Norman Lamb has praised MIND and UNISON for the success of the ‘Blue Light Champions’ project in raising awareness of mental health problems among staff at the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust.
The North Norfolk MP is also applauding the 70 employees at the trust who have volunteered to become Blue Light Champions, taking action in the workplace to raise the profile of mental health problems in their areas, to challenge mental health stigma, and to undertake training to support colleagues in their role.
MIND has been providing a range of training programmes at the trust, including mental health awareness and stop suicide training. Training sessions across the region have been funded by UNISON, which has been vital for the success of the scheme to date.
On Monday night, a report broadcast on BBC Look East (West) Evening News highlighted the work of MIND and the positive impact the Blue Light Champions project is having in emergency services – including police, fire, ambulance, and search and rescue staff. A group of local Blue Light Champions from across the emergency services have also taken part in a training film, as well as a film celebrating the impact of their work.
Mr Lamb will commend all those involved in the project during a House of Commons debate on NHS Pay tomorrow (Wednesday 13th September).
Commenting, Norman Lamb said:
“Frontline staff in our emergency services often have to deal with difficult situations involving people who are experiencing a mental health crisis, but many will also suffer from mental health problems themselves.
“That is why MIND’s initiative to train ‘Blue Light Champions’ is so incredibly important. I’m thrilled that there are now 70 Blue Light Champions at the East of England ambulance service, but we should recognise that this success wouldn’t be possible without the support and funding from UNISON.
“When I met with ambulance staff in North Norfolk last week, I was once again struck by the enormous pressures they are facing on a daily basis. It makes it even more inspiring to see staff going the extra mile to support their colleagues, by committing to raise awareness of mental health problems and tackle the stigma in the workplace. They deserve our admiration and gratitude.
“It is important that we recognise this fantastic project as well as the need to better support our emergency services staff, which is why I intend to speak in Parliament tomorrow to pay tribute to all those involved.”
Fraer Stevenson, UNISON Branch Secretary, said:
“It’s testament to the caring nature of our staff that 70 ‘champions’ have already come forwards to undergo training, to help support their colleagues and raise awareness of mental health.
“UNISON is very proud to support the MIND blue light programme in the East of England Ambulance Service. Pressures are simply enormous on our staff and it’s vital that support is in place.
“This staff led network of blue light champions provides vital peer support for any staff who are struggling with their own mental health - and it’s important to recognise the work of these staff. The support of our local MIND co-ordinators as well as the staff who have come forwards should be highly commended.”
The Government must guarantee that child refugees can still be reunited with their family in the UK after Brexit, Norman Lamb demanded in Parliament today.
Under the EU’s ‘Dublin III Regulation’, child refugees have the right to be reunited with wider family members in Britain – brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles – if they have been orphaned or have no idea where their parents are.
However, there are concerns that unaccompanied children fleeing war and persecution will lose this right after Britain leaves the EU and ‘Dublin III’ ceases to apply, as the UK’s more restrictive immigration rules currently only enable children to be reunited with their parents.
In the House of Commons, Norman pointed out that some of the world’s most vulnerable children would be effectively abandoned if they have lost their parents – stranded overseas and left at risk of trafficking and abuse. He urged the Government to guarantee that child refugees will still have the right to join other family members in the UK, by amending national Immigration Rules if necessary. He said:
“Will the Minister guarantee that unaccompanied children who are orphaned or have no idea where their parents are will still have the right to be reunited with family members—whether they are brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts or grandparents—who are living in the United Kingdom once we have left the European Union? They are, after all, the most vulnerable children: the most vulnerable to traffickers and to others who seek to abuse them.”
However, Brexit Minister Robin Walker failed to provide this guarantee:
“The right hon. Gentleman is right: we should absolutely seek to continue our policy of generosity towards those children and ensure that our family reunion policy remains generous. We have reunited, and continue to reunite, many refugees with their immediate families: we have granted more than 23,000 family reunion visas over the past five years. Obviously, I cannot set out the details of what we will agree with the EU, but we intend to agree on significant co-operation in this space to ensure that we can continue to bring families together.”
