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Our Children Get Poorer, but Thanet’s MP Wants a Big, Big Boat: The Truth about Child Poverty in East Kent

New data revealed this week from HMRC, shows that East Kent’s child poverty statistics are some of the very worst in the whole of South-East England. In Northgate Ward in Canterbury and Newington Ward in Ramsgate 45% of children are defined as living in poverty (in a household bringing in below 60% of the UK median income). In the St Radigund’s area of Dover, it stands at 41.9% and in many, many other wards across our districts such as Middle Deal and Sholden (Dover), Elms Vale & Priory (Dover) and Cliftonville West (Margate) to name but a few, the child poverty statistics stand at double the UK average.

One thing is clear then: East Kent is failing its young people.

GirlKentChildPoverty

It amazes me that many local Conservative representatives seem completely out-of-touch with the real issues facing the people they represent. How, for example can Craig Mackinlay MP be so obsessed over providing another Royal Yacht for the House of Windsor, when so many families in his patch are struggling to having to decide between nutritious food and keeping the heating on? A new royal yacht is estimated to cost £120 Million. There are 30,039 children in Thanet. That means that for the cost of his beloved boat, Mr. Mackinlay could feed every child in his constituency and most of North Thanet too for a full four years!*

Also, amazingly, Dover District Council is currently consulting on a democracy review, which would reduce the number of councillors by 13, to 32. Now, don’t get me wrong, I can see that councils have to cut the cloth somewhere, but in deprived areas (by which I count many of those very same Dover wards) people need more, not fewer, elected officials working hard to champion the rights of them and their families. I hope the electoral commission has taken deprivation figures and not just census numbers into their calculations when deciding where to trim councillor numbers. If not, the people of Dover & Deal should be furious.

Studies done for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation strongly suggest that reducing child poverty is a policy which pays for itself in the long run with lower long-run spending on benefits and services and higher future tax revenues. You’ve got to combine fair child-targeted family benefits, services and support that champion positive and resilient parenting, a wider roll out of free childcare and combined flexi-parental leave alongside a strong comprehensive education model too. Studies prove over and over again that grammar schooling does not improve overall levels of social mobility; success anecdotes from individuals here and there are not statistics! The real numbers tell the truth about Kent’s education system: poor children do worse than their middle-class peers; poor children do not go to grammar school as often as their middle-class peers; poor children become poor adults.

We have to act decisively and we have to act now. We cannot wait for stronger economic times, as the children being affected and impacted upon now, do not get a second chance at childhood. We could do so much more, but East Kent is (in the main) stuck with a load of out-of-touch representatives, such as Charlie “Which Party Does He Work For?” Elphicke, who was happily squealing on Twitter that ‘Dover & Deal is on the up” thanks to the increasing house prices, or Damian “Put Me in the Corporate Box” Collins, last seen actively working and campaigning in his constituency circa 2010.

So, Mr Mackinlay, ask yourself a serious question: do you still want that big, big boat?

BigBoat

NOTES

*Based on assumption of c.£20 per week to feed a child aged between 5 and 17. With the average family food shop in 2017 being £53.20 and the average UK household having 2.4 people. 

Kent CCG reply to Labour Mum regarding Stroke Services.

It isn’t everyday that I receive a letter asking for clarifications of fact on my blog. Yesterday however (yes, happy weekend!), I received a letter from the Chair of the Joint Committee of Clinical Commissioning Groups for the Kent and Medway Hyper Acute and Acute Stroke Service and from Dr David Hargroves, senior stroke consultant at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust and clinical lead for the stroke review.

The letter I received raises some interesting points; namely Mr. Gill and Mr. Hargroves ask me to point out to my readership (hello readership!) that the averages given in my previous post about ambulance responses for those with stroke symptoms in East Kent, are for all stoke / neurological patients, rather than for only acute / F.A.S.T symptom with recent onset patients.

Mr. Gill and Mr. Hargroves also go on in their long letter to refute the ‘golden hour’ for stoke treatment. This study is old, they claim and it’s findings spurious. In their letter, they say “In the south east, we have set ourselves the even more stringent (than 4.5 hours standard of patients getting clot-busting drugs, if they need them, within two hours of calling for an ambulance. Between 10 and 20 per cent of stroke patients may need clot busting therapy (thrombolysis).”

