MP for Hornsey and Wood Green
I visited Ethiopia last week in my capacity as International Development Minister. This is my blog from the field.
An early morning flight takes me away from the relative hustle and bustle of Addis Ababa, and out to a remote village in Amhara in the north of the Ethiopia where I meet a young girl, around 16 years of age in a village called Tagel Wodefit. I’m here because I want to learn about her life. In particular, I want to find out how being married at a young age has affected her opportunities and choices. Her story is a depressing one. At around age 13 she was forced to drop out of school to marry a man she had never met. Desperately unhappy, she ran away repeatedly, but either her family or her in-laws always found her and made her return to her husband. Just when she thought she could take no more, her family accepted her back in to their household, but they have not let her return to school. Instead, she spends her days looking after her siblings, fetching water and doing housework with her mother.
I feel sad as I leave her. Her life is not so awful by some standards – but it could have been so much more, and I feel disheartened by the loss of potential. How different might her life be had she not been married off and had instead been allowed to finished school? She had never been out of her immediate area and with no radio in the village, no mobile and no school – literally there is no information or pathway that can change her life. Tragically, her story is by no means unique. In Ethiopia, one out of three girls do not attend school, and in the Amhara region, 50% of girls are married by the time they turn 18.
I travel a little further down the road to talk to a village who are participating in a DFID funded project called ‘Finote Hiwot’ that works to increase the age at which girls in Ethiopia are married and have their first child. They do this by bringing together whole communities – girls, boys, parents, religious leaders, elders and teachers – and involving them in conversations to collectively identify issues, and come up with solutions. Through these conversations, there comes a shift in traditionally held values, attitudes and practises, and it’s this shift that will contribute to the African-led critical mass that will end child marriage. And it’s working! I meet some of the girls from the community – they are confident, articulate and opinionated, and even though many of them have some quite disturbing experiences of early marriage, thanks to Finote Hiwot, they most certainly know their own minds. The investments made in these girls now will provide Ethiopia with longer term benefits. It’s widely documented that girls who stay in school and are empowered to make their own decisions tend to have fewer children, have them later, and invest more in their health and education. That’s exactly what these girls want for their own children – to be happy, healthy, educated and employed. I’m really pleased that DFID is providing support to help girls such as I’ve met today stay in school and realise their ambitions.
My last stop of the day is to Sertse-Dingle School (the region’s first mainstream school to accept young people and children with disabilities) to listen to a focus group as they talk about ‘Yegna’. For the uninitiated, Yegna is an Ethiopian, all-girl group who have their own radio show. With their radio drama, talk show and music, they are incredibly popular, and they champion the potential of Ethiopian girls. They don’t shy away from dealing with hard hitting issues such as female empowerment, gender based violence and child marriage. They reach an audience of more than 5 million listeners across Addis Ababa and the Amhara region, and is yet another great another example of an initiative that aims to challenge beliefs and bring about positive social change. It’s clear from the conversations that the listening group is having that they are all hooked! They tune in to the radio shows avidly, and they discuss the issues with their friends and families afterwards. There are listening clubs all across the region too where communities get together to talk about Yegna, and if the enthusiastic conversations I’ve heard today at the school are anything to go by, they are a massive force to be reckoned with!
With the Girl Summit in a few weeks, today has been a most timely reminder of the very reasons why I do this job, and why I love it so much. Girls and women have the right to live free from violence and discrimination and achieve their potential. Our role is to get behind them and support them. I’ve seen that change is possible, and I urge you all to get involved.
There is a great deal in the news this morning about the proposed Data Retention Bill. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and my colleague Julian Huppert MP have been out in the press explaining what is happening and why.
A number of residents have understandably already contacted me asking for further information. Here is an update…
A recent European Court of Justice judgement has changed the obligations of companies to keep information on communications (in short – the Court threw out the Data Retention directive, meaning companies are no longer obliged to retain certain types of data).
If companies were to start deleting this data, our police security services may no longer be able to retrieve information from the communications and data of terrorists or other dangerous individuals.
All three main parties (Lib Dem, Conservative, Labour) have come together to agree an urgent Bill, that will oblige companies to continue to retain the data, and keep the powers that the security services and police already have.
I remain, as do my Lib Dem colleagues, against any expansion of surveillance powers. Some people want to use this situation to bring back the appalling Communications Data Bill – the Tory plans dubbed the Snoopers’ Charter – but I can guarantee that this will not happen. The Lib Dems blocked that already last year, and we would do so again.
As Julian Huppert has recently said – “We must keep our country and citizens safe, but not by eroding our civil liberties…We need legislation to allow communications data to be available, but not to store more than is already allowed”.
The Data Retention Bill will be a stop-gap, and built into it is an end date of 2016. There are also a number of other safeguards, including a new Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, restrictions on the number of government bodies that can access the data, and the introduction of annual transparency reports. These are all extras negotiated and secured by the Lib Dems in Government.
