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Health and Social Care

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:39 pm on 16th January 2020.

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Photo of Sarah Owen Sarah Owen Labour, Luton North 1:39 pm, 16th January 2020

It is a pleasure to follow James Brokenshire, and I am pleased to see that the NHS has got him back on his feet.

I am grateful for this opportunity to speak on health and social care, as the issue is very close to my heart. I start by paying tribute to the wonderful, dedicated staff at the Luton and Dunstable Hospital in my constituency. We should all be grateful to every single person who works there, from porters to paramedics, from healthcare assistants to operating department practitioners, and from doctors to nurses. They are dedicated but often overstretched.

I declare my interest as a proud member, and former employee, of the GMB union. I support the ongoing campaign against the outsourcing of housekeeping and domestic services at the L&D.

I know the devastating impact of outsourcing. As a carer working for an outsourced care company, I witnessed at first hand a business that put profit before patients. It was then, standing in front of a patient who desperately needed more than the 15 minutes I had allotted for her, that I knew our social care system was broken—and it is still broken today. All parties in this House must have the political will to mend it, because the frustration of health workers should not be underestimated.

My mother came to this country from Malaysia 46 years ago, and she is still an NHS nurse today. She is just like many people who come to this country from across the world to work in our fantastic NHS, and we should never forget the debt we owe them.

Mum came to see me swear in just before Christmas, and we took pictures by the Christmas tree in Westminster Hall. Her face went from smiley to thunderous in a matter of seconds. Usually that look is reserved for when I have done something truly awful, but it turns out she was not scowling at me; she was looking at the person behind me, which happened to be none other than the Secretary of State for Health. Joking aside, when we see the latest proposal to scrap four-hour A&E targets, who, frankly, could blame my mum?

The NHS goes to the very heart of my party’s principles. My predecessor, Kelvin Hopkins, embodies those socialist Labour principles. He represented Luton North for 22 years and is beloved by many in the town. But for all his and his wife Pat’s dedication to the area, what I am most grateful to them for is their daughter, my amazing hon. Friend Rachel Hopkins.

Together we will represent the people of Luton with equal energy, commitment and dedication to the town, because we will need to. Every cut to local government and every cut to every service has an impact on an individual we represent. Early-years providers like the fantastic Gill Blowers nursery, which I visited last week, are facing a cut of a quarter of their budget. Firefighter numbers in Bedfordshire have been cut by 9%. Each child in Luton North is £576 a year worse off. There are fewer police on our streets. All that comes against the backdrop of a hostile environment.

Even in these challenging times, Luton has always punched above its weight. Together, the people of Luton make the town the fantastic place it is. The mosques, churches, businesses and wider community have come together to support Luton’s food bank, making sure the most vulnerable in our community are looked after.

The entire community came together to make the dream of the new Power Court stadium a reality and to deliver the regeneration Luton wants. The Labour council led by Hazel Simmons works with communities to continue building much-needed council housing while facing over £100 million-worth of cuts. Time and time again, Luton comes together to say no to the hatred and division of the far right.

I learned through the trade union movement that we are stronger together and that we should not let people divide us. That is sound advice for any workplace, but it is a lesson for our communities and our country, too. The people of Luton North know this to be true. Luton’s diversity is its strength, and I am proud to be bringing up this little one in a multicultural town that comes together.

Yes, in case Members have not noticed, I am pregnant—it is not just a good Christmas. She is, in every way, a little mix. A mix of east Asian, Irish and British. She is essentially Luton in a baby. And, yes, she will be donning a Luton Town shirt and going to games in a brand-new stadium that will be fit for her generation and future Lutonians. Judging by how she is kicking me right now, she might even try out for the team.

In the face of the hatred we saw in the past, we on these Benches will have to be staunch defenders of the equality and diversity I know run to our country’s core. Just over the road, in the Cabinet war rooms, my grandma worked under Churchill during the second world war, while my grandad fought overseas with the Royal Engineers. They fought against vile fascism then, just as we must all renew our fierce opposition to those who discriminate against or dehumanise others in every corner of the world, from Luton to Kashmir to Hong Kong.

It was not racism or hatred but the need for change that drove people to Brexit, and we must all hear that call for change. Luton has a proud manufacturing history, from Vauxhall to Electrolux, and it needs a future to be proud of, too—one that provides the decent housing, good schools, affordable transport and well-paid jobs that every Lutonian not only wants but richly deserves. As their MP, that is exactly what I will fight for in Luton North.