Wednesday 27 March 2019
[Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]
Modern Slavery and Victim Support
I beg to move,
That this House has considered modern slavery and victim support.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Betts. The debate is on an important subject and I am pleased to see that the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern slavery, the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), is here, as well as my hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), ready to engage us with speeches about what it is right to do. I thank them for attending.
People are often surprised to learn that modern slavery exists in the UK. When I talk to them, it is quite peculiar that they do not quite recognise it. However, once they are aware of it, they are surprised to learn it is not happening out of sight. There is a disconnect between the sense—mostly historical—of what slavery is, and surprise at the idea that 136,000 men and women in the UK are the victims of what we would term modern slavery. The victims are in full sight, not hidden from us. It is just that we do not see them. They are the women in suburban salons, who are beaten to get them to do work they are not paid for, the men who work 20 hours a day in unlicensed car washes where illnesses from chemicals can result in death, or those whose families back home are regularly threatened so that they will stay to do the work.
Some years ago, the Centre for Social Justice, which I set up, produced a report called “It Happens Here” and, I am pleased to say that, in that wake of that, the United Kingdom became a world leader with the passing of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. I believe that it was the gold standard for legislation to eradicate human trafficking. However, that does not mean we can afford to be complacent. I was proud of the Government when they passed the Act, and I remain proud that we are the nation that has given the lead, but I believe that if we are not careful there could be a tendency to believe that what we have done is enough, and that there is nothing more we can or should do to improve on it.
I want today to focus on victim support, which I think is the weakest element of the 2015 Act, although others’ views may differ. The Act does not establish a statutory framework for care services. Nor does it provide a clear pathway for victims to move from exploitation to recovery. In England and Wales the Government provide victims with a limited period of care on a non-statutory basis while the authorities decide whether the person is a victim—but then the support ends. To address those weaknesses Lord McColl and I are sponsoring the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill. It has passed all necessary stages in the House of Lords as well as its First Reading in the Commons. Unfortunately, it is still awaiting a date for Second Reading. I remain frankly perplexed as to why the Government will not, in general terms, think about adopting the measures in the Bill and in doing so reaffirm the UK’s position as the world leader in the fight against modern slavery.
The Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill would amend the 2015 Act in two crucial ways. First, it would put into law victims’ entitlement to support throughout the critical period when evidence to ascertain whether modern slavery has taken place is being collected. That is an important point. The provision would give people a sense of security. Secondly, the Bill would introduce a statutory duty to provide victims with ongoing support and leave to remain for a period of up to 12 months.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this important debate on an issue that we should not forget. Does he agree that if we provide more support for the victims of slavery over a longer period, there will be an opportunity to gain more intelligence, leading to the further prosecutions that are so vital to stamping out this evil practice?
That is absolutely right. It is a matter of balance—it is not only about supporting someone but ascertaining who has done what, and making sure that there are prosecutions. As my hon. Friend points out, we must ensure that practical and effective victim support is in place to prevent re-trafficking, while redoubling efforts to prosecute traffickers.
To be fair, over the past two years the Government have matched commitment with action, allocating the necessary resources, but I believe that they are not getting value for money, owing to restrictions in the 2015 Act. In 2017 a report by the Select Committee on Work and Pensions concluded that although the Act was a great step forward it did not establish a pathway for victim support. The National Audit Office noted:
“The Home Office has no assurance that victims are not trafficked again, potentially undermining the support given through the NRM”.
The national referral mechanism is the gateway for adult victims to receive support, and the NAO makes an important point about what is happening to people, and whether it happens to them again and again. It is vital for us to establish that. There is significant evidence of victims with a positive conclusive grounds decision being left homeless and destitute, and therefore at risk of being re-trafficked at the end of the NRM process. Not only are victims at risk of re-trafficking, but limited support creates a barrier to increasing conviction rates for traffickers. If we want to get after them, we need to reduce those barriers.
A Cabinet Office report has concluded that the lack of sustained support for victims is a key factor affecting the bringing of successful prosecutions, so I would like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister what steps are being taken to respond to that report. It is not the view only of the Cabinet Office. Many police forces will say the same. I accept that the Government have recognised some of these challenges and they announced new plans for victim support in October 2017. However, having talked to those involved in supporting people who have been trafficked, I believe that the proposals do not address the primary problems.
The extension of the move-on period following a positive conclusive grounds decision from 14 days to 45 days still leaves insufficient time for victims to establish a stable foundation for the future. In particular, it is not long enough to enable non-UK nationals to apply for and be granted discretionary leave to remain, which in turn gives victims access to housing, benefits and other services for a period of 12 to 30 months. The Government have stated that rather than a period of leave being provided to all victims, leave to remain should be provided only on a discretionary, case-by-case basis. However, there is evidence that victims fall through the gaps. A victim who is later granted leave to remain can even become homeless while waiting for a discretionary leave decision to be made, because the 45 day move-on period is not long enough to bridge the gap.
I do not want to seem ungrateful, because I believe that the Government’s heart is in the right place. However, the extension to 45 days will in all likelihood just postpone the point at which a victim faces homelessness, and not prevent it. If prevention is what we are after, we should try to achieve it. I therefore ask the Minister what information she has about the length of time taken for a discretionary leave application to be processed and how she proposes to guarantee that no victim will fall off the edge of support while waiting for a decision.
I understand that there are plans to offer up to six months’ access to drop-in services and improve local authorities’ response to victims. That appears on the surface to be helpful, but I am none the less concerned that it will meet the needs only of victims with a right to stay in the UK. That will leave an awful lot of people without such protection. Importantly, charities that support victims and that have left the NRM have told the Home Affairs Committee that drop-in services
“will not be sufficient for somebody who has more complex needs, who needs much more intensive intervention”.
I saw the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group nodding at that. It is a fact that there is now strong evidence coming in from the charities involved in this.
I have a third question for my hon. Friend the Minister. Can she explain, when she has the opportunity, what types of support the drop-in services announced in October 2017 will provide, and whether they will be open to those victims who do not have leave to remain in the UK? That is a critical question.
The Government have, I believe, expressed concern that offering all confirmed victims leave to remain for 12 months could create what they called a “pull factor”, increasing false claims and potentially creating a loophole in the immigration system. I have sympathy for my Government’s view, yet I believe those fears are well overstated. After all, victims cannot refer themselves in to the national referral mechanism; that can only be done by a designated first responder, which is an accountable organisation. It is also the role of the two-stage national referral mechanism process, as specified, to filter out any false claims that are not immediately identifiable by first responders.
The Government have also cautioned that false claims may be made by foreign criminals to avoid deportation. Yet, surely, if one really thinks about it, anyone seeking to avoid deportation by claiming to be a victim will be able to enter the NRM, irrespective of what support is or is not available after the NRM process. That argument does not seem to stack up when one considers it.
In the case of confirmed victims who also have criminal records, it is important to balance their vulnerability as a victim with the need to protect the public. That is precisely what the victim support Bill does, through an exception that excludes serious sexual and violent offenders who pose a genuine and immediate threat from receiving leave to remain. That is made clear in the Bill that Lord McColl initiated in the Lords and that is still sitting without, I think, much chance of a Second Reading in the Commons.
The suggestions that people will game the system mask the sad truth—this is perhaps the most dangerous part of what I am saying—that many victims are very reluctant to disclose their genuine circumstances or identify as a victim because of threats from their traffickers. We should not underestimate that: those threats and that fear and the system making them worried mean that they will not disclose those things to the authorities.
The Home Office is aware of that. After all, as I understand it, it has been made explicitly clear in the guidance provided to frontline staff, which is an interesting point. Surely the far greater problem is the sizeable number of people identified as potential victims who do not consent to enter the NRM each year. That must be the giveaway as to where the problem arises. Persuading victims to provide the police with information about their traffickers is often difficult, with a perceived lack of long-term protection as a key factor.
Of all that I am saying today, this is the bit that worries me the most; we are forcing many people to dive down again, back into that black place, because they are genuinely scared of what will happen and they believe the protections are simply not there. It is our purpose in this place to speak for them.
A support service that leaves people at risk of further trafficking cannot be cost-effective. The National Audit Office highlighted this in its 2017 report, saying the Home Office has
“no assurance that victims are not trafficked again, potentially undermining the support given through the NRM”.
That is an important point; the NAO is basically opening up the question of whether this really works and, if it does not work, how it can be cost-effective.
I genuinely welcome the digitised NRM system that is being introduced—it is a good move—but recording that victims have been re-trafficked is only a start and cannot be a proper answer to this problem. The issue is ultimately one of prevention, ensuring they are not vulnerable to re-trafficking, stopping that as early as possible and giving them that assurance.
To conclude, although I understand that time is running out for the victim support Bill to receive a Second Reading in the Commons during this parliamentary Session—time is running out for quite a lot of other things as well, it must be said—the legislation is none the less incredibly well suited to inclusion in the Queen’s Speech later this year. I would love nothing more than for the Government to look to adopt the provisions and recommendations in the Bill. It is not a single-party issue but a cross-party one, as I hope will be reflected in the comments made by my colleagues on both sides of the House.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to give this matter serious consideration. Such a Bill would show a genuinely compassionate Government, as I believe them to be, who have every right to be proud of their record but none the less seek to reaffirm their commitment to eradicating modern slavery. I hope she will also make time to meet me to discuss the proposed section 50 regulations prior to their being tabled.
I am committed to ensuring that the necessary steps are taken to ensure that the Modern Slavery Act is effective and offers victims the support they very much need. We have made a good start, but we should not sit back. We must recognise that all we have done is expose the problems that exist within the system. If we exist for anything in this place, ultimately, we exist to be the spokespeople for the most vulnerable, who have nobody else to speak for them. That is why I asked for this debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) not only on securing this important debate, but on his excellent presentation and the content of his remarks. I must say that I agreed with every single word.
There are many officers of the all-party parliamentary group here supporting the right hon. Gentleman, and they will no doubt make their own contributions, but I want to start out by echoing what he has just said; this is not a party political issue. From my other challenges to her, the Minister will know that although the Modern Slavery Act was a tremendous, landmark piece of legislation, and it would be ridiculous to say otherwise, it would be remiss of us not to say that there are issues we need to raise. We are not doing that to be negative; we want to challenge the system by saying, “Come on, wake up and let’s do things a bit quicker.”
I will put the matter in context for those who watch our debates. Here we are in this beautiful Parliament, in this wonderful Chamber, yet half a mile away—a quarter of a mile, even—there will be people who are victims of trafficking and slavery. It is unbelievable in 2019 that that is the case. When the right hon. Gentleman spoke with such passion, it was to say to the system, “Surely we can do better.”
The statistics that the National Crime Agency released just a week or so ago are stark. They represent huge increases. I know we can say that that is because of greater awareness and such things, but when we have figures showing a 36% increase in the number of referrals in a year, there is no doubt that they signify a growing problem in our country.
I say to the Minister that it has come to something when the starkest increase in those figures is in the identification of child victims of exploitation. It is unbelievable to see that the referrals for children rose by 48% in comparison with 2017. They come into the care of the state, and many of them are, as the right hon. Gentleman said, going missing. Of course nobody wants that to happen, but when ECPAT UK—Every Child Protected Against Trafficking—is telling us that, according to its research, 15% go missing at least once, and 190 went missing permanently, it is a national disgrace. It is not that the Minister wants that to be happening, but it is a wake-up call for all of us to say that we should do more and do better.
Victim support is a crucial part of this. I say to the Minister that I cannot for the life of me understand why the Government are to an extent resisting Lord McColl’s Bill. Everything that the Government do is to try to improve victim support. If people have a conclusive grounds decision under the NRM, they will get 45 days. For most people, it is just impossible for their immigration status, even if it is a case of special discretionary leave, to be sorted out in that time, so they go into a twilight world. That is the reality.
I say to the Minister again that the whole system is bedevilled by the clash between the desire to support victims, and the immigration system. I think that we have to be a bit braver as a country and say that of course we want a fair and effective immigration system, and one that works, but we are not going to have a system that, because that is our priority, puts victims of trafficking and slavery at risk. There is a policy clash, and I know that the Minister is aware of it. I suspect that she goes and argues that and perhaps does not get the response that she wants, because in my mind I can hear her arguing what I am saying and others in government saying, “Unfortunately, we have to be careful, because it will be a pull factor and people will be swarming into the country on the basis of saying that they are victims of trafficking.” That is nonsense, and the Government need to sort it out. I very much support Lord McColl’s Bill.
I shall conclude my remarks to keep to six minutes, but I want to challenge the Minister. Section 49 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which relates to guidance about supporting victims, has still not been enacted three or four years after the Bill was, so the statutory guidance has not been dealt with. I know that the Minister is to consult on it and that different groups are interested. I should have declared at the beginning of my speech my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests about my links to the Human Trafficking Foundation. I just say to the Minister that there is a desire for broader consultation on the matter with the sector, and I think that that is important.
Finally, if we look at the child victims of trafficking in the system, it is astonishing to see that the majority of those children are British. The majority of trafficked children referred to the national referral mechanism are British. Surely it is a wake-up call to all of us, when we lecture the rest of the world, that we have a real problem ourselves—generally, because of county lines, and because of the experts. All of us know that this is a very real challenge. The children of our country deserve better and the victims of this country deserve much better support than they are getting at present. That is the challenge for all of us, and I know that the Minister will take it forward.
It is a huge pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) and the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), who chairs the all-party group. I have the honour of being one of his vice-chairs, and if I may say so, he does a very good job indeed in leading the group.
William Wilberforce was and remains one of my heroes and inspirations for coming into politics. As my right hon. Friend said, it is unbelievable that the practice that Wilberforce campaigned against so forcefully, over 40 years, all those centuries ago is still so prevalent today. I believe in social justice, and this could not be a more significant social justice issue, as the chair of the all-party group so powerfully said.
I have worked with many non-governmental organisations in this space. I shall mention just a few: the International Justice Mission, Hope for Justice, STOP THE TRAFFIK and the A21 Campaign. There are many others. If there are some organisations represented behind me in the Public Gallery that I have not mentioned, they should consider themselves praised as well. They all do brilliant work and we need every single one of them in this fight.
This issue got a little more real for me when in leafy south Bedfordshire, in a wonderful village in my constituency one Sunday morning, 200 police officers went on to a Traveller site and liberated 24 victims of modern slavery, 19 of whom were British, just to follow up the point made by the chair of the all-party group. What was even worse was that the same thing happened again on that site on two subsequent occasions. We are here this morning to stop re-trafficking. In my constituency, I have had that example of where this has happened again and again on the same site. That is not something that any of us should stand for.
I declare a slight family interest, in that my daughter Camilla is doing sterling work, as a medical student, to explain to other clinicians the role of the national health service in spotting victims of modern slavery in order to bring it to an end. That is so important and I will explain why. A few years ago the all-party group met a young English learning disabled man who had been kept as a slave on a Traveller site in Wales. He broke his leg during that time and was taken to a hospital in Wales. No one spotted that he had no English family with him. Irish Travellers were dealing with his care; they got him in and got him out and did not take him back for any of his physiotherapy. He was then held prisoner, effectively, as a slave, for many more years. We met his parent in the all-party group, and one thing that they asked for was that national insurance contributions for his time in slavery be credited to him so that he did not lose out on his state pension. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister might update us on that issue; I have mentioned it to her before. I think that she was battling with the Treasury on it and perhaps she will have good news for us later. What happened to that young man was a disgrace.
That goes to the heart of the debate. It is about stopping people being re-trafficked, whether the same thing is being done again and again just at one site, as happened in my constituency, or whether the wonderful clinicians and other people—the doctors, nurses and healthcare assistants—who work in our NHS are failing to take an opportunity to spot that someone is a victim of modern slavery. That is why this issue matters so much.
My hon. Friend talks about medics having a responsibility, but we, too, have a responsibility. I am sure that many of us unwittingly go to car washes and nail bars where there are undoubtedly victims of slavery. We need to be more aware of that and get that message out.
I go to more car washes than nail bars, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Actually, I can think of one place that I go to and I feel guilty that I have not yet checked what is happening there. I think that there is a campaign—perhaps other hon. Members will speak about it—whereby we can check; I think that there is some sort of certification scheme. It would be a good thing for all of us to make those checks.
I think that we will get more prosecutions if we have a longer period of safety for people. I note that England and Wales are behind Scotland and Northern Ireland. As a proud Englishman as well as a proud Brit, I am not happy with that; I want us to be among the best in this country. I note the comments of the National Audit Office, which are sensible and measured. It is looking across Government and looking at what works and at value for money for the taxpayer. The NAO wants change. There is also the Crown Prosecution Service and the cross-party Select Committee on Work and Pensions; all are making the same points.
It strikes me that we have a proud tradition of giving asylum in this country, and rightly so—it is part of what makes us civilised—and asylum is given on the basis of a well-founded fear of persecution, but for the people we are discussing, it is not a case of a well-founded fear; they are actual victims. They have actually suffered persecution; there is not a fear that it might happen. Of course, for some asylum seekers, it has also already happened. Why do we treat victims of modern slavery, who have been persecuted, worse than asylum seekers who have a well-justified fear? Of course, giving asylum is the right thing to do, as I said, for asylum seekers. We know that the individuals we are discussing today cannot self-refer; they will go through all the proper immigration procedures.
I was pleased to see, in the Free for Good briefing that we were sent, that there is an onus on the home countries of foreign victims of modern slavery to do their bit to provide a safe, independent future for those victims in their home countries. That may not be possible for everyone, but we should put pressure on some of the home countries, whether it be Nigeria, Vietnam or wherever. Perhaps people need a new identity. Perhaps they need help to move back to a different part of their home country so that they are safe there as well.
I am glad to speak on this most important subject. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) on securing this debate and on his outstanding introduction. My only criticism is that he did not leave much for the rest of us to add—he truly was brilliant. I encourage people who read the transcript to share his speech far and wide, so that people can understand where we are, how we got here and where we might go.
It is important that, when we meet people in the course of our normal work, we say that this is happening under our noses. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) mentioned that it is happening close to here. We walk past it and drive past it. We might unwittingly go into such establishments. It happens on our estates. It behoves us to make a stand and say that it is unacceptable in all of its forms in our community.
There is a high level of understanding of this across the House and everybody is appalled, but we have to ask whether we are doing enough. As the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green said, we brought in world-leading flagship legislation but, three years on, has it done what we want it to do and could we develop it? That does not imply criticism of Home Office Minister—far from it. In many ways we are pioneers, but that means we will have to learn along the way, by looking at what we can do better.
I echo the call for Lord McColl’s Bill to have Government time in the Chamber. If it cannot, what is the hold-up? We know that 45 days passes in the blink of an eye for people recovering from this incredibly traumatic experience. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling touched on the practicalities of entering the system. From our personal casework, we know that 45 days is no time whatsoever to help people to unpick exceptionally difficult trauma and understand, having had all their agency removed, what they wish to do with their life. For many people, 12 months would feel like a tight period of time, but it would give those individuals better time for proper reflection.
Not everybody would need that. I was with a brilliant charity in Nottingham a few weeks ago—the Micu Bogdan Foundation—which specialises in support services for Romanian men, specifically in helping Romanian men go home if that is what they wish to do. Some do not want that, but many do. To have that quick contact and then leave is absolutely fine, but we need to put the victim at the heart of that, and to finally hear their voice after they have had it taken away for so long. To give them that agency back is a profound thing for us to do. I am interested to hear the Minister’s reflections on rights to work. We have a high level of political consensus that work is exceptionally important for an individual to build their life around and give them dignity, so I am not convinced that having someone sat staring at four walls and reliving a trauma is the most effective way to help them rebuild their lives.
I know the Minister has put a lot of personal investment into reforming and improving the national referral mechanism. When I talk to victims, I always ask them about their experience in the NRM after I have asked them about their experience being trafficked and exploited. The two experiences are eerily similar. They say, “I don’t really know what’s happening. I don’t have a choice over where I am living. I have been moved at short notice.” That will not do. We need clarity in the NRM. The system might be complicated because of the nature of investigations, but we have to get at least a little more dignity into it. I know the Minister is committed to that, but I would be interested to hear a little bit more on it.
We should welcome the review of the Modern Slavery Act chaired by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field). That is a good sign that there is a genuine desire for dialogue and improvement in the Home Office. I hope we look at what comes out of that. I recently left the Select Committee on Home Affairs, where the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) does outstanding work on these matters. I hope that, when the slavery report comes out, the Home Office will listen and try to improve.
There are many causes for optimism. I am pleased that 85 councils have signed the Co-operative party’s charter against modern slavery. I am a proud Co-operative party MP. I bug the Minister a lot on the enforcement and monitoring of section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act. We are moving, but I would like us to be moving a little bit quicker. I hope we hear more about what the Minister plans to do with those who do not comply, but big business—a turnover of £37 million or more—is only one part of it. The collective purchasing power of local government is absolutely massive. Having local authorities come together to say, “We don’t want to be part of this either and we will ensure that we are not,” and holding themselves to that section 54 standard is very good, but Ministers may want to consider whether the public sector should be covered by it more generally.
There is a lot to reflect on. In a positive spirit, we should be proud that we have world-leading legislation, and that other countries have picked up the banner and sought to do the same. Three years on, it is important to say that we share a view that we want to get victims out of their difficult situations, and help them to rebuild and live a full and happy life. We now need to ask whether what we are doing in statute promotes that. As I said, that does not imply criticism—it is just time to develop the legislation.
Two days ago, 25 March, marked the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Tragically, slavery is not merely an historical relic. In fact, more people are in slavery today than during all the years of the transatlantic slave trade between the 15th and 19th centuries combined. A staggering 40 million people globally are victims of modern day slavery. That excludes tens of millions of child labourers.
Through the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the UK sought to take a lead in tackling this tragic scourge of our age, but there is unfinished business. Trafficked victims need more support, hence I fully support the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill, and the excellent speech and work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). The Bill seeks to improve the assistance and support for victims over a 12-month period, which is still short given the trauma they have experienced. Much support is needed, such as safe accommodation, financial assistance, medical help, counselling, a support worker, appropriate information, translation and interpretation services, legal assistance and help with representation.