I would be interested to know from Mr. Gill and Mr. Hargroves of the differentiation in patent outcomes receiving thrombosis within 1 hour of symptom onset and the 2-hour target of the trust – perhaps they will pass on this information, or at least suggest where it might be found. Because we live in an area with a failing ambulance trust, these statistics are very important to local people.

I do wish to cite that I am not against the reconfiguration of stroke services per se. I understand that outcomes for all patients are better in hyper acute stroke units. I am pleased to read that “the stroke review business case includes £1million investment for SECAmb”. This is vital – the reconfiguration will work if people can get there. Let’s just hope the SECAmb ship gets in order sooner rather than later.

See the full letter to LabourMum here: NHS response to Charlotte Cornell blog as Labour mum

Kent Ambulance Response Times Throw Proposed Hospital Changes into Chaos.

New data released yesterday by the failing South-East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust in response to our Freedom of Information request reveals that stroke patients in East Kent are having to wait up to three hours for an ambulance.

Whilst the average response times in East Kent for Category 1 (life threatening, cardiac arrest etc.) and Category 2 (chest pain, stroke etc.) call outs in December was 08:13 and 18:25 minutes respectively, the huge disparity in response times across the East Kent region is putting extra questions on local CCGs and the East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust who are currently consulting on the reconfiguration of stoke services across the region.

The data, released yesterday reveals that patients in the Dover (CT16) area suffering from a suspected stroke, had the longest wait for an ambulance across East Kent in the month of December, with an average wait time of 41 minutes. Patients in the CT2 area of Canterbury suffering from a suspected stroke had an average wait time of nearly 27 minutes last month, whilst stroke call outs to Whitstable (CT5) and surrounds took an average of half an hour to arrive.

With the ongoing consultation about stroke services proposing to make the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford the only specialist centre for stroke treatment in the region, those in the CT16, CT2 and CT5 postcodes should not be alone in being very worried indeed. With travel times from central Dover to the William Harvey hospital being 30 minutes on a good, traffic-free run, the combination of ambulance wait-times and travel times means that any stroke patient from that area has a very poor chance of being seen by a specialist team with the ‘golden hour’ for treatment.

The outcomes for stroke patients in Whitstable are likely to be even worse. With the aforementioned average half hour wait for an ambulance combined with the average drive time of 45 minutes to the William Harvey hospital, the average stroke patient will arrive at hospital after 1 hour and 15 minutes.

The above statistics are, of course, only the averages. Shockingly, in December someone in Dover suspected of having a stroke had to wait nearly 3 and a half hours for an ambulance to arrive. In October and November, patients in Canterbury suffering from respected strokes had to wait well over two hours for their ambulance to arrive. In 2017, there was one report from the Folkestone area of a suspected stroke patients waiting over 5 hours for an ambulance to respond to their emergency call out.

Health chiefs in the area must take account of ambulance response times as part of their consultation into the reconfiguration of stroke services. With the ‘average’ patient from Blean, Whitstable, Herne Bay, Dover, Deal, Sandwich, the CT2 region of Canterbury and all of Thanet being unable to make the William Harvey Hospital within the ‘golden hour’ for stroke treatment, they must look again at how proposed provision can best accommodate successful outcomes for all. We are very worried that a Conservative government led cost-cutting agenda, imposing poor Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships on hospital trusts across the UK is putting money before lives.

See the full data set for Ambulance Response times in CT postcodes here: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/ambulance_response_times_for_ct?nocache=incoming-1102888#incoming-1102888

KENT CONSERVATIVES POINT FINGERS IN PLAYGROUND POLITICS

Months after the Conservative leader of Kent County Council, Paul Carter, warned that frontline services in Kent would have to be cut, because their ‘budget has decreased substantially over the last four years’ and urging Westminster Tories to ease austerity measures, Kent Tory MPs have come out in a letter pointing the finger right back at KCC and urging Mr Carter to rethink proposed cuts to bus services.

ToryBus

The 10 co-signing MPs include the recently-lesser-spotted Charlie Elphicke and the-man-who-knows-the-offside-rule Damian Collins, yet nowhere in the letter are the cuts to bus services attributed to their own government’s strangulation of the Revenue Support Grant. Such a letter will undoubtedly lead to accusations of the signatories’ blind hypocrisy, as all the signing Tory MPs have consistently voted for the austerity measures that have led to such frontline services being cut in the first place.

