International Women’s Day

For decades the 8th March has brought people together to campaign for a more inclusive and equal world. International Women’s Day is marked across the globe. It is a time to reflect on what progress has been made and to focus on what more needs to be done.

At home, in school, in work and in politics gender parity is critical to empowering women and releasing the full potential of countries and communities.

Although our country’s gender pay gap is at its lowest ever level at 18.1% it is still far too high. As a government we want to see this eliminated completely. We are also extending the right to request flexible working to all employees, introducing shared parental leave, and seeing what more barriers need to be removed.

As well as doing more at home, we also recognise our responsibility to support women and girls around the world. Education provides children with the best route out of poverty. Between 2011 and 2015 the Government supported over 11 million children, including 5.3 million girls, in primary and lower secondary education in developing countries. We have committed to help at least another 11 million children in the poorest countries gain a decent education by 2020.

The UK is a world leader in tackling violence against women and girls. We support the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women and we have committed to increased investment of £80 million to oversee the delivery of the violence against women and girls strategy here in the UK.

Incredible progress has been made over the last century to give women across the globe the rights they deserve. We can all play our part to ensure that, no matter what your background or gender, you should always have the chance to achieve your full potential.

First published in the West Briton 08/03/17

Plastic Waste

It’s spring cleaning time and I will be joining constituents cleaning up local parks and beaches. Every year I am struck by the increasing amount of plastic we collect. The plastic bag tax has helped reduce waste considerably and we are making real progress with plastic microbeads too. I understand and share concerns about the impact these ingredients have on the marine environment and fish.

I have been campaigning for a ban for sometime, working with great charities such as St Agnes based Surfers Against Sewage. That is why I am pleased to tell you that, following work with the industry to achieve a voluntary phase-out, the Government has announced plans to ban them from cosmetic products completely.

The Government launched a consultation on proposals to ban the sale and manufacture of cosmetics and personal care products containing harmful microbeads. This consultation ran until 28 February. It will also gather evidence on the environmental impacts of microbeads found elsewhere, such as in household and industrial cleaning products, and consider what more can be done in future to tackle other plastics, such as microfibers, that also enter the marine environment.

Clearly there is an international dimension to this issue so I am pleased to say that the UK, along with several of our neighbours, is party to an international organisation known as the Oslo and Paris Convention for the Protection of the North East Atlantic. In 2014 its members agreed a regional action plan to address marine litter, one of its most important objectives. The plan includes international action on microplastics.

I understand that manufacturers are exploring natural alternatives to plastic microbeads, including nut shells, salt and sugar. These have the same exfoliating properties but do not threaten the environment, so the products containing them should perform just as well.

Business Rates and Schools Funding

What a joy to be in Cornwall last week, watching nature awaken from winter slumber and catching up with many local people and organisations.

Tackling the frustrating lack of progress in supporting the people sleeping rough in Truro was a priority. I am pleased to report that there are extra police officers in Truro now and the multi-agency working needed to resolve the current situation is beginning to take shape. Truro Safe will soon be distributing leaflets letting people and businesses know how they can help the Police, Cornwall Council and other partners tackle the totally unacceptable problems currently being experienced in Truro.

Business Rates are an important source of income for councils, paying for vital services such a social care. I was surprised that following a consultation on the future of business rates in 2015, the status quo with modest changes was the preferred option. As the value of property on which business rates are based changes over time, so there are periodic revaluations. I understand that most businesses won’t see an increase, with rates set to fall across Cornwall by an average of 4.9%. While improvements to small business rate relief mean many local small businesses won’t be paying any rates, concerns remain. I have raised these with the Minister and I am pleased he is listening. I regularly update my website with information:

https://www.sarahnewton.org.uk/

You can also find details of a consultation on a proposed new national funding formula for schools there. I have long campaigned for fair funding for schools in Cornwall. I am pleased that the Government listened and the current proposals are the second stage of a genuine consultation to get the formula right, including accepting the costs of small rural primaries. I remain determined to ensure that Cornwall’s children and schools get their fair share of funding and am working with Ministers to achieve this.

First published in the West Briton 22/03/17

Refugees

Britain has a proud record of helping the most vulnerable children who are fleeing conflict and danger, and this Government is committed to upholding this fine tradition.

Our response to the migrant crisis has been to establish resettlement schemes from the region, where we can best target our support to help the most vulnerable. That is why between 2015 – 2020 we will resettle 20,000 Syrians also 3,000 children and their families from the wider region.

In the last year we have granted asylum to over 8,000 children. Of the more than 4,400 individuals resettled through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme so far, around half are children. 3,000 children came through family reunion – the Dublin process, and a further 3,000 came through as unaccompanied children asylum seekers, including from European countries. For example, 900 came from Calais as part of the camp clearance process.

Behind these numbers are vulnerable people so the Government works closely with local authorities to ensure that they have the resources that they need to provide support to unaccompanied migrant children and vulnerable family’s from Syria and the region. Following discussions with local authorities the amount they receive to care for the children was significantly increased to £41,000 a year for under 16s and £33,000 for over 16s.

The Government has been clear that we do not want to incentivise perilous journeys to Europe. The migration crisis is a global challenge and the government works closely with European countries and has provided £70 million to the Mediterranean migrant crisis.

In Syria and the wider region we continue to work with the UN and invest more humanitarian aid than any other country apart from the USA. The UK has pledged £2.3 billion in aid to the Syrian crisis – our largest ever humanitarian response to a single crisis.

First published in the West Briton 15/02/17

Antisocial behaviour in Truro

So another week passes and the people sleeping rough in Truro have not received the help they need. Antisocial behaviour has escalated into a stabbing. What have these unlinked but totally unacceptable incidents got in common? Cornwall Council’s lack of grip and getting their priorities right.