I want to focus on the fact that helping victims to rebuild their lives in this way should give them increased stability, confidence and trust with the authorities, so that they can engage with police, prosecutors, courts and others, which can be daunting even for those who have not been through a traumatic experience. That is essential, if we are to prosecute and convict the perpetrators of this terrible crime of selling a fellow human being, and to deter others from doing the same.
I am pleased to see the Minister in her place. In a debate in this Chamber on 9 October, 2018, she said:
“Law enforcement is a vital part of this picture. We want to successfully investigate and prosecute those who ensnare human beings in their gangs or slavery networks.”
“We have invested £8.5 million to transform the police response”.—[Official Report, 9 October 2018; Vol. 647, c. 82WH.]
I would be grateful if she could update us on that work. Without better engagement and enforcement, we will never see this trade stop. That will require better engagement with the victims.
Reducing modern day slavery requires a far greater increase in the number of successful prosecutions of traffickers. In many cases, victims have vital information, which can be the key to achieving convictions. However, unless they are well supported, and have stability and confidence in their future, many will be simply too afraid to engage with the police. It can take a significant time for them to begin to trust enough to engage with prosecutions.
We need to increase the number of successful prosecutions. The National Audit Office report, “Reducing modern slavery”, said that
“victims agreeing to act as witnesses and then being available for the trial”
is a key complexity of bringing modern slavery cases to court. In January, a representative of the Crown Prosecution Service told the Home Affairs Committee that a Cabinet Office deep dive into the reasons for the low number of prosecutions highlighted the
“lack of sustained support for victims”
as a key factor. The former Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner stated that
“one of the best forms of intelligence and information is from the victims, and if we are continually letting them down, how are we ever going to get the prosecutions and the confidence of victims to come forward?”.
The Work and Pensions Committee has recognised that a lack of sustained support is a barrier to successful prosecutions and leaves traffickers at liberty to exploit future victims. Last year, Nusrat Uddin, a solicitor with experience of representing victims of modern slavery, undertook research into the different support systems available for victims in the UK and other countries. Her report highlights:
“The prosecution process can be a long and complicated process and without this support in place, victims struggle to engage”
with the criminal justice system. After comparing different systems, she concludes that
“both the US and the other European countries offer long term support workers”
for as long as victims of trafficking require. Since the enactment of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, she continues,
“there has been increased funding announced for law enforcement dealing with trafficking, however this research shows that funding will be futile without appropriate investment in support services.”
Cases have been reported of victims becoming homeless after leaving a safe house and of the police being unable to trace them to take evidence. Those findings are echoed by case studies shared with the Home Affairs Committee by a representative of the Snowdrop Project in December, who reported that a survivor who had given evidence against his traffickers had said:
“If I wasn’t being supported right now, I wouldn’t think about going and giving evidence against my traffickers”.
His traffickers were eventually sentenced to a total of 43 years in prison—convictions that would most likely not have happened if the man had not been given support through the process.
We need the Government to make sustained support a priority, not just because it is right for victims, but because it is vital to increasing prosecutions and stopping criminals exploiting more vulnerable people. It is a matter of promoting justice and stopping one of the gravest injustices of our, or any, age.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) on securing this debate on a vital issue and on the timeliness of having it during the week of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) for his work as chair of the all-party parliamentary group.
We have already heard about the inadequacy of domestic legislation on victim support, and we all know that referrals of suspected victims of modern slavery in the UK have risen dramatically in the last five years. Between 2017 and 2018, according to the National Crime Agency, the number of potential victims of modern slavery referred by the West Midlands police to the national referral mechanism rose from 85 to 117—an increase of 32%—of which 28 were exploited as minors. Of the 45 referred by Birmingham City Council in 2018, 38 were exploited as minors, which is the most in any local authority. We cannot afford to be complacent about this problem.
I welcome the important steps that Birmingham City Council is taking to tackle modern slavery, including producing a modern slavery transparency statement to comply with section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which requires transparency in supply chains. Can the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to ensure that they are compliant in all their procurement and outsourcing? The 2015 Act gave courts the power to make reparation orders against anyone convicted of modern slavery offences, which requires them to pay damages to those who had suffered at their hands. Can the Minister tell us how many such orders have been made, what the total sum paid in reparations is, and what the average payout has been?
According to Hestia’s report this week, prosecutions for perpetrators of modern slavery offences remain low, with only 7% of recorded cases of modern slavery being referred to the Crown Prosecution Service. Does the Minister think that is good enough? What steps are being taken to ensure that perpetrators of modern slavery face justice?
Reparations are not enough; the support required for survivors is more than just monetary. Unless modern slavery is tackled head on, local authorities will continue to have to pick up the pieces, and our already stretched local support services will obviously face additional pressures. Survivors deserve the best care and the Government cannot continue to abdicate responsibility by palming that off. First, however, we need to identify potential victims, so frontline staff need training and expertise on signs and indications, and they need a clear and obvious route to report potential cases to be investigated.
Victims deserve the ability to rebuild their lives following the statutory support period that they are entitled to. Initiatives such as the Co-operative Group’s Bright Future programme seek to help victims back into work. Will the Minister support the extension of that scheme to other co-ops and businesses?
Modern slavery is not just an issue in the UK. Alliance 8.7 is the global partnership to end forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking and child labour around the world and it estimates that around the world 40 million people are in modern slavery and 152 million children are in child labour. Gender-based inequalities and discrimination are the primary causes of slavery for women and girls, according to Urmila Bhoola, UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery. Of the 5 million people who are victims of forced commercial sexual exploitation, more than 99% are female. Meanwhile, men are more likely to be victims of forced labour in construction.
We can take steps domestically and internationally. What discussions has the Minister had with colleagues to ensure that businesses operating in the UK detail all the actions taken to investigate their global supply chains for modern slavery and labour violations, including forced labour?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) for securing the debate.
Modern slavery is no less abhorrent than the appalling inhumanity of earlier centuries. In that era, Robert Burns described, “Man’s inhumanity to man”, which still exists to this day. As has been mentioned, William Wilberforce’s name is synonymous with the anti-slavery movement, having devoted much, if not all, of his life to the cause. In 1807, he finally convinced Parliament to prohibit the slave trade, although it was not until 1883 that there was what we believed to be a total abolition of slavery. It is unforgiveable that parts of our society have regressed to such an extent that that outlawed practice appears to have been resurrected.
Today’s victims have their personal identity documents seized by traffickers to entrap them, and they are intimidated with threatened violence should they seek freedom from what I describe as the blight of bondage. That prevents victims from reaching out for the help that should be there for them. It is unacceptable that human trafficking involving men, woman and children happens at all, that it is rife throughout many parts of our country, the United Kingdom, and that those from both within and outwith the UK are subject to it.
In 2017, there was a 38% rise in the number of trafficking referrals to Police Scotland, which I applaud for having a dedicated human trafficking unit. The force has issued advice to landlords and letting agencies to raise awareness that trafficked people often live in or are forced to work in rented properties. However, we must be alert to the potential for human trafficking on our doorstep, as has been said, and we must ensure that we as members of the public are proactive in reporting any suspicions to our respective police forces. The police cannot do it alone—they need our help to gather intelligence.
It is to be welcomed that the Scottish Government have issued “Slavery and human trafficking: guidance for businesses” and are providing funding to Migrant Help and TARA—the Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance—which are two organisations that provide welcome support to victims of trafficking. In 2017, the Prime Minister launched a call to action to eliminate modern slavery and human trafficking. I am pleased that the call was endorsed by more than 75 other countries, which have pledged to act to eradicate such repulsive practices. Pressure must be applied on other countries and nations to end modern slavery.
I trust that all Governments will continue to play their part in tackling predatory traffickers, including by ensuring that they are swiftly brought to justice and receive sentences proportionate to their crimes, and that they will ensure that the victims receive appropriate support to recover from what I can only imagine must be a horrific set of circumstances to experience and live in. I reinforce that by specifically asking the Minister to work with others to bring an end to the scourge that is modern slavery and to introduce legislation to assist in achieving that worthwhile and important goal.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith)—I nearly said “north London”, to be quite honest—on securing this debate. I also thank the Minister, as I know she takes this issue very seriously.
I will echo some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) about the non-party political nature of this debate. I have been to a number of debates on this issue in this House where, regardless of political party, of where a Member comes from in the country and of our personal politics, there is a clear understanding that this is a problem that we can tackle. Collectively, we have the ability to tackle it and Lord McColl’s Bill gives us the vehicle to tackle it. If we can make progress with that, we will take a huge step forward in securing equality and justice for those people who have suffered at the hands of some of the most unscrupulous people in our country.
I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) about the work being done by the right hon. Members for Birkenhead (Frank Field) and for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller). The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was a starting point; it was never an end point. It was never meant to be the be-all and end-all of the process. It was introduced to say, “We have a problem. Here is how we can start to fix it, but this has to evolve over time to reflect the nature of the problem that we have in this country.”
I fear that modern slavery on a small scale—the individual cases—does not necessarily get the traction that it deserves. I will just tell a little story, if I may, about a constituent of mine, who contacted me regarding concerns that he had about social care. He is an elderly gentleman who lives in a very nice part of my constituency. He did not want to sell his house to go into residential care, so he told me that he had read about a scheme, one that he thought was very sensible and very logical, whereby he could have somebody come from abroad who could live in his house, who he would feed and give a bit of pocket money to, and in return they would help him with his domestic care arrangements. In his mind, that was a perfectly acceptable, almost magnanimous, thing that he could do to help somebody from overseas who he knew was less fortunate than him. I talked him through it, explaining that that was actually modern slavery—that was somebody who would be in tied employment to him. He did not see it like that. He does now, I hasten to add, but at the time he saw it as a way both to help somebody and to get some of the help that he needs.
As we talk about the process going forward, we need to be very clear that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North said, the big companies will be covered by the 2015 Act and by the declarations, but these smaller situations, where individuals do not realise that they are perpetrating a crime and the victims do not realise that they are being subjected to a crime, need to be teased out.
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) talked about asylum seekers versus those who are victims of modern slavery. I think the reason for that is that somebody can self-refer to the asylum programme but they cannot self-refer to the modern slavery referral mechanism. Could the Minister say whether that is something that the Government will look at?
I will not take up any more time, Mr Betts, but all I will say finally is that we know, because we have debated this in this Chamber and in the main Chamber on numerous occasions, that there is a growing problem, a growing need for change and a growing opportunity for change. Organisations such as the Co-operative party, whose charter has been signed by many cross-party councils, show that there are practical solutions to offer help. The Co-operative Group, through its Bright Future programme, offers jobs to people who have been found to be victims of modern slavery. However, these are all ad hoc things that are being done in spite of Government rather than with Government.
All I hope is that, at the end of this debate, the Minister can take back to the Government and the Leader of the House the message that some time to debate Lord McColl’s Bill is all we are asking for, so that we can make progress and help those people who need our help most.
It is good to see you in the Chair, Mr Betts. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), not only for securing this debate but for the work that he and Lord McColl have done on their legislation, and indeed for his very powerful and comprehensive speech.
I also pay tribute to the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern slavery, which is chaired very ably by the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) —I pay tribute to him and all his colleagues from the group. I have to say that, on the very rare occasions that I make it along to a meeting of the APPG, the knowledge and expertise on display puts me to shame, but I share the APPG’s commitment to the cause, as all hon. Members do, which has been demonstrated by the range of excellent and comprehensive speeches we have heard.
It is appropriate to pay tribute, as the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) did, to all the fantastic groups providing support to the victims of these awful crimes, as well as campaigning for reform. As hon. Members have said, it is tragic that this range of crimes is so prevalent in the 21st century in the United Kingdom. The figures and the historical perspective provided by the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) were horrifying.
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was welcome and world-leading. Of course, it was very quickly followed by equivalents—indeed, almost replicas—in Northern Ireland and Scotland. The review of the legislation announced by the Government was therefore also welcome and, as anticipated, the reports produced by the review group have been both thorough and helpful. However, as I understand it, the scope of the review does not address head-on the issue of support for survivors, so this debate is a timely and welcome way to fill that gap.
Members have raised a number of issues, primarily about immigration status and the possibility of a statutory support scheme, so I will address those first of all. Regarding immigration status, the starting point has to be the Work and Pensions Committee report on modern slavery, which made powerful points about the complexity and the dubiety surrounding victims’ immigration status and their access to support after going through the NRM process. Some victims will be recognised as refugees; there will be a smaller number of non-European economic area nationals who obtain discretionary leave automatically; and there will be a similarly small number of EEA nationals who can apply for that discretionary leave. Other EEA nationals will find it difficult to show that they are exercising treaty rights at all and will have significant difficulty in accessing benefits. Many more victims will have no immigration leave at all.
During the course of the Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into modern slavery, Baroness Butler-Sloss, who is obviously an expert, told the Committee that the lack of any form of automatic entitlement for victims of trafficking while they take even basic steps to rebuild their lives is a “ludicrous situation”. The previous anti-slavery commissioner pointed out that there is precedent in the two years’ leave given to victims of modern slavery who are here under the immigration rules as domestic servants.
The Committee recommended that all confirmed victims of modern slavery be given at least one year’s leave to remain with recourse to benefits and services. Even though that is not what every single victim would want, as the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) pointed out—he is very sadly missed on the Home Affairs Committee—it would provide significant support and encouragement for victims of modern slavery.
Add to that the simple fact that, if imminent removal from the country is a realistic consequence of coming forward as a victim of trafficking, it makes it harder to encourage them to come forward in the first place, and therefore it also makes it more difficult for us to be able to prosecute the traffickers and the perpetrators of these crimes. For all those reasons, we support the recommendations of the Work and Pensions Committee on automatic immigration status.
I support the assessment of the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green of the pull-factor arguments sometimes put by the Government. I add the simple point that we should build our system around fear of what those who want to abuse it might do. First and foremost, the system has to be built and shaped around the needs of victims, and it is an open-and-shut case for automatic immigration leave.
Members have highlighted the fact that there is no statutory provision for support in the 2015 Act. Such a provision was written into the slightly later legislation in Northern Ireland and Scotland. That highlights the benefit of going second, when it is possible to reflect and build on what has gone before. Groups working on behalf of victims believe that the statutory underpinning of support is helpful, and the Government should address that and look to replicate it.
The Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 came before the Modern Slavery Act 2015—it was passed in January 2015—yet we had that statutory provision for support beyond the 45 days. However, the hon. Gentleman will know that that support is constrained—it is provided only if a victim has leave to remain in the United Kingdom. While recognising that immigration matters are still reserved matters, we see that any future change would have a knock-on impact, so that the service provision in Scotland and Northern Ireland—albeit that we are ahead of the curve at this stage—would need to be replicated for victims who do not have entitlement to remain.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for correcting me and he makes a valid point about how all these things are rolled up together.
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about the length of support, the Government have moved from 15 to 45 days, which is very welcome. The Scottish Government recently consulted victims and groups that support them, and opted for an extension to 90 days. I am not engaging in a bidding war here, but simply making an attempt to best reflect the complex process of recovering from the trauma of being trafficked. There is a good case that a period of 90 days better allows people to move on from the NRM process to access housing, to apply for social security, and to apply for discretionary leave, to which Members have referred. We may need to go further in Scotland, but it is about looking at the evidence and seeing what works best.
This has been mentioned, but I hope that the Government desist in their drive to cut support to those who are going through the NRM, which was struck down in court late last year. In my view, the level of support for asylum seekers is outrageously low. If the Government want to level the rates, they should be levelling up and not down, and saving themselves money by strengthening the right to work for asylum seekers and those going through the NRM, as pointed out by the hon. Member for Nottingham North.
The chair of the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern slavery, the hon. Member for Gedling, highlighted the number of kids who are going missing. The review panel has only just published its third interim report on support for children. At first glance, it seems to acknowledge that the Government have done good things, but also makes positive recommendations about what can be done better. It mentions the acceleration of the roll-out of independent child trafficking advocates, and the length of time they are allowed to engage with children.
Although beyond the scope of the review group support, it was noticeable that it appears to be positive about the fact that, in Northern Ireland and Scotland, all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children had access to a guardian, so that support arrives even before NRM decisions. That does not address the fact that the majority of child victims are UK citizens, a point made by the hon. Member for Gedling, but it flags up the possibility that providing support for kids who are going through the NRM is one way of stopping so many of them from going missing.
There are a million other issues that we could have touched upon and have not, such as national insurance, public awareness raising, asking people to be vigilant, legal aid, reparation procedures, police and frontline training, and so on. In reality, we probably need an afternoon in the Chamber to discuss all aspects. I recognise again that there is commitment across the House to tackling this problem and a genuine desire to get as close as possible to eliminating it. We will continue to revisit the subject and keep pressure on the Home Office to deliver, but I recognise that there is commitment from every part of the House. I thank the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green again for bringing the debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. It is also a pleasure to speak from the Front Bench in support of my friend, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). We have campaigned together on many issues and I congratulate him on his excellent speech.
During my time as an MP I have spent many hours working with vulnerable groups, from prostitutes to victims of trafficking. I have heard some terribly heartbreaking stories about victims of modern slavery, who have been exploited, terrorised, trafficked and stripped of their rights. Not 10 miles from here I cried with a woman who was forced to sell sex, and whose children were used as a weapon against her to prevent her from reporting the situation. In every nail bar in the country that I visit, I check, like Miss Marple, to see whether there are any signs of trafficking. That is not because I am nosy—although I am—but because it is so easy today for people to be trafficked and forced to do work that they should not be forced into doing.
Support and assistance for potential victims of modern slavery does not have statutory underpinning. That creates several issues, not least the fact that vulnerable individuals are left open to potentially being re-trafficked. That is why it is vital that significant support is available to these individuals, to help them in their devastating situations and stop them being re-trafficked.
Figures, which Members will be aware of, released by the National Crime Agency a couple of weeks ago showed that the number of reported potential trafficking and modern slavery victims had risen by 36% in a year. A hugely worrying trend in that increase was the alarming number of young people. Referrals for minors who were potential victims rose by 48% on the previous year’s records; that is partly down to children being forced to sell drugs as part of the county lines phenomenon.
ECPAT UK reported that children make up nearly half of all victims of modern slavery in the UK. They are involved in labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and organ harvesting. Central Government fund an annual £9 million contract for the delivery of specialist support in England and Wales to adult victims. That is not enough to support the adults and children who are victims or potential victims of modern slavery, and the Government must properly resource and fund services to do that.
Worryingly, the Human Trafficking Foundation has highlighted the lack of records about what happens to victims once they have left the referral mechanism. The fact that hugely vulnerable individuals are being lost from the system demonstrates the real danger that they will be re-trafficked, and the fact that they can just disappear highlights the worrying lack of support for these victims. There are currently no guarantees for those who seek help, so it is important that steps are taken to guarantee support for potential and confirmed victims of modern slavery. The National Audit Office concluded that currently the Home Office can offer no assurances that victims are not re-trafficked.
There needs to be a strong, co-ordinated response from all services to tackle modern slavery, and our police forces are at the forefront of that. In 2018, police forces referred 2,084 individuals, but they and other support services must be properly resourced. They must have sufficient funding to support victims and punish the perpetrators of these degrading crimes. It is a matter of urgency that we commit to do more to support survivors of modern slavery, trafficking and domestic violence, to prevent them from being re-trafficked. We must do more to protect the most vulnerable in society.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) for securing this important debate on support for victims of modern slavery. I thank all right hon. and hon. Friends and Members for their collaborative contributions and for challenging me, the Minister, as they are right to do. I thank them for the tone of the debate; it was as is usual in this arena, particularly with Members who are committed to and interested in this subject.
We all agree that modern slavery is a heinous crime, and protecting victims of modern slavery is a responsibility that the Government take extremely seriously. Colleagues have been kind enough to describe the Modern Slavery Act 2015 as a landmark piece of legislation—it is—but we do not rest on our laurels, and we are always looking to improve on it. I hope colleagues understand that a host of measures support the implementation of the Act. As proof, if it is needed, colleagues can take our decision earlier this year to commission an independent review of the Act. The final interim report was published last week. The reports have been extremely interesting and useful, and I will talk later about one in particular.
I am keen to mention the Prime Minister’s call for action at the United Nations. She challenged the rest of the world to pay the same attention to modern slavery as we do, and to join us in our efforts to tackle it. She has set the ambitious target of ridding the world of modern slavery by 2030. Sadly, we all recognise that modern slavery is a crime that knows no international or geographical boundaries.
The hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) rightly challenged me on the transparency of supply chains, as set out in section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. He may be interested to know that after the debate I will be dashing to another part of Westminster to open the 2019 international conference on tackling modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking in public sector supply chains. At the recent G20 meeting, the Prime Minister announced that the UK would become the first country to publish a modern slavery statement for central Government. We will be publishing that statement later this year, and it will cover work done by all central Government Departments. That is a significant step forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) challenged us to look at our own supply chains, whether in car washes or nail bars. He was right to mention car washes. I have on my phone the app “Safe Car Wash”, and a very useful app it is too, although I confess I clean my car less frequently than I get my nails done. The hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) is right to ask questions as her various beauty treatments are performed. Funnily enough, when I was talking to our new Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, we discussed nail bars. As the beauty industry may or may not know—I do not know whether the letter has gone out—I will be challenging it to ensure that the products employed in its name are used in salons that meet our expectations for the way they treat their members of staff, and the efforts they make to tackle modern slavery.
Similarly, I had the pleasure of visiting Paris just before Paris fashion week for a conference hosted by our British ambassador. The world’s fashion industry, from haute couture all the way through to wonderful high-street brands such as Zara, was in the room to talk about how it can ensure that its supply chains are transparent. As a result, a number of British businesses are designing apps that can help consumers decide whether to purchase an item of clothing, depending on what the app tells them about the transparency and compliance of supply chains in the business that made it. All sorts of things are going on to enable us, as individuals, to do our bit to ensure we do not inadvertently support modern slavery.
Colleagues have rightly and understandably mentioned Lord McColl’s Bill, and I thank Lord McColl for his continued vital work in this arena. I understand that he is supporting the review with his expertise, and I am delighted to hear that. I am sorry to say to Members present that the Government do not support the assertion that victims should be automatically granted leave to remain for 12 months. Consideration of whether an individual is a victim of modern slavery and any decisions as to their immigration status are, and must remain, separate. Such decisions are made on an individual, case-by-case basis, and modern slavery is a broad umbrella term that covers a wide spectrum of crime. As we have heard, victims can have very different experiences and needs, so it is right that our approach to granting discretionary leave takes account of that.