Back in January, The Economist warned that Local Authorities might soon be unable to meet their statutory obligations, with projections now estimating that between 2015 and 2020, the Revenue Support Grant will have shrunk 77p in the pound. In an article for The Financial Times in July of this year, Andy Bounds clarified that ‘in 2015/16, councils received £9.9bn in Revenue Support Grant (RSG). By 2019/20, they will get £2.2bn.’ The Conservative government has constituently refused to lift the squeeze on the revenue support grant; and now here are 10 Conservative MPs nakedly passing the buck to a lower level of government.

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It won’t be lost on the Kent public that only a few weeks ago, the very same Tory MPs that yesterday signed this letter to Mr Carter, welcomed in Phillip Hammond’s budget with the obligatory Commons whoops and smiles that have become commonplace on their benches in these years of austerity.  To mix up a seasonal metaphor, the proof is in the Christmas pudding and if Kent Tories continue to back central government’s ongoing austerity measures, then is just a sad act of opportunistic penmanship of which they should be ashamed. The reason pensioners will be trapped at home and schoolchildren left standing waiting for a bus that will never come, is because their own government.

May’s “British dream” simply shows she is sleeping through the housing crisis

In Theresa May’s address to the Conservative Party conference last week, the phrase “British Dream” cropped up a grand total of 22 times. It is not a new form of words however; previous echoes of the same phrase were spoken in the past by Michael Heseltine, Michael Howard and indeed Labour’s Ed Miliband in keynote speeches of their own. Future studies may show that saying the words out loud is, in fact, akin to putting the final nail in your own political coffin.

The British don’t do “dreams” well. Rather than the aspirational echoes of the American variant, to shout about the British dream is to risk seeming brash; we can never quite get over the fact that (as Hamlet told us) “to sleep, [is] perchance to dream”. If you are dreaming, you are asleep. If you are asleep, you literally have your political eyes shut to the true state of this nation. Mrs May needs to wake up.

The Labour Party is waking up. The Labour Party’s eyes are open to the true state of the biggest horror facing our country: the housing crisis. Yet despite shouting loudly in opposition, there are many that feel that future Labour housing policy can still be bolder. The time to be brave is indeed the next manifesto.

As Labour gets braver and cracks on in preparing for government, the Tories are snoring through some of the biggest social problems to affect the country since 1945. The Tories are dreaming when they should be helping the 120,000 children that will be sleeping tonight in temporary or emergency accommodation.

May

That’s right, 120,000 children in 78,000 families don’t have a permanent place to call home tonight. Many of these families in temporary accommodation are trapped there; evicted by landlords as rents have risen beyond their ability to pay. This a problem caused not by greedy landlords in the main, but by rents rising – so landlords can pay bills and mortgages – as DHA rate remain frozen until 2020. In parts of south east England, average rental market value is now already 40 per cent above the frozen rate of housing benefit. This has cast thousands of families into abject housing poverty, arrears and evictions.

That is not to say that there are not greedy landlords. Of course there are. But Labour has to recognise that the majority of landlords (59 per cent) only let out one home. For most of these landlords, that one rental is a pension pot in an age where the state pension is in real risk of becoming a myth. Labour needs to look more carefully at taxation and rent controls for business landlords, those nine per cent of landlord-magnates with over five properties.

In a recent study for Shelter it was revealed that 63 per cent of landlords said “no DSS”, meaning they would not accept tenants in receipt of social security payments. That seems to me to be far lower than the actual figure, especially in London and the south east. Calling six local estate agents in Kent to find out how many of their advertised two-bedroom private rentals accepted DSS, I found a grand total of one available property that might consider an applicant on benefits. Of course, that was an immediate “no” for a benefit-receiving applicant with children. Perhaps “No DSS, no children”, is the new “No blacks, do dogs, no Irish” – the true social scandal of our age. A Labour government could introduce policy whereby the only stipulation for applying to rent a property was your ability to pay.

