Even as an island built on immigration, the landing of the HMT Empire Windrush was special. Filled with men and women who had been proactively invited to the UK, as citizens, to help rebuild our country after WWII; it was this Windrush Generation who built our homes, schools and hospitals, drove our trains, maintained our roads and cared for our sick.
Many came to Hornsey & Wood Green and raised their families here. Rightly, they’ve always thought of Britain as their home. Yet in recent weeks, eleven “Windrush” local residents have contacted me for help because they couldn’t convince the Home Office of their status and feared deportation. That same picture is playing out across the country. People who have been here legally for fifty years losing their jobs, benefits, access to healthcare and sometimes even their homes. With the Migration Observatory calculating that up to 57,000 Commonwealth-born, long-term UK residents have never formalised their status in the UK, this scandal is a long way from its conclusion.
It is shameful and it is right that Home Secretary Amber Rudd stood down. But this didn’t happen in a vacuum, it’s not an “administrative” oversight or a technical glitch. This situation has arisen because of a deliberate Government policy to create a “hostile environment” and in doing so pander to bogus immigration targets, remove crucial protections and increase deportations. It is an approach that has helped fuel xenophobic and anti-immigrant sentiment that continue to plague some parts of society. The architect of this policy, first as Home Secretary and now as PM, was Theresa May.
As an immediate response, the Government must restore the immigration protections which they removed in 2014 and confirm the rights of these early Commonwealth arrivals as British citizens. We must be told what deportations have already happened and the Government must apologise, pay compensation where necessary and invite anyone who has been deported in error back to the UK immediately. The new Home Secretary Sajid Javid must deal with concerning reports that UK residents are being threatened with deportation to Jamaica on charter flights this week.
But this isn’t enough. In the three years I’ve been MP, I’ve helped hundreds of constituents with immigration cases; many from Commonwealth countries with strong and legitimate claims to be here. A recent example is of a woman from Cyprus who came here in the early 1970s. She never applied for citizenship because the fees were too high and with indefinite leave to remain she understandably thought her future was secure. Yet in seeking to create a “hostile environment”, Theresa May’s Government has demanded these early arrivals produce written proof of nationality which many people simply don’t possess.
Too often, they have struggled to have their voices heard by a disinterested Home Office bureaucracy and deemed to be immigrants because of the colour of their skin. They’ve been told to seek independent legal advice, that, in most cases was too expensive or difficult to access. Amnesty says the Conservative Government’s removal of legal aid from immigration cases has been profound, with people left trying to “navigate complex legal processes, with ever changing immigration rules, as they face potential removal and separation of their family”.
The “Windrush” scandal is glaring proof that Theresa May’s deliberately “hostile environment” has swept anybody who can’t easily prove their immigration status into its net, especially black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.
So, whilst immediate actions to formalise the status of the Windrush generation are crucial, the new Home Secretary must also abandon this inhumane and cruel policy once and for all.
When the plastic era first emerged it was celebrated as a marvel of science: our ingenuity had made something that created something virtually indestructible that does not decay.
We now dispose of it by discarding thousands of tonnes of it into our environment every year, dumping the material on our land, in our seas and across our oceans.
We have all seen the traumatic scenes on the likes of BBC’s Blue Planet programme, plastic rapidly building up in oases of nature and life, killing our planet.
Each year we produce over 300 million tonnes of plastic. That is equivalent to the weight of the world’s entire population. Of this, over 12 million tonnes of such plastic is estimated to end up in our seas and oceans, entangling or becoming ingested by marine life. We also know that plastic microparticles are found in drinking water across the planet.
And despite awareness rising, the situation is deteriorating further. Plastic production is set to skyrocket over the next 10 years and pieces of plastic in the ocean will soon outnumber fish.
Major supermarkets in the UK alone create more than 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste – far in excess of annual household plastic waste.
There is an urgent need for change.
This is a critical issue. That’s why I have been urging the Government to work with supermarkets to reduce their plastic waste.