We have concerns that a blanket policy of discretionary leave to remain risks incentivising individuals to make false trafficking claims, diverting support and time away from genuine victims. Indeed, on occasion, caseworkers hear very similar stories from victims, which lead them to think that a claim may not be legitimate. However, we are concerned with ensuring that the immigration system runs alongside the national referral mechanism as efficiently as possible. Non-EEA nationals will receive a conclusive grounds decision at the same time as their discretionary leave decision, unless they are claiming asylum; if they are, they will be considered for asylum before they are considered for discretionary leave, because asylum has its own different forms of leave. All victims are supported until they receive a conclusive grounds decision, regardless of how long that takes—the minimum is 45 days, but it may be longer—and confirmed victims get a further 45 days after that. Non-EEA nationals will receive a conclusive grounds decision and a discretionary leave decision, and they will then have 45 days of support.
Hon. Members rightly and understandably raised concerns about re-trafficking, which is one of the great fears of those who work to support victims, whether in the charitable, third sector or law enforcement space. A number of the reforms I will speak about aim to reduce the risk of re-trafficking. For example, we have extended move-on support from 14 days to 45 days so that victims have more time to transition out of NRM support. We are also testing six new approaches with six local authorities, of which Nottinghamshire is one, to identify best practice in linking victims with local services at the end of the NRM process. That is to increase resilience and guard against further exploitation.
I thank the Minister for the contribution she is making, and I ask her to reflect on whether it is possible for us to collect data on what happens to people when they leave the system after 45 days. At the moment, that data is not collected, so we are unaware of what is going on and what happens to people in those circumstances.
The hon. Gentleman has raised that point with me before; I take his point, and I am alert to it. The process will be complex, but that is not a reason for not doing it, so I am looking into that issue.
There have been reforms to the national referral mechanism, and we have already begun to improve the support that victims receive. As I have said, we extended the period of move-on support in February. Victims now receive 45 days of move-on support, in addition to the minimum 45 days of support received during the recovery and reflection period.
The hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) challenged me about the statutory guidance under section 49 of the Act. Guidance is in the process of being drafted, and it has been shared with NGOs. I am keen to get this done as quickly as possible; the hon. Gentleman asked me whether we could have a wider consultation, but frankly, I think we need to get this done. We have shared that draft guidance with NGOs for their feedback, but I am also mindful of the judgment in the case of K & AM v. Secretary of State for the Home Department. I would rather get this done than wait three months, or however long a public consultation takes. However, if colleagues have any observations about the guidance, that would be welcome and gratefully received.
We are identifying more victims than ever before. Last week, the National Crime Agency released the 2018 NRM statistics, which were chilling: 6,993 potential victims were referred to the NRM in 2018, representing a 36% increase since 2017. We are obviously pleased that there is greater awareness of the NRM and how we should treat victims of modern slavery, but it leaves us with the great challenge of how hidden this crime is and the need to help the many thousands of victims who are coming forward. Sadly, we also know about the impact that the phenomenon of county lines is having in this area, which is a subject that many Members have raised. I will address that issue when I come to talk about children.
During proceeding’s on Lord McColl’s Bill and in subsequent conversations, the Home Office has consistently referred to pull factors as the reason why it cannot make some of the recommended changes. When I was Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, that argument was constantly used, but I was never able to track down the evidence for how those pull factors work; quite often, assumptions are made. I wonder whether, if there is evidence of pull factors, the Minister would be prepared to publish it.
The difficulty I have is that, frankly, there are parts that I cannot publish for operational reasons. There is also emerging evidence of people being trafficked into this country to commit benefit fraud; I recently had a discussion about that with the former Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton). We are conscious, as well, that this is an emerging typology, which we are looking into with the help of the National Crime Agency.
When I was Secretary of State, I went on operations related to that issue—it was in existence even then—and I do not recall that it was cited as a pull factor. Benefit fraud is about people being trafficked, with their families back home being threatened. They are brought through for their names and their details, then dumped into prostitution without any details, and claims are made on their behalf. Those people are forced to come over here, and therefore they do not declare or anything like that. That issue was never used as an example of a pull factor; it is clearly a criminal activity, and we have to crack down on the gangs that are doing it. I do not quite see the pull factor for this relatively small number of people, compared with other matters.
I am also very sceptical about the pull factor argument. Even if we were to accept that there is a pull factor, is the key point not that safeguards are in place? People cannot self-refer, and a decision has to be made about whether they are a victim before they get any automatic leave. Is that not sufficient to protect against abuse? Why should we be building the system around fear of abuse, rather than the needs of genuine, recognised victims?
We are not building the system around abuse. We are building the system around the fact that, as has already been mentioned, the largest cohort of referrals to the NRM are British. Modern slavery exists in and of itself, and it sits separately from the asylum system. We must ensure that we have support for victims of modern slavery, as we do through the national referral mechanism. Questions of immigration are in addition to the support they will get through the national referral mechanism. Not every victim of modern slavery or human trafficking is a non-EEA national. The statistics, sadly, show that very clearly.
We are launching a digital system later this spring to help to make our delivery of support much more efficient, and that will help first responders to ensure that victims get into the system as quickly as possible. We are seeing faster decision-making times than ever before. We have more than doubled the number of caseworkers working on the NRM. The single competent authority launched in its shadow form in January 2019 and is on track to be fully launched in April. That single, expert unit will make all NRM decisions, regardless of the potential victims’ nationality. That will be a significant step forward, and I hope it will help victims once they are in the system.
In this part of her speech, will the Minister say something about the review process of the Modern Slavery Act 2015? Deliberations are complete and will be with the Government, including measures or recommendations about victim support. For the benefit of the debate, does she know what the consideration of that will be, when the Government expect to respond and whether that response will be published for Parliament so that we can all look at it and discuss it?
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has helped the review with his expertise. I cannot recall the date off the top of my head, but we have been considering the interim reports as they have been published. We do not want to rush; we want to get it right. Alongside the work on the statutory guidance we are drafting, I am clear that we want a response in good time. We are not going to hang around, but we want to get it right. I very much want to publish it, because Members will want to look at our response.
I must thank the reviewers—the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and Baroness Butler-Sloss—and the secretariat for their work in formulating the reports, which have been incredibly thoughtful and focused in their recommendations. I am considering each interim report. I do not know whether the reviewers want to tie all the reports into one big report at the end, but we will be responding soon.
We are conscious of the responsibilities to ensure that the next victim care contract meets the expectations of everyone involved in tackling modern slavery. It will include landmark reforms such as places of safety, which will provide up to three days of immediate support to victims rescued out of a situation of exploitation by law enforcement. It will include an inspection regime for safe houses. We are working with the Care Quality Commission to develop that, and it will be underpinned by the slavery and trafficking survivor care standards. I am grateful to the sector for its work in drawing that together. In providing support to victims, we must remember that every victim’s journey is different. I visited a safe house recently, and that point was re-emphasised to me by every person and resident I spoke to there.
I reiterate the question I asked the Minister about the re-crediting of national insurance contributions to British citizens who have been victims of modern slavery so that they do not lose out on a full pension. I understand that she may well not have the answer now, but will she please write to me and place a copy of that letter in the Library of the House to let us know where negotiations with the Treasury have got to on that matter?
I thank my hon. Friend for that observation. If I may, I will write to him about that. He raises an important point.
In terms of post-NRM support, the new victim care contract will include drop-in services, which victims will be able to access for up to six months after leaving the NRM, and weekly signposting on health and wellbeing services. I am conscious of the question that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green posed about indefinite leave to remain, but I am afraid that I cannot comment because of the outstanding case going on at the moment. We are piloting new approaches with six local authority areas to identify best practice in such support.
Many colleagues spoke about the perilous situation that child victims find themselves in. County lines are very much a factor in the increase in children being referred into the national referral mechanism. We have rolled out independent child trafficking advocates to one third of all local authorities in England and Wales, in line with the commitment I made in July last year. We have adapted the system to reflect the fact that children of British nationality who are members of county lines often have different needs from children who perhaps do not speak English and have come from overseas.
I am conscious of the time. I very much welcome the findings of the independent review of the Modern Slavery Act on ICTAs, in particular. The recommendations in the report are child-focused. We are considering the recommendations for improvements that we can make to the service. I confirm that the Government are committed to rolling out that important additional support nationally.
Colleagues mentioned prosecuting offenders. Those were important comments, but I make a slight plea. I know that Members will bear with me if I make the observation that one reason why the withdrawal agreement is so important is so that we have the implementation period—[Interruption.] I have to say it. In the implementation period, all our law enforcement partnerships will continue, and that is so important in tackling modern slavery. Apologies to everyone who thought they were going to escape the “B” word.
I am grateful for colleagues’ contributions, and I look forward to continuing to work with them on this important topic.
I have only a very short time, so I will try to speed through the two points I want to make. I will not follow my hon. Friend the Minister and talk about the provisions of the withdrawal agreement; I simply want to focus on the debate and two issues that it raised.
The 12 months of support proposed by the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill will surely give victims greater support and stability. It is interesting—my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) raised this point—that unlike someone granted asylum, someone who is confirmed to be a victim of modern-day slavery has no automatic entitlement to ongoing support and residency. Almost the most important point is that we are therefore not able to check that they are safe. They will not come forward to give evidence, we will not get prosecutions, and by not coming forward they are more likely to slide back into being re-trafficked.
I simply thank my hon. Friend the Minister for her response. I hope that we can continue to engage, and I hope that we will continue to make the case that there is more to be done, including with the new Bill. I hope that she will adopt many of the provisions from Lord McColl’s Bill into the Queen’s Speech, as requested. I would be happy to discuss that matter with her.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
Railway Stations: Accessibility
I beg to move,
That this House has considered accessibility at railway stations.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts, and I am looking around as I have constituents who intend to sit in the Public Gallery to hear what I say this morning.
Trains have been and continue to be one of the most important modes of travel in the United Kingdom. According to the Office of Rail and Road, in the past financial year 4,679,220 train journeys were completed every single day. However, even with such a large number of people using the rail network, many stations still lack the facilities to cater for the disabled, the elderly and those struggling with heavy luggage or pushchairs. As Members are aware, to address the issues faced by disabled passengers and passengers with mobility restraints when using railway stations, the Access for All programme was launched in 2006 with £360 million to fund accessible routes from the station entrance to the platform. It was extended in 2014 with a further £163 million. More than 150 stations have been completed and another 68 projects are in various stages of construction or development.
In April 2011 the Government launched a new Access for All mid-tier programme for station access projects. Although funding was originally £17 million, the large number of very strong bids for train station improvements meant that it was increased to £37.5 million and the scheme ran until 2014. According to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), Access for All has delivered step-free accessible routes at more than 200 stations since it was launched in 2006 and small access improvements at more than 1,500 stations.
As someone who has walked not only the Thames path but the Ridgeway, I have experience of Goring station. I have found the system quite difficult and bureaucratic. It is a lengthy process and people often ask, just like with Brexit, “Why don’t you just get on with it?” As I get further into my speech, I will discuss my experience of the Hendon constituency.
Kirkby-in-Ashfield and Langley Mill stations, used by my constituents, are a big problem for wheelchair users and mums or dads pushing prams. Making train stations step-free should be a priority in this day and age. Most colleagues here are from towns. Does the hon. Gentleman have any information or can the Minister say whether our towns are being neglected? Or are stations in towns more likely to be step-free than those in our cities?
Although I went to university in Nottingham, I cannot say I know the hon. Lady’s constituency very well, so I will allow the Minister to respond to that point when she sums up.
It is obvious that more can and should be done. In April 2017, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published a report about how disabled people fare in in their day-to-day lives in the UK. On transport, the report stated,
“Transport options for disabled people are very limited because of the need to use only transport forms that are accessible, and these tend to be expensive.”
A few months later, in November 2017, the Department for Transport published the results of its research into disabled people’s travel patterns and attitudes to travel. It found that although being disabled does not always lead to less frequent use of train services, it does lead to problems with trains:
“It is well-established that people with disabilities travel less and for different purposes compared with people without disabilities”.
I have been campaigning on this for six years in my constituency, in Morley. People get on the train on one side to go into Leeds, but they cannot go back because there are steps. Does my hon. Friend agree that disabled people rely heavily on public services and that it is vital they can access them to ensure good quality of life? The Department for Transport should invest heavily in that area.
My hon. Friend illustrates a point that I will come on to in my speech. My constituents who are here today feel very strongly about that.
Leonard Cheshire, the UK charity for disabled people, highlights the issues facing many disabled people when trying to access train station platforms. Its research and analysis, based on data provided by the Office of Rail and Road and the National Rail website, shows that more than 40% of railway stations across England do not have step-free access, leaving many disabled people unable to travel by train. Research with more than 1,600 disabled adults shows that 35% of working-age disabled people have experienced problems using trains in the past year as a result of their disability.
Staveley station in my constituency, the first station in the Lake District national park, is accessible only by a 41-step staircase. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the problems is having to bid for access funding to provide ramps and lifts? We expect the operator to make a bid, and the operator, in my case Northern, which has not covered itself in glory in recent times, has been reluctant to do so. We should have a top-down approach where perhaps the Minister helps to deliver solutions to, for example, Staveley’s lack of access, directly.
Having lived in Carlisle for several years, I am also aware of the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and his station. Like my station in Mill Hill, his was constructed at a time when disabled and step-free access was not a top priority. Similarly, Govia Thameslink and Network Rail were not aware of my constituents’ need and desire to have step-free access at Mill Hill Broadway station, so I sympathise with his point of view.
Like my hon. Friend, I have a London constituency. As he knows, I am bidding to make Upminster station step-free. I can make the Access for All bid only because the station is operated by c2c rather than Transport for London, and the Mayor has said there is no priority for other stations in my constituency. Will my hon. Friend join me in encouraging the Mayor to invest more of his sizable budget in this area and to look carefully at my request to open up his new £6 million TfL drivers’ toilets to disabled travellers with RADAR keys? It would make a big difference to the quality of their journey if they were able to access facilities.
As a London MP, I certainly agree with that and I urge the Mayor to allow it to happen. Indeed, I urge the Minister to make representations to the Mayor to allow it to happen. It seems not only a sensible solution to a particular problem, but something that could be rectified easily, so I certainly agree.
Not only disabled people suffer from a lack of step-free access in stations. A Department for Transport study showed that two thirds of disabled people are over the age of 65, and demographic trends predict an increase in the proportion of older people in society. According to the NHS, in the UK falls are the most common cause of injury-related deaths in people over the age of 75. The need for reliable, ever-present step-free access is imperative to ensure such injuries or fatalities do not occur in train stations. The Government’s generous funding commitment to improve station facilities is welcomed by Members present today, but I am sure we all agree that the previously mentioned statistics are of significant concern.
The issue is not just about people with disabilities. Obviously, we want to improve access for them, but it is also about a range of people. I am the father of a 15-month-old child and we would struggle to use many of our local stations, particularly Langton station in my constituency, where, I am pleased to say, we have an Access for All funding bid in at the moment. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to improve accessibility at stations not only for people with disabilities, but for everybody?
I returned to Westminster from maternity leave this week with my six-month-old baby boy in a pram, and I found using the trains incredibly difficult. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) made a valid point about towns. We have an accessible lift in Halifax, but it has been my nemesis since I became an MP, as it is regularly locked and regularly broken. However, further to the points that have been made, using the tube in London with a pram was incredibly difficult. We can do so much more on that, so we really have to focus those efforts.
The hon. Lady’s contribution and those of others have illustrated the problems that many people face, not just those who are disabled. Some 60% of disabled people have no car in their household, but many other people also do not have one, particularly in London. People who, like the hon. Lady, visit London as part of their work will probably not have access to a car when pushing their baby in a buggy. Step-free access is therefore about not just disabled people, but parents, travellers and people who have general mobility problems.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful argument, and this is an important debate. Does he agree that there is also a problem with different station operators? One of my constituents, who is partially sighted, got on a train at York station, which is run by London North Eastern Railway, and went on that train to Manchester Victoria, which is operated by Northern. The two station operators did not talk to one another, and my constituent was ultimately left on the train—it was a through-station—and carried on past her stop. That is a real problem, and station operators really need to start talking to one another.
I am grateful for that intervention, because I had a constituent who reported the same problem; he had problems with his vision and had great difficulty in accessing the train service. I understand that point, and agree that train operator companies should talk to one another—whether it is c2c, Transport for London, GTR, Southern or any of the ones that my hon. Friend mentions. I hope that the Minister hears that plea. It should be not only a requirement for train operators but a requirement under disability regulation. I certainly agree with that point.
I have two mainline stations in my constituency: Hendon and Mill Hill Broadway, both of which are on the Thameslink line, which connects Bedford with Brighton and includes stops at St Pancras International, London Bridge, Blackfriars, and Elephant and Castle. Both stations serve the two London airports that I mentioned: Luton and Gatwick. Neither station has adequate step-free access, but I believe that it is true to say that the problem at Mill Hill Broadway is particularly acute.
Mill Hill Broadway is an important interchange for a large number of passengers connecting with buses, the M1 and other modes of transport. The quality of access and subsequent movement around the station is not commensurate with a station catering for about 2.7 million passengers per annum—a figure that will increase significantly in future years as a result of the thousands of new homes being built in the area. We all know that London needs new homes, and Hendon is certainly playing its part, but infrastructure and other public services need to keep up with that redevelopment.
There is no step-free access from the lower concourse where cars and buses arrive at Mill Hill Broadway, so 39 steps must be climbed to access the station. Furthermore, the subway that connects the two platforms is narrow, which raises concerns about congestion and safety at peak times. There is no question that the lack of a lift prevents some of my constituents from using the station. That is a key issue for the disabled, parents with small children, those with suitcases and the area’s growing older population. Such passengers are advised to use Elstree and Borehamwood station or West Hampstead station, which, following past upgrades, now have step-free access throughout. I believe something is fundamentally wrong when a passenger has to travel to a station that is not their most local to access our railway network.
I first raised the lack of step-free access at Mill Hill Broadway station five years ago in a question to the then right hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire, now Lord Lansley. In January 2015, I had the pleasure of inviting the then right hon. Member for Richmond and a former Minister for the Disabled, now Lord Hague, to visit Mill Hill Broadway and understand the concerns that many people had about the lack of access to the station. While we were there, we witnessed a mother struggling to get her buggy up and down the steps from the platform to the ticket office—a prime example of why step-free access will benefit local residents and visitors to Mill Hill.
In 2015, I facilitated a series of meetings of representatives of Barnet Council, Network Rail, Govia Thameslink and Transport for London, and John Gillett of the Mill Hill neighbourhood forum. That resulted in a £60,000 feasibility study to look into the options for step-free access at Mill Hill Broadway. In 2017, I met the then Rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), and I raised the matter again in 2018. I believe that that demonstrates the seriousness with which local people, local stakeholders and I view the matter.
Very sadly, the lack of step-free access resulted in the untimely and tragic death of one of my constituents, Mrs Priscilla Tropp. Mrs Tropp tripped on the steps at the end of last year; her widower, Michael, and her daughters, Sara and Deborah, are in the Gallery. I am sure that I speak on behalf of everyone in the Chamber when I express my condolences for their loss. As a Member of Parliament, losing a constituent is one of the hardest things to have to go through as an elected representative.
Priscilla was travelling to London up to five days a week for leukaemia treatment. She did not want to be a burden on the NHS, so she decided to make her own way independently, and not to use a taxi or other facilities provided by the NHS. However, she was not well. She was also recovering from a fall that she had sustained at the station earlier in the year—a fall that it appears was not recorded by station staff. She and her husband took all reasonable precautions to avoid a further accident, such as waiting for other passengers to go ahead of them so that they could use the handrail beside the steps and not be an obstacle to other people, but that was not enough. Priscilla tripped and fell, and, due to the general access to and from the platforms, passengers alighting from subsequent trains in what was by then the rush hour were forced to step over and around her.
The defibrillator could not be located, but even if it had been it is likely that space constraints would have meant that use of the equipment would have been restricted. Sadly, as I said, Priscilla died; she did not survive the fall. That tragedy would have been wholly avoided had there been a lift at Mill Hill Broadway. As I have said previously, falls are the most common cause of injury-related deaths in people over the age of 75. Priscilla was 76.
Such statistics are not acceptable, nor is the advice to go to another station several miles away. Our hospitals encourage—even require—patients to make their own way to hospital, but only 44% of London stations offer step-free access, and public transport is often the only means of travel for those who need to visit hospitals. As the NHS has more centres of excellence, people requiring treatment need to use public transport. It must be adequate for those who are less able.
The Government are currently considering bids for the next round of funding under the Access for All programme. As we have heard, the Minister will be looking at many valid representations and applications, but I hope that I have demonstrated the urgent need at Mill Hill Broadway. It is a shared ambition not only of mine and of my constituents, but of Govia Thameslink, Network Rail, TfL and the London Borough of Barnet for long-overdue step-free access, or, in other words, lifts.
I say to the Minister, please, not only to hear my representations and those of other Members, but to make it possible for many of my constituents to access the Thameslink train line for a variety of reasons, including access to public services, hospitals, employment and education. We need a lift, and we need one now. I ask the Minister to consider that.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) on securing the debate, which allows the House the opportunity to discuss the important subject of accessibility to the railway network. I also congratulate him on making such powerful representations on behalf of his constituents.
I recognise how important it is for my hon. Friend’s constituents to have access to the railway in order to go to and from work, see family and friends, and go about living their lives. Before I go further, let me say that I would be grateful if my hon. Friend passed on my condolences to the family of his constituent. I understand that the incident has been investigated by the Office of Rail and Road after it was approached by the family. A safety report has been prepared for the inquest, which I believe is due to take place in May. I have not seen the report, and I hope hon. Members understand that it is not appropriate for me to comment further at this stage.
Delivering a transport system that is truly accessible to all is of great importance to me. Hon. Members will have seen the Department for Transport inclusive transport strategy, which we published last July and which underlines the Government’s commitment to taking action to safeguard and promote the rights of all disabled passengers. We do not deny that our strategy is ambitious, but we are determined to deliver it. By 2030, we want disabled people to have the same access to transport as everyone else, and if physical infrastructure remains a barrier, assistance will play a role in guaranteeing those rights.
