January 2018 E-Newsletter
Make homes fit to live in - my Private Member’s Bill wins government support
In England around 3 million people live in private, council or housing association properties that are unfit to live in. That is, they have one or more serious hazards like damp and mould or infestation which could affect their health and safety. Yet tenants have no legal right to a ‘fit’ home. They can turn to the council Environmental Health Department for help if they are private/housing association tenants (though not council tenants), but in many cases councils can’t or don’t enforce their rights. My Bill will strengthen tenants’ rights against the worst landlords.
Unusually, for a Private Bill by an opposition MP, the Government have given their support, so I am now hoping we can get this made law as soon as possible.
You can read a short article about the Bill and what it does here.
You can read my speech here.
I also asked the Prime Minister for her support to make sure this Bill now makes swift progress and becomes law. You can see my question here.
NHS Winter Crisis
The NHS in the middle of the tightest cash squeeze in its history, is gripped by a winter crisis. Despite the heroic efforts of doctors, nurses and other NHS staff.
Nationally, the latest analysis of the weekly winter statistics published by NHS England has shown that so far this winter, 89,161 patients have waited between 30-60 minutes in the back of an ambulance, and 26,845 have been left waiting for over an hour, bringing the total number of patients to 116,006.
I have met with managers from the Imperial Trust (which includes St Mary’s and the Western Eye), Clinical Commissioning Groups and the Care Quality Commission to hear how they are coping, not only with the overall pressures but with specific problems such as with the St Mary’s Walk In Centre, loss of GPs and in some cases unsatisfactory Care Quality Commission inspections. Imperial have put in place a number of actions to maintain and improve services, but there can be no doubt about the challenge they face.
The information below is from the Imperial Trust (inc St Mary’s) briefing on the current position.
Our urgent and emergency care services continue to be under significant pressure. We’re seeing more patients, and sicker patients, which means more admissions to our wards. We also have more patients who, once they have been treated, need extra support to be put in place before they can go home or to community-based care, which often causes a delay to discharge from hospital. Many of our patients, and particularly those who endure delays in discharge from hospital, are older, frail people with complex health and care needs, including dementia, or people with mental health problems who need specialist mental health care.
Emergency attendances grew by 16 per cent between 2015/16 and 2016/17 then, for the first half of 2017/18 (April to September 2017), by a further 4.5 per cent.
There has been close to a 40 per cent increase in the number of recorded ‘blue-light’ attendances between 2015/16 and 2017/18, from over 2,900 to almost 4,100.
Emergency admissions increased by 3.8 per cent from the first half of 2017/18 compared with the same period in 2016/17. Admissions have been increasing more rapidly since September 2017. This indicates that while alternatives to hospital admission have had a significant and important impact on reducing the rate of increase in emergency admissions, they are not yet able to provide a sustainable reduction in demand for inpatient care.
I have been also been kept up to date with the challenging position regarding the state of the buildings at Mary’s and the Western Eye. We have the largest maintenance backlog of any hospital in the country, and the need for the hospital re-building programme is urgent - yet the financial pressures apply here too:
As well as the challenge of increasing demand, which is affecting all NHS hospitals to varying degrees, our Trust has a particular problem with an aging estate – a third of our buildings are over 100 years old. This is compounded by a general lack of space on our sites, especially at St Mary’s, which limits our ability to open ‘escalation’ beds.
A series of estates problems at the 147-year old Cambridge Wing at St Mary’s over summer 2017 resulted in the loss of 31 beds, as well as our birth centre. Following urgent repairs and structural improvement works, all of the beds were back in use by 3 January 2018.
In Parliamentary health questions I raised this issue of the building and the need for support to either allow the development to proceed urgently or to tackle the maintenance backlog. You can see my question here.
EU Citizens Survey
EU Citizens Resident in the UK Survey – What We Learned
Following the Brexit vote in Summer I sent a survey containing 10 questions to Westminster North residents to gain an idea of the opinions and experiences of EU nationals in the borough. I am very grateful to the 1,170 of you who have taken the time to respond by post or online since July. This is nearly 10% of all the EU Nationals estimated to live in the Constituency. Here is a summary of all these answers and what we can learn from them.
Question 1 established that 95.29% of respondents identified as EU nationals, living in the UK. The remaining respondents identified as either a family member of an EU national, a friend of colleague of an EU national or none of the above.
Question 2 addressed the overwhelming majority of EU citizen respondents, asking how long the respondent had been living in the UK. Answers were broken into number of years in either less than 2 years, 2 to 5, 5 to 10, 10 to 20 or over 20 years. Only 6.35% had been in the UK for less than 2 years at the time of taking the survey. Answers were quite evenly distributed across the remaining 4 choices (20-25%) with the largest group of respondents having lived in the UK between 10 – 20 years (26%).
Question 3 was open-ended and asked respondents: “If you can, and without giving your name, please describe yourself in a single sentence.” The various personal answers to this question cannot all be included here as there were over 1000 of them.
Respondents told me “I live and feel as a part of the UK”, “I am an EU citizen, who considers the UK as my home away from home” and “EU national, finance professional, ambitious hard-working and positively contributing to my community”.
Questions 4 – 7 relate to the impact the referendum result has had on individuals. The average score for the negative impact the referendum has had on respondent’s health (0 - 100) was 31 and for the children of respondents this was 13.
49.8% of people reported that the referendum result had no impact at all on their paid or voluntary work. However 46% of respondents have had a negative experience relating to EU nationality since the Brexit vote which ranges from hostile comments from co-workers to harassment for speaking a European language on the phone in public.