One supermarket is leading the charge. Iceland announced in January that it will eliminate plastic packaging from all its own brand products by the end of 2023 – an important step in tackling the problem of excessive plastic packaging and preventing further damage to our environment. Waitrose has also announced it will no longer use black plastic for its meat, fish, fruit and vegetables by the end of this year, with all Waitrose free of black plastic – which cannot be recycled in the UK – by the end of 2019.
But it is not enough. That is why last month I wrote a letter, signed by more than 200 Members of Parliament from seven political parties, to the heads of major supermarkets, calling on them to tackle the scourge of plastic waste.
We asked Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda, Waitrose, Aldi, Lidl, Budgens and Marks & Spencer if they too would commit to eliminating such packaging by 2023, if not before.
There is a moral imperative to tackle this issue for future generations and the wildlife upon which our clean environment depends.
The work of the Environmental Audit Committee in Parliament, as well as NGOs such as Greenpeace, Marine Conservation Society and Friends of the Earth has been invaluable in pushing the issue up the agenda.
But we must continue to push for an effective and sustainable solution, because the very qualities that made plastic such a wonder when first invented are now the very reasons why swift and decisive action is needed now.
For many, this New Year is not one of hope. For the who Rohingya Muslims who have fled Burma, just meeting basic needs is out of grasp.
Families in Bangladesh are sleeping in fields and muddy paths, in desperate need of clean drinking water, food and medical treatment. The refugee camps that were set up have – as with many refugee camps – have become fertile grounds for traffickers searching for the most vulnerable to turn into modern day slaves.
Yet Bangladesh remains a place of relative safety for the Rohingya Muslims, 600,000 of whom have fled from Burma. They have experienced the pinnacle of human evil, lost family and been left destitute.
Aid workers on the ground have no end of harrowing stories. But with support, they are also trying to help people rebuild their lives.
In December I spoke at a fundraiser to support displaced Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh, who fled extreme violence and are experiencing huge levels of trauma. The charity, CARE International, is providing relief activities, distributing food, as well as supporting a health clinic that is assessing and treating children suffering from acute malnutrition. They are helping with the coordination and management of refugee camps and developing programmes to protect and support survivors of gender-based violence.
But the work is far from done, with huge numbers of people in makeshift shelters in an area that has been harshly hit by flooding and with ongoing rains. Meanwhile, many more need urgent healthcare. At the time of writing, most are reliant on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic daily needs: More than 400,000 people require support to meet their food needs, while an estimated 125,000 pregnant and lactating women and children under five will need supplementary feeding.
Acknowledging the drastic nature of the situation, I was heartened to see so many members of our community turn out and dig deep for this cause, helping the charities, including the Burma Red Cross and World Food Programme, on the ground do their jobs by providing the necessary resources.
In Parliament, I too have been asking how our country can be support the Rohingya. With Bangladesh and Burma having made a deal on returning the Rohingya to Burma, I have asked the UK Government to do all it can to ensure that not a single person is returned before the conditions are independently verified as safe and that the principle of non-refoulement in international refugee law is upheld. I was assured that no UK funding will be made available to support a returns process that does not meet international standards.
Unfortunately, as it stands, returns would not be safe, voluntary and dignified nor consistent with international standards.
In the meantime, the Rohingya cannot expect for a better year. They can just hope that the international community, and our own Government, does more to push for their safe return and provides the resources for their survival.
Teachers, parents and children lobbied Parliament this month to campaign for a better, more prosperous and fairer future.
Teachers who deserve recognition and a fair salary for their work; parents who want the best for their children; students who are being denied opportunity by a Government intent on forcing through ideological cuts.
Already these young pupils have had to cope with years of cuts, while student numbers are rising and there are scarcely enough teachers or resources to support them.
I spoke to constituents concerned and worried about the biggest shortfall in school funding in a generation, because while school and academy costs are rising the Government is still failing to provide the level of funding they need to meet costs.
Under pressure the Department for Education found an additional £1.3 billion for schools from 2018-20, but this is still not enough to reverse the cuts imposed by the Conservative Government.
Schools have lost £2.8 billion in funding since 2015 alone, with 88 per cent of schools, over 17,000 in total, still facing real terms cuts.