Speaking to BuzzFeed News, Norman said this did not go far enough:
“The mood music was encouraging but I’m after a guarantee, I’m not after words that can easily be evaded when the time comes. We need the government to be clear on this.
“The danger is that when we leave the EU, you’ll be just left with the UK’s own immigration rules, and in effect it means that the most vulnerable children – orphans who have lost both parents, or indeed children who have no idea where their parents might be but have a family member in this country – would have no right to be reunited.
“They would effectively be abandoned, and that means children at risk from traffickers and others who seek to abuse them. So I want the government to guarantee that children who are orphans, or who have no idea where their parents are, will still after Brexit have the right to come to this country to join family members.”
Lily Caprani from UNICEF UK said:
“It's critical that Brexit doesn't put at risk the ability of children fleeing war and persecution to reach the safety of their close family in the UK. Now is the time for the UK government to broaden its own rules and ensure the protection of unaccompanied refugee children. This means simply widening the definition of family to allow children to be reunited with siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, as well as their parents. This will not take complex negotiations with the EU, it's simply a matter of the Home Office changing its own rules.”
Speaking to local residents outside St John the Baptist Church, Trimingham
I wanted to say a massive thank you to everyone who turned out to speak to me during my annual 'Village Tour' of North Norfolk last week!
I always look forward to the Village Tour, which is a fantastic opportunity to speak to people in their own villages and listen to their concerns. It’s something I’ve done every year since being elected in 2001. It's hard to believe that this was actually my sixteenth summer tour - and it was one of the biggest yet, with around 200 people coming along for a chat.
We dealt with an extraordinary range of issues, from personal problems to national and international concerns. The NHS and social care, local schools, highways, flooding, mobile and broadband coverage, offshore wind and Brexit to name just a few.
I have taken up over 130 issues for local residents as a result of the tour, which I look forward to pursuing over the coming weeks and months.
As ever, I'm very grateful for the large numbers of people who came to see me - including those who braved the torrential rain! I always feel very privileged to represent such a beautiful constituency, and am already looking forward to next year’s tour.
Read the report in the Eastern Daily Press (4th August)
The Government's proposed reforms to the rent system for for supported housing are having a “chilling effect” on investment in Housing with Care schemes in Norfolk, Norman Lamb has warned.
A letter to Mr Lamb from Steve Blatch, Corporate Director and Head of Paid Service at North Norfolk District Council, has revealed that the provision of new Housing with Care schemes in the county “has stalled” as a result of uncertainty created by the Government’s plans.
One of the schemes put at risk is in Fakenham, which would see 66 homes provided for those with supported living needs. The scheme has now stalled even though planning permission has been granted.
Housing with Care is supported housing which allows older and disabled people to live an independent life in their own flat, with a team of care professionals on hand 24 hours a day to provide support when needed. It offers a valuable alternative to those who would otherwise have to move into residential care or a nursing home.
Under changes announced by the Government, however, the amount of supported housing rent that Housing Benefit can be used to cover will be capped to the level of the relevant Local Housing Allowance (LHA) from April 2019. Rent reductions are also being applied to supported housing schemes, meaning that rents will decrease by 1% a year for the 3 year period up to 2019/20.
The Government has consulted on a new funding model under which local authorities would receive ‘top-up’ funding to cover the anticipated shortfall between actual rents and the LHA rate. While the outcome of the consultation is not yet known, there remain serious concerns that Housing with Care schemes – which have higher rents than general needs housing schemes – will no longer be financially viable.
Norman Lamb has written to the Housing Minister, Alok Sharma, to demand that the Government removes the uncertainty about the viability of Housing with Care, and provides the reassurances necessary to allow new schemes to proceed.
