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Health Inequalities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:29 pm on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Taiwo Owatemi Taiwo Owatemi Labour, Coventry North West 5:29 pm, 4th March 2020

Madam Deputy Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this important debate about health inequalities in our country. My constituents gave me the privilege to serve Coventry North West, and it is an immense honour to be here. I owe my amazing team of activists—and, most importantly, my constituents —a great deal.

I follow in the footsteps of a much loved member of this House, Geoffrey Robinson, who has been a fixture of the city and this Chamber for 43 years—long before I was even born. Geoffrey’s unwavering support for our local motoring industry was nationally applauded. During his final term, he was instrumental in changing the law on organ donations, which is something that I will continue to champion. I thank him for his service to our constituency, and wish him and his family the very best.

Coventry is a proud English city of culture, and my part of the city boasts incredible diversity. Our vibrant Irish and Sikh communities helped to grow Coventry’s booming industries after the second world war. Coventry was a major site for the UK’s car manufacturing. We hosted the likes of Jaguar Land Rover, Peugeot and the General Electric Company—for hon. Members whose memories can stretch that far. Indeed, we were a city that produced things, but that industrial base was almost wiped out overnight by Thatcher and her Government. The city has seen a lot of changes since the closure of these companies, but Coventry has always been an inclusive city—from university lecturers to students; from public sector workers to manual labourers. Even today, so many have made my part of Coventry their home.

My constituency is also diverse in the lay of its land—from the sprawling green country fields of Bablake approaching the villages of Keresley and Allesley to the west, to the cityscape further to the east—but at its heart is its community spirit. Across our six wards, residents are supported by numerous community centres and voluntary organisations with a common goal: to enrich and empower the community. As the first female MP for Coventry North West, I hope to follow in the footsteps of Lady Godiva and champion fairness. I am also the first MP of Nigerian heritage—specifically Yoruba —to represent a west midlands seat, and that is an honour that I carry with immense pride.

Many people would not have guessed this, but I am actually a twin. As a piece of trivia for hon. and right hon. Members, I can tell the House that in the Yoruba culture, every twin is named Taiwo or Kehinde, with Taiwo being the name of the first-born twin. My brother, mum and uncle are watching from the Gallery this afternoon, and I like to imagine that my dad and older brother Ayobola are looking down proudly from even higher up, in heaven, right now, too. I thank my family for all their unwavering support and encouragement.

My two fellow Coventry Labour MPs and I reflect the diversity, tenacity and strong values of Coventry. I look forward to working with them to advance Coventry’s cause during this Parliament, and to welcome the world as we celebrate becoming city of culture in 2021.

I am a churchgoing Christian, and my values—of community, family, inclusion, and never walking by when we see hardship—are grounded in my faith. I know that those values are shared by the people of Coventry, as Coventry is the city of peace and reconciliation. Those values are also Labour values. Indeed, I believe that everyone should have the opportunities they need to live a long, healthy and happy life.

The topic of this debate—health provision—is very close to my heart. Having lost my father when I was aged just seven, I became passionate about healthcare, and about supporting the dedicated professionals who sacrifice so much for us for so little thanks. But as a senior cancer pharmacist, every day I have seen our health service and adult social care system fail under continuous strain, without the resources they need. I was astounded to find out that the poorest in Coventry can live 18 years less than the richest in Westminster. We in Coventry deserve a better standard of care across the board, and I will be working with my colleagues in Coventry to fight for an urgent care centre so that we can have that better standard—I will always fight for that. Now that we have left the European Union, the Government can finally put their money where their bus is and properly fund the national health service, giving places such as Coventry the funding they need to provide good-quality healthcare.

Homelessness is becoming an increasing concern in our community, and Coventry has the largest food bank in the country. Although that reflects the good will of the people of Coventry, it also highlights the Government’s failures to help to cover the cost of living, and to invest properly in local emergency support for vulnerable people in crisis. Our housing is in crisis, too. At the core of every housing project should be genuinely affordable social housing, and legislation should require proper social infrastructure to be built alongside these projects. And, yes, we must also protect our green spaces.

Social mobility is a passion of mine. I believe that education provides a path to success. It astounds me that since 2013, pupils in my constituency have faced an 8.7% real-terms cut in funding. We are well below England’s average for educational attainment, and pupils with special educational needs and disabilities are often left behind, with inadequate provision to meet their needs. For too many young people growing up in my constituency, violence at home or on the streets is a reality, while West Midlands police and community services have faced severe cuts. This, too, can hold young people back. How can this Government claim to be the party of aspiration and opportunity when they stunt the growth and true potential of my constituents?

Coventry deserves the chance to thrive. It is in the nation’s interest that Coventry forms a central part of the midlands engine. Our history of technological and industrial innovation has created a natural home for world-class industrialists, researchers and academics—which, as I am sure the Government will agree, makes Coventry the obvious location for the environmentally sustainable Gigafactory. The midlands engine cannot run without the motor of a place like Coventry, and I will make sure that my city is never left behind.

As the MP for Coventry North West, I will ensure that every decision I make in this place is relevant to the lives of the people who put me here. I do not want to be known for extraordinary words in Hansard, but rather for the tangible difference my words make. I will be the MP who listens to her constituents about their concerns and aspirations. I will be the MP who protects our jobs and our beautiful green spaces, who stands up for good-quality homes and high-quality education, who sticks up for our NHS and protects the most vulnerable, and who fights for more police on our streets and opportunities for the next generation. I will spend my time in this House standing up for my constituents, for my patients and for the public services on which we all depend. My community in Coventry expects no less, and that is how I will serve it.