Many of our stations are Victorian. Their architectural worth is there for all to see, but their infrastructure is simply not fit for today, which has left us with the huge task of opening up the railway network to disabled passengers. We have a little bit of good news—75% of journeys are already made through step-free stations—but only a fifth of stations have proper step-free access from outside, and to and between platforms. We have therefore continued with the Access for All programme, a key part of the inclusive transport strategy, and committed an additional £300 million of funding from the public purse.
Like the local station of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord), Hillside station in my constituency is a problem for the disabled people and older people who use it. Given the age demographic in my constituency, it is more important than ever for our Access for All bid to be successful. That would give disabled people and older people the accessibility that they so desperately need.
My hon. Friend has made repeated and powerful representations on behalf of his constituency and his local railway stations, and I know he has worked incredibly hard with his local authority and his transport operating company. I cannot make any statements here today, but he has put forward a very substantial case for consideration. Let me set out the timetable for hon. Members: I know that some were concerned that it would take as long as Brexit, but the decision will be out in April.
As I have made clear, we have £300 million to spend on Access for All. We will start on all 27 projects deferred by the 2016 Hendy review of Network Rail delivery, but we will include far more stations. We asked the industry to nominate stations for new funding by 16 November 2018, and received more than 300 nominations. Most came through the train operating companies, but it was not a top-down exercise and involved train operating companies, Members of Parliament, local authorities and councillors working together, because we wanted to ensure that it reflected local need. Nominated stations will be selected on the basis of annual footfall and will be weighted by the incidence of disability in the area.
We are taking local factors into account. The hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) talked about towns being excluded, but we are doing what we can to ensure a good spread up and down the country by looking not only at footfall, but at proximity to hospitals, availability of third-party funding and, crucially, other impacts of accessibility to the station. It is not just about disability, but about other needs—we are thinking about mums with buggies and other accessibility issues that have been mentioned.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon knows, Mill Hill Broadway station and Hendon station in his constituency have both been nominated for Access for All funding. I hope he will understand that I cannot guarantee the inclusion of any single station until we make a formal announcement, but I am happy to tell him that Mill Hill Broadway in particular was a strong candidate when considered alongside other stations across the country.
As the funding application bids closed only last year, I hope hon. Members will agree that it has been a swift process. I intend to announce the selected stations in April, so I hope that those hoping for good news will be kind enough to be patient for just a little longer.
So far, we have installed accessible step-free routes at more than 200 stations, and approximately 1,500 stations have benefited from smaller-scale, but equally important, access improvements. We continue to press the industry to comply with its legal obligations so that work at all stations on the network meets current accessibility standards, and to ensure that the Office of Rail and Road enforces those standards effectively. That applies not only on flagship projects such as Crossrail or the redevelopment of Birmingham New Street, which are delivering significant accessibility improvements, but as part of the “business as usual” work of renewal programmes, such as ensuring that any replacement bridges have lifts or ramps.
It is important for the industry to meet its obligations to anyone who needs assistance, whether they have booked ahead of time or not. Every passenger should expect the best possible help to use the rail network, particularly at stations that do not have fully accessible facilities. As part of its licence to operate services, each operator is required to have a disabled people’s protection policy that sets out the services that disabled passengers can expect and what it will do if things go wrong—for example, providing an accessible taxi free of charge to anyone unable to access a particular station. The Office of Rail and Road recently consulted on revised guidance for disabled people’s protection policies, and I have encouraged it to take enforcement action against train and station operators that are found not to be meeting their DPPP obligations.
Every disabled passenger should be confident that the assistance that they have booked will be provided. The Department has worked with the Rail Delivery Group to create the new Passenger Assist application, which will make it easier for disabled passengers to book assistance. We also support the Office of Rail and Road proposal to introduce a handover protocol as part of the revised disabled people’s protection policy guidance.
We can do more to make the rail network more accessible. We will be introducing a new set of accessibility requirements, such as the introduction and delivery of enhanced disability awareness training for all train operating company staff, regardless of role or seniority. We have also supported the industry’s establishment of an independent rail ombudsman with powers to deal with unresolved passenger complaints.
As a councillor, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) managed transport in and out of his area. I completely agree with him that we need to look at the issues not just for people with disabilities, but for elderly people and mothers with pushchairs. That is why we have the £300 million in place.
Once again, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez) made a very powerful bid on behalf of her constituency. I hope the Mayor of London is listening. I know he is very ambitious, so I hope he can be ambitious for disabled passengers on the rail network too.
In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy), I hope the Passenger Assist application, which is coming soon with real-time information, will provide the support needed so that there is no gap for people taking multiple journeys on public transport.
On the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), I hope the bureaucratic process will not be as tough as it was previously. The funding bids closed last year for the money that will be available, and the announcement will be made in April. I hope we can make the process as swift as possible.
In reply to the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), this was not a top-down process. We wanted to ensure that the train operating companies put forward their priorities, but we have also had fantastic representations from Members of Parliament, councils and charitable organisations. I hope our announcement will reflect both geographical spread and actual need up and down the railway lines of our country.
I fear that I am running out of time, so I will conclude by saying that I hope I have demonstrated that the Government are committed to improving access at stations for disabled passengers, both through specific projects such as Access for All and through improvements delivered as part of our wider commitment to improving the rail network. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon and all colleagues for contributing to the debate. The Government remain committed to investment, and we want people to continue to benefit from record levels of funding, including the £300 million Access for All funding that will be so beneficial to so many people.
Question put and agreed to.
Local Government Funding
[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered local government funding.
It is an honour to serve with you as Chair, Mrs Main.
I start with the wide-ranging responsibilities of our local government. In much of the work that I do in Westminster and in my constituency of Colne Valley, I find myself mentioning local government funding. On the Select Committee on Education, it comes up when discussing alternative provision, support for children with special educational needs and disabilities, education, health and care plans, and school funding more widely. It comes up in speeches and questions on issues such as adult social care, finance, carbon emissions and homelessness, as well as in discussions with colleagues and constituents. The work that local government does covers a broad range of important areas, and affects our constituents’ lives in so many ways.
Our local authorities are responsible for public health, support for people with learning disabilities and physical and mental health conditions, and public health programmes, such as those on sexual health and smoking cessation. In education, they support schools, deliver early years education and adult learning, offer youth services and support community engagement. They are also responsible for children’s services, local democracy, highways, waste management, libraries, museums, galleries—the list goes on and on.
On Saturday, I was with a number of Unison members and frontline workers who work in local government. Despite the horrendous cuts of £330 million to my local council, they are doing a brilliant job, but they are now telling me that local government is on its knees. Does my hon. Friend agree?
I do agree. I hear the same thing from Unison members—that they have worked so hard and are so committed to delivering services, but they are now crossing red lines where it is not possible to continue.
It is because the work of local government is so widespread that the effects of the cuts have been so far-reaching. The impact has been seen across services and across our country. We know that deprived areas have been hit the hardest, and that Labour councils are due to see falls of 28% on average, compared with a 19% fall for Conservative local authorities. Nine of the 10 most deprived councils in the country have seen cuts of almost three times the national average of £255 per household. Too often, there is a blame game with local authorities, when it is central Government who have cut funding and shifted the burden on to local communities.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just cuts that are having a severe impact on local authorities, but the additional pressures and demand from all the disabled people who have lost access to benefits, from rising homelessness and from the shameful buck-passing of Home Office responsibilities? With no recourse to public funds, families—
It is absolutely true that cuts are being made in a time of rising need. We are now at a point where all councils are feeling the pain, and we have even seen one of the Government’s own councils effectively declare itself bankrupt. By 2025, it is predicted that local government will face a funding gap of almost £8 billion.
How did we get here? In the name of austerity, round after round of cuts have been dealt to local authorities. Between 2010 and 2020, local authorities will have seen reductions of £16 billion in core Government funding. Adult social care, children’s services and homelessness support have been pushed to breaking point. Other services, such as youth centres, museums and libraries, have just closed.
I congratulate Wigan Council, and all the council workers who have helped to deliver such success, especially in such trying times.
The situation has occurred in spite of the incredible hard work being done by councillors and council workers across the country. I have seen that at first hand, not just as an MP but as someone who is married to a local councillor. I have seen the hours and the commitment that is put in to support the frontline of government, to build communities, boost life chances and make a difference to everyone’s day-to-day life.
In 2018, Unison surveyed council workers and found that 79% are not confident about the future of local services. In my constituency of Colne Valley, 90% of council workers surveyed said that budget cuts in the past two years have had an impact on their ability to do the job as best they can. Can we just think about that figure? Some 90% of the workforce lack confidence in their ability to deliver their service.
I would like to share some feedback from someone in my constituency who worked supporting children and families in children’s centres, but now described that work as “destroyed”, and the positive outcomes of the work as “overlooked”.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to point out that the impact is felt beyond council staff and workers, and particularly on children and families. Will she reflect on the fact that in 2008 there were fewer than 60,000 children in care and that today there are more than 75,000? At the same time, since 2008, there has been a 49% cut in early intervention—
I was a headteacher and a teacher for 34 years, and as a member of the Education Committee, I know the impact on children’s services and their ability to cope. My constituent described how low-level support for families had been removed, leaving them to reach crisis point before they received help. With less staff to react to crises, they have been running themselves ragged firefighting. They said:
“I rarely see the public now, but when I do bump into people I used to help, they think I’ve let them down. They feel alone, and I feel responsible.”
We can see the dedication of our council workers, and I know how they feel. As I have said, I was a headteacher at a school in a deprived area with a Sure Start centre attached. Properly funded multi-agency working supported children and families so that they did not end up needing as much support from public health services and other areas.
I believe that devolved local governance, with local knowledge of the needs of local communities, is really important, and we have lost that.
Early intervention was cost effective in my previous career, and it transformed people’s lives. They were not left to go through the stress and trauma of reaching crisis point. It is better for the health and wellbeing of our communities to have that support in place, but Kirklees was forced to make savings of nearly £200 million over the past nine years. Over the next three years, the council has to find a minimum of £38 million in savings. That has detrimentally affected my constituents’ lives.
In particular, there are significant and growing pressures on high needs in Kirklees. The Government have acknowledged that Kirklees is the second most underfunded council in the high needs block of the dedicated schools grant.
One of my constituents has been in contact with my office for some time about their two children, who have been diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum. They have been trying to establish appropriate support for their children through education, health and care plans. It has not been straightforward. Cuts to funding mean that the local authority is struggling to give the family the necessary support.
The pressures are also visible in housing. Another of my constituents, who lives in local authority housing, has been subject to verbal abuse and harassment from their neighbours. They have applied to move, but the housing provider has not been able to facilitate relocation because it does not have suitable places to move them to. It has been able to offer only additional security measures to reassure the constituent. Local authorities and local government workers are doing what they can, but they do not have the resources to do what they need to do. Hard choices have had to be made to protect care for the most vulnerable.
I know that these stories will sound familiar to many hon. Members today. Sadly, such stories are by no means unique to my constituency. But there is an alternative; it does not have to be like this. In Finland, local government has a lot of autonomy, and there is a greater level of responsibility for policy and delivery in areas such as education, healthcare, social services, planning and infrastructure. Decision making is closer to the people and seeks to be responsible for their needs. In Finland, policy is geared towards commitments to provide housing where it is needed, support those who cannot care for themselves, and provide accessible low-cost childcare to families.
Finland has also trialled a universal basic income. Policies are focused on delivering positive outcomes for citizens on health and wellbeing, and on reducing inequality. Marking those policies as priorities is important and effective. For the second year in a row, Finland has been named as the world’s happiest country, which cannot be a coincidence. There are some real lessons to take forward from countries such as Finland, which could be used to inform the way local government operates in the UK.
Labour is investing in delivering effective and positive change for local government, our communities and the families within them. The next Labour Government will genuinely end austerity and put an end to this crisis. At the last election we pledged £8 billion for social care. We also pledged an additional £500 million a year for Sure Start and early intervention services, to reverse the cuts that have closed centres across the country and to ensure that all children have the best start in life.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate today, when we are all thinking about and debating Brexit, and on recognising the impact on services of cuts such as the 50% cut to central Government funding for Newcastle City Council. I want to mention one additional service: litter. It is an issue for my constituents, and children are writing to me to ask why their environment is covered in litter—
Please do not argue with the Chair; I am informing you how it is. This House normally has short interventions, and I want to ensure that speakers get in. I am sure the hon. Lady has got the point and would like to carry on with her speech.
It is a pity that we do not have better representation on the Conservative Benches.
I was talking about Labour’s vision for how things can be. We will properly fund public health services, establish a new national target to narrow health inequalities, and prioritise the health and wellbeing of every child, which is very dear to my heart. We will give councils £1.5 billion extra for general council services, too. Although that additional funding is important, we have made a commitment to place local government at the heart of our work, giving local councillors a direct voice in central decision making through our local government commission.
To fix our broken political system, where people are left feeling disconnected and disillusioned by politics, we need to put local people and communities at the heart of decision making. Showing local people that Whitehall works for them is the first step in addressing this problem. I want this to be what local government does and is seen to be doing by the public: building inclusive and cohesive communities, providing accessible care for all who need it, and supporting vulnerable people to promote their life chances.
I applied for the debate to request that the Government rethink the approach to local government funding and make urgent changes to address the crisis facing our councils.
As you pointed out, Mrs Main, there is an absence of people on the Government Benches this afternoon, apart from the Minister. Does my hon. Friend agree that that might be because there has been a shift of funding from Labour high-need authorities to Tory authorities with less need?
Absolutely; I completely agree with my hon. Friend. It speaks for itself that we do not have representation on the Government Benches.
I hope the Minister is able to take note of the contributions made in today’s debate and take meaningful action, instead of recycling tired lines. I will conclude with a quote from Nye Bevan:
“Discontent arises from a knowledge of the possible, as contrasted with the actual.”
We know that it does not have to be like this. The public want to see change, and Labour is prepared to deliver it.
It is a pleasure to see you presiding today, Mrs Main, and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker). She made a fine opening speech, and I congratulate her on securing this important debate. Attention has already been drawn to the imbalance of numbers in attendance, which speaks volumes. It is not rocket science to work out why, but perhaps the Minister, who is an honourable gentleman, might comment on the numbers attending the debate as well as responding to it.
I will make only a short contribution and refer to one briefing from my local authority of Tower Hamlets, and from our excellent Mayor, John Biggs, and the very respected cabinet member for resources, Councillor Candida Ronald. Colleagues will know that Tower Hamlets is one of the poorest boroughs in the country, but it has a rich past, with the Tower of London, Cable Street and the docklands. It has an exciting future as a key part of London’s regeneration engine.
Tower Hamlets Council voted to support the “Breaking Point” national campaign, which was set up to call for the Government to properly fund local authorities. Tower Hamlets core funding this year is £148 million lower than in 2010, which is a staggering reduction of 64%. Since 2010, around one third of the council’s staffing posts have gone. Future cuts mean that Tower Hamlets must save a further £44 million from its budget over the next three years. Will the Minister advise us how that might be achieved?
While the council has faced cuts from central Government, our borough’s population and demand for services have continued to grow. Like other councils, Tower Hamlets continues to face a crisis in adult and children’s social care and special educational needs funding. Demand is increasing. Last year alone, the council received almost 4,000 fresh requests for adult social care support—up 8.7% on the previous year.
At the Tower Hamlets full council meeting on 20 March, Mayor Biggs attacked the Government for
“putting frontline services at risk.”
An important consideration is how austerity has hit other local services such as policing, and the effect on the council’s priorities. We have lost more than 200 police officers from the streets of Tower Hamlets. The council’s response was to step in and invest £3 million to pay for some of its own officers. Regrettably, that is just one area in which Tower Hamlets Council was forced to cover the gap created by this Government, but it cannot be expected to replace everything.
On fair funding, Tower Hamlets responded to the Government’s consultation and raised the following concerns. The first is that it has less emphasis on deprivation. Secondly, it fails to factor in the impact of additional population, which is key in Tower Hamlets, where more than 200,000 commuters travel to each day. Thirdly, fair funding has a notional approach to council tax income and does not give an actual figure, which would significantly penalise authorities that have worked hard to keep their council tax rates low. Finally, the cost of homelessness and temporary accommodation does not adequately form part of the formula, which will impact on high-cost areas, especially London.
Even Tory councils are struggling to cope. It is well known that Northamptonshire County Council effectively declared bankruptcy last year. Nationally, councils now face plugging a further funding gap of £7.8 billion by 2025 just to keep services standing still and meet additional demand. I hope the Government accept that there is a crisis, even if it is not geographically universal. The Government might claim that the era of austerity is over, but it is not even in sight. We need them to step up and recognise that this is a problem.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker) on securing this debate. In a former life, I was a local councillor and cabinet member so, believe me, I know at first hand about local authorities’ opportunities and challenges, which she outlined.
Stockton Council has been ambitious and forward-thinking, and has delivered projects that some said were not possible. It partnered with Hilton and built a hotel in the town, which will complement the reopening of the 2,500-seat Globe theatre, just a short walk away, next year. Our high street won the rising star at the Great British High Street awards in 2016, which is a testament to the effort put in by councillors and staff to make our corner of the world a better place to live. The area has been a beacon for Ministers, a Select Committee and countless others, who came to see those successes for themselves.
My council has been required to deliver savings of about £45 million by the end of this financial year. Like other authorities, it faces an unprecedented growth in demand, particularly in children’s social care services. The total spend for all children’s social care services rose from £23 million in 2010-11 to £38 million—nearly double—in 2018-19, despite the reductions in grant funding. I have been told that that is the greatest cost pressure facing local authorities around the country.
Another key problem that has been highlighted to me is the inability of some councils to think ahead due to the uncertainty of local government funding. The spending review is supposed to sort that out, and we have the fair funding review, but sadly I do not feel terribly optimistic about it. Local authorities will retain a greater proportion of business rates, but there is a severe lack of clarity or agreement about how that will work. Large tower blocks in Westminster or Chelsea will raise millions of pounds for their respective councils, but local authorities such as Stockton can expect very little in comparison.
Austerity affects not just the funding that local councils get—the lack of jobs and prospects that go hand in hand with it put additional pressure on families. There is a desperate need for more public health funding to address the inequalities in our society. It is estimated that there are still 19,000 smokers in my Stockton North constituency. Smoking costs my area £37.4 million every year. Some 31% of households with a smoker are below the poverty line. If those people were to give up smoking, 1,991 households would be lifted out of poverty, including 1,342 children. However, public health budgets are being diminished, rather than increased so that we can develop programmes to help people quit, and address obesity, drug misuse and dangerous choices. That is Government failure. It is the result of a reckless Government slashing the vital support services that people depend on and systematically reducing job opportunities not just through austerity but through business and industry uncertainty caused by the threat of a no-deal Brexit.
Ministers love to trumpet the rise in employment and fall in unemployment across the country, but that is not happening in areas such as mine. Unemployment has risen month on month in my area for some considerable time, and local authorities have limited, if any, resources to sort it out. There has been a devolution deal of some Government budgets to the Tees Mayor and the combined authority, but despite the plethora of news releases and ministerial statements about Tees Valley, few new jobs are being created in reality. The Minister must take full responsibility and tell us what the Government will do—he is too busy looking at his phone. The Government are too busy to tell us what people are doing for constituencies such as mine.
I agree with organisations including Action for Children, Barnardo’s, the National Children’s Bureau and the Children’s Society that the spending review must provide additional funding for children and young people’s services, and address the estimated £3 billion funding gap that local authorities face by 2025. I agree that there must be a clear link between the likely need and the funding available in each local area. There cannot be a postcode lottery benefiting councils that are aligned with the Government of the day. The children and service users who are in desperate need of social care should and must come first. Importantly, early intervention is key to ensuring that the demand on services does not get out of hand. We must prevent family breakdown, not just deal with it when it happens, as that costs more money and can severely damage people’s lives and future relationships.
This is about political choices and priorities. We simply cannot afford not to spend money. We cannot scrimp and save on children’s social care and family support services until there is nothing left but the skeleton.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker) on securing this very important and timely debate. Since the Conservative party came to power in 2010, my local authority, Croydon Council, has lost more than 70% of its central Government funding. At the same time, the population is growing. We have higher numbers of older people who need care services, more families have been made homeless because of welfare reform, and more working families are in poverty because of the freezing of working-age benefits and a real-terms reduction in people’s wages. Funding cuts and an increase in demand for statutory services such as care and housing means that there is drastically less funding for everything else. That includes services that help tackle the causes of violent youth crime. That is on top of severe cuts in policing. The result of all that is a national knife crime epidemic.
We largely know how to prevent violent youth crime and have successfully stopped it in the past. I was the leader of Lambeth Council in 2007—the last time there was a big increase in violent youth crime. We were the first council to set up what would now be called a public health approach, which means understanding and then treating the causes of violent youth crime, rather than focusing only on the symptoms. We commissioned the country’s biggest piece of academic research on violent youth crime, learned the lessons and then funded the services that stopped young people at risk of drifting into criminal behaviour doing so. Violent crime quickly dropped by 30% and continued falling. We know what works, but it requires investment in services, including early intervention with low-level young offenders before they progress on to higher-level offending; mentoring and support that helps offenders not to reoffend; help for families in which children are growing up without the support they need, for instance to develop language and cognitive skills or loving, emotional bonds with their family; treatment for mentally ill people, particularly when it arises from a child experiencing traumatic situations such as sexual or violent abuse; school exclusions, particularly of black boys; and youth activities and diversionary projects that help young people develop healthy relationships, skills and interests that will support them throughout the rest of their lives.
Since 2010, the Government have taken away the funding for those services in every community that needs them the most. They targeted the biggest cuts on the poorest communities, where violent youth crime is the highest. The 10 poorest communities in the country have suffered cuts more than 18 times bigger than the 10 wealthiest communities. By removing those communities’ ability to stop violent crime early, it spiralled out of control and spread, leading to what is now called county lines—the export of violent criminal behaviour linked to drug dealing from the areas where it started to everywhere else. That is why the number of deaths on our streets has escalated year after year across the entire country.