So, we must fix that ability to pay. The government needs to undo the freeze on housing benefit; pump more money into local government for building council houses; issue fines on councils that house families in B&B accommodation for more than the legal six weeks; introduce Ofsted-style inspections of local authority housing stock with the possibility of Whitehall taking over when councils fail to meet standards; place tough rent controls on landlords who let out more than five properties, in order to encourage the release of housing stock; have authorities act as guarantors for DSS recipients with references and/or a clean history of payment; and ban a landlord’s right to select tenants based upon anything other than ability to pay.

There you are John Healey: sorted.

This article was first published on Labourlist.com on 9th October 2017

“It’s not as bad here as it is in some places.”

That’s right, the title for today’s blog post is a quote. A quote from Damian Green, the First Secretary of State (de facto Deputy Prime Minister). Mr Green was commenting on the state of the NHS in his area (Ashford) today when he seemed to admit that the current state of the NHS is other areas was indeed worse than the [somewhat] ‘bad’ level of care in East Kent. Oh well, that’s a relief; some other poor buggers elsewhere in the UK have it worse off. I’ll just pack up my campaigning suitcase now then. Or I’ll write this blog post.

Damien Green and Labour Mum

If the state of the NHS in other areas is worse than in East Kent then the NHS is dying. A close family member was taken to hospital in Margate by ambulance last Sunday. It was five hours from phone call to being seen by a doctor. In my day job, I hear anecdotal evidence like this all the time about QEQM in Margate and the William Harvey hospital in Ashford. During today’s Q&A in Ashford, which was organised by the Ashford Chronic Pain Group, Mr Green denied that the closure of key services at the Kent & Canterbury hospital was having any impact on waiting times at either Margate or Ashford claiming that fewer ‘big centres’ will provide better care. When asked if he supported the call for a new hospital to be built in Canterbury, he was quite clear: ‘no’. I’d like to be a fly on the wall next time Damian Green bumps into Helen Whatley, the MP for Faversham who has been very loud in her recent calls for a new super hospital (albeit not built in her constituency, but she seems keen to get involved in Labour MP Rosie Duffield’s campaigns nevertheless). I can’t imagine Whatley would enjoy being stuck on a long Conservative battle-bus outing between Green and Roger Gale, the MP for Thanet North, who also seems intent on denying people in Herne Bay (an area of his constituency he always seems keen to forget) quick access to a Canterbury based A&E.

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I was delighted to be asked to chair the Q&A in Ashford today (offering a little political balance never did a Q&A any harm). It was mainly a chance for residents to ask questions of the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about PIP assessments, the state of hospitals in the area, help for carers and other issues that concerned this busy local group. Mr Green heard stories people from Kent being sent for PIP assessments in Barking; we heard about people being denied PIP because they had told an assessor that they tried to cook homemade meals instead of eating only ready meals; Mr Green heard of Ashford Job Centre refusing to allow disabled people access to their toilet facilities; he heard of the proposed Kent County Council cut to all funding for the Disability Information Service Kent (DISK) and of the fact that on Friday 28th July (yes, last week), there were only 4 ambulances available to cover Dover, Folkestone, Ashford and the Marshes. That’s right, 4! But don’t worry everyone, you can allay your fears after hearing all of that, because remember: “It’s not as bad here as it is in some places”.

Ashford Chronic Pain Q&A

Asked about the staff who administer the PIP training, Mr Green confirmed that they were all fully trained. A quick google around job adverts for PIP assessors will show you that applicants have to be registered members of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). This means any one of the following, with a little extra training from the DWP, can be a PIP assessor: You could be an arts therapist, chiropodist or podiatrist. You also could be a clinical scientist, a dietitian, a hearing aid dispenser, an occupational therapist, an orthoptist, a social worker or a speech and language therapists amongst other listed occupations. I am now just imagining my former-dietician-turned-PIP-assessor, asking the sort of questions needed to decide on whether to award PIP:

Dietician/PIP assessor:                Do you cook any homemade food?

Nervous Disabled Applicant:    Yes well, I try to put good things into my body. It helps, you know, with the pain –

Dietician/PIP assessor:                I have to stop you there. You can’t have any government funding. Cooking health meals proves you just aren’t disabled enough.

Nervous Disabled Applicant:   This is horrible! These test centres are an abomination.

Dietician/PIP assessor:               It’s not as bad here as it is in some places. You could, after all, be in a chronically-underfunded NHS hospital.

That’s right Mr. Green. It’s not as bad here as it is in some places…