Across the UK, unemployment figures are standing at an eye-watering 1.74 million people which equates to a national average of 6.2%. For Edgbaston it’s even higher, reaching 9% of our local population aged 16-64 years old.
Our constituency has some of the most deprived wards in the country, and they are being left behind by this Government. Boris Johnson promised that places like Bartley Green would level up under his leadership, but what we are now seeing is the reverse.
While the country is going through a difficult time with the pandemic, it’s no wonder to me that the West Midlands has been one of the hardest hit regions in the UK. Boris Johnson failed to control the pandemic, causing our region to cycle through ever-changing restrictions, while withholding the state support needed to go with them and putting businesses in an impossible position.
Meanwhile, our public services, such as public health, have struggled to cope following a decade of erosion by austerity. Services that would have otherwise helped businesses and residents when times are tougher have been undermined through unfair and overwhelming budget cuts to the City Council, Police and NHS.
This is why the Government needs to act now to protect the 70,000 furloughed jobs in Birmingham, and help hard-hit businesses by extending the business rates holiday and the reduced rate of VAT for six months. These actions would protect jobs, our economy and our livelihoods, so we can build back better once the worst of this crisis has passed.
For the past few years, Birmingham has sadly seen record high numbers with figures from 2018 showing that there were 91 people sleeping on our city’s streets. However, I’m delighted to see that thanks to all the hard work of Birmingham City Council, its partners and volunteer groups around our city, this number has declined to 17. That is the biggest reduction in rough sleeping of any core city in the UK and I would be remiss not to say a heartfelt congratulations to everyone for their hard work and dedication.
The pandemic has been an unlikely ally in the city’s bid to support rough sleepers over the last year, with more than 72 people agreeing to take up accommodation and many have been able to successfully sustain their new housing.
However, I also fear that when it comes to homelessness, the Covid crisis is very much going to turn this into a game of two halves. The pandemic has meant rough sleepers are much more willing to engage with services and Birmingham has done fantastically so far in supporting those willing to come indoors but we haven’t yet seen the impact and anticipated surge in those becoming newly homeless.
A decade of austerity has meant that many of the public sector safeguards that were in place have been swept aside in the wake of devastating budget cuts. Birmingham City Council alone has had to make £750 million worth of cuts in the last ten years. Now, when we are looking to support individuals and families, there isn’t the same help available to prevent them from reaching a crisis point.
This will be our next challenge in ending the homelessness crisis.
If you are concerned about someone who you think might be sleeping rough, contact StreetLink. They will send an immediate alert to the local outreach team who will be able to offer the individual help and support.
This week I took part in an online event hosted by King Edwards School as part of a Political Awareness Week for their pupils and students from other local schools. It was a Question Time style event where I took on three of my Conservative rivals: Andy Street, current Mayor of the West Midlands, Saqib Bhatti MP and Councillor Matt Bennett.
It was fantastic to see nearly 200 engaged and interested young people, asking such insightful questions. It was really inspiring that the next generation are so invested in the wider society they are a part of as well as their own futures. I hope this is just the beginning and we can continue this journey and encourage more young people to be politically active for the betterment of the communities they live in.
Introducing your Labour candidates
Join us on Monday 1 March at 7pm for an online conversation with your Labour candidates. I’ll be introducing our candidate for West Midlands Combined Authority Mayor, Liam Byrne MP as well as our Birmingham City Council hopeful in the Quinton by-election, Elaine Kidney. To register for this Zoom event, please email Quintonlabourparty@gmail.com or use the RSVP link below.