Updates from Westminster - Flood defences, Failed Women and Mental Health

FLOOD DEFENCES WEAKENED BY TORY CUTS

This week across Britain we saw the disastrous effects of flooding which has caused devastation in parts of Britain. Of course the immediate response is to ensure the safety of the victims particularly the elderly and most vulnerable. Then there are the thousands of homes still without power and the community disruption which has had a devastating effect on local economies.

It has been amazing to see local communities pulling together to provide help and support for their area. However, they need more action and support from this Government that has actually failed to take the flood threat seriously.

During this week’s PMQs, Angela Eagle criticised George Osborne for being the Chancellor who “has cut flood defence spending by £115m this year.” While in the last Parliament the coalition government abandoned Labour’s flood consensus and The Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) removed flood prevention from its list of priorities. We have also seen the environment agency lose 20% of its staff. Elizabeth Truss, the current Secretary of State for DEFRA should now be organising a coordinated response in each affected area in order to restore public services, businesses and local amenities.

Tragically, it seems that a number of people have lost their lives. Their family and friends have our deepest condolences and sympathy. We hope that the Government is working with insurance companies to ensure that flood victims are paid promptly and in full.

Labour MPs are also calling on the Government to work with insurance companies to ensure that flood victims are fully recompensed for the damage caused to their homes and businesses. Particularly since the flood reinsurance scheme which is an agreement between the Government and the insurance industry to ensure that people living in high risk flood areas can get affordable insurance, does not come into place until April 2016.  This means many victims are worried their insurance premiums will take a huge hike as a result of their flood claims.

Labour are calling on Ministers to do more to reassure victims and to put in place a swift clean-up operation so that local businesses and public services can resume and people’s lives can begin to get back to normal.

WOMEN FAILED BY TORY CUTS

Under this Tory Government women have been short changed. This was the message Labour MPs told the Tory Government in a debate on women and the economy.  

It is unfair that women and other protected groups are bearing the burden of this Tory government’s economic measures. So we have insisted upon an assessment of the impact of their policies on women since 2010. Following this, the Government should publish a gender equality strategy that seeks to improve the position of women in the remainder of this parliament.

It is unacceptable that out of the £82billion in tax increases and social security cuts since 2010, 81% will come from women. Rather than ensuring that there are more better paid and highly skilled jobs, George Osborne is balancing the budget on the back of women.  This is bad for families, bad for business and bad for the economy.

The last Labour Government did more than any other to improve women’s lives in Britain. Policies such as Sure Start and tax credits made a huge difference to women, particularly single mothers. We also extended the right to statutory maternity leave to a full year, introduced paternity leave  and the reduced the gender pay gap by one third.

Sadly, this Government has overseen draconian cuts to vital women’s services. 42% of rape crisis centres do not have any funding beyond March 2016. To add further insult, George Osborne announced that the unfair “tampon tax” will be used to fund specialist women’s services. We believe that this is short term and tokenistic and belittles the responsibility that all of society, including government, have to tackle domestic violence.  Pursing deficit reduction in this way is not essential, there are alternatives that would see Britain become more socially and economically stable. It’s time this government took women’s role in society seriously and put in place the necessary safeguards to protect and improve their position.

MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS

This week Labour put mental health on Parliament’s agenda and held a debate in which Labour MPs held the Government to account on their record. A record which amounts to mere rhetoric and lack of action. This government have overseen a crisis in the mental health system with huge cuts to vital services, staff shortages and vulnerable people being let down.

We called on the Government to restore transparency on funding for mental health, reinstate the annual survey of investment in mental health services, address the inequity in treatment and put in place a new cross departmental strategy on tackling mental health problems. We also argued that poor mental health services are bad for our economy. Mental health problems account for employers losing around £30billion a year in lost production, recruitment and absence.  The Government’s own figures show that 43% of those on long- term benefits due to health issues, have a primary mental health problem.

Labour see mental health as a real priority. We made real progress on service provision while in government and in opposition we have led the fight on improving mental health services. In Government we introduced a National Service Framework in Mental Health which improved overall standards and introduced three specialist service areas for people who suffered with severe mental health.  We invested £173 million over three years to the Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme to deliver psychological therapies to those experiencing mild to moderate depression and anxiety.

Today we argue that there needs to be parity of esteem across physical & mental health services. It is devastating that male suicide rates is now the biggest killer of young men under 45. The Government need to act now to prevent these tragedies happening in the future.

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