Commenting, North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said:
“I am deeply concerned about the impact of these plans, which seem to be having a chilling effect on investment in new supported housing in Norfolk. Housing for Care is vital in allowing older people to maintain their independence when they would otherwise have to move into residential or nursing care, but this is being put at real risk by this ongoing uncertainty. No new schemes are proceeding and the viability of existing schemes has also been thrown into doubt.
“We need to maintain a strong supply of supported housing to meet the needs of an older population, so it is critically important that ministers act quickly to address this uncertainty by announcing that any shortfall between rents and the LHA cap will be covered by central government. It would amount to a neglect of the needs of older people if this situation is allowed to drag on.”
Norman Lamb's annual tour of village advice surgeries has been announced!
The Government must “get rid of the fantasy at the heart of the so-called war on drugs, which has been a stupid and catastrophic failure”, Norman Lamb argued in Parliament today.
Speaking in a debate on the government’s new drug strategy, Norman said that prohibition has been “a monumental failure of public policy”, and called for a “fundamentally new approach” to the use of drugs that seeks to reduce harm.
The Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson welcomed the focus on evidence-based drug treatment programmes and on addressing the underlying causes of addiction (such as poor housing and mental health issues), in contrast to the ‘damaging’ over-emphasis on abstinence in previous strategies.
However, he condemned the Government’s failure to introduce fundamental reform of Britain’s drugs laws and its refusal to consider the case for the decriminalisation.
In his speech, Norman emphasised the “shameful” number of people who die through drug misuse. In 2015, the number of deaths increased by more than 10% to hit record levels, while the number of deaths from heroin has doubled since 2012. These people can no longer be dismissed as “victims of their own stupidity”. The death rate from drugs in the UK is 10 times that of Portugal, where decriminalisation has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of deaths from drug use as well as improved health outcomes.
While Britain is stuck in the dark ages, Norman highlighted that other countries are increasingly coming to adopt a more enlightened approach to drugs policy. In Portugal, after initial resistance to decriminalisation, there is political unity across the spectrum. In the United States, more and more states are moving towards regulated markets for cannabis, while the Liberal Government in Canada is also legislating to introduce a legal regulated market.
Closing his speech, which you can read in full here, he issued a strong challenge to the Government:
“I make this plea: do not claim that the case for change is irresponsible, but bring about change because it will save lives, it will reduce HIV and hepatitis C infection, it will protect people better, it will end the ludicrous enriching of criminals, it will cut violence in our poorest communities, it will end the self-defeating criminalisation of people who have done exactly the same thing as successful people in government, in business and in all sorts of walks of life, and it will raise vital tax revenues. Follow the evidence. Do not perpetuate the stigma and the fear. End this catastrophic approach to drugs policy.”
During the debate, Norman also made the following important points:
- The new strategy makes welcome references to drug rehabilitation requirements as a sentencing option, along with alcohol rehabilitation requirements and mental health treatment requirements. However, the Government must focus on making sure that all of these sentencing options are available everywhere in the country, which hasn’t previously been the case.
- The strategy makes no mention of improving access to drug consumption rooms / heroin injecting facilities which allow drug users to inject safely under supervision. Evidence suggests that the use of drug consumption rooms has the potential to save lives, and these are currently being piloted in Glasgow.
- The war on drugs has had extraordinary consequences. It has massively enriched organised crime to the tune of billions of pounds every year, and has criminalised young people in particular.
- Criminally controlled drug supply markets lead to appalling violence, widespread human rights violations and an “extraordinary death toll”.
- We criminalise people with mental health problems who may well end up taking drugs as an escape from the pain that they are suffering. It is “cruel and stupid” that we prosecute them and give them a criminal record.
- Criminalising the possession of drugs has had a disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities which amounts to ‘extraordinary discrimination’. Although illegal drug use is lower among BME groups than in the white population, black people are six times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs.
- The Government’s objectives are undermined by “counter-productive” cuts to public health funding. The King’s Fund recently highlighted that councils across the country have planned to reduce their expenditure on tackling drug misuse in adults by £22 million.