The Lib Dems are also campaigning to bring legislation on digital issues into the 21st century through schemes like our Digital Bill of Rights motion.
The current situation is not perfect – frankly at present there is no perfect solution. But, to repeat, this Bill will not expand data retention powers, and this is thanks to Nick Clegg and Lib Dem Home Office minister Norman Baker – who negotiated doggedly for this and for the extra safeguards mentioned.
The Lib Dems in government have a proud record on civil liberties – scrapping ID cards, ending 28 day detention, and curtailing stop and search. If we were in power on our own we would have done more, but we will keep pushing to ensure the UK is the world leader on civil liberties, whilst also keeping the country as safe as possible from threats.
I am the ministerial champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas. I recently updated the house on my work in this area. Here is a copy of the statement:
I would like to update the House on my work championing the issue of tackling violence against women and girls internationally, building policy coherence across Whitehall and pushing for as much progress as possible towards our goal of ending all forms of violence.
The concerning abduction of over 200 school girls in Nigeria in April and the recent gang rape and murder of girls in India are a sharp reminder of the low status of women and girls globally and the terrible injustice and violence faced by so many.
The UNMISS human rights report on the conflict in South Sudan, published on 8 May 2014, presents grim evidence of how the conflict has exacerbated the vulnerability of women and children. All parties to the conflict have committed acts of rape and other forms of sexual violence against women with impunity. The ability of survivors of sexual violence to receive services in this environment has diminished, leaving most incidents unreported.
I am proud to say that the UK is supporting the International Rescue Committee in South Sudan to conduct outreach and support services to survivors of gender-based violence.
Since my last statement the UK has refreshed our cross-government action plan, “A call to end violence against women and girls”, which sets out an ambitious agenda for the year ahead, including how we will continue to bring international and domestic work on violence against women and girls closer together.
The International Development (Gender Equality) Act came into force on 13 May. This Act, strongly supported by the Secretary of State for International Development, makes it law for the UK to consider gender equality before it provides development assistance, and the differences in gender-related needs for its humanitarian support. This puts our existing commitment to delivering important outcomes for girls and women—including a reduction in violence—on a statutory footing.
In May I had the great privilege of speaking at DFID Mozambique’s summit on ending child, early and forced marriage (CEFM). This is a huge issue in Mozambique, where one in two girls is married before her 18th birthday. CEFM is a global issue that has a significant negative impact on girls, their families, communities and countries.
On 10 to 13 June over 120 country delegations, over 80 Ministers, and around 1,700 delegates including eight UN agency heads, presidents and prosecutors from the ICC and international tribunals, civil society, and over 300 sponsored delegates, including from conflict-affected countries, among them a number of survivors, came together at the global summit to end sexual violence in conflict hosted by the Foreign Secretary and UN special envoy, Angelina Jolie.
I was proud to be part of the summit and to formally launch “What works to prevent violence” DFID’s new research and innovation fund. I spoke on the panel with leading experts to highlight the need to invest in work to understand and address the root causes and social norms which underpin many forms of violence—both in times of peace and in conflict.
I also participated in the ministerial round table on hidden victims to highlight the issues of domestic violence, female genital mutilation (FGM/C) and CEFM which are often exacerbated in conflict. The Secretary of State for International Development chaired a ministerial round table on the call to action to protect women and girls in humanitarian emergencies and jointly launched the UK’s new national action plan on women, peace and security with the Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary.
The momentum will continue over the summer. In July, the UK Prime Minister and UNICEF will co-host a Girl summit on female genital mutilation and child, early and forced marriage. The summit aims to support southern leadership on these issues and to further rally a global movement to end the practices for all girls, within a generation. I know that many in the House will have an interest in these issues, given the impact they have in the UK as well as internationally.
A youth event will be held at DFID on 19 July with 170 attendees, made up of young people, including several nominated by Members of Parliament, several from developing countries, a youth panel and other attendees nominated by partners.
A social media campaign has also been launched this week. The campaign aims to receive pledges of support from people across the UK, reaching beyond the usual network of development organisations and civil society supporters. The action focuses around “play your part”—we are asking people to play their part in ending these harmful practices through pledging support and spreading the word.
In the coming months, I will visit more of our programmes overseas so that I can see in practice how our commitments to this agenda are being implemented.
I’m off in a minute to Ed and Russell’s wedding breakfast – and it’s a bit of a do!
So I just want to publicly wish them both all the happiness in the world. Ed has been and is an amazing campaigner for LGBT rights – and so for me to be at their wedding is super special.
May they live happily ever after!
The Labour leader recently made a speech supposedly announcing his party’s plans for a localism agenda. The speech was interesting because every suggestion made by Mr Milliband is already being put in place by the Lib Dems in Government!
The 11th hour conversion to Lib Dem policy is an unexpected move by Ed Milliband, but it is good to hear he has seen sense.