Instead of learning from their mistakes, the Government seem determined to keep repeating them. Their ironically named fair funding formula, which comes into force next year, removes deprivation levels from how funding for local services is calculated. The poorest communities will lose even more, and what capacity they have left to stop a further escalation of violent crime will be reduced, so violent crime will rise even faster.
When I asked the Home Office Minister about the need to do more to tackle violent crime, she emphasised the importance of the troubled families work, which is funded by the Minister’s Department. That is one of the few areas where the Government have done the right thing. They are funding professionals who bring together support that helps to reduce offending by families who are generating the highest levels of crime. What she did not say, perhaps because she did not know, is that all funding for that programme will come to an end in 12 months’ time—March next year. The services are working on their wind-up and closure plans. It is staggeringly short-sighted at a time when violent youth crime is soaring out of control to close down one of the few services that is actually helping. We need more of that kind of work, not less. What action is the Minister taking to ensure the troubled families programme continues after March? What guaranteed funding will the Government make available to ensure that it can continue?
We do not need to wonder how to tackle violent youth crime. We already know. The problem is that the Government have slashed the resources available to tackle it in the communities where it is growing the fastest. We need them to think again.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker)—a near neighbour of mine—on securing this important and timely debate.
I rise to speak as someone who, both as a Member of Parliament and as Mayor of the Sheffield city region, works very closely with our local authorities. Not only do I lead the combined authority of Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield, but through the Yorkshire leaders board, I work very closely with all of Yorkshire’s other local authority leaders. As hon. Members will know, the work of our local authorities is critical to the communities that they are there to serve.
I was out on the doorstep in Barnsley at the weekend talking to my constituents and, although some of them wanted to talk about Brexit—completely understandably —many of them wanted to talk about other things, including bins, potholes, parking, antisocial behaviour and, of course, housing. Those are incredibly important issues that fall to local government.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Given that a Member has just withdrawn from the debate, we now have a little more time for colleagues to speak, so I am extending the limit to seven minutes with immediate effect. Some of you have noticed that the clock has shifted on somewhat. We suspended on the point of an intervention, but perhaps you would like to save it for your speech, Ms Onwurah.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way so graciously. He is absolutely right: when we knock on people’s doors, we hear about the issues that matter to them. Increasingly over the past nine years since I was elected, constituents have told me that litter is destroying the environment in which they and their children live, because of central Government cuts to local authority and police funding.
My hon. Friend raises an important point that is often raised with me by local residents, as is fly-tipping, which is a big concern for many of my constituents. One of my local residents, Kevin Osborne, has been running a long-standing campaign against the fly-tippers, as has Barnsley Council, which has taken decisive, innovative action to prosecute them. My hon. Friend raises an important point that is of great concern to our constituents.
Before the Division, I was talking about important local issues that fall to local government. We all instinctively understand that councils and councillors work hard every day to improve the lives of our residents, but they face a funding crisis. Austerity has caused huge damage to communities across the country. It has undermined the way we protect children at risk, disabled adults and vulnerable older people, and it has reduced the quantity and quality of community services such as street cleaning, libraries and rubbish collection.
We should be honest about the fact that reduced funding is not just about numbers on a spreadsheet, but about a reduction in the capacity to invest in prevention. The cuts represent a false economy. If councils cannot fund sufficient support for older people, more of them will end up being admitted to hospital. Less money for children’s services means our young people will only get by, rather than thrive. Failure to invest in public transport stifles economic growth, isolates communities, reduces social mobility and damages our environment. Those are just a few examples of an austerity agenda that lacks any form of long-term strategy.
My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. Following eight years of austerity and some £7 billion of cuts, neither the autumn Budget nor the more recent spring statement offered any comfort to our local authorities. The Local Government Association has projected that local councils will face a funding gap of £7.8 billion by 2025, and they still face a cut of £1.3 billion next year. Last autumn’s Budget offer of £650 million for the coming year is nowhere near enough even to close the funding gap for social care, let alone to address the shortfall in other services. Such concerns cannot be addressed by the piecemeal redistribution of income that we have seen from the Government.
Central and local government need to work together on the fundamental reform of the funding of our community services, and I believe that devolution offers the opportunity to do that. When we get it right, it offers a fairer and more democratic means of governing and delivering, where working people have a greater say in the choices that affect their lives and a greater stake in the services on which they rely. We can seek radical, transformative change to our communities only if those communities can control their destinies themselves. That means that the Government need to listen to and invest in those communities and the leaders they have elected to represent them.
We need to abandon an economic and political model in which the only hope is that wealth will trickle down and prosperity will ripple out. We must replace it with a fully empowered three-tier system of government—local, regional and national—giving each tier the powers and resources that it needs to make a difference in the communities for which it is responsible. Only if we do that correctly will we put the right people at the heart of decision making, end the status quo in which so many people have become disenfranchised, and allow communities to overcome the challenges they face, and thrive. Greater funding and stronger powers for local authorities should be the first step of that journey.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker) on her speech and on securing the debate.
Many of the services that are closest to the people we represent and that many people value and appreciate are delivered by local councils. Many of them, such as collecting refuse, recycling, street cleansing, operating street lighting and keeping street drains clear, are easily identifiable council services but, as we know and as my hon. Friend highlighted, councils do much more. They provide education, social and youth services, libraries, community centres, leisure centres, allotments, play areas, car parks, local tourism and business support. They also facilitate a huge amount of partnership working by acting as the conduit for joint working between police, health, the third sector and others. Many local authorities also still provide housing services and even those that no longer have housing stock still provide limited private sector housing support and are responsible for taking the lead on tackling homelessness.
I spent the 20 years before I was elected to this place in 2015 as a councillor and cabinet member. I was first elected in 1995. My first experience as a councillor was marred by the huge financial pressures that local authorities were under. I was full of hope at first that I would play a part in making a positive difference to the community that had just elected me. Is not that why we are all elected? However, the council I was elected to was subjected to massive cuts in my first two years as a councillor. Our annual budget was cut by £30 million over two years. That happened from 1995 to 1997, in the dying days of the Thatcher-Major Tory Government.
From 1997, things changed dramatically and for the 13 years under a Labour Government the council’s funding increased year on year. There were modest increases in the early years but more significant increases followed—in one year reaching almost 10%. Those were years when local authorities thrived. I recall one year when I was the youth champion for the authority and was able to argue for and obtain an additional £150,000 for youth services in the following year. There are many other examples when funding was available to support local services.
I certainly agree, because cuts dilute local authorities’ ability to act on behalf of the people they represent.
Local authorities have been at the forefront of strategic partnership working in relation to developing and prioritising projects to secure and utilise European funding and co-ordinating the securing of match funding so that residents get maximum benefit for the investment. That, sadly, will be hugely diminished as we leave the European Union. Despite a promise from the Government they have yet to confirm the mechanics of how the shared prosperity fund will work, which leaves communities to wonder whether the commitment from Conservatives on the leave side who promised that our country would be no worse off was no more than a sop to gain support.
Financial support for local councils started to change in 2010. Since then our local councils and public services have been starved of investment. In Wales, local government is devolved to the Welsh Government and the block grant for the Welsh Government is now some £4 billion less than it was in 2010. In the early years of austerity, the Welsh Government protected councils in Wales from the harsh policies of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition. I remember speaking to local government colleagues in England at the time and hearing the horror stories about how council services were starved of investment. As the years have passed and austerity has continued to bite hard, the ability of Welsh Government to protect local councils has been diminished. Although in Wales the responsibility for local councils lies with the Welsh Government, I am in absolutely no doubt that the cause of the pain being felt by councils and public services in Wales lies with the harsh austerity policies of this Tory Government.
In the most recent budget round, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council and Caerphilly County Borough Council, which cover my constituency, were again forced to cut millions of pounds from their annual budget and they have also been forced, along with many authorities across the UK, to increase the council tax by more than 5%, which has been the maximum upper limit in recent years. Some councils are even starting to use reserves to plug the revenue gap, which is a dangerous precedent. Reserves are often earmarked for specific commitments while the much lower free reserves are there for emergencies and one-off expenditure. As we know, once they are used to plug the gap in revenue funding, greater problems are created for future years.
We have heard in recent debates in the House that cuts to policing have had a big impact in many communities where crime and antisocial behaviour have increased. However, that is exacerbated by the fact that, owing to cuts to council services, there are fewer youth workers, education welfare officers and social workers, and generally less funding for work with the police and partners to manage antisocial behaviour and reduce crime. Local councils play a huge part in crime reduction and in reducing low-level nuisance and antisocial behaviour. We should not underestimate the importance of their role.
In conclusion, in the early years of austerity some local councils and public bodies were able to find efficiencies to make their budgets stretch. People were expected to do more with less money and fewer people, which put remaining staff under increasing pressure. However, after nine years of painful austerity there are no more efficiencies to find. The low-hanging fruit has all been picked long ago. As I said in questions on the spring statement a few weeks ago, all that is left to cut is jobs and frontline services.
I make a plea to the Minister today to recognise the pain that austerity has caused and the fact that local councils are not able to withstand any more cuts. The Government need to show compassion. The services that we are discussing are those closest to the people. We know from press reports that Tory-led councils are also experiencing financial pressures. People are feeling the pain across the country, so please will the Minister give us some hope that austerity really has ended?
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker) on securing a vital debate, and I pay tribute to council staff. It is rightly fashionable to pay tribute to emergency staff in the health, police and fire services, but sometimes we do not recognise the work done by council staff day in, day out, and by the council leaders and cabinet members who must deliver, on a daily basis, the services our constituents want.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention.
We are all aware of the fact that post-industrial towns and cities in the north of England such as Bolton have been hit hardest by the deep cuts to local government spending. The idea that the Government sometimes project—that austerity hits everyone equally—is nonsense. The cuts are nothing less than politically motivated. The heaviest have been in the most deprived regions that are often thought of as economically left behind. That is compounded by the fact that those areas have the highest levels of poverty and a lower capacity to mitigate cuts through local taxation or asset sales.
My local council, Bolton, has lost about £l billion in spending power since austerity began in 2010. That has impacted on social care, with adult and child services taking the biggest hit, despite being the areas with the highest demand. As many hon. Members have said, we have an ageing population and therefore the impact on the social care budget is getting bigger. More and more children are being taken into care, meaning that the amount of money required is increasing.
Colleagues have mentioned the pressures on local authorities. For example, over the past three years, Bolton Council’s adult services department had to find more than £10 million of savings, including £8.8 million from children’s services. My local authority had to raise council tax, specifically to pay for social care. That led to its critics saying, “Oh, the council is raising taxes”, but nobody spoke about the fact that it had no choice. With funding cuts of 50%, what was it to do other than raise local taxation to fill that gap? The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that between 2010 and 2020 local government will have had its direct funding cut by 79%. Let that sink in: 79%!
While the Prime Minister was announcing the end of austerity last October, more than 5,000 councillors signed the “Breaking Point” petition to call on the Government to cancel their planned cuts for the new year and immediately to invest £2 billion in children and adult services. Does—
Order. Interventions must be brief. That was a mini-speech, and the hon. Gentleman has been here for only half the debate. I want to give the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) time to continue with her speech. I am sure she has the gist of what he had to say.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and I entirely agree with what he said. We have seen our youth centres, museums and libraries close, and a social care system in crisis, and that is due to the Government’s ambition to reduce the public sector.
Most of what Bolton Council has done has been to provide the best for the people who live there. Successive council leaders and cabinet members have considered the benefits of their discretionary services, and the impact of cutting them, and looked at how to run things differently internally without affecting frontline services and staff. For example, when a member of the local authority leaves, they are not replaced, which means that the burden of the work falls on fewer people. Such savings help the council to fulfil its obligations.
Bolton Council is good in that it is still finding ways to invest in the borough beyond the statutory requirements. It has innovated in the face of austerity through capital investment projects such as improving access for disabled people, investing in leisure facilities, and putting millions into community and environmental projects. It has been working with businesses, and its latest capital strategy involves spending £212 million on various projects across the borough. Some of that will go towards the town centre masterplan, but other investments include school expansions, fixing roads, and improving the township generally.
The council has stimulated the market, and it is sharing that success with extra investment in our schools, and in the area, so that the lives of those who live in Bolton can be improved. Bolton Council has the lowest priced school meals in the entire United Kingdom, and we still offer free breakfasts in schools where they are needed. We are the first council in the country to open a new children’s centre, while Tory-run administrations continue to cut such services. The bottom line, however, is that 10 years of austerity and three years of focusing on Brexit has left local government on the ropes. Councils are facing a funding black hole of more than £5 billion by the end of the decade, and it is still unclear how they will be funded beyond 2020.
It is upsetting and nauseating when Conservative politicians in Bolton, who know that the council has had to make cuts because its grants have reduced by 50%, dishonestly blame the Labour council for not providing the things that people want—for example, filling potholes. If the choice is between giving money to an elderly vulnerable person or filling a pothole, we know what the council has to do. People are being disingenuous when they jump on such issues, as has happened in Bolton where Conservative politicians go on about potholes, even though they know where the problem lies.
The independent parties are no better either, as they deliberately mislead people about why certain things are not happening in our town. For example, in Farnworth, which is one of the deprived areas, our local authority has been involved for a number of years in a project to renovate the town centre, but on two occasions the private companies pulled out. The council has now taken on that work, but the opposition parties use that as a mechanism to say, “The local authority is not doing anything”, which is misleading. That annoys people, and they can sense that we are angry about this. There is misrepresentation by independent political parties as well as by the main opposition party in Bolton.
Bolton Council has been doing a fantastic job with limited money, and we ask the Government to think seriously about how funding should be allocated. Removing deprivation from the factors that influence funding is completely unacceptable, as that should be one of the main criteria used when considering local authority funding for a particular area. Until and unless funding is properly resolved, those problems will continue, and councils and people who live in certain towns—especially in the north—will suffer.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mrs Main, and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), who made a positive case for what the Labour council is trying to achieve in such constrained times. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker) on securing this debate at a crucial time for our local authorities. By the end of the next financial year, my constituents across York will have experienced an £189 cut per household, which has had a significant impact on families. I often say to colleagues that in York they need to look beyond the walls and travel into the communities to see the real deprivation in our city. York itself is the most inequitable city outside London, and it experiences severe deprivation.
It is important to consider deprivation when creating a so-called fair funding formula. York has the worst-funded schools in the country, and one of the worst-funded health authorities. Crime is rocketing by 13%, which is 5% above the national average, yet 60 police staff have been cut. Those cuts are having a cumulative impact on our city, and the need to fall back on the local authority is escalating. As a result we must consider what is happening with different funding formulas and that cumulative impact, not least because of the many partnerships that existed, which is where the real work is done to address issues of crime and public health. Resilience is breaking down in our cities, and we must ensure that funding works across the board.
The cuts have impacted on social care in our city, which is under particular strain because hospitals cannot discharge patients, the support is not there, and there is a knock-on impact on other services. York has a particular reputation for delayed discharge, and it is not a good one.
There are also pressures on social care. We cannot recruit the social care workforce—people cannot afford to live in our city because the housing is so expensive and the wages so low. I urge the Minister to take a more holistic view of his brief and to work cross-departmentally when looking at the funding formula, because of that impact.
I am also concerned about future dependence on business rates. We have debated those rates many a time in this House, and they have a negative impact on the retail outlets in York, as well as other businesses, because we have a false market. What has happened is much like the sub-prime market that existed ahead of the last crash. Many offshore landlords have invested in York, hiking up the prices, the values and the rentals of their properties. As a result, they are more interested in their investment in the longer term, rather than in the high street, so 50 units in the city are empty. Sadly, our Tory-Lib Dem city council just puts stickers in the windows of high street outlets, as opposed to trying to get businesses in. Increasing business rates therefore have an impact, because businesses leave and the revenue does not come to the council. There is a negative cycle. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s comments, and it is certainly something that I have discussed with Treasury Ministers at length.
The precept is also a regressive tax on social care. It is important for us to look at more progressive, fairer and more proportionate forms of taxation, as opposed to some of the measures put in place instead. Again, with issues such as the precept, areas of deprivation will clearly not generate the same levels of money and resource for social care as more affluent areas. We therefore see greater inequality yet again. Even within York we have serious inequality. In fact, between the most and least affluent areas of York is an eight-year gap in life expectancy, which demonstrates not only economic inequality but its impact on health and other social determinants of health.
We therefore need the local authority to be properly resourced. Sadly, the Tory-Lib Dem failure in our city has meant that resources have not gone into the right places to address inequality. The council has been quite profligate in how it has used limited and restrained resources without bringing real benefit to our city, so I am absolutely delighted that Labour has put a well-costed programme together.
“Getting York back on track” is our manifesto for York to move forward. It looks at how to bring investment into our city and to ensure that we build a more sustainable and long-term approach to delivering services, putting in vital resources and growing the economy by attracting businesses. We are a low-wage economy so it is vital to have investment for good-quality jobs in the future. Socially, we also want to address the very issues of my constituents’ constant need, such as investing in our city centre by putting in a family quarter, or ensuring that we have higher environmental credentials in our city, which should be something that all local authorities are mandated to have.
We want to be carbon neutral by 2030. A pressing agenda throughout the country is to have carbon budgets, and we want water provided on our streets, so that people are not buying plastic bottles. Such investments are made for the long term of our planet as well as of cities. We are talking about funding, so I will be interested in what focus the Minister has on improving the environmental credentials of local authorities and their contribution to that agenda.
I will leave it there. I can say so much more about what Labour wants to do when we come to power in May, but the Minister already has much to respond to today.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker) on securing this debate at a critical time for our public finances.
I speak as a Member of Parliament for the great city of Glasgow, which has a fine tradition of what might be called municipal socialism. It would be great to rediscover that municipal route to socialism, but it has been under assault for many years now, with a decade-long programme of austerity cuts, if not more, the brunt of which has been borne by local government. We often hear from Scottish National party Members in this place about how wonderful everything is in Scotland, and how munificent the Scottish Government are in stewarding local government by dispensing the fruits of excellent governance in Edinburgh to the rest of Scotland. That could not be further from the truth.
Look at the dire straits in which Glasgow City Council finds itself. Last year, Glasgow had to find £49.9 million-worth of cuts, almost £20 million of them a direct consequence of the Scottish Government’s cuts to local government. The remainder are due to pay and other inflationary pressures. The real brunt of cuts made by central Government in Westminster and at Holyrood is borne by councils, and, as a result, Scotland has lost 30,000 council jobs in recent years. That is a shameful indictment of those who are responsible. The mass unemployment that we railed against during Thatcherite deindustrialisation in the 1980s has been writ large in local government by a Scottish nationalist Administration in Edinburgh.
Between 2010 and 2018, Glasgow lost £233 per head of population in Scottish Government funding. That is a real-terms cut; it is the cost of the Scottish National party to every single Glaswegian. In May 2017, a minority SNP administration took over Glasgow City Council. However, instead of robust opposition to the onslaught of cuts, we have seen not only meek acceptance by the council, but even an attempt to divert attention and to deny the reality of the fiscal constraints on Glasgow—Scotland’s largest city, and a city with some of the greatest social problems in the country.
In my constituency, the failure in the quality of local services—a reduction in cleansing services, poor repair of roads, failure to help homeless people to move into temporary accommodation, and a decline in care and social work services—has had a creeping effect on some of the weakest people in our society, who disproportionately rely on such services. That has happened at a time when the SNP has celebrated imposing a council tax freeze on local government.
On the council tax freeze, does my hon. Friend agree that if local councils are to be accountable to the people who elect them, it is essential to protect the autonomy of local government to raise its own funds, rather than giving councillors the choice between making worse cuts and even worse cuts?
I thank my hon. Friend for making that pertinent point, which goes to the heart of the issue of local government—structural decay over decades. Once, we had great, autonomous and highly vigorous municipal authorities. Look at Glasgow, which used to run its own gas and electricity provision, tramways, railway system and subway system. The Glasgow Corporation was a huge enterprise, and it has been slowly but surely torn apart over the past 50 years by creeping centralisation. That has happened at a regional level, and it is now happening with the dismantling of Scottish regional councils and regional authorities and their centralisation into Holyrood.
An inadvertent and regrettable effect of devolution over the past 20 years has, in essence, been to displace the municipal power of Glasgow and the west of Scotland, and to suck it into the east and into Edinburgh. We should guard against that in the constitutional reform of city regions across the United Kingdom. We need to consider what effect such devolution might have on the margins and the periphery of that power base. I would like that to be corrected in Scotland as we look forward to the next two decades of devolution.
I absolutely agree. Glasgow is in the absurd situation of having what must be the only car parking company in the world to lose money every year. There is not much of an overhead in running a car parking service, but as a result of the constraints on funding, and particularly the effort to resolve disputes and long-standing historical issues of equal pay in local authorities—that is a national issue, but the council has received no national support to deal with it—the mechanism that was devised was essentially to sell its assets to arm’s length companies. It mortgaged those assets but because of the credit crunch, a lot of them fell into negative equity. Councils are paying off huge bills—to Barclays bank, in the case of Glasgow—to service the financial constraints that have been imposed upon them.
We have to look at the reality of council financing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen) mentioned. More than 80% of funding for councils in Scotland is derived from central Government grants. Councils do not raise their own money—very marginal yields are achieved from council tax and business rates. In Scotland, the bulk of it is controlled centrally. With the council tax freeze, the SNP removed councils’ capacity to raise council tax. The SNP has massively cut the budgets available to local authorities, and that will hammer their capacity to provide services and will push councils into destructive decisions such as selling off and mortgaging assets, creating a vicious cycle of decay and decline.
According to the Scottish Parliament’s information centre, the local government revenue budget in Glasgow was cut by 6.9% from 2013 to 2018, whereas the Scottish Government’s own revenue budget fell by just 1.6% over the same period. As opposed to the Scottish average of 6.9%, Glasgow’s budget has been cut by 12.8%—an even greater cut to the local authority that is in the greatest need in Scotland. That reduction is twice the average cut to Scotland’s 32 councils, and a further 3.6% cut for Glasgow is planned for this year.
There is no question but that the Tories are to blame for handing the Government in Edinburgh a cut of 1.6%. However, to multiply that percentage by four to make a 6.9% cut, and to multiply it by seven in Glasgow, is a deep injustice that flies in the face of any semblance of social justice or economic redistribution. It makes a mockery of the Scottish National party’s tendency to come to this place and profess to be custodians of Labour’s soul and of real socialist values. I find that absurd, because it is not the reality in the streets, towns and cities of Scotland under the SNP’s Administration since 2007. That is the stark reality.