- The Royal Society for Public Health, in its response to the Government’s strategy, says that it “falls far short of the fundamental reorientation of policy towards public health and away from criminal justice needed to tackle rising drug harm. Decriminalisation of drug possession and use is a critical enabler that would enable drug treatment services to reach as many people as possible as effectively as possible. Instead, the Government still continues to lead with unhelpful rhetoric about ‘tough law enforcement’ that contributes to the marginalisation and stigmatisation of vulnerable drug users”.
- Although ministers still use the language of having a tough approach to enforcement, the Home Office’s own report from 2014 showed that there is no link between the toughness of a regime and the level of drug use.
- An expert panel recommended that in the interests of public health, we should move towards a regulated cannabis market where we control potency, who grows it and who sells it. That protects those at risk of psychosis and memory impairment. If people buy from a criminal, they have no idea what they are buying. The criminal has no interest in people’s welfare; they simply want to make a fast buck from them.
A new ‘Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme’ is needed after Brexit to address the shortage of seasonal workers in the soft fruit industry in Norfolk, Norman Lamb argued in Parliament today.
The agriculture sector in the UK has long been reliant on migrant labour, particularly seasonal workers from Europe. During peak seasons, are around 75,000 additional workers are employed to pick British fruit and veg, of which an estimated 98% are recruited from elsewhere in the EU.
However, many farms and fruit companies are experiencing difficulty in recruiting enough seasonal EU workers. In North Norfolk, one of Britain’s major soft fruit producers was 77 fruit pickers short of the 320 needed in June of this year (a shortage of 25%), having struggled to obtain any seasonal harvest staff to fill these places – even from countries such as Romania and Bulgaria from which many fruit pickers have historically been recruited. As a result, some fields of fruit were left unpicked. The company has also been forced to halt its expansion plans while concerns about labour shortages continue.
Brexit has been suggested as one of the reasons why it is becoming harder to attract workers from the EU. There is huge concern that ongoing uncertainty over the future of EU migrant workers in Britain, as well as a fall in the value of the pound, is making Britain a less attractive destination. Farmers and fruit producers fear that labour shortages will be made much worse once EU free movement no longer applies in the UK after Brexit.
The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme previously allowed fruit and vegetable growers to employ migrant workers from Bulgaria and Romania to do short-term, low-skilled agricultural work for a maximum of six months. It was closed in 2013 after Bulgaria and Romania became full members of the European Union and restrictions on the free movement rights of their citizens were lifted. However, there have been calls from the industry for a new version of the scheme to be reintroduced post-Brexit in order to avoid a sudden recruitment crisis upon the UK’s exit from the EU.
In Parliament, Norman Lamb supported calls for a new ‘Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme’ after Brexit to ensure that the industry has enough seasonal workers to pick British fruit and veg. Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate, he said:
“The soft fruit industry in this country is a big success story. However, one of the major producers in my constituency is 77 staff short at the moment. That means leaving fruit unpicked.
“The company in my constituency has halted expansion plans until something can be sorted out with regard to availability of labour. It cannot expand its business in the current situation.
“There is a real risk that this major success story could be undermined unless we get a good new seasonal agricultural workers scheme deal in place for the post-Brexit situation.”
Commenting after the debate, he said:
“I am really alarmed that there seems to be no strategy from the Government to address concerns about a shortage of labour in the agriculture sector. This is causing huge anxiety among fruit producers in my constituency. Fruit and veg crops are being left unharvested, and expansion plans are on hold because of the current situation.
“We cannot let existing recruitment problems become a crisis after Brexit. Four years ago, the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme was no longer considered necessary because countries who were traditionally part of this scheme, such as Bulgaria and Romania, had become part of the EU and were able to enjoy free movement. The Government must recognise that the situation has now changed dramatically with Brexit and the likely end of free movement over the next few years.
“We are still no clearer on what the Government’s post-Brexit immigration policy will be, but I would strongly urge ministers to reintroduce the scheme in order to ensure that there are enough migrant workers to meet the needs of our essential soft fruit industry.”
