The past two weeks has been dominated by the unfolding situation in Afghanistan. The scenes we are seeing are truly horrific and my heart goes out to all those who are stuck in the country and face the prospect of Taliban rule. The shocking terror attacks we saw yesterday are just an example of the instability that will be dangerous for Afghan citizens. My team and I are working hard to get as many eligible people as possible on the remaining flights out of the country, but the situation is getting ever more dire with each passing day.
The battle to save the GKN plant on the Chester Road also continues. After trying everything for months to convince Melrose to reconsider the closure, the workforce and their trade union, Unite, have been left with no alternative but to ballot for strike action. Workers are currently being asked to vote on whether to take industrial action, and they have my total support.
There are also updates on Labour’s proposals to overhaul Universal Credit, the decision to keep Pakistan on the ‘Red List’, crime and anti-social behaviour in Stockland Green, and Erdington Labour’s Eid Fair.
More on all of these topics below, but first for a quick announcement:
As always, I post weekly updates on Facebook and Twitter – if you haven’t already, like my Facebook Page and follow me on Twitter to get these updates and more information as we rise to the challenge of the Covid-crisis.
The situation in Afghanistan
Like all of you, I have watched the situation in Afghanistan unfolding with horror. The speed at which the Taliban has taken control of the country is startling. Now the efforts to evacuate as many British nationals, their families, and Afghani citizens who supported allied forces as possible are at a critical stage. A task made yet more difficult by the savage bomb attacks at Kabul airport.
The scenes we are seeing are truly heart-breaking. It is impossible not to be moved by the desperation that is clear from those who are looking to flee. It is hard to imagine the fear of what Taliban rule in Afghanistan will be like, particularly for those who helped allied forces, and women and girls.
Ever since the US announced they were pulling out of Afghanistan completely; we knew there was the possibility of this happening. Admittedly, the speed at which it has happened is shocking, but there should have been plans and processes in place to ensure the efficient evacuation of British citizens and allies.
Furthermore, the fact we had to wait days for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on one of the biggest foreign policy crises in recent years because he was on holiday is appalling. The reports that he refused to cut his holiday short so he could return to the UK to handle the developing crisis are extremely serious, so too is the fact he failed to make a call to his Afghan counterpart to secure the evacuation of translators who helped the British military, despite being advised to do so by Foreign Office officials.
We owe a duty to both British nationals and our allies who supported us throughout the war in Afghanistan to do everything we can to help them escape this increasingly desperate situation.
My team and I have been working tirelessly to help as many Erdington residents and their families as possible return to the UK. I am pleased we’ve managed to help some return, including an Erdington Labour Party member with his family of 8 and his disabled son in a wheelchair. But there are many more still to help. I’d like to pay tribute to my team for their efforts in supporting as many people as possible during this crisis, and we will continue to do all we can right up until the 31st August deadline.
I’d also like to pay tribute to everyone working on the front line in Kabul who are supporting those fleeing the country for their heroism in the face of danger. They are working in the most difficult of circumstances to save as many people as possible, and we, and the British and Afghani citizens they have saved, will be forever grateful.
You can read my statement on Afghanistan here:
The battle to save GKN
Ever since Melrose announced they were planning to close the GKN factory on the Chester Road, the workers and their Trade Union, Unite, have been campaigning to secure the future of the historic factory.
We have secured debates in Parliament, met with Government Ministers, held rallies, and even presented a credible alternative business plan to Melrose in an effort to convince them of the viability of the plant. However, so far Melrose have refused to change their position or even consider an alternative to closure.
Melrose’s refusal to come to the table and discuss the future of the plant leaves us with no other alternative than to consider industrial action.
GKN workers are currently being balloted on whether to take industrial action, and I am encouraging them to vote yes. Every effort has been made to engage with Melrose, but they have continued to refuse. There is now no choice to but send a clear and unmistakable message to Melrose that the GKN workforce will not take the closure of this historic plant lying down.
The results of the ballot are expected on 31st August.
Labour’s proposals to overhaul Universal Credit
Universal Credit is simply not fit for purpose. Workers who get paid the living wage see far too much of their Universal Credit entitlements removed, which discourages some people from seeking work.
Currently, for every £1 a claimant earns over their work allowance 63p is deducted from their Universal Credit allowance, the amount lost rises even further when tax and national insurance contributions are taken into account.
That’s why Labour want to overhaul the Universal Credit system and make work pay.
Under our plans, we would reduce the amount that is deducted from a claimants Universal Credit allowance when they start earning. This would mean that working people get to keep more of the money they earn and allow them enough financial security to raise their family.
Furthermore, Labour would increase the minimum wage to £10 an hour immediately, ensure everyone is entitled to proper sick pay, protect against unfair dismissal, and we would keep the £20 a week Universal Credit uplift.
It is vital we make work pay and ensure that workers are protected – the Tories have failed to do either.
You can read more about Labour’s plans here:
Pakistan on ‘Red List’
The decision to keep Pakistan on the ‘Red List’, while other countries with higher rates of infection are left on the ‘Amber List’, is a great source of frustration for many Erdington residents who have been unable to see friends and family for almost 18 months.
There is no doubt that protecting the UK and having a rigorous border policy that prevents us importing Covid from abroad is crucial, but it is important that any system be transparent and justifiable. At present, the disparity between the rules for various countries do not make sense to many people and we therefore need clarity from Government on the situation.
I have therefore written to the Secretary of State to ask for an explanation as to why Pakistan remains on the Red List and a timetable for when Pakistan’s travel status will be considered again.
It is important for those with friends and family in Pakistan to understand the rules that are in place, and to understand when these rules may change. They long to see their families once again, and I hope the Government can provide some clarity on this matter urgently.
Crime and anti-social behaviour in Stockland Green
The rise of crime and anti-social behaviour in Stockland Green is continuing and it is blighting local communities. We have seen a number of incidents in recent weeks that have highlighted the scale of the problem. One Police Officer told me that the level of criminality is the worst he has seen in his 17 years in the Police Service.
The growth of exempt accommodation has undoubtedly contributed to the increase in the issues we are seeing. Vulnerable residents are not getting the support they need because of the lack of regulation for this type of accommodation. Local authorities have no powers to act to prevent the rapid growth of exempt properties and we need Government to introduce new legislation giving local Councils the ability to act.
I have seen first-hand the anti-social behaviour caused by the high proliferation of exempt accommodation in such a confined area, and I will continue to press Government to change the law to allow Birmingham City Council to intervene to solve this growing crisis.
However, in the short term it is clear that efforts need to be ramped up to deal with this ever-growing issue. I welcome the announcement that West Midlands Police have secured 24 extra officers who will operate in Stockland Green over the coming months. This will allow them to have a greater presence on the ground and act to deal with the growing problem of crime and anti-social behaviour in Stockland Green.
Erdington Labour’s Eid Fair
On Saturday 4th September, the Erdington Labour Party are teaming up with the Kashmiri community to host an Eid fair.
There will be a variety of stalls and entertainment on the day showcasing some of the best talent we have here in Erdington.
The event will take place at Highcroft Community Centre, 485 Slade Road, B23 7JH between 11am and 4pm.
So please do come down and join us if you can!
As always, if you or anyone you know needs support throughout this difficult period, then please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jack Dromey, MP for Birmingham Erdington