On 23rd June, we are going to be making a decision on one of the most important issues in a generation – whether Britain should remain a member of the European Union or leave. I believe that this vote could be very close, and I find it quite scary to think what might happen to Britain outside of the European trading area.
Ahead of the vote I wanted to tell you my view. I am committed to keeping the UK in the EU as I believe it is the best framework for European trade and co-operation in the 21st century.
The EU has brought investment, jobs, and protection for employees, consumers and the environment – it has lowered costs on everything from passenger air fares to mobile phone roaming charges.
In terms of trade, the access we have to the European market enables us to sell our goods freely to a population of 500 million people, which enables investment in jobs in this country. In the North West alone, it is estimated that 350, 000 jobs are linked to exports to EU countries.
Of course, multinational companies from all over the world choose to build their offices and factories in the UK as this allows them a gateway into the European Single Market to trade freely. Should we leave the EU and have to pay tariffs these companies would more than likely leave Britain and this would inevitably lead to significant job losses.
Since the Second World War, the European Union has been instrumental in bringing peace and security to our continent. Now, combined EU diplomacy, can help us achieve more to secure peace and challenge human rights abuses across the world. At a time of instability in Ukraine and the Middle East, it’s important to be part of a group of nations committed to peace, security and democracy.
A significant benefit of being in the EU, is the vital protections provided to British workers through the European Social Charter, such as paid holiday, maternity and paternity leave, protection for agency workers, and health and safety in the workplace. I am concerned that if Britain were to leave the EU, future Governments would be able to erode these protections that are so important to workers.
I know that some people are concerned about the levels of immigration and the impact this has on resources in the UK. The reality is that we have an ageing population and we need a growing working population to support the growing numbers of people who are not economically active. It is simply not the case that EU migrant workers are taking jobs away from British workers. EU migrant workers often work in industry jobs that have not been filled by British workers, for example one in five carers looking after our growing elderly population have come to Britain from the EU and elsewhere.
Many EU migrants make an important contribution to our country by working in our public services, notably the NHS, where thousands are nurses, midwives and health visitors. EU migrants contribute more to our economy than they take out, and the tax they pay helps to fund our NHS, schools and other public services. Since 2001, workers coming here from the rest of Europe have paid £20 billion more in taxes than they have claimed in benefits.
I am convinced that remaining in the EU is in the best interests of the country and our people, not only for what the EU delivers today, but as a framework through which we can achieve more in the future.
I was really pleased to open the new offices of a wonderful charity based locally which works with street children in Africa and Brazil.
It felt particularly timely to visit Retrak in Cheadle Hulme as the plight of vulnerable unaccompanied refugee children has been in the headlines recently.
Last year Retrak helped over 800 street children return safely to family and community settings.
As the chair of the All Party Group on Street Children, I was interested to hear how the journey begins for a child who ends up on the streets. Retrak’s research shows poverty is one of the key triggers.
It is hard to imagine how children who start out in life with such positive, nurturing and beautiful names such as “Gift” and “Precious” end up on the streets vulnerable to violence, abuse, sexual exploitation and hunger.
Millions of children across the world have no legal identity so they cannot access education, welfare, health services or ever legally work. We must ensure that every child has a legal identity. The life of a street child is short and brutal and these are also the children that get trafficked thousands of miles to Europe to endure the horrors of systematic rape and abuse.
Retrak reaches out to children who have no one else to turn to and helps them rebuild their lives and reintegrate back into their families and communities or new families. Other support Retrak offers includes overnight shelter, education and medical services. This help is vital to give children the chance of a decent life in their own communities.
The All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults – Inquiry into the Safeguarding of ‘Absent’ Children
At least 10,000 children a year could be at ‘terrible risk’ because they receive no active police response when they go missing, according a parliamentary inquiry published today.
The inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, supported by The Children’s Society, has called for a controversial police recording system for missing children, introduced in 2013, to be abandoned because it does not safeguard children from harm.
Under the two-tier system, children are classed as either ‘missing’ or ‘absent’ – but crucially only a child classed as missing receives an active police response.
The inquiry heard that children who go missing but are classified by the police as absent slip under services’ radar until the risks, such as child sexual exploitation, become too serious.
The inquiry also heard of cases of children, who were classed as ‘absent’ but who had been groomed for sexual exploitation or criminal involvement such as drug running across county lines.
MPs on the APPG concluded that the separate ‘absent’ category should be scrapped and instead, all missing children should receive the response that is proportionate to the risks they face. The inquiry recommends that this response should always be informed by a joint assessment between the police and children’s services, in order to build up a picture of the child’s life and the risks they face when missing.
The latest figures show that 9,780 runaway children went ‘off the radar’ in a total of 21,399 incidents in 2014-15 because police classed them as ‘absent’ rather than ‘missing’.
The true figure is likely to be even higher as only 29 police forces, out of 37 who have implemented the system, could provide any data on absent children.
Ann Coffey MP, who chaired the inquiry, said:
“All the evidence shows that the new absent category is dangerous and should be scrapped. It is not fit for purpose.
“It was introduced to save police time but has turned out to be a blunt, crude assessment tool that leaves children who are regularly classed as absent in danger of sexual exploitation and of being groomed by criminal gangs. It is scary that exploited young people are falling off the radar and no one knows what is happening to them.
“From Rotherham to Rochdale we have seen a pattern of young people and their families not being taken seriously. Our inquiry heard of one mother whose child was classed as absent. She was left to cope alone and drove around all night long frantically looking for her daughter.
“It is also shocking that there are unacceptable inconsistencies between and within police forces in their approach to missing children. It is now time for all police forces to abandon this hit and miss system. Children deserve the same protection wherever they live.
“There needs to be a joint risk assessment by police and children’s services otherwise children can be left at terrible risk which could have been prevented.”
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said:
“Children who go missing face serious risks of abuse, including child sexual exploitation. The absent category must be dropped. Not only is it preventing vulnerable children from getting the vital help they need, it leaves them in danger.
“Everything possible needs to be done to make sure any child who goes missing receives an active response and when they are found, that they are listened to.
“It is vital that all missing children have the chance to speak to an independent professional who can help them deal with the issues that made them run away in the first place to help stop them from going missing again. No child should feel that no one cares about them.”
The inquiry was also concerned that the initial risk assessment focussed on immediate risk despite the fact that for children at risk of being groomed for sexual or criminal exploitation or drug running, it is the ongoing and cumulative risk that is of most concern.
NB – You can find a link to the full inquiry report here – https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/appg-absent-inquiry-final-report-may-2016-embargoed_0.pdf