Question 8 asked “in relation to EU nationals, how happy are you with the way the Government has handled the result of the Referendum?” We have found that a significant majority (64%) of respondents were extremely unhappy with the way the government has handled the result of the referendum.
Question 9 asked the respondents to answer yes, no, don’t know and/or leave a comment on whether they support the proposals made by the Government on June 26th about EU nationals. 68.77% responded no, indicating a large majority do not support the June proposals. 9.84% responded yes and 18.72% responded don’t know. The answers to this question indicate that a majority of EU nationals in Westminster disagree with how the Government intends to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU.
Question 10 provided more detail of what exactly about the Government’s proposals respondents were not happy with. Amongst other issues, a majority of respondents (80.4%) were concerned about proposals relating to “the application for settled status” and 77.8% feared the “possibility of losing “settled status once it has been granted”.
Whilst this particular (and incredibly popular) survey is now closed, it has been fascinating hearing the individual stories and views of Westminster residents. If you have anything you would like to raise with me about the referendum and the ongoing negotiations, please feel free to get in touch.
More councils join the fight for properly managed ‘nightly lets’
I’ve been joining Westminster Council in lobbying the Government for help to make sure people renting properties out on ‘nightly-booked’ sites such as Airbnb operate within the law. Now Kensington and Chelsea Council has produced a report showing that they too are having to spend scarce resources enforcing the law and dealing with nuisance arising from nightly lets.
No-one is against home-owners letting part or all of their property if they want to, provided they don’t exceed the legal limit of 90 days a year and don’t cause a nuisance to neighbours and others. However, Westminster alone is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds a year on this issue, with 1300 properties being investigated for possible breaches.
I recorded a piece for the BBC, which you can view here.
Westminster North ranks 15th (out of 650) in the country for children in poverty
New figures produced last week by the Child Poverty Action group help explode a number of myths about Westminster. To many people’s surprise, 44% of children live in poverty, a higher proportion than in Leeds or Hackney. High housing costs, low pay and disability all help explain the very high level of poverty.
Sadly, so many of the services people need to support them - from holiday and after-school clubs to Children’s Centres and the youth service, have been largely or totally closed down in recent years. Westminster Council has seen its government grant halved - yet although money is very tight, it should still be possible to choose some different priorities and make life a little easier for those with the least.
You can read the full report here.
Queen’s Park station needs step free-access
Last week I joined Tulip Siddiq MP. Councillors and residents, in meeting Network Rail and Transport for London to lobby for step-free access at Queen’s Park station. Queen’s Park is a very busy tube and mainline station, so it is a shame to see how many people have to struggle with the stairs because of mobility problems or as they try and carry heavy buggies. There is a step-free access fund which has allocated around half of the money needed to install lifts at the station, and after this meeting, we are resolved to lobby for the remainder to be provided in the next round of allocations.
Let me know what you think.
Merger of Genesis and Notting Hill Housing Trust
I met senior officers of these two housing associations before the shareholders meeting which approved the merger, along with Andy Slaughter and Emma Dent Coad. This was an opportunity to raise two main concerns:
- A high level of complaints from Genesis tenants (I don’t have many NHHT homes in the constituency) and how the proposed merger could improve services, especially given the fact that larger organisations have a tendency to be less, rather than more, responsive. I have picked up a particular problem with street properties in and around Bayswater recently, and am concerned that there seems to have an alarming lack of maintenance over some time. The associations have also, in combination, converted 1,322 social homes to much more expensive “affordable” rents from 2014 to 2016
- Open market sales of desperately needed flats to fund development elsewhere. More than 70 properties have been or are being sold (not including those within the Church Street regeneration area). My argument is that Westminster residents’ housing needs are not being served by this and I want the disposals programme to stop.
I contributed to this story about the merger, which you can read here.
City West Homes made a number of changes to their customer service last year, including the new call centre and the closure of a number of local estate offices. Local councillors and I have recently noticed a significant increase in the number, and in some cases the difficulty of complaints.
You can read here a report on some of the worst cases that have been brought to councillors recently.
What has your experience been?
I’m supporting the ‘Blue Belt’
More than a quarter of the world’s penguins are in British waters, and I want us to do all we can to protect their - and the wider marine environment. In January I went to the zoo to show support for the Belt Belt campaign to protect the oceans and their wildlife, including the scourge of ocean plastic.
In winter everyone’s thoughts turn to the cost of their fuel bills
Turn2us has an excellent website full of advice and sources of help, including this one on how to find out about ways to help with energy bills. Worth a look.
Cyclists in Kensington Gardens
A number of my constituents have raised concerns about cycling in Kensington Gardens. Click here to read the response I received from the Royal Parks.
Nothing new to report on the St John’s Wood Post Office yet, but I’m in regular touch with them…I’m meeting Transport for London this week to discuss latest developments on the Cycle-Superhighway proposals through St John’s Wood (CS11)…Mark Field MP and I jointly hosted our local advice agencies in Parliament to discuss preparations for the roll-out of Universal Credit locally (not now planned until early summer)…still picking up concerns about traffic speeds and road safety in different areas. Progress has been made with the 20mph zones and some improved crossings, but there is still more to do.
Interested in seeing what North Westminster used to look like? On Twitter, @marymagstweets posts a constant stream of glorious old photos, from Maida Vale to Warwick Estate and beyond. They are fabulous. Take a look if you can.
Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.
Karen Buck MP