You can read the full debate here.
The shocking scale of underpayment of the minimum wage in the social care sector was exposed in the House of Commons yesterday by former Care Minister Norman Lamb.
Arrears totalling more than £2.5 million were uncovered by an HMRC investigation conducted between February 2015 and September 2016, which was initiated by Mr Lamb towards the end of his tenure as Care Minister. The review found 183 cases of non-compliance with the minimum wage among social care providers. In the case of one provider, more than £1 million was underpaid.
The revelations came to light in a debate on the Queen’s Speech proposals on jobs and the economy, after Mr Lamb obtained a letter from HMRC detailing the key findings of the review.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Lamb called the underpayment of the minimum wage “a disgrace” and said that the impact of austerity on some people’s lives is “unacceptable”. He added: “We cannot continue to operate our public services on the backs of poverty wages for our lowest paid workers.”
Mr Lamb called for cross-party talks on “a long-term settlement for the NHS and care that does not involve exploiting the lowest-paid people in our country.”
Speaking after the debate, Norman Lamb said:
“It is intolerable that hard-working care staff are being paid a poverty wage instead of the fair wage that they deserve and are legally entitled to. The HMRC investigation highlights a gross injustice which ultimately stems from a failure to deliver proper funding for social care.
“Cash-strapped providers are faced with the impossible task of meeting unprecedented demand for care as well as higher minimum wage obligations, at a time when local authority budgets are under enormous stress. It is painfully clear that the situation is not sustainable.
“Unless the Government’s commitment to a further increase in the minimum wage is matched by proper funding for local authorities and care providers, I fear that the consequences for the social care sector could be disastrous.
“Patient care will also suffer if we continue to postpone the tough decisions that will need to be made to ensure that we can afford high-quality care for those who need it. It is vital that ministers work with others on a cross-party basis to develop a long-term settlement for social care that is fair and sustainable.”
Norman Lamb MP has welcomed proposals for a ‘sandscaping’ scheme to strengthen sea defences at Bacton Gas Terminal, Bacton and Walcott villages.
The proposed scheme, which was unveiled last week by North Norfolk District Council, would involve using high volumes of sand (1.5 million cubic metres) to protect the shoreline, in front of the terminal and down the coast.
Bacton Terminal, Bacton and Walcott are at risk of coastal erosion due to falling beach levels and rising sea levels and village communities have been calling for improved coastal defences. North Norfolk District Council has invested £1.3m in the maintenance of sea wall and revetments at Bacton and Walcott over the past 10 years, but continued maintenance of the groynes is limited because of falling beach levels.
It is believed that the innovative ‘sandscaping’ technique, which has been successfully used in The Netherlands, represents the best chance of sustaining the defences for the villages while ensuring the nationally critical gas infrastructure at Bacton Gas Terminal is protected. This would be the first time a project of this scale has been delivered in the UK.
It is estimated the total cost of the project would be £17 million to £19 million, and is considered to be financially viable.
The plans will be discussed by North Norfolk District Council’s Cabinet on July 3, with public drop-in sessions also being organised in Bacton and Walcott to explain the proposal and get people’s views.
Commenting, Norman Lamb said:
“I’m really encouraged by this exciting proposal, which has been a long time coming.
“Having initiated discussions with Government ministers back in 2015, I am relieved that we are getting there. There has been a lot of uncertainty over sea defences for Bacton Gas Terminal together with Bacton and Walcott through to Coastline Village. It is vital that the scheme extends to provide enhanced protection for Coastline Village - and I have stressed the importance of this to council officials.
“Local residents will have lots of questions about the scheme and the potential impact, but this sandscaping project should provide important additional protection.”
Liberal Democrats are faced with electing a new leader following Tim Farron's resignation last week. I have come to the conclusion that I will not be putting myself forward as a candidate for that vacancy. That might seem strange given the support and encouragement I have received from party members – and indeed, from many people outside the Lib Dems.