During the same week that Cornwall Council leaders are defending spending more than £500,000 on a risky bid for Truro to be the EU Capital of Culture in 2023, without even securing agreement from the Mayor, a fellow LibDem Cornwall Councillor.

We all support investment in Cornish culture and tourism. Record numbers of tourists visited last year with even more anticipated. Additional investment from the Government since 2010 is significant, £750,000 for the Cornish language alone. Last week, another £100,000 was announced to start a Cornish Culture Fund.

Yes, Cornwall Council is having to make savings, like most other public services, to deal with the record national debt racked up by the last Labour government but that does not excuse them. All elected representatives have to make tough choices, but the LibDems who are the largest group of councillors are failing some of the most vulnerable people in Cornwall, as well as everyone else effected by the resulting criminal activity.

Amongst other things, disproportionate cuts to Cornwall Council’s ‘Supporting People’ funding that helps vulnerable people sustain their tenancies in private and social rented homes have contributed to the present homelessness and anti social behaviour.

So come on Cornwall Council, get your priorities right, stop wasting money and don’t further cutting services that could prevent rough sleeping and crime in Truro. If you really want to help Truro, reverse the planned cuts to Supporting People and spend your considerable resources working more effectively with partners including the Police and NHS to keep people safe.

Donald Trump

Every country is entitled to set its own immigration policy, control its own borders and do what it thinks is in the best interests of its citizens’ safety. On those issues, no nation should interfere, but the UK has an obligation to speak out and to be a critical friend to the USA because of the ramifications of the President’s Executive order for the internal stability and security of our country and the rest of the world. The order undermines what our Prime Minister said so eloquently in her speech to Republicans of both Houses of Congress last week in Philadelphia about the need not only to defeat Daesh on the battlefield, but to defeat its ideology.

The Executive order is not only wholly counterproductive in combating terrorism and the narrative of Daesh, but could worsen the situation, playing into the hands of those who would see more terrorist atrocities, not less. Those sympathetic to Daesh will link the order to abhorrent recent events—most notably, the burning of a mosque in Texas and tragic shootings at another mosque in Quebec, Canada.

I was delighted that our Prime Minister and President Trump pledged to renew the special relationship between the UK and the USA—a relationship that has proven beneficial for both countries. The uniqueness of the special relationship has meant that the Prime Minister has rightly conveyed her concerns to the President’s Administration, with some success.

If this strategy of calling for a sensible review of the order is to continue, we cannot possibly have a constructive discussion with the President unless we maintain close relations. For this reason, I think we should welcome President Trump to the UK, so that we can engage in meaningful dialogue with our closest ally in the hope of a change of stance.

Health Services

Winter is always a challenging period, and I want to thank all NHS staff and carers for their hard work and dedication. The NHS reported that, on the Tuesday after Christmas, it had its busiest day ever and that, earlier in December, it treated a record number of patients within four hours. Overall, A&E departments across the country are seeing 2,500 more patients within the four-hour standard every single day compared to 2010. The NHS made significant preparations for this winter, because winter is always a difficult time, including having 3,000 more nurses and 1,600 more doctors in full-time employment. Despite this effort nationally and locally, there remain problems we need to solve.

Having spent time in the A&E department at Treliske, shadowing the team there, I saw for myself the great job they are doing, often under considerable pressure. I also saw that many people who came along to A&E could have been cared for by their local pharmacist, Minor Injuries Department or GP. Despite the hard work of our local GPs, sometimes people wait too long to see their GPs. Sadly, the changes to the GP contract in 2004 resulted in 90% of GPs opting out of out-of-hours care. But we have been putting that right. Now 17 million people in England—about 30% of the population—have access to weekend and evening GP appointments. More than that, we have committed to a 14% real-terms increase in the GP budget by 2020. That is an extra £2.4 billion and that is expected to mean an extra 5,000 doctors working in general practice.

Ultimately, the issue of rising demand for NHS and care services is about demographic change and, as I have been saying for some time, more needs to be done to respond to that change. Over the decade to 2015, we saw a 31% increase in the number of people living to 85 and older. This is a cause for celebration, but sadly it is not matched by an increase in disease-free life expectancy. We know that when people of that age go to A&E at this time of year, there is an 80% chance that they will be admitted to hospital.

We also know that we will need to look after 1 million more over-65s in five years’ time and will need to continue to increase investment in the NHS and social care system. That is happening. But it’s not just about spending more tax payers money. It is about making smart decisions about how the money is spent.

The truth is that, to solve this problem, we need not only to increase the number of people working in general practice, which is why we are funding the second biggest increase in the number of GPs in the NHS’s history, but also to increase the number of carers and the support for family carers. Ensuring we have enough good quality care services is the responsibility of Cornwall Council. Cornwall Council need to address this and they and our local NHS leadership urgently need to get on with joining up the care they provide. This is happening in other parts of the country. This would prevent the ‘bed blocking’ we experience in Cornwall with all its dreadful knock on consequences, including cancelled operations.

As the local NHS consults on their plans for improving our local NHS and care services, I will continue to encourage the implementation here of successful approaches which have been developed in other parts of the country, where the joining up of services has improved outcomes for local people.

Sadly, as we approach the local elections in May, there is a great deal of scaremongering about the future of the NHS and talking down the considerable achievements that have been made. So let me set the record straight. We have more patients being treated and more saying they have been treated safely and with dignity and respect.

Next year the NHS will be 70 years old. I am determined to continue to ensure we have the safest, highest quality care anywhere in the world. When we have difficult winters and an ageing population, of course that makes things more challenging, but it also makes me more determined.

Published in the Falmouth Wave February 2017