The Government maintains its smoke and mirrors campaign by stating the education budget is increasing to record levels. This is not true: the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies stated unequivocally that despite the £1.3 billion found, the school budget will fall by 4.6 per cent when inflation and past cuts are considered. A shocking 9,400 schools were in budget deficit in 2015-16.
It is for this reason that 4,000 School Heads had to sit down and write to parents in September saying there is “simply not enough money in the system” to fund schools properly.
In our own community of Hornsey & Wood Green 37 out of 37 schools will see their real terms budget fall. From an income per pupil in 2015-16 of £5,851.40, by 2019-20 this will stand at £5,909.95 – a fall of six per cent.
St Thomas More Catholic School and Alexandra Primary School will have to absorb a real terms cut of nine per cent, while Woodside High School and Greig City Academy will see their budget fall by eight per cent and Hornsey School for Girls seven per cent.
We know what the result will be: schools already under immense pressure and cut to the bone will have to increase class sizes, reduce the curriculum and will struggle to recruit enough staff or retain good teachers.
Ask not just teachers, but experts and unions, and they will say the same – that the situation is bleak, with staff morale at an all-time low.
The point is simple: the cake is not big enough. The Government must invest in the next generation.
Next month the Chancellor of the Exchequer has a chance to do just that. When Philip Hammond delivers his Budget he must cover the current shortfall by releasing new money from the Treasury – not move money around from other areas of education spending.
The UK is one of the most wealthy nations in the world and this should be reflected in our education spending, which has been slashed since 2010.
Theresa May has spoken time and time again of an economy that works for all; yet families continue to be let down.
Plans to shut the police station have been revealed against a backdrop of crime having risen by more than 10 per cent across England and Wales – and accelerating.
With Muswell Hill Police Station having already shut and proposals to reduce services in Wood Green, Tottenham will be left as the only counter service in Haringey. Combined with the number of bobbies on the beat falling and deep cuts to police budgets the proposal is unacceptable.
There is now a sense in the community that various government decisions are bypassing us completely, failing to take views of those affected into account in favour of ever-more austerity.
The stark fact is since the Conservatives came to power the police force has been cut to shreds. There are now 20,000 fewer police officers compared to the 2010 peak and the lowest level since 1985. Compared to last year alone, there are now 924 fewer police officers.
Both front line and local police numbers are dropping and officers on long-term sick leave have increased due to the immense pressure they face. No wonder the Police Federation have labelled recent figures “deeply worrying and disappointing”.
A former chief inspector of the Met Peter Kirkham even warned earlier this year that “the streets of London have been lost” to knife crime, accusing Theresa May of being “criminally negligent with the safety of the public”.
The police do an incredible job at protecting us but they are not being given the resources to do so, with an overall 18 per cent cut to funding since 2010. With the Metropolitan Police already having made £600 million in government cuts since 2010 and facing finding another £400 million of savings by 2021, closing police stations is the unfortunate, yet inevitable, consequence of the Conservative government’s decision to rein in spending on policing. Simply put central government funding for the police has been cut under the Tories, putting services at risk. By contrast, Labour will put 10,000 police officers back on the street.
It is important to invest in police because stations such as Hornsey Police Station provide a hugely valuable and vital service in the community, with many left worried of the consequences the plan to close it down.
Just this month the police station opened its doors to the public for a community open day. Mock booking procedures and cadet training were on show to demonstrate the importance of the Police Station and the work of local police in keeping our community safe. The day highlighted the incredible work the police do all year round from this police station, bringing the community and officers closer together.
As this community work should be protected, I have written to Home Secretary Amber Rudd and have requested to meet with her urgently on this issue to implore her to rethink the cuts. I have also started a petition on my website that constituents are encouraged to sign to help keep the police station open at: www.catherinewest.org.uk/keep_hornsey_police_station_open
The government argues that the police are able to do more with less, but with crime becoming increasingly reported and violent – including gun, knife and moped crime – people need to feel secure. Now is the time for the government to rethink their strategy and give the police the means to protect us.