Here is a breakdown of just a few of Labour’s “new” policies, compared to those the Lib Dems have already implemented:
Labour Opposition: Increase the number of apprenticeships (despite describing half a million apprentices as ‘deadweight’)
Lib Dems in Government: Led by Vince Cable and Gordon Birtwistle, the Coalition has created 1.8 million apprenticeships since 2010.
Labour Opposition: Move towards keeping rates locally.
Lib Dems in Government: We’ve reformed rates to ensure that Local Authorities keep a proportion for the first time in 20 years – meaning they have direct control of 80% of their budgets rather than 50%.
Labour Opposition: 25% of government procurement contracts to go SMEs
Lib Dems in Government: This is already government policy, up from the 6.5% under Gordon Brown.
Labour Opposition: Create new University Technical Colleges (UTCs).
Lib Dems in Government: Since 2010, 45 new UTCs have opened, allowing 27,500 students to train as engineers and scientists.
Labour Opposition: Expand Catapult Centres for manufacturing and cell therapy
Lib Dems in Government: Catapult Centres, brought in by Vince Cable, give scientists, engineers, and businesses a place to work together on late stage research. These are extremely successful and will be expanded with two new centres and £7 million further funding.
So, yet again, Labour are adopting ideas from the Lib Dems just like they have with tax cuts for low earners, voting reform, and decarbonisation.
They’ve even admitted they would have made the same spending cuts if they were in Government after the last General Election!
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery….
Since entering Government, my Lib Dem colleagues and I have worked hard to make the childcare system fairer for working families.
Couples and single parents should not be forced to give up work to look after children because of the costs of childcare – and more generally people shouldn’t have to choose outright between a career and a child.
That’s why we recently announced that working families will get up to £2,000 a year tax free childcare, from Autumn 2015.
Parents will be given vouchers for any Ofsted regulated childcare in England. In Haringey alone it is estimated that 8,340 families will benefit from the new scheme.
This is another boost for children and their parents, to work alongside the other changes guaranteed by the Lib Dems.
These include supplying 15 hours a week free childcare for 2, 3, and 4 year olds, introducing free school meals for infant school pupils, and the Pupil Premium – providing schools with £2.5 billion extra a year.
In tough times we need to ensure that families are given the support they need to help children thrive. The schemes brought in since 2010 have been put in place to provide a more equal playing field for all children and their families.
At school, teachers are getting extra funding to help the most vulnerable, and the administrators can now provide nutritious meals. At home, with the cost of childcare reduced, parents can feel secure in the knowledge that they will be better off in work and their children will be provided for.
These changes are making the country fairer, and they would not have happened if the Lib Dems hadn’t entered Coalition in 2010.
The Government announcement that there will be no change to civil partnerships because the consultation did not present a united voice in favour is not a surprise.
However – it is Liberal Democrat policy – and it will be in our manifesto!
The most recent statistics are out, and they show yet another dramatic fall in unemployment. From February – April this year, 46,000 extra people were employed in the capital alone.
103,000 people have found work here in total since April last year.
London really is bouncing back!
Nationally, the numbers are just as good. Across the UK the increase in employment averages out at 1.6% (2.8% in England). That means, since the same time last year, 445,000 men and 315,000 women have found a job in the UK, the great majority of them full time.
The numbers are clear: there are now more people with a job than there ever have been.
In terms of percentages, as a nation we are now only 0.2% away from the record for lowest ever level of unemployment – set back in 1974.
When Gordon Brown and Labour left office in May 2010, unemployment was at its highest since 1994 (which is the last time the Tories were in Government on their own). Labour also managed to preside over the lowest levels of economic activity since records began in the same year.
With wages also going up too, the recovery is significantly more stable that it would be had we let either of the other parties go it alone. There still a lot of hard work to do, but we are getting there.
The last two crashes were caused by Conservative and Labour-only Governments and I am proud, as a Lib Dem, to be helping to get the country back on its feet.
It’s another example of the Labour-run council failing to listen to residents and opposition councillors – with disastrous results.
Along with many residents and the Haringey Lib Dems, I raised concerns that the Hornsey Depot application was deeply flawed.
That’s why so many residents objected, and that’s why the Lib Dem opposition councillors voted against the application.
But instead of listening to concerns, local Labour councillors ignored our pleas and ploughed on regardless.
This has now prompted a Judicial Review of the plans, which could delay the development for a long time to come.
It’s also created a financial mess. Haringey Labour prematurely factored £15m from the sale of the Hornsey Depot into their budget, to ‘underpin’ the council’s capital for projects like new school buildings. So now they have a £15 million gap in their budget.
Banking on money that isn’t assured is the height of risky planning – and sadly, it will be local residents who suffer the consequences now the money isn’t available!
And Haringey Labour only have themselves to blame. If only they had listened from the start and taken a short time to agree an application that is both suitable and acceptable to residents – this could all have been avoided.
Once again, Haringey Labour have proved that they simply cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of the residents of Haringey.