The only conclusion we can draw is that local government in Glasgow in particular has been targeted disproportionately for cuts, in large part because for many years Glasgow was under Labour administration, so it was easy enough to pass the buck and blame a Labour council for having to administer the harsh choices. In many cases, we were too keen to be the managers of that decline rather than resisting it robustly.
We need to offer an apology to the women in Glasgow who suffered as a result of the failure properly to settle the equal pay dispute in Glasgow, and who have continued to be militant about it. A Court of Session ruling has declared that they are due more than half a billion pounds as a result of historical pay injustice. That is the reality of what happened, but it is not necessarily the fault or the design of councillors trying to do women out of a settlement. They administered and dealt with the problem badly, but the root cause lies in the destruction of local councils’ capacity to raise their own money, deliver their own services and be masters of their own destiny. That is the brutal reality.
On behalf of the Labour party, I offer a profound apology to women in Glasgow for what they have faced over the last 10 years. Many women died waiting for the settlement. But it was a sin of omission, not of commission; we failed properly to challenge the decline in council services and budgets. In many ways, we tried to resolve the equal pay dispute by selling assets, but we have to recognise that the system and pay structure were flawed. The root cause of the problem was our national failure to get a grip on local government reform. That was a great flaw of devolution over the last 20 years, certainly in Scotland.
I hope that as we look forward to the next two decades of devolution, we can right some of those injustices and properly re-establish decent municipal services in councils and city regions across Scotland. The story of devolution does not end with Edinburgh or Holyrood; it has to continue into the great towns and cities of Scotland and develop for a successful future.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker) for securing an interesting debate. I would say that the debate had been inspiring, but it has not; it has been quite depressing to hear about the human consequences and the community cost of austerity.
We were told that austerity was over, and that there would be a reset—a bright new tomorrow. That has proven to be a lie. When the Chancellor was called to open his cheque book, no money came to local government. That is because there has been a determined attempt not just to take the money away, but to completely reshape how local public services are funded. For someone who lives in a wealthy area where property prices are high and the business rate base is strong, that is great, because it will be possible to fund reasonable public services. I am afraid, however, that people who live in areas with historically low house prices and business rate bases will be denied basic public services—the civic infrastructure that makes a country a decent place to live.
Those may be the 1.2 million older people who would have had care in 2010 but no longer receive it today. They may be the children who are denied a good start in life because of cuts to Sure Start centres or the youth service in their area. They may just be people who live in areas where crime has gone through the roof, not simply because our police service has been cut, although it has, but because support has been completely taken away. Crime reduction budgets in England have been cut by 61%, safety services by 76% and CCTV by 35%. Hundreds of youth centres have been closed, and the Government scratch their head and wonder why knife crime has gone through the roof. They wonder why probation is falling over, even though money has been taken away and the failed privatisation model let so many people down.
It is about more than just funding, although that is important; it is about a Government who want to wash their hands of local public services and local communities. That is shameful for a number of reasons, not least because of the cries for a new settlement during the EU referendum. Not many people were talking about the European Union as a political entity. People were saying, “I am fed up with this being my lot. I am fed up with looking at my community and seeing all the times that things are taken away. I am fed up with having to look backwards to yesterday, when there were decent jobs. For my children and grandchildren, even more than for me, I am more fearful for the future than ever before.”
When the Government had the opportunity to reinvest into local public services, they did the opposite—they turned their back on the very communities that needed that investment and support. It is criminal to allow that responsibility to fall by the wayside. We cannot continue to have an £8 billion public service deficit for local councils. It will be on this Minister’s watch that an older person dies because they did not get the care that they needed in their own home. It will be on this Minister’s watch that a child is neglected because there is no funding for children’s services to support them. It will be on this Minister’s watch that someone dies in a doorway because money is not going to support homelessness in our communities. No Minister wants that to be their record. Who comes into this place to make the country worse, rather than better?
There is an opportunity, because we know that the Treasury is sitting on many billions of pounds of tax surplus. Something like £14 billion was collected at the end of January, over and above what was spent on public services. There is money in the system, but it is being stubbornly held back rather than being released to fund public good.
I will finish on this point: if the Government want to build a better Britain, they have to base it on a strong local public service foundation. If we do not do so, when we look to our communities and councils to start to rebuild, they will simply say, “We haven’t got the resources or the capacity to do that.” We will miss an opportunity for another generation. No more excuses, no more rehearsing the financial crash and no more pulling out the old top lines from Tory HQ. Today is the day for answers.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker) on securing this debate. I join her in paying tribute to all those working in local government up and down the country, including her husband, for the terrific work they do to make our communities better places to live.
It may surprise hon. Members to hear that I agree with much of what has been said. First, the sheer range of things we have heard illustrates the importance of what local government does and the impact on all our residents’ and constituents’ lives. I also agree that local government has been dealing with a very difficult financial climate these past few years, for reasons we do not need to rehash in the short time we have. This Government took the right decision—the moral decision—to get our public finances back in order, and local government has played a very important role in making that happen. It deserves enormous credit for the way it has done that—for finding better, cheaper ways to do things while maintaining high resident satisfaction—but I appreciate that that journey is closer to its end than its beginning.
One thing we may disagree on, though, is the talk of cuts. We heard a lot about cuts and a lot of selective quoting of statistics. The simple truth is that the resources available to local government to spend on core services will be £1 billion higher this financial year than last financial year. That represents almost a 3% rise in the cash available to local authorities up and down the country.
I acknowledged right at the beginning of my speech the difficult financial climate that local government has suffered over the last few years. I am not trying to pretend it has not—I acknowledge that. The point is that the Government are absolutely listening and responding. A billion pounds more is almost a 3% rise in funding. That is more than the economy is growing by, and it is more than inflation.
[Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]
The Minister is correct that councils have £1 billion more to spend on public services today than they did this time last year, but that is because of the pressure that has been applied to council tax payers. People are paying more and more council tax for less and less in the way of public services. By the way, the data shows that, in England, there have been cuts of £4.5 billion to neighbourhood services and £3.5 billion in real terms to transport services. That is the cost in the community—the £1 billion goes nowhere near covering that. Surely he knows that.
It is nice that we are now talking about whether the increase in funding is enough. I am glad we have moved the debate on. It is also good to hear Labour Members talking about the importance of council tax. We believe in keeping people’s council tax bills down. They will be 6% lower in real terms this year than they were when this Government came into office, and they have risen slower than under the last Labour Government, when they increased at an annual rate of almost 6%. This Government are committed to keeping council tax bills low, and it is important that we are mindful of that.
Many points were made, and I want to try to address as many as I can in the time available. I would like to do so through the framework with which I look at local government, given the sheer range of things it does. Local councils do three important things: support the most vulnerable in our society, drive economic growth in their areas and build strong communities. I believe very much that this Government are backing them in doing all three of those vital tasks.
First, as we heard, local government helps the most vulnerable in our society. Local authorities are the first to reach out those who fall on hard times, and I am delighted that our recent settlement provides them with increased funding to do exactly that. Councils have told this Government that the most acute pressure they face is in adult and children’s social care, so in the recent settlement and Budget, the Government responded with an additional £650 million for adult and children’s social care this year. That includes £240 million to ease winter pressures and the flexibility to split the remainder between adult and children’s services as local preferences dictate.
We also champion authorities that put innovation at the heart of service delivery. We heard a lot about money, but the outcomes that that money delivers are just as important. We should be focused not just on what goes in but on what comes out. The Government will focus relentlessly on ensuring that taxpayers’ hard-earned money is well spent.
On children’s care, about which we heard a lot, a recent National Audit Office report noted the enormous variation in performance and cost among local authorities. That is nothing to do with the political colour of those authorities; it is just down to differences in leadership and management practice. That is why it is important that the Government are backing practices in Leeds, Hertfordshire and North Yorkshire with an £84 million fund, and taking their models, which deliver higher-quality outcomes at lower cost, across the country.
The hon. Members for Colne Valley and for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham)—and indeed the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed), who is no longer in his place—rightly mentioned the importance of early intervention, in which I strongly believe. I have been a relentless champion of the troubled families programme since I have had this job. He is not here anymore, but the hon. Member for Croydon North will have seen the Secretary of State make a very significant speech last week about the progress of that programme and how it is transforming children’s lives on the ground, getting people into work and keeping people out of the criminal justice system.
Knife crime is also important. That is why a £10 million extension was recently made to the troubled families programme, specifically to support families against youth crime. That funding is now benefiting 21 areas that bid into the programme to tackle that vital issue. The hon. Gentleman talked about funding running out. That is because we are at the end of a spending review period. Of course, in the spending review, I and the Government will be batting very hard for a successor programme to the troubled families programme. The Secretary of State committed to that last week, and I wholeheartedly support it.
I am also passionate about technology, which has the potential to be transformative. I recently launched an innovation fund to help councils embrace the digital revolution. Technology helps deliver services better on the ground and find ways to save money. Together with the LGA, we are developing a tool to help councils to benchmark, analyse and drive their performance. I believe there are considerable opportunities across local government to improve lives, save money and transform services, and we will pursue them all relentlessly.
The second thing local authorities do is drive economic growth, ensuring that every part of our country can prosper. Ultimately, that is the only sustainable way to fund the public services that we have heard so much about and we all care passionately about, and it is the only way to improve living standards in our communities. There may well be fundamentally different points of view on that. The Government believe that, rather than being funded by central Government handouts, local authorities should be empowered and rewarded for their entrepreneurship. Indeed, even Labour Members expressed different points of view about the degree of autonomy local government should have to raise its own money and about over-reliance on things such as business rates—the single largest way for local areas around the world to raise income. It is all very well saying we want more local autonomy, but we must understand what that means in practice.
Our business rates retention scheme does exactly that, putting power in the hands of local authorities to reap the benefits of their hard work. This year, on top of the £46 billion I mentioned, local authorities will retain an additional £2.4 billion of business rates growth. The 15 new business rates retention pilots across the nation, from Northumberland to Southampton, demonstrate this Government’s commitment to backing councils’ ambitions for their local economies.
I am happy to do that. I am glad that York and Kirklees—the areas represented by the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Colne Valley—joined my local area to be part of one of those business rates pilots. That will generate an extra £34 million, which our councils have worked together to decide how to deploy in our area. That is central Government backing our area’s ambitions. The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) is right to mention business rates. The change in retail shopping habits is a pressing issue. There is a range of measures, from small business rates relief to rural rates relief and the new retail relief, giving retailers a foot—
I hear what the Minister is saying, but the reality is that high streets are emptying. Companies such as Marks and Spencer are pulling out of the centre of Huddersfield in Kirklees. Well-known names are pulling out of our high streets. What is the answer to that?
No, I will finish my point. Where the Government do have a role to play is in ensuring that the tax system is in line with modern practice. When it comes to business rates retail relief, which gives retailers a third off their business rates bill for the next two years, is the latest in a long line of measures that mean there will be £13 billion of business rates reductions by the end of this Parliament. That means a third of all businesses will pay no business rates.
That is a fair point, but the Minister will recognise that that is nowhere near enough. Because of the threshold that is in place, a local Marks and Spencer would not benefit from the type of relief that is being offered. He must accept that, unless we deal with international taxation and business taxation in the round rather than just having business rates coupled to local government spending, it will never be fair, and we will still be in a situation in which a cleaner or a server in Starbucks pays more tax than Starbucks itself. How can that be sustainable?
The idea that this Government are not doing that is an old chestnut. This Government have brought forward more ways to clamp down on international tax than any previous Government and £14 billion extra has been collected. This Government put in place the first diverted profits tax and at the last Budget announced a digital services tax, which we will put in place in line with international peers.
I am conscious of time, so I will make progress. If those peers do not act, then we will act unilaterally. The Government are addressing the point.
I agree with the hon. Member for York Central that high streets are important. That was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Stockton North, who talked about his high street, which I know as it is near my constituency. This Government understand the importance of high streets in creating living, breathing communities. That is why a £675 million high streets transformation fund was announced at the last Budget for all local authorities. I encourage Members to talk to their local authorities and bid for the fund. It is there to fund transformational projects that revitalise high streets and comes on top of the Treasury business rate reductions. The Government are agreeing with and backing local authorities to ensure that high streets remain the beating, vibrant hearts of communities. We are in agreement and there is financial support, through tax reductions and this fund, to support high streets. However, shopping habits are changing and retailers, high streets and planning authorities have to adapt. Business rates are only one part of the answer.
The last thing to touch on is building strong communities. We have talked about high streets and other points. Ultimately, local authorities are making people more proud of the places where they live, partly by building houses that people want to call home, whether through the new home bonus or through the lifting of the housing revenue account borrowing cap. Again, the Government are responding to what local government has asked for and delivering it for them.
The Minister is talking about devolution and the responsibility of others. The Mayor of Tees Valley has just spent up to £90 million on a loss-making airport. Does the Minister agree that that money would have been better invested in transport infrastructure that encourages investment and creates real jobs? The airport has not created any new jobs or new flights.
I think the Mayor of the Tees Valley, Ben Houchen, is doing a fantastic job of ensuring that the voice of Tees Valley is heard in this place. There has been considerable investment in developing the steelworks, the development zone and tax reliefs, which has been widely welcomed. I know that because my constituents are excited to see the rebirth of Durham Tees Valley airport. I know the airport well and I am delighted that it will now have a bright future under the stewardship of the Conservative Mayor of the Tees Valley.
We heard from the hon. Members for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and for York Central about Government funding formulas. There is lots to say about that, but the question was raised about why homelessness is not included in the formula. The simple reason is that the amount of homelessness funding that goes through the local government finance settlement is a very small percentage of the total amount—from memory it is only £175 million. The remainder of the homelessness funding, which is several hundred million pounds, has a dedicated formula specific to it. Obviously, if that changed and a future decision was taken to roll that homelessness money into the overall local government settlement, it would demand a formula of its own. I am happy to give that reassurance.
Deprivation is in the formula and in all the areas where it makes a significant difference. Deprivation has little to do with the cost of maintaining a road or a flood defence, for example, and therefore it is not factored into those areas. Of course, it is factored into all the areas that we heard about, including adult social care and children’s social care. In answer to the hon. Member for York Central, we are working in conjunction with all those Departments to develop formulas that they are happy with.
In conclusion, we believe in local government. As we look forward to the spending review, I and the Department will be making a strong case that local government is funded properly, to do all the things it does today, as well as those it will do tomorrow. Beyond money, we will ensure local government has the power, the flexibilities and the devolution that we heard about from the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis). Indeed, the Government are supporting that devolution with a considerable amount of money. That is the future for local government that central Government are backing. I will continue to listen to local government, learn from it and push its case in this Government.
Thank you for chairing this part of the debate, Sir Christopher. I thank my hon. Friends for their passionate speeches, in which their compassion for their communities really came through. I thank the Minister for his response. What came through to me is a lack of caring from him. I just heard words, but I do not feel compassion. I am sorry. The fact that there has not been one Conservative Member here to stand up and speak in support of the Government’s cuts to local government speaks for itself.
No, it is too late. The hon. Gentleman was not part of the debate. The reality, as expressed so compassionately by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), is that communities are hurting: we have food banks; we have children with special needs waiting for appropriate support; and we have homelessness. That is the reality. I hear words but I do not hear compassion and care.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered local government funding.
Amazon and SMEs
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Amazon and the treatment of SMEs.
It is Kevin Brennan, actually, Mr Chope. I was once briefly knighted in the Mail Online by a journalist making exactly the same mistake, but I always consider myself more shovelry than chivalry.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate today about Amazon. I will tell a story about my constituent, Roland Brana, who this year should have been celebrating 20 years of his successful and growing family business, selling motorcycle protective clothing. He spent 11 years as a sole trader, then eight years as a limited company, and in each year he achieved continued growth. It was a successful, viable business with quality products that were competitively priced and in demand.
In 1999 his business, Bikers Gear, began importing self-designed own brand motorcycle clothing from a factory in Pakistan and sold it online via his own website and on eBay. In 2001 he opened a high street shop in Barry, south Wales, and in 2002 he accepted an invitation from Amazon to become a merchant on its newly launched non-video and book UK marketplace. His business continued to flourish. In March 2010, Bikers Gear UK was incorporated as a limited company and in 2013 the brand launched across Europe via Amazon’s European platforms.
In 2013 Bikers Gear registered for VAT in both Germany and France, and in 2014 a German and French speaking customer service team was launched, based in Leipzig. In 2015 Mr Brana completed EU-wide registration of the Bikers Gear trademark logo. This should be the story of a lad from a council estate and a single-parent family who made good. Instead, it is the story of a small businessman who finds himself having to start all over again, having had to close his business, because of the way that his small company, Bikers Gear UK, was treated by the global conglomerate Amazon.
The real problems started when Amazon approached Mr Brana in May 2016 for a retail manufacturer partnership. He accepted that as an opportunity for the business to go to the next stage. He would concentrate on expanding the manufacturing of the product and Amazon would concentrate on selling. Amazon forecast great potential for growth. He was aware that one of his manufacturers in Pakistan had a family relative trading in Australia, who sold similar motorcycle garments, so in 2010 he created an image user agreement to protect his online images from any potential infringement by this Australian brand.
Following the agreement, during 2017 Mr Brana began to receive offers of orders for more than €1 million from Amazon. To begin with he could not accept many of the orders because of delivery windows and not holding enough stock in south Wales. The problem lay with his main supplier in Pakistan, which was refusing many large purchase orders. He took action to drop this supplier. Because of this and complaints from Amazon regarding poor order acceptance rates, Mr Brana travelled to Luxembourg twice in 2017 and met Amazon buyers. Mr Brana reassured them that he would increase the stock in the south Wales warehouse to improve the order acceptance rate for 2018. He explained to Amazon buyers that the low acceptance rate was due to the problem at one particular factory, and explained that, to resolve the supply issue in 2018, he planned to introduce another supplier. He informed them that he would personally be investing £75,000 to increase his holding stock as he was fully committed to the Bikers Gear UK business, and that he would do so by re-mortgaging his home.
In 2018, Mr Brana approached Barclays Bank, obtained the mortgage and, as promised, began increasing the stock in his south Wales warehouse. All should have been well but, at the same time, he noticed that the Amazon order had by now almost stopped. He started investigating and noticed that the Australian brand had started selling its brand on the Amazon UK platform. At that point, it appeared to be offering different garments from the Bikers Gear UK garments and not selling products with his barcode or European article number—now known as the international article number—that delineated the product on websites. With the exception of the new 2018 range, however, no orders were being received from Amazon by Bikers Gear UK. Even its best-selling garments were not being ordered.
Mr Brana presumed that Amazon holding stock would run out and he would be able to return to selling the garments successfully, as he did prior to the 2016 Amazon agreement. He started checking the website stock level, which is clearly visible when someone makes a purchase on the Amazon website. It would state things such as, “Four left in stock—more on the way.” He checked back days later, and the stock available had gone up on his product from four to 18. It was clear that, even though Amazon had not purchased any new stock, its inventory was going up, not down. Something was clearly wrong.
The experience of my hon. Friend’s constituent is not uncommon. Many people who allowed Amazon to take the business end away found that Amazon started to sell on their behalf and their business was squeezed. In Germany, a company called Cancom said:
“To team up with Amazon is like to team up with the devil. We team up with Amazon but not in a transactional area.”
This is a common business practice of Amazon’s.
I am aware that SMEs make some £2.3 billion in sales through Amazon, so there is potential for small and medium-sized enterprises to do well. Is the hon. Gentleman advocating regulation through the Minister’s Department and through Government to ensure that both companies that use Amazon and Amazon itself can benefit from the sales? I think it is important to do so.
We all understand the importance of online sales to small and medium-sized enterprises, and the huge opportunity that this kind of tech platform has given small businesses. That is to be welcomed, but with that comes a responsibility on tech platforms wielding huge market power to treat small businesses fairly and in an ethical fashion, and I am afraid that that is not what has happened in this case or, as we have heard, in other cases.
As I described earlier, the stock on the website was going up, even though Amazon was not ordering any new stock from my constituent. Something was clearly wrong. He contacted his account manager, who refused to help other than by passing him a link on the Amazon website to report any infringement. He contacted intellectual property lawyers, who advised him to test purchase his own brand listings on the Amazon website. The test purchases, which were advertised as his brand, proved when they turned up to be the Australian brand.
Astonishingly, and in my view dishonestly, Amazon were using his Bikers Gear UK brand to pass off another different brand supplied by the Pakistani factory he had previously ceased trading with. The factory was using Bikers Gear UK garment patterns. He could not establish any line of contact, and by now his Amazon account manager was bouncing back his messages with the message, “mail box unable to receive your mail”.
In effect, Amazon had pilfered all Mr Brana’s data, his brand name, his product reviews, his barcodes and his customer base. He had lost 75% of work for the past eight months and he would have to liquidate the business before he fell into heavy debt. With September approaching and the bike season closing, he would be in danger of running up debts with good people with whom he had been trading for the past 18 years. As a result, Mr Brana lost his family business and his family lost their jobs in that business.
How could that happen? When Bikers Gear made a commercial decision to end the relationship with its main supplier in Pakistan and move production to a new, modern factory, those suppliers contacted Amazon’s buying team in Luxembourg, requesting to supply Biker Gear UK’s garments direct to them. Mr Brana has seen email evidence from Amazon showing that the Pakistani supplier had made contact with Amazon in Luxembourg. The content of that email was that their factory could supply the garments to Amazon directly. The factory had obtained important Amazon contact email addresses when Mr Brana had failed to remove Amazon’s email contact details from a forwarded message to the factory earlier that year.
In January 2018, Amazon started taking supply from the Pakistani supplier. There was a very slight change to the logo on the garments it supplied to Amazon, but in essence they were Mr Brana’s designs. It was as if someone reversed the tick on Nike trainers, which I am sure you are aware of, Sir Christopher, and then passed them off to the public as an original pair of Nikes. Amazon was by now passing off the non-registered garments to Mr Brana’s European customers, using all his data information.
