Royal Mail are switching over to barcoded stamps, but you won't be able to swap your old stamps in your local post office.
As the Member of Parliament for Gower I have long supported calls to enshrine the principle of animal sentience in UK law to prevent practices that expose both wild and domestic animals to cruel and degrading treatment.
There is a wealth of scientific evidence proving animals can feel and experience pain and we must adopt that recognition in UK law to move forward on animal welfare.
Since first getting elected in 2017, I've had to contend with a UK Tory Government that's been very enthusiastic, releasing waves of press releases, but has dragged its heels on action.
Following years of pressure from the public and animal welfare organisations to introduce meaningful legislation, the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill was introduced in May 2021 to the House of Lords. This is now undergoing scrutiny in the House of Commons and passed its Second Reading on 18 January 2022.
I am supportive of this bill and I believe its important because the formal and legal recognition of animal sentience sends a clear message that we are committed as a country to protecting the welfare of animals. I also welcome the inclusion of decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs to the list of sentient animals in the Bill.
Animal welfare is devolved in Wales and I am glad we have a Welsh Labour Government who recognise animal welfare as a priority. Its position on sentience “is clear.” It fully agrees animals are sentient beings.
On 4 November 2021 the Welsh Government published its Animal Welfare Plan for Wales 2021 to 2026 which is a five-year plan which outlines steps towards achieving of ensuring a good quality of life for all animals. The plan also includes a broad range of ongoing animal welfare policy work, including statutory guