Supporting Syrian Refugees

Supporting Syrian Refugees

From the body of Alan Kurdi, the three year old boy washed up on on a beach near Bodrum, to the bewildered boy sitting upright covered in dust and encrusted blood in a hospital in Aleppo, images from the atrocities in Syria and their fall out have been pulling at the emotions of people in the West for years now. People feeling helpless in their comfortable homes, rightly demand that their government acts to tackle the misery, the pain and the suffering felt by those fleeing for their lives, especially the children that have known nothing else.

However difficult to see, working out how we can help every child in every circumstance, we need to remain focused, making sure our support has the best effect on as many lives as possible. This is how I have based my approach to voting in Parliament and I am pleased to say this is how the UK government has approached its policy. Some clickbait media write deliberately provocative articles, either through misinformation or by exclusion. The refugee crisis is complicated. That’s why it is still an issue years after the Syria crisis started. It can’t be boiled down to a three line article throwing accusations without any attempt to explain the background that has led to much debate in Parliament and in the Council of Europe. People may not accept the UK government’s approach but I still believe it to be the right one and it deserves the chance to explain its reasoning.

From the beginning, the UK government took the view that it was best to support refugees as close to their homes as possible. Most Syrians do not want to permanently relocate across the other side of the world. They just want peace and the ability to go back, return to their homes and start once again to educate their children. The UK has been a major supporter of humanitarian aid in Syria, Lebanon (the country with the most refugees per capita) and Jordan (number 2 in the list), second only to the USA with more than £2.3bn of our aid budget providing places of safety where we are caring for more than a million people. The government has taken the view that this approach reduces the pull-factor that encourages people into the hands of human traffickers, making the perilous journey across the sea. I have been to the Moria hot-spot on the Greek island of Lesbos with a delegation of European politicians all members of the Council of Europe. We saw a protest of predominately North African migrants who pelted our bus, complaining that Syrians were getting preferential treatment. Regular fires break out on the camp burning down tents and often ending in fatalities. I met children who were able to receive some education in makeshift camps run by the Greek navy in Athens. There I met a Yazidi Christian from Iraq who explained how he and his five children fled from Daesh, crossing the mountains and making that boat trip. The youngest of his children was only 10 days old at the time they travelled. Bearing in mind the modus operandii of those making the crossing is to deliberately capsize the boat when approached by a boat from the navy to force them to be rescued and relocated, it is a miracle that this tiny scrap of a lad managed to survive. He did and was a healthy 3 month old when I saw him.

I also saw the makeshift camp in Syntagma Square, Athens’ equivalent of Trafalgar Square where migrants who were mistrustful of the authorities camped down each night rather than going to one of the formal camps. They had arrived believing that they would be able to travel freely to a country of their choice, predominately Germany, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland, only to find that the borders have been shut and they were stuck in Greece with no prospect of moving on. This situation had been exarcebated by Angela Merkel’s short-lived offer to allow 1 million refugees to come to Germany. She shut the border within a week and admitted that she was unprepared. In the meantime, 200,000 migrants had walked across Slovenian countryside (population 2m), tensions in Hungary grew and Macedonia closed their border with Greece trapping people in the most terrible conditions by the border. Essentially this started with a kneejerk policy, undoubtedly well-intentioned, but with little regard to the likely consequences. It started as a reaction to the photo coverage rather than a response to a review of what was possible. The UK has taken another tack based on refugees closer to the conflct zone, one which the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe told me with hindsight was the correct decision.

We have a number of schemes for resettlement beyond the Dubs Amendment. We will resettle 20,000 Syrians over the course of this parliament and we will also resettle 3,000 children and their families from the wider region. In the last year, the UK has granted asylum or another form of leave to over 8,000 children and of the 4,4000+ individuals resettled through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme so far, around half are children.

This week the Government announced that in accordance with section 67 of the Immigration Act (known as the Dubs amendment), they will transfer 350 children to meet the intention and spirit behind the amendment. This number includes 200 children already transferred from France and will include a further 150 over the coming months. The scheme has not closed as has been reported by some. The legislation obliged the government to put a specific number on how many children they would take based on a consultation with local authorities about their capacity. We need to make sure that these children have the intense level of support and care that they need.

I am not aware that Sutton council is suggesting that they have extra capacity. I would be surprised given the number of local people who come to my surgery about their emergency accommodation which is located out of borough in places like Mitcham, Thornton Heath and South Norwood. However if they have, like any council, they can still participate in the National Transfer Scheme. Each year the UK has around 3,000 unaccompanied asylum seeking children arrive in Britain and currently a small number of councils are taking a disproportionate share of the burden in caring for these children. Kent alone, supports almost a quarter of all child refugees in Britain. That’s five times more than the whole of Scotland – and 12 times more than Wales.

The only way to solve this crisis is to end the conflict; anything else is a method to manage it. The UK is in an incredibly difficult position as are other European countries. For every child taken in from one country, another stays behind elsewhere. However in the meantime the UK will continue to play its important role in supporting people fleeing from conflict, each and everyone a human being with a tragic story, not just a statistic.

Sutton one of the ‘smartest’ areas in London

Sutton one of the ‘smartest’ areas in London

Londoners are looking to get energy savvy and help keep their bills down, according to new figures revealed by British Gas.

Sutton and Cheam has been revealed as one of the ‘smartest’ areas in London, with more than 5,600 British Gas smart meters installed in the area so far, helping thousands of residents monitor their household energy use every day.

British Gas published the figures as it installed its 3 millionth domestic smart meter this month. Smart meters come with a display monitor that shows how much energy is being used in near real-time, in pounds and pence, allowing customers to see how much they are using and know exactly how much it is costing.

One British Gas customer said: “The installation went really smoothly and the engineer gave us lots of tips about how to get the best from our meter and display. Living in a big house, we were really keen to understand how much energy we use.

“We’ve definitely changed our behaviour now we can see exactly what we’re using and when. We’ve reprogrammed the timer on our boiler so we don’t heat the house when we don’t need to and it’s really interesting to see which appliances use lots of energy and those that use very little. We’re far more aware of what we’re using now which is helping us to be more energy efficient.”

Craig Hart is one of hundreds of British Gas Smart Energy Experts installing smart meters in homes across the capital.  He said: “More and more people are recognising the benefits of running their homes efficiently, which is demonstrated by the fact we’ve now installed 3 million smart meters in homes around Britain. 

 “In London, we’re increasingly seeing households take control of their energy usage by upgrading to smart meters, so they can See their consumption in pounds and pence. Smart meters also send accurate meter readings to us, if you’re a British Gas customer, which means an end to estimated bills.”

To find out more about smart meters or to check whether you’re eligible for smart meters visit the British Gas website here.

LONDON’S TEN ‘SMARTEST’ CONSTITUENCIES

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MP Constituency

Total smart meters installed by British Gas

1

Bromley and Chislehurst

7,150

2

Ilford South

7,140

3

Bexleyheath and Crayford

6,710

4

Croydon North

6,590

5

West Ham

6,390

6

Dagenham and Rainham

6,080

7

Kingston and Surbiton

6,060

8

Mitcham and Morden

5,960

9

Sutton and Cheam

5,700

10

Croydon Central

5670

 

A fair deal for drivers of diesel vehicles

A fair deal for drivers of diesel vehicles

I joined fellow MPs in signing a letter to Chancellor Philip Hammond saying there are better ways of tackling air pollution that do not punish drivers.

The letter sent by Dover MP Charlie Elphicke, chair of the FairFuelUK parliamentary group, calls for a fair replacement scheme that encourages the adoption of electric cars. I am backing this campaign to make sure drivers of diesel vehicles get a fair deal – not higher taxes

There are fears local authorities will copy a revenue raising scheme proposed by Westminster City Council to charge diesel vehicles 50% more to park.

I believe there are better ways of tackling air pollution that do not punish drivers. The letter argues that local transport authorities should be required to tackle highly polluting buses and taxis.

The letter also suggests that the Government should support drivers in places like Sutton, Cheam and Worcester Park to be part of the change to cleaner fuels and a more successful, greener economy.