Within eight months the Bikers Gear company was in financial difficulty and unable to continue its legal action against Amazon. In August 2018, this law-abiding, taxpaying company went into liquidation. Seven people based in the UK lost their jobs, five full time and two part time. The five full-time workers claimed redundancy money from the Government totalling between £25,000 and £30,000. Bikers Gear UK, in its last full financial year’s trading from April 2016 to April 2017, had a turnover of more than £1 million and the company paid taxes and duties approaching £150,000 across the European Union. Today, Amazon continues to pass off those garments to the public.
The Bikers Gear UK business grew organically year on year by reinvesting profits into the company and growing the Bikers Gear catalogue. Ironically, in January of this year, Roland and his company were invited by Lord Eric Pickles to take part in the 2019 Parliamentary Review, originally set up by David Cameron and co-chaired by David Blunkett, to share knowledge and good practice and to raise industry standards. Under the circumstances, Mr Brana felt unable to take up that invitation.
This is a cautionary tale for small businesses: a successful small business sells via Amazon, and Amazon offers a partnership to expand the cake and to take a slice, instead of which it effectively takes the whole cake. Mr Brana now deeply regrets having gone into partnership with Amazon. Far from helping his small business to grow, Amazon effectively cloned his business and starved the original. Amazon is too big for Mr Brana to take on. He is now having to start all over again with his new brand, Black Tab Motorcycle Clothing, and a small retail shop, again in Barry, south Wales. I say to the Minister that that is the type of predatory capitalism being practised by some big tech businesses that the Government need to be aware of and act on, and I ask the Minister what the Government are doing to protect small businesses and people such as my constituent, Roland Brana, from being drowned in the vast waters of Amazon and other institutions of the new high-tech plutocracy.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) on securing this important debate and thank him for bringing this issue to Westminster Hall. That has enabled him to highlight the particular case of his constituent and it gives me the opportunity to respond. This subject is of personal interest to me. I am the Minister responsible for small business but, before coming to this place, I ran my own business and dealt with big organisations, so I am not unfamiliar with particular challenges that exist in the wider market and not just in regard to the sectors and platforms to which he referred.
In 2018, 5.7 million UK businesses were SMEs. That represents 99.9% of UK business, 60% of total UK private sector employment and 52% of turnover. People should be in no doubt that this Government, this Department and I understand that SMEs are the backbone of our economy. That is why it is of particular concern to me to hear about the experiences of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent as the SME seller Bikers Gear UK on Amazon. I can only imagine what a difficult experience that must have been for him and his family.
No company should be able to abuse its market position to the detriment of other companies, particularly SMEs. That is why, in our industrial strategy, we committed to a review of competition law, which is ongoing in the Department. As part of the review, we are actively assessing digital markets, including whether those markets pose unique challenges to competition law, such as novel forms of abuse of dominance. Part of the review will also involve assessing recommendations set out to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State by Andrew Tyrie. His proposals outline reform of the competition and consumer protection regimes led by the Competition and Markets Authority.
The Government also welcome the recent publication from the digital competition expert panel—it was published alongside the spring statement. That independent report sets out how to unlock competition in digital markets. The panel was led by the renowned economist Jason Furman, who was chief economic adviser to President Obama. The proposals are at the frontier of global thinking on how to deal with the challenges of large digital platforms. One key recommendation is to introduce a new digital markets unit to ensure that digital markets work to deliver competitive outcomes.
In particular, recommendation 5 of the report states:
“To account for future technological change and market dynamics, the digital markets unit should be able to impose measures where a company holds a strategic market status—with enduring market power over a strategic bottleneck market.”
That proposal focuses on firms with “strategic market status”. It would be backed by powers to ensure compliance. We are assessing the proposal but, if taken forward, it would mean that large platforms such as Amazon would need to comply with a statutory code of conduct or some other form of regulatory framework. The code of conduct will cover how large platforms interact with smaller firms, ensuring that that is fair. The Government will consider the reports’ proposals and report back by the summer.
Importantly, the hon. Member for Cardiff West highlights the fact that businesses, and in particular large businesses that are leaders in their industries, must act responsibly. This Government support responsible business as a force for good in society and we are prioritising in our modern industrial strategy responsible long-term business growth. Our new company reporting requirements make big businesses more open, responsive and accountable to society. That includes the issues of executive pay, and relationships with employees, suppliers and customers. Our inclusive cconomy partnership brings together businesses and civil society to tackle social challenges. Our civil society strategy announced that the Government would refresh their policy approach to responsible business during 2019, and we are partnering with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport as we work towards that objective.
We recognise that we must be active not just in holding large corporations to account, but in supporting small businesses in our economy, including SME retailers like Bikers Gear UK. This Government are working hard to support retailers of all sizes as they respond to market pressures from a range of factors. Retailers will need to adapt to take on the challenges and opportunities presented by the changes, and the Government want to support the sector as it responds to change.
That is why in March 2018 we established the industry-led Retail Sector Council to bring Government and industry together to boost the sector’s productivity and economic health. All retail activity in the UK, including SME retailers, is represented. I co-chair the council, and it is hugely valuable in understanding the concerns of retailers in the changing landscape. The council has agreed its priority work areas for the next two years: they focus on costs to businesses, skills and lifelong learning, employment protections, the circular economy, consumer protections, and retail and the industrial strategy. A senior industry figure will lead each of the work groups and bring proposals for action for both industry and Government back to the council for consideration.
I want to be clear that this Government want all types of retail to thrive now and in the future and that I am committed to playing my part. I and my officials in the Department regularly engage with Amazon, and I am always vocal in encouraging it to leverage its resources to the benefit of SMEs across the country. Douglas Gurr, Amazon UK country manager, serves on the Retail Sector Council which, as I said, I co-chair. I met Doug and a number of Amazon Marketplace SME retailers last October to discuss and understand the issues they faced. However, this debate has highlighted to me the need to ensure that I reiterate to Amazon that it needs to treat all suppliers with absolute fairness, and I will be sure to make that point to Amazon directly after the debate today.
The hon. Gentleman’s debate has highlighted important issues. I have said before and I will say again that SMEs are the backbone of our economy. This Government are committed to supporting SMEs and to reviewing our frameworks in the context of the ever changing marketplaces and organisations that are growing. No company should act inappropriately in a marketplace or abuse its position.
I trust that the details I have outlined today of the actions we are taking in reviewing competition law and leading the way on responsible business demonstrate to the hon. Member for Cardiff West that the Government and I take these issues very seriously. I again commend him for bringing the debate to Westminster Hall and for giving a very articulate explanation of the particular challenges that his constituent, Mr Brana, has had to endure. I would be more than happy at any stage in the future, if it were necessary, to get further information from his constituent, if he would like that, because this is an area of interest. I would like to finish by saying that I wish the hon. Gentleman’s constituent all the best in his new venture. I wish him every success and I thank the hon. Gentleman for the debate today.
Question put and agreed to.
World TB Day
I beg to move,
That this House has considered World TB Day and the efforts to end tuberculosis globally.
I am delighted to be able to introduce this debate. It was World TB Day on Sunday, but this is not an anniversary that we should be having to mark at all. It is wrong and extraordinary that we still have to debate the toll from death and suffering of a disease that has been curable for well over half a century, since the discovery of antibiotics by Fleming in 1928. It is unnecessary that so many people die from tuberculosis.
Imagine if the World Health Organisation announced tomorrow that a new disease had been discovered that was highly infectious, airborne and susceptible to drug-resistance, and that next year 10 million people would fall sick, of whom 1.6 million people would die. Imagine the global response to that news. That is in fact a description of the reality of tuberculosis. TB kills more people every year than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined —1.6 million people last year. Of course, there is overlap between HIV/AIDS and TB, because the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s drove the resurgence of tuberculosis. A disease that the world thought it had beaten has come back with a vengeance.
TB was first declared a global health emergency 25 years ago, in 1993. Since then, 50 million people have died. Just consider that. A disease is declared a global health emergency and subsequently 50 million people die, yet that disease is treatable and curable. That represents nothing less than a catastrophic failure on the part of the world’s Governments to deal with a disease that we should deal with more effectively.
My right hon. Friend is making some good points and I congratulate him on securing the debate. He mentions the failure of world Governments. There is clearly a need for greater urgency in the approach taken by the international community in dealing with this issue, but what about the behaviour of pharmaceutical companies, which rarely invest in drugs that will help people in low and middle-income countries in the way that they would do in lucrative medications that they can sell in higher income countries, such as Great Britain?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, but I do not blame pharmaceutical companies, because I think this is a clear case of market failure. The fact is that the demand for better TB drugs, which we need, falls largely in low and middle-income countries, so there is no commercial case for sufficient investment in these new drugs. It can therefore proceed only on a public-private partnership basis. Some pharmaceutical companies have a pro bono programme for the drugs that do exist, such as Johnson & Johnson, where there is a drug to deal with drug-resistant TB. However, that is still insufficient.
This market failure is a striking contrast with what happened with AIDS. There was a serious response to the AIDS epidemic from pharmaceutical companies, not only from publicly funded programmes, but from commercially funded investment. As a consequence we have had extraordinary innovation, and new drugs that can prevent HIV and ensure that it is not a death sentence are available. What is the difference between the two? AIDS was a disease that was killing people in the west and TB is a disease that kills the poor. That is the fundamental difference. That is why we have not had the same level of investment in tuberculosis. Another fundamental difference is that TB was already curable with antibiotics. It is just that these antibiotics were not being delivered, TB patients were not being identified and we did not have the health systems to do it.
I am a little more sceptical about the operation of some pharmaceutical companies than my right hon. Friend. In fact, one reason that the global community was able to so effectively deal with HIV—he is right to identify TB as an AIDS-defining disease—was that international Governments brought pressure to bear on pharmaceutical companies to drop the price of the medications, and push medications out in low and middle-income countries. That has not happened with TB. Unless there is a concerted effort from global Governments to encourage pharmaceutical companies to behave with greater global awareness and corporate responsibility, I am not sure we will see much change in the situation that he is describing, and change is badly needed.
This is an interesting debate, but I disagree with my hon. Friend. The drugs are not in the pipeline, because the return on investment for these companies is insufficient in the first place. I do not think that they are sitting on drugs that are available for wealthier people, which, if pressed, they could simply roll out to poorer people. There is an insufficient quantum of investment in research and development. I will come on to that point. I do not think that the need can be met by the private sector alone.
I believe that there are three key reasons why we need to take more action against this disease: humanitarian reasons, economic reasons and reasons of global public health. The humanitarian reason is that so many people are dying needlessly from this disease and falling sick. The figures speak for themselves.
The economic reason is that this awful loss of life and this illness are a drag on economic success in the poorest countries, hindering their development. There will also be a serious economic impact if we fail to tackle the disease. By 2030, it is estimated that if the current trajectory of TB continues, that will cost the world’s economies $1 trillion. Some 60% of that cost will be concentrated in the G20, and it will be caused by the 28 million deaths over that period. That is a terrible statistic, because that is the period over which tuberculosis is meant to be beaten according to the sustainable development goals. The United Nations set those goals four years ago, and said that the major epidemics—AIDS, malaria and TB—would be beaten in 15 years’ time. We have just 11 years to go. On the current trajectory, TB will not be beaten for well over 100 years. There will be a further 28 million deaths during that period alone, as well as huge economic costs.
The global public health reason is the susceptibility of tuberculosis to drug resistance, because of the old-fashioned drugs that are used to treat tuberculosis. People who take the drugs do not continue with their treatment and it is a very serious fact that there are well over 500,000 cases of drug-resistant TB in the world. The highest burden is actually in the European region. Only one in four people who have drug-resistant TB can access treatment.
We know that there are 3.5 million missing cases of TB every year that are simply undiagnosed, accounting for one in three sufferers. The proportion is much higher for drug-resistant TB, where 71% of people are missing. This constitutes not only a humanitarian issue, but a serious risk to global public health, because this is an airborne, highly infectious disease.
I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman. I commend the work he does on the all-party parliamentary group on global tuberculosis, which I have the honour to co-chair with my friend, the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma). The big problem is all of these undetected cases. We need to find and then treat millions more people.
There is hope. Last September, the UN convened the first high-level meeting on tuberculosis, which passed a strong declaration that recommitted the world to meeting the sustainable development goal target to beat the disease, and that specifically set a new target of diagnosing and treating 40 million cases of TB by 2022—a very tight timetable. It is vital that efforts are stepped up immediately so we can meet that new, ambitious target. It will require a significant increase in the level of spending on TB programmes globally from nearly $7 billion to $13 billion and on tuberculosis research and development from $700 million to $2 billion a year.
Two key issues arise from those ambitious new commitments, the first of which is accountability. How are we going to hold the world’s nations to account for their commitments at the high-level meeting? I mentioned that the world has already declared TB a global health emergency and has already set the sustainable development goals. The problem is that we keep talking about the disease but not delivering a sufficient global response to beat it, so accountability is crucial.
Among the problems with the otherwise good declaration passed at the UN is that independent accountability was struck out, but it is vital, because we have to hold countries’ feet to the fire for what they have committed to do. Accountability can take multiple forms: it can be done through bilateral relationships; intergovernmental platforms at the G20, the G7 and the Commonwealth; a further review of the UN high-level meeting and the commitments made; or international institutions such as the World Health Organisation. I must say, however, that if the WHO’s existing mechanisms had been effective, we would not be in this position.
My first point to the Minister, who I welcome to her place, is that the UK has a vital role to play in ensuring that there is more effective, sharper and independent accountability for the targets set at the high-level meeting. Without that accountability, I fear that we will not meet those new targets, and if we do not, we do not have a chance of beating the disease within the set timeframe.
The second issue is that we cannot escape the fact that we will need additional resource to meet the ambitions and that must come from the countries affected, particularly middle-income countries, which must find the resources to deal with it. We have seen a huge improvement in the response in India, for example. Resource must also come through multilateral institutions, particularly the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, through which comes 70% of all international funding for TB. The UK can be proud that it is the third-largest contributor.
This year marks the replenishment of the Global Fund. If we are to have a hope of meeting those TB targets, it is vital that it is replenished to a higher level than before. The investment case requires a pledge of $14 billion from the world’s countries, which will be combined with an increase of nearly 50% in domestic investment, so the money will also come from individual nations. That would suggest that the UK needs to commit £1.4 billion, which is an increase on the £1.2 billion it gave last time. That is the minimum that will be required to meet the Global Fund’s strategy targets and is proportionately the same as the UK previously gave, at about 13% of the budget.
I know other hon. Members want to speak, so I will make one final point. As my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), who is no longer here, said, new drugs will be essential. New drugs for tuberculosis have become available only relatively recently; there have been no new drugs for more than 40 years. Most people do not know that we do not have an effective adult vaccine for tuberculosis, and no epidemic in human history has ever been beaten without one. We have to be able to meet the new targets for an increase in research and development, which includes providing public funding.
Again, the UK has a vital role to play because of the strength of our pharmaceutical sector and what we already do on research and development. We need a specific plan to implement a research strategy; we need to establish a baseline for countries to ensure that they are funding their fair share of research and development; and we need to establish a mechanism to co-ordinate that spend. Otherwise, again, countries will talk about the research and development gap, but never do anything to close it.
We should not need to be here. This is not a disease that we should have to talk about any longer—frankly, it is a moral disgrace that we still are. It is a needless loss of life. Many problems confront modern Governments, some of which are nearly intractable. This is not one of them. This disease can be beaten. We have known how to do that for more than half a century and, with new tools, we could do it better. In the words of the Stop TB Partnership’s campaign for World TB Day last Sunday, “It’s time” to beat this disease.
It is a pleasure to see you presiding today, Sir Christopher, and to follow the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), whom I congratulate on securing the debate. I am grateful for the leadership that he continues to provide, and for his comprehensive introduction, which makes it easier for those of us who want to speak—
Not at all; it was a great speech, and well delivered.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, TB remains the world’s deadliest infectious disease. Despite it being entirely curable, it has claimed 1.3 million lives in the last year, including the 700 children who died every day.
According to the British Society for Immunology, one third of the world’s population is infected with the TB bacterium. We urgently need to enlarge our treatment of the illness and make vaccines that are safe, affordable and accessible. The BSI states that that is especially essential for pulmonary TB. We all know the tremendous impact that widely available vaccines could have on combating the disease, as the right hon. Gentleman has said; they are absolutely essential. Will the Minister comment on how much funding the Government can allocate to investing in the research to develop such vaccines?
Funding research into vaccines is especially important because of the increasing number of TB cases that are resistant to multiple antibiotics. That is an issue around the world, with more than half a million cases of drug-resistant TB reported in 2017. I ask the Minister what work is ongoing with colleagues to ensure that the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is replenished as a means to combat the global spread of drug-resistant TB, as requested by the right hon. Gentleman.
The disease has played an important part in the history of public health in my Tower Hamlets borough. The UK has a high incidence of TB compared with much of western Europe, and London accounts for one third of UK cases. In my borough, the levels have decreased in recent years, which is good news. Incidence has halved from 64.7% in 2010 to 32.5% in 2015, but TB continues to affect Tower Hamlets disproportionately compared with other parts of the country.
Tuberculosis is a disease of poverty, and my constituents are among of the most vulnerable. The approach to tackling this complex disease needs to incorporate not only research into vaccines and cures, but spreading awareness to individuals who possess the aforementioned social risk factors.
As well as the health issues, is it not true that people with TB are socially isolated and excluded because of the effect on other people in the community? I wonder whether that is the experience in Tower Hamlets, because it is certainly the experience in places such as India.
It certainly is. Of course, one of the big downsides is that the risk of spreading the infection means that there has to be some degree of isolation, guilt and emotional stress. My hon. Friend makes a very important point.
The approach to tackling this complex disease needs to incorporate not only research into vaccines and cures but spreading awareness to individuals who possess the aforementioned social risk factors. Early intervention is also key to ensuring that the disease is treated swiftly and the risk of spreading it is minimised. That is why I am pleased that the Government are overseeing the national TB strategy for England between 2015 and 2020, enacted by TB control boards. With this approach, I am sure we will continue to see a decline in cases of TB in Tower Hamlets.
It is simply not acceptable for 10 million people globally to be falling ill from TB in 2019. This disease is curable and with the right funding treatments could be made easily accessible. Our Government need to continue to intervene to ensure that adequate investment is allocated to research vaccinations, to work with global partners and to play our part in eradicating TB worldwide.
I would be grateful to the Minister if she could confirm what is being done to work with other nations to deliver on the UN high-level meeting on TB target to find and treat 40 million people by 2022.
I start by congratulating the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) on spelling out how important this issue is. I also pay tribute to everybody worldwide who is working in one way or another to fight TB, whether it is on research or on the frontline of dealing with TB and finding people, supporting them and curing them of this terrible disease.
I was fortunate enough to visit Cambodia with RESULTS UK some years ago and saw the fantastic work going on, with partners from across the world working with the Cambodian health authorities to try to reach people suffering from this disease, to tackle it and root it out, but it is a forever challenge.
When I mention TB to people in everyday parlance, they believe that it is a disease of the past—a disease of the 19th century—and are surprised when I point out the fact that it is the biggest killer in the world today. We should be ashamed that that is the case because, as the right hon. Gentleman said, with the proper will, effort, focus, determination and drive, this disease could be sorted. The resources are there to tackle it. It is a matter of purpose, intention and marshalling our forces. That is partly what this debate today is trying to do.
One third of the world’s population is infected with the tuberculosis bacterium, which is a shocking figure. Annually, more than 10 million people become ill with TB, resulting in 1.6 million deaths. As my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) has just pointed out, the UK has a higher incidence of TB than we would wish. We have a higher incidence than the USA or other western European countries, with hotspots in places such as London, Leicester, Luton, Birmingham, Manchester and Coventry.
Indeed, when I was principal of a sixth-form college in Scunthorpe, there was an outbreak in the town, which first focused my mind and made me understand the process of ridding a small community of the disease. It is difficult and requires a lot of work. That brought home to me how much it needs sorting, because TB is an airborne disease and adults with pulmonary TB are the main transmitters, which makes it particularly problematic to root out.
We need a safe and affordable vaccine urgently and we need the significant investment in research worldwide to deliver it. As the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs pointed out, that can be done with the proper effort. There are loads of reasons to explain why that is not currently happening but, as has been said, a specific research strategy needs to be put in place and funded.
The Minister is an excellent Minister, and I know she will be very much on board and well-researched already. She has an opportunity to contribute to the global leadership in this process. We are six months from the next UN high-level meeting on TB and the time for replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is fast approaching. The last UN high-level meeting on TB had lots of positives, but there were also areas where we could have asked for a bit more regarding the accountability that we would like so that people own the process and take it forward.
As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, if the UK can commit to the £1.4 billion that is needed from us over the next three years to up our global game, that would be the UK playing the role that it has always played—one of global leadership, in a way that partners can stand alongside—and I am sure the Minister would want to be part of that. By making those strides, we will begin to make the strides that are necessary to get rid of this terrible disease, one that we should not still have and that is curable—one that is get-riddable. We need to do that and we need to do it now.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Sir Christopher.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) on securing this important debate, but more importantly I congratulate him on his strong and consistent leadership and on the work of the all-party parliamentary group on global tuberculosis.
I declare a relevant interest. I visited Liberia with RESULTS UK in 2017 to look at its post-Ebola healthcare system strengthening. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) was part of that delegation and I understand, Sir Christopher, that if he catches your eye he will say a little more about what we learned.
Goal No. 3 of the sustainable development goals is good health and wellbeing. It commits the world to bringing about an end to TB by 2030. We know that, given the current rate of progress, we will miss that target by 150 years. As the right hon. Gentleman said, the UN high-level meeting on TB political declaration includes a commitment to find and treat 40 million people with TB by 2022. If we are going to do that, we not only need to diagnose but to successfully treat 8.5 million people this year, which is 2 million more people than were officially diagnosed in 2017.
As we have heard, later this year we have the sixth replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which is a critical opportunity to mobilise efforts to build stronger and more resilient health systems. The Global Fund is an incredibly important mechanism for donors, recipient countries, civil society and the private sector to come together in response to these epidemics. Since it was founded in 2002, the Global Fund has helped to save over 27 million lives and that is in no small part due to the generous involvement of the United Kingdom.