So let me explain. I have just fought a gruelling campaign to win my North Norfolk seat. Attempting to win a seat for the Liberal Democrats in an area which voted quite heavily to leave was bound to be a challenge. Not only was the party's position on Brexit toxic to many erstwhile Liberal Democrat voters in North Norfolk, but I found myself sympathising with those who felt that the party was not listening to them and was treating them with some disdain.
I abstained on Article 50 because I felt it was wrong in principle to vote against, given that we had all voted to hold the referendum in the first place. For many in the party that abstention was an act of betrayal. I have been accused of supporting a Hard Brexit - the very last thing I want - while a Lib Dem source told the Evening Standard this week that the abstention 'looks like he can't make a tough call'. It is actually quite tough to go against your party, and I did it on a matter of principle.
We need to understand why so many people get frustrated with remote power - something that Liberals should get. The EU is too often dysfunctional and sclerotic. Yet progressive internationalists have been reluctant to admit this. While we have always recognised the need for reform of the EU, the Liberal Democrats have been perceived as being too tolerant of its failings.
My great frustration is that instead of the name-calling, what we need is for progressives to engage in fresh thinking on how we achieve a new settlement with the EU - one which secures free trade, jobs, security partnerships, and our place in the Customs Union.
I want the Liberal Democrats to use our potentially pivotal position in Parliament to force cross party working on the profound challenges that we face - not just the Brexit negotiations but on how we secure the future of the NHS and our care system.
I would have used my position as leader to champion a different style of politics - rejecting the abuse and aggression which turns so many people off and instead seeking to build consensus where possible in the national interest. I favour telling it straight, not dissembling, bringing people together rather than dividing them. The public will not forgive the political class if we fail to understand the changed circumstances of a Parliament with no majority. We don't need an early election. We need a new style of politics.
None of this should be taken as meaning that I favour a mushy value-free equidistance from the other two parties. You can be a pluralist and hold passionate views. I am a Liberal to my core. I know that we are supposed to mellow with age but I have done the opposite. I have become more angry and impatient with injustice and gross inequality.
In my work as a health minister, I became more and more outraged by the way people with mental ill health and those with learning disability and autism are treated by the state. So often I heard stories of people being ignored, not listened to. The dad of a patient at Winterbourne View who told me he felt guilty because there was nothing he could do for his son. No one would listen to his complaints. The teenage girl with autism held in an institution for over two years, treated like an animal. No one would listen to her family's pleas. I helped get her out so that she now leads a good life but one minister can't intervene in every case.
And now we have the horror of Grenfell Tower. Again a story of people being ignored. Treated as second class citizens. These aren't isolated exceptions to the rule. Powerlessness is rife in Britain today, along with obscene inequalities of wealth.
Well we cannot tolerate this any longer.
Whether it is tenants in tower blocks or people with learning disabilities; workers with no stake in their enterprise watching as the owners of capital take an ever growing percentage of our national income as their real wages fall; the citizen who feels powerless against remote power, whether at the Town Hall, Westminster or Brussels; the whistleblower, a constituent of mine, who tries to highlight wrongdoing in our banks but sees his career and his health destroyed as a result - his concerns ignored for years. These are the things that drive me on, keep me fighting for justice. Liberals need to make the case for a radical shift of power to the people in all these spheres.
Finally, perhaps the most depressing aspect of this election campaign was the extent to which so many of the massive challenges we will face in the decades ahead got ignored. How do we respond, in a civilised way, to mass movements of people fleeing conflict or water shortages or simply in search of a better life? How do we address gross intergenerational inequality or the impact of automation on jobs which we assumed would always be there? How do we fund and improve our public services as the ratio of taxpaying workers to pensioners changes so radically? How do we respond effectively to a new wave of violent extremism on our streets, in a way that doesn't itself harm our way of life? And the potentially apocalyptic challenge of climate change and how we protect those most severely impacted by it.
If the progressive side of politics is to prevail, we can't just hanker after a better yesterday. We have to win the battle of ideas about how we confront these profound challenges.