It’s clear older diesel engine vehicles are polluting and action is needed to make sure we have clean air in places like Sutton, Cheam and Worcester Park.

Yet demonising drivers of diesel cars by hitting them with higher taxes or parking charges is not the answer. It smacks of opportunistic greed and turning motorists into cash cows.

That’s why I’m backing this campaign – to get a fairer deal for drivers in Sutton, Cheam and Worcester Park.

Maggie’s public consultation

Maggie’s public consultation

Maggie’s is looking for residents views on their planned new centre at the Royal Marsden and are having a public consultation for people to find out more and share their views.

Maggie’s is a charity that offers people with cancer, their families and friends, a place and space to explore tough questions and difficult emotions that can range from anxiety, to loneliness and isolation.

The drop-in session is taking place at the California on Tuesday 21st February, between 4-8pm. There will also be a short information talk about the history and work of Maggie’s, which will be taking place at 6:30pm. You can read more about this here.

 

How Crossrail is benefitting Sutton

How Crossrail is benefitting Sutton

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the Crossrail site at Bond Street alongside another London MP and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP.

Crossrail, or the Elizabeth Line as it will be known once completed,  is the new high frequency, high capacity railway for London and the South East. When the service opens Crossrail trains will travel from Reading to Brentwood, with branches to Heathrow Airport and Greenwich.

Whilst Sutton will not be having a Crossrail station coming here (but will benefit from Crossrail 2), Sutton has still enjoyed many benefits from the construction of Crossrail. 16 local people have been taken on by Crossrail and 2 Sutton residents are currently on an apprenticeship.

Crossrail has also benefitted local businesses. The project has created work for G4S and Lerch Bates Ltd, two big companies with offices in Sutton, but also for eight small and medium sized businesses based here:

  • Activ-Air Automation Ltd on the Kimpton Industrial Estate,
  • Armadillo Safeguards Ltd based in Lower Road, Sutton,
  • ENOTRAC UK Ltf based in Sutton Town Centre,
  • IRIS Group based in Upper Mulgrave Road, Cheam,
  • JR Hoarding based on Reigate Avenue, Sutton,
  • S D Engineering based in Upper Mulgrave Road, Cheam,
  • and Transitions London C.I.C. based in Willis Avenue, Sutton.

Crossrail will bring huge benefits to London and whilst Sutton may not be getting a Crossrail train coming here yet, I am glad that we are benefitting in other ways.

Sutton Job Centre moving to Wallington

Sutton Job Centre moving to Wallington

The Sutton Job Centre is being moved to Wallington as the lease is coming to an end on their current site.

Currently based at Helena House on Sutton High Street, the Job Centre will be moved to Carew House by Wallington station before March 2018.

In a letter from Damian Hinds MP, Minister for Employment, I was advised that:

“I am writing to let you know about a proposal to relocate the Jobcentre at Helena House, 348-352, High Street, Sutton, SM1 1PX to Carew House, Railway approach, Wallington, SM6 0DX.

“This move is part of DWP’s continued drive to deliver public services in more innovative and cost effective ways. We have sought to ensure that the estate from which we operate continues to meet the changing needs of our business and our claimants.

“This proposal supports the on-going transformation of our services, providing us with the opportunity to deliver an improved customer service in close partnership with local services. It will also reduce costs to the taxpayer by making better use of the space we occupy.

“Subject to further consideration of the proposal we hope to relocate all 96 staff and services from the current Jobcentre to Carew House, Railway Approach, Wallington, SM6 0DX by a date to be agreed before March 2018. Moreover, we are recruiting and expect to have more Work Coaches in every nation and region of the UK in March 2018 than we have today.

“The new site is just 2.7 miles from the existing site. As you will hopefully already be aware, Jobcentre Plus is able to reimburse travel costs for those claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance or the equivalent claimants in Universal Credit for any attendance above their fortnightly signing appointment. In addition, those claiming Employment and Support Allowance and Income Support are not generally required to attend their local Jobcentre regularly.”

Following my meeting last year at the Sutton Job Centre (pictured above), I have written to the local Jobcentre Plus District Manager to hear more about how they will be handling the move, and how they will be helping their customers with the transition.