Almost a fifth of Global Fund annual funding goes to fighting TB—as the right hon. Gentleman reminded us, that is 70% of all of the international financing that exists to fight tuberculosis. The UK played a leading role during the last replenishment cycle, but if we are going to close the gap in the finance that is required to meet the targets that have already been described, all donors—including the UK—need to step up their financial commitment to the Global Fund.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, drug resistance has complicated the fight against TB, as it has the fight against other diseases. TB is a curable disease, but it requires strict, continuous treatment with a number of antibiotics over many months. As others have said, TB is now responsible for one in three deaths worldwide from drug resistance. If we do not step up our global efforts, we risk a resurgence in the incidence of TB, which could have a catastrophic impact on public health and the global economy.
The theme of the global goals is to leave no one behind, and addressing a health emergency is central to that. I reiterate to the Minister what others have said: we have an extraordinary opportunity. UK civil society has said that we want to step up in commitment. It has called on the British Government to pledge £1.4 billion to the Global Fund’s vital work over the next three years. I hope the Minister will respond positively on the UK’s continued commitment to tackling deadly diseases.
As we have heard, accountability is central. It involves working with civil society, working with citizens in the countries that are most affected and working with the key multilaterals—the World Bank, the United Nations and the Stop TB Partnership—so that we have a comprehensive plan that brings to an end tuberculosis by the target date of 2030. I hope the Minister will demonstrate once again the strong and clear leadership that is needed, so that we rise to the challenge in the months ahead.
I thank the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) for securing this important debate. Many things have been said already; I will come on to the topic of my trip with RESULTS UK, on which I was accompanied by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) and which appears in my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
During my introduction to this speech, one person has died from TB. Some 18 seconds will pass until another person dies from TB somewhere around the world. In the UK alone, someone will be infected with TB every two hours, and in 2016 there were more than 6,000 cases in the UK. However, very few people die from TB in the UK, because treatment is available. The real challenge is that 99% of tuberculosis deaths occur in developing countries. As we have heard, it is a disease of poverty. That is partly because of TB’s intersection with other major issues, and particularly with compounding health conditions. It remains one of the biggest causes of death worldwide.
The sustainable development goals say that we should try to tackle this condition in the next period, but at the current rate, we will have to wait 160 years to eradicate TB and save 28 million lives. Those lives will be lost if we do not pick up the pace. Working to end tuberculosis means that we must engage with civil society and communities, and in particular work with high-risk groups and other people who are especially vulnerable. Most importantly, we must ensure there are universal, free-to-access health services, which are the best way—almost the only way—of tackling TB.
In 2017, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby and I went to Liberia to examine its response to tuberculosis, particularly drug-resistant tuberculosis, which now accounts for a third of all tuberculosis deaths. Let us be clear: there is a treatment for drug-resistant tuberculosis, but the side effects are gruelling. It is a two-year course of medicine, with a success rate of only 50%. A person is likely to experience chronic nausea, psychosis, and painful blistering on almost all of their limbs, which they may scratch, causing further infection. They face the permanent loss of hearing in one ear, or maybe both, and after enduring that treatment they still only have a 50% chance of survival. The real problem is that the side effects of those drugs are so awful—reading out that list does not show how awful they are. If a person is experiencing psychosis, painful blisters all over their body and nausea, they are unlikely to complete their course of treatment, and that was the case for the vast majority of people we saw. They are sent back out into the community for the disease to spread.
We also saw a GeneXpert machine being used to test samples taken from people who came into hospital. The machine can be used instead of a microscope to examine a sample to see whether a person is drug resistant, and they can be treated immediately. The problem is that the machine costs $20 per person to use. Although it was in use in Monrovia, the capital, when we went out to the county hospitals we saw that it was rarely, if ever, used. We saw the machine packed away in a cupboard, not plugged in and not being used, because $20 per test is too high a cost. Instead of using the machine, those hospitals would do a traditional microscope test—through which it is not possible to tell whether someone has drug resistance—work out that a person had TB, give them the normal drug and send them back into the community for a few weeks. If there was no improvement, the person would be brought back in for the GeneXpert machine test. The problem is that over that time, drug resistance has spread, family members have got it and the cost has increased. Without early detection and treatment, more people will have to undergo the two-year regime that I have described. More people will drop out, and more people will suffer needlessly.
Drug-resistant TB is a battle, and if it is lost in the developing world, it is only a matter of time before drug resistance reaches these shores. We will suffer, and we will struggle to deal with it just as much, because no British person will willingly suffer those side effects. We need immediate action on pharmaceutical development to find decent drugs that do not cause such side effects, but we also need to nip the problem in the bud. As we have heard, the UK has been one of the biggest backers of the Global Fund, but it needs replenishment, and it needs it now. I hope the Minister will commit to redoubling the UK’s funding.
In 2015, among people in whom non-drug resistant tuberculosis was detected, reported and treated, 80% were successfully cured. This fight can be won, but we must reach out to those vulnerable groups, fund research and ensure that everyone can access good, universal healthcare that is free at the point of delivery to eradicate this condition once and for all.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I thank the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) for bringing this issue before the House, and the Speaker’s Office for allowing me to speak on it.
The issue is close to my heart. It is no secret in the House or in my constituency that I tend to get emotional when it comes to disease, and the effects of TB and HIV on children. I have had some contact with groups that fight against those diseases across the world. Images of children dying are a large part of why I am and have always been an advocate of overseas aid, although I believe we must be more stringent in ensuring that such aid is effective, and that perpetrators do not benefit from any aid that we send. My heart aches sorely when I think of children dying from a disease that is completely curable, as the right hon. Gentleman said in his introduction. It is a pity that this disease persists despite the fact that a cure is achievable and should be accessible. I wonder what we can do to stop children dying from that disease.
As a member of the all-party parliamentary group on HIV and AIDS, I am grateful for the briefing that has been provided, which is both informative and heartbreaking: informative because it gives us the background, but heartbreaking because it emphasises the issues that we all know. TB is a bacterial infection spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person—when we sneeze, we often wonder how far a sneeze would go if we did not put our hand over our mouth or sneeze into a hankie. TB is a serious condition, but it can be cured with proper treatment, and we can clearly do something and make a change. We should be doing more, if at all possible, although I recognise that our Government and the Minister, in particular, have taken great steps to address TB.
TB can affect any part of the body, including the glands, the bones and the nervous system. In 2017, there were some 10 million cases of TB worldwide; it is the top infectious killer, claiming some 4,400 lives a day. It is an incredible disease that strikes those who are vulnerable and weak.
TB occurs in many parts of the world. In 2017, the largest number of new TB cases occurred in south-east Asia and the western Pacific regions, which had 62% of new cases, followed by the African region, which had 25% of new cases. I want to speak a wee bit about Africa, because that is where my knowledge comes from. In 2017, 1.6 million people died of TB and 95% of those deaths occurred in low or middle-income countries. As the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs said, those on low incomes are recipients of the disease. It simply makes my heart ache. There is no need for anyone to die of TB any more, if early prevention and medication are available. I say this gently, but there is no excuse for those deaths.
It is clear that TB disproportionately impacts hard-to-reach groups, including people who use drugs, prisoners and people living with HIV. Challenge Ministries NI, which is from my constituency, does a lot of work in Swaziland in Africa. Every year, the children from that school and hospital in Swaziland come to Northern Ireland —they are sponsored to do so—as part of an outreach project. That is one of their ways of creating some income to take back home. Every child in that choir is HIV-positive, in many cases from abuse or directly from their mother’s womb. I can clearly see what our Government have done with some of their work on HIV/AIDS and the cure. A short time ago, I met some people from the HIV/AIDS group, and they put me in contact with some other groups. I hope we can do more work in Swaziland and Zimbabwe, where they are now working.
I am conscious of time, so I will work towards a conclusion. Swaziland is a little country where almost one in every two people has AIDS. A hospice inside the orphanage is staffed by voluntary nursing staff from the UK. The end result of an HIV diagnosis is often that TB is the killer. TB is the killer of those with complex needs. That matches the figures, which show that TB is the leading cause of death for people living with AIDS, accounting for one third of deaths. In 2017, 300,000 people died from TB and 920,000 people living with AIDS fell ill with TB. It is colossally hard to encapsulate in the numbers how many people are dying. We see young people who have had the TB vaccine and been cured. When I see them singing lustily in concerts in the churches in my constituency, I see practically what we can do if we get in there early. That is what the right hon. Gentleman said in his introduction, and it is why I am totally committed to making the changes we wish to see.
In 2017, 49% of all people with HIV-associated TB did not reach care, according to the data. The World Health Organisation referred to the African region, where the burden of HIV-associated TB is the highest. I see that in the missions in my constituency that work in Swaziland, Zimbabwe and other countries.
I will quickly finish in the time that the Chair has indicated to me. Will the Minister tell us whether there is an intention to step up the financial commitment in the upcoming sixth replenishment conference scheduled for October? As the right hon. Gentleman said, it is important to do that now and then work towards October to try to make it happen. We can and must provide a better response if we are to meet our achievable, yet slightly out-of-reach goal of eradicating TB by 2030. If we can do it—I believe we can—we need to do it together with other nations and use any influence we have to remind them of their international duty to ensure that no child in the world ever dies from this terrible disease.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I thank the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) for securing this important debate. He spoke with conviction, passion and urgency and I think we all agree that it is ridiculous that we are having to debate something that is curable and treatable and that we all agree needs to be resolved.
In 1882, when Dr Robert Koch announced that he had discovered the cause of tuberculosis, the disease killed one in every seven people living in the United States and Europe. Today, TB is a treatable and curable disease, yet it is still one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Shockingly, one quarter of the world’s population is estimated to be infected by latent TB. Ten million people fall ill with the disease annually, and it caused 1.6 million deaths in 2017 alone. To put that in perspective, that is 30% of Scotland’s entire population. The people most likely to die of tuberculosis are the poorest and most vulnerable throughout the world. In 2017, there were fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 of population in most high-income countries.
In contrast, however, 30 countries—primarily in the global south—account for 87% of the world’s TB cases. Countries such as Mozambique, the Philippines and South Africa have more than 500 new cases per 100,000 of their population. I remind everyone in this debate that tuberculosis is preventable, treatable and curable. There is some good news: more than 60 million lives have been saved since 2000 alone, and we have the power to end tuberculosis in our lifetime. However, that can happen only if the Government take seriously the need for international development funding to rid the world of TB.
I have deep concerns about the former Foreign Secretary’s call a couple of weeks ago to change the purpose of the Department for International Development from poverty reduction to furthering
“the nation’s overall strategic goals”.
The Department must remain absolutely dedicated to its mission of helping the world’s most vulnerable people. That is how we keep the faith with the public and their kind generosity.
The sustainable development goals agreed by world leaders in 2015 have a target to end TB by 2030. We have heard about that already today. However, if the global mortality rate for tuberculosis continues to fall at the current level, tuberculosis will not be beaten in 10, 20 or 50 years, but in 160 years. We are failing people globally on TB. We must work to combat that, and the UK Government can make a significant contribution to the fight against TB with aid funding aimed at tackling poverty and inequality globally, rather than aid viewed through the prism of national and commercial interest.
The first ever UN General Assembly high-level meeting on tuberculosis in September endorsed a declaration that committed to finding and treating 40 million people with TB by 2022 and mobilising increased funding for TB programmes and research. Without significant progress on TB prevention, diagnosis and treatment, we will not reach the UN high-level meeting commitments or the SDGs, both of which the UK signed up for. The Global Fund, which provides 70% of all international financing for TB programmes, is asking donors to step up their investments and, in addition, is asking the UK Government to pledge £1.4 billion at the forthcoming replenishment conference. May I ask the Minister, as everyone else has, whether the Government will commit to the full funding and ensure that world leaders are held to account on delivering the UN high-level meeting political declaration? I hope to hear that shortly.
In Scotland, our universities have been at the forefront of research into tuberculosis. The University of Dundee in my constituency has collaborated with the University of Cape Town and the pharmaceuticals division of Bayer to develop new treatments, while research published by the University of St Andrews—just over the River Tay from where I am—outlining new methods to diagnose and treat undetected TB was hailed as a “game changer”. The Scottish Government have increased their international development fund to £10 million a year to tackle global challenges including epidemics and health inequalities. As part of Scotland’s global goals partnership agreement with Malawi, it has pledged to strengthen the prevention and management of infectious diseases such as malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS.
There is a direct link between TB and HIV in that TB is the leading killer of HIV-positive people and causes approximately one in four deaths among those who are HIV-positive. People infected with HIV are up to 30 times more likely to develop active TB, and the World Health Organisation has recommended implementing collaborative TB-HIV activities to tackle that. Given the devastating impact that tuberculosis can have on those with HIV, will the UK Government use their influence to ensure that TB programmes and research are similarly prioritised and appropriately funded to meet the global ambition of eliminating tuberculosis altogether?
Finally, while tuberculosis is no longer as prevalent as it was when Dr Koch discovered its cause in 1882, it remains—tragically and ridiculously—an epidemic across the globe. We have to remind ourselves that it is treatable. World TB Day needs to be constantly in our consciousness, and we need to make TB synonymous with the past. We need to eradicate it with the same targeted focus and precision that were brought to polio and smallpox.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I, too, thank the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) for not only securing the debate, but providing me with my first opportunity to respond from the Front Bench. He is very passionate about this topic, and that passion has been reflected in the contributions of every Member this afternoon.
Last week, along with many colleagues present in the Chamber, I attended an event in Speaker’s House on ending tuberculosis, where I was deeply moved by the impassioned words of Emily Wise, a doctor who had been on the front line of the battle against TB, working with Médecins Sans Frontières in Uzbekistan. She spoke of her trauma as she watched a patient die, and her anger at the fact that, as a doctor, she was unable to save her. The patient did not die for medical reasons; she did not die because Emily did not know how to save her, or because TB is incurable. Let me repeat Emily’s professional diagnosis of why her patient died. She said:
“In this modern age, all deaths from TB boil down to a lack of commitment from the international political community and the pharmaceutical industry to address this disease.”
Her message is clear: as politicians, we must do more. We have to step up to the challenge of ending the world’s deadliest infectious disease, and it is entirely within our reach to do so.
Sunday marked World TB Day: an occasion to remind ourselves of where we are in the fight to end TB. It has been curable for more than 50 years, yet in 2017 it killed 1.6 million people, and there were 10 million new infections, of which 3.6 million were never officially diagnosed or treated. It is a disease of inequality, with the poorest most at risk, and 95% of the deaths occur in low and middle-income countries. Here at home, the poorest 10% of people are at a seven times higher risk of contracting TB. According to the World Health Organisation, at the current rate of progress we will fail to reach the global goal of ending TB by 2030.
I am hopeful that the world might be beginning to wake up to that severe injustice. As we heard, last September the first UN high-level meeting on TB took place. Governments committed to significant investment for programmes and research. The meeting was clearly a step in the right direction, but we must now accelerate progress. We know that in order to effectively diagnose and treat TB, countries need a strong public health system. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) made that point very strongly.
In the UK, 81% of people who contract TB fully recover, thanks to our wonderful national health service. Does the Minister agree that the Department for International Development ought to focus on building strong public services, so that people’s right to access healthcare is not based on their ability to pay? Of course, getting people the treatment that they need also requires international funding. That is why we must ensure that the Global Fund is fully resourced and I, too, encourage the Government to make a commitment to increase the UK’s contribution to it.
Finally, let me address the issue of access to medicines. In all countries, there are now TB strains that are resistant to at least some of the treatments available. In recent years, new, highly effective medicines for multi-drug-resistant TB have been approved, but they are reaching only 5% of the people who need them. Among the barriers to access, affordability is a major concern—[Interruption.] Not now, please.
That lack of affordability is despite huge public investment from the UK and other sources into one of the drugs: bedaquiline. We have a crisis in the research and development system for medicines. I therefore ask the Minister whether DFID will commit to working with other Government Departments, and partners globally, to revisit the system of exclusive intellectual property rights that prevents drugs from getting to those who need them the most.
Parliamentarians last discussed TB nine months ago. It seems that not an awful lot has changed. I hope that when we are next together, we can reflect on more progress.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. [Interruption.] If only you could stop the noise outside, we would not be quite so distracted. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), whose leadership on this issue is absolutely remarkable. Not only does he co-chair the all-party parliamentary group with the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), but he shows leadership globally, in the Global TB Caucus. His contribution to the recent Lancet Commission report on building a tuberculosis-free world was also incredibly valuable.
It is a real honour for me to respond to the debate. I wish to pay tribute on the record to my former ministerial colleague, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who would have responded to the debate. I assure colleagues that I will pick up where he left off in championing this cause.
We heard a really passionate case from my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs on why we need not only to mark World TB Day with debates such as today’s, but to keep sustained momentum behind the progress that the world has made. I am always a sunny optimist, and I like to see that progress. Some 53 million lives have been saved since 2000, and there has been a 37% reduction in mortality. We heard from the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) about the progress in the UK and our 2015 strategy. Our wonderful NHS is making tremendous progress, and we are now at a 30-year low, but I acknowledge that there is still more to do, and we have heard powerful speeches arguing that. A range of points were raised, and I will try to address them all in the few moments that are left.
The importance of the work that was done with the declaration cannot be underestimated, because it is a forum where the whole world can come together and make commitments. The UK was proud to lead the work behind the declaration at the UN. The importance of the work on missing cases also cannot be overemphasised. Some of the Global Fund work has supported finding those missing cases. Each missing person can infect another 15 people through not being diagnosed or treated. So far, out of 1.5 million missing cases, 450,000 have been found.
I heard the call from my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs for strong accountability mechanisms. The UN is a very good forum for that. We want to ensure that money is spent on frontline treatment, and that any accountability mechanism adds value by working with the grain of what is already there, making best use of existing mechanisms, and is proportionate.
We should also note that there has been further progress since last year’s debate. We should put on the record the fact that the M72 vaccine seems to be showing promising early results. The UK spends a significant amount—I think it is £12.7 million every year—on research. It is important to co-ordinate research globally, and the World Health Organisation is the right organisation to do that. I assure colleagues that the UK will remain at the forefront as a leader, and that we will take part in the replenishment. I cannot, however, announce exactly how much it will be; obviously, we will wait until October to do that.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) spoke powerfully about the side-effects and the treatment that he witnessed at first hand in Liberia, and we heard a range of other powerful speeches. I welcome the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) to the Front Bench; he did fantastically in his first outing in that role. I also recognise the call for leadership made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) and note the strong links between the work done in Eswatini and the work that the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) sees in his constituency in Northern Ireland. I pay tribute to the Scottish research tradition, which goes back 100 years, and to the contribution that the Scottish Government make to this work.
I am not sure how much time I have to sum up, but the UK can be proud of being the third largest donor to the Global Fund, which managed to reach 5 million people in 2017 alone. I do not have the figures for 2018, but that is a significant impact. The Global Fund is also very important in terms of research, and of course where we have strong bilateral relationships—particularly in DFID countries—it combines with the work we do to strengthen health systems in those counties. The Global Fund also fits in with DFID’s wider work to reduce poverty and improve access to services in some very hard-to-reach places.
I am proud that the UK is the second largest donor to the current replenishment of the Global Fund. Colleagues have recognised the £1.2 billion that we have contributed since 2017, and we are the first and only country in the world to have enshrined in law our overseas development assistance contribution of 0.7% every year. We will announce our replenishment in October, but we will continue to support the fund in its remarkable and successful work of reducing the burden not only of TB, but—as hon. Members have noted—of HIV and malaria in the world’s poorest countries. The fund is central to efforts to tackle TB, but we need to link that to strengthening health systems in countries where DFID has a strong bilateral programme. We will certainly be playing our part.
We continue our strong tradition, which goes back more than a century, of being involved in research and development as one of the largest funders of tuberculosis research worldwide. Several colleagues spoke about research by drug companies. We are a leading supporter of product development partnerships, which are a mechanism to incentivise the pharmaceutical industry and academia to develop new therapies and diagnostics so that the intellectual property can be fairly distributed. As part of that effort, we are investing £37.5 million in the TB Alliance for the development of new drug regimens, particularly where current treatments are failing because of antimicrobial resistance—a point that was raised several times in this debate.
The challenges that the world still needs to overcome include antimicrobial resistance, ensuring that the most vulnerable and disadvantaged can benefit from care, and the complexities of patients who have both HIV and TB. We have heard the shocking statistic that antimicrobial resistance is now responsible for more than 700,000 deaths a year, of which drug-resistant TB accounts for a third. In response to that challenge, we are leading the work to bring new effective antibiotics to market, funding the development of new treatment combinations for resistant TB, and investing in new ways to rapidly test for drug resistance; it was interesting to hear the anecdote told by the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown about the cost of the GeneXpert machine, which is clearly something that we all need to think about. Since 2002, the Global Fund has provided financial support to implement multi-drug-resistant TB diagnosis and treatment in 25 of the 27 most affected countries.
One of the most challenging aspects of TB is the difficulty of finding some of the people affected. If we are to meet our sustainable development goals, we will need to sustain our efforts to find the missing 1.5 million. The likelihood of progression to active TB infection can be reduced if TB is detected and treated early in people who are HIV-positive, so we are actively working on programmes to identify such cases and respond appropriately.
There are clearly a range of challenges, and sustained action will be needed. I welcome the support that colleagues have shown for the international policy dimension, the leadership on research, and the strong bilateral partnerships on health, particularly in DFID’s focus countries. It is clear that progress has been made, but that it needs to be stepped up. We have heard the request for the replenishment of the Global Fund and will closely analyse what the UK can do and what other donor countries will be doing.
This debate has been extremely important in highlighting the issue, and I pay tribute again to the all-party group and its chairs for their leadership. I assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs that the UK Government will continue, both at the UN and with our allies in DFID’s priority countries and around the world, to step up our impact and resolve the many issues raised today.
I am grateful for the Minister’s response, which reiterated the UK Government’s commitment. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions today and for their commitment to beating this terrible disease. I reiterate that the UK has a leadership position, and this year we can show it by replenishing the Global Fund, pressing for independent accountability and trying to achieve better co-ordination for research and development. Yes, we have made progress, but there is more to do. The UK needs to continue to show the necessary leadership to beat this terrible disease.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered World TB Day and the efforts to end tuberculosis globally.