in disability employment challenges. You can also view the film at: https://youtu.be/sIxNyE6IHhI 

Looking after our high-streets this Christmas

Christmas always starts for me when I join the throngs in Falmouth listening to the Harmony Choir. Everyone will have their own festive favourites from the live nativities and Santa runs to some welcome innovations such as the Science at Christmas event at the Poly, enabled by Exeter University.  

Christmas shopping is such a treat with so many wonderful shops in Falmouth and Penryn where we can buy our Christmas presents and locally produced festive food and drink. There is no doubt that Falmouth and Penryn high streets are a crucial part of our communities and local economies.  

However, the rapidly changing behaviour of many customers presents a significant challenge for retailers in our town centres and I am pleased that the government announced in the recent budget more action to help our local town centres to evolve.   

Our Plan for the High Street was one of the announcements.  From April 2019 small retailers will benefit from a business rates discount, cutting their bills by a third for two years. The discount will be available to occupied retail properties with a rateable value below £51,000. Up to 90% of all retail properties will benefit, subject to state aid limits. This represents a maximum saving of around £8,000 per property per year. A retailer with an annual bill of £16,203 in 2019-20 (based on a rateable value of £33,000) will save £5,401 a year. In total, the relief is worth almost £900 million to retailers. The relief will be available to a range of retail properties including, but not limited to, shops, restaurants, pubs and hairdressers and local newspapers. 

To support the transformation of the high street, the government will create a £675 million Future High Streets Fund which will support the establishment of a new High Streets Task Force to help local areas make their high streets and town centres fit for the future. 

This will provide hands-on support to local areas to develop innovative strategies to help high streets evolve, connect local areas to relevant experts and share best practice. 

The fund will also support the regeneration of heritage high streets, helping Historic England restore the historic buildings that make our high streets special and become destinations that people want to visit.  

It will also support community groups looking for affordable space by trialling a service to register empty properties. The government is taking further action to strengthen vital community assets, including a 100% business rates relief for public lavatories, many of which are run by our town and parish councils. This is something I have worked with Falmouth Town Council to achieve. Cornwall Council will be fully compensated for loss of income as a result of business rates measures. This may seem like a small thing but it will save our local councils vital taxpayers’ money.  

The government will also trial a register of empty commercial properties to help prospective retailers to find empty properties and help local people tackle fragmented ownership on their high street. 

While the business rates discount will provide up front support to the high street, the government is taking long term action to help high streets and town centres evolve and keep up with changing consumer behaviour so that they can remain at the heart of local communities. The £675 million fund will also invest in improvements to town centre infrastructure, including increasing access to high streets, reducing congestion, supporting redevelopment around high streets and enabling housing and new workspaces to be created. 

The government will consult on modernising planning rules to ensure that they support the transformation of the high street. There will be two consultations on supporting the conversion of commercial properties into offices or homes and the implementation of new mixed-use business models that could form the vibrant high street of the future and on how to support local areas to use other planning tools more effectively. 

It just remains for me to wish you a very happy Christmas and a healthy and happy 2019.  

First published in the Falmouth Wave December 2018 edition

 

Tackling Poverty

There is much debate about poverty in the UK.  To have an effective debate in our open but fragile democracy, we need to have objective information to consider. Over time a range of measures of living standards and poverty have emerged. Some are calculations of the amount of money people need for what society considers the essentials of life. There is much debate on what is considered essential. Other measures are about comparing how much money different groups of people have to live on compared with other groups. The most commonly reported measures of poverty use this relative poverty approach. So if average incomes were £1 million, people earning £400,000 could be deemed to be living in relative poverty. Relative poverty measures mean that, whoever is in government, there will always be people deemed to be living in poverty. 

It’s an important debate, but I am more focussed on the people living here who are struggling to make ends meet and putting more money in their pockets.  Long before I was elected as your local MP, I worked hard to help people out of poverty. When I was Director of Age Concern England, I campaigned to end pensioner poverty. Since being elected I have continued my work with people who are all too often overlooked. They need help from their families, friends, employers, communities, as well as local and national government agencies.  

The most fundamental need is for a decent, warm and affordable home. Housing costs are the biggest part of living costs for many local people, especially for those on the lowest incomes. 

Although it has taken much longer than I and many Cornwall Council employees had hoped, Cornwall Council leaders are now beginning to use the powers they have been given and their financial resources to build more social and genuinely affordable homes and to drive up standards in the private rented sector. It is thanks to this government’s new Homeless Prevention Act and the ramped-up regulation of landlords that Cornwall Council is now focussing on this issue. I am delighted that it has recently said that it will buy homes for homeless people rather than pay for bed and breakfast accommodation. 

Some people need financial help too. Thanks to good partnership working, including with Cornwall Council, Universal Credit is helping local people. The more tailor-made support local work coaches can offer people in and out of work is a significant improvement on the previous complex benefit system it replaces, where too many people missed out on support they were entitled to. It’s a major reform being introduced carefully. Lessons are being learned and improvements made. I work closely with local, impartial, expert welfare advisers, taking up issues identified and securing positive changes in processes as well as extra funding. We spent £264 billion on welfare in 2017, 34% of government expenditure. Some benefits for people who can work are capped (£20,000 per year for couples and lone parents). Pensioner and disability benefits are not capped. 

First published in the West Briton 29/11/18

We must ensure all disabled people who want to work have the opportunity to do so

It’s great news to see there are now more disabled people in work than out, and over the last five years 973,000 disabled people have entered employment. This is really encouraging, but we know there’s more to do to build on this progress and to ensure that all disabled people who want to work have the opportunity to do so.

Key to our approach is changing people’s minds, by showcasing the benefits of having a diverse workforce and the contribution that people with disabilities can make in any workplace.

The Government’s free employment scheme, Disability Confident is fast approaching the milestone of 10,000 businesses having signed up, an increase of over 4,000 in the last year alone. New research, published this week, shows that half of all Disability Confident employers have recruited at least one disabled person since joining the scheme, rising to 66% amongst larger employers. It’s great to see the scheme creating real opportunities for disabled people.

The Disability Confident scheme is intended to lead employers on a journey, so they will continue to enhance their disability employment ‘offer’. We commissioned research to assess what exactly is driving forward behavioural change among Disability Confident employers, while highlighting areas for improvement.

What really struck me about the results were the reasons employers listed for adopting more inclusive recruitment practices to attract more disabled staff. ‘Widening the pool of talent’ was the biggest reason UK businesses gave, while one in five simply said it ‘seemed like the right thing to do’.

With around a fifth of the working age population living with a disability or health condition, it’s important that we empower employers to be open in discussing any misconceptions they may have, to ensure they can discuss with experts and their peers how employing a disabled person can benefit their business.

We want to make life easier for disabled jobseekers, which is why they are now able to search for jobs displaying the Disability Confident badge on our new Find A Job website, with more than 8,000 Disability Confident vacancies currently listed.

Tailored support which enables disabled people to reach their full potential at work is key to our approach and Access to Work scheme, provides people with up to £57,200 a year to help with any workplace adjustments they may need. This can include assistive technology, transport or interpreters. Recent statistics show that last year we supported a record number of people through the scheme, including more young people and those with learning disabilities and mental health conditions.

Our own research, published today, shows that Access to Work is highly valued by users, but we are not complacent: we know there is always more to do to improve the support provided. That’s why we’re taking forward a range of measures to evolve the scheme so it supports as many people as possible.

We will be extending eligibility for the scheme to those with drug and alcohol addiction, and earlier this year we announced a new Tech Fund – making it easier for disabled employees to benefit from the innovation assistive technology can enable.

And we’re also introducing a new Access to Work workplace adjustment ‘passport’. This will provide people with a record of their adjustments so that a new employer will have a clear understanding of their requirements.

I’m committed to ensuring that people feel their needs are understood and are dealt with sensitively, and that’s at the heart of the Government’s agenda.

That’s why we’ve launched disability-specific specialist teams, who offer customers with impairments such as hearing or sight loss tailored support. We’re also taking forward improvements to the Access to Work digital service.

We know that employers and disabled people themselves know best what they need and can identify any gaps which need to be addressed. That’s why we’re listening, and constantly improving our services.

First published in PoliticsHome 16/11/18

https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/health-and-care/illnesstreatments/opinion/house-commons/99884/sarah-newton-mp-we-must-ensure

Purple Tuesday

Shopping is an integral part of our day-to-day lives, from heading to the supermarket to get the groceries to looking for gifts for loved ones on your local high street.

Sadly, there are often barriers that prevent shopping from being an enjoyable experience for disabled people.

A poll by disability organisation Purple found that more than half of the disabled people they surveyed were concerned about overcrowding. A similar proportion said they had left a store or abandoned a purchase because of a poor customer experience.

Many of us often choose to shop online thanks to advances in technology, but poor access can extend to the internet. For example, some people miss deliveries because they haven’t been given enough time to answer the door.

While these issues are felt even more acutely in the fast-approaching peak Christmas shopping period, inadequate access isn’t limited to the festive season.

A lack of provision of facilities such as Changing Places toilets can mean that disabled people might just choose to stay at home, rather than getting out and socialising, while poor staff awareness can make shopping more hassle than it’s worth.

Businesses that don’t make reasonable adjustments to accommodate disabled customers not only risk breaking the law, but they are also missing out on the £249 billion spending power of disabled people and their families.

In my experience, most businesses aren’t intentionally excluding their disabled customers – they just need more guidance to help them become more inclusive.

That’s why I’m joining forces with Purple for the UK’s first ever accessible shopping day on Tuesday 13 November. The day will see retailers – in store and online – introducing new measures to make shopping a more inclusive experience, sending a powerful message that they care about all their customers and that their business matters.

It’s often the small changes that can make a big difference to people’s experiences. Providing staff with disability awareness training, becoming Disability Confident and having clear walkways can all help improve the shopping experience for disabled customers.

More than 100 retailers are already involved with Purple Tuesday, including some of the UK’s most recognised names such as Sainsbury’s, Marks and Spencer and Argos.

Purple Tuesday is a significant step forward in showing retailers how important it is to recognise the needs of their disabled customers. By working together with disability charities and businesses, I’m confident that we can create the culture shift that is needed to ensure disabled people no longer miss out.

Find out more about Purple Tuesday at www.purpletuesday.org.uk, and Disability Confident at https://disabilityconfident.campaign.gov.uk/. You can share your experiences on social media using #PurpleTuesday.

First published in Able magazine

http://ablemagazine.co.uk/minister-for-disabled-people-sarah-newton-talks-about-accessible-shopping-and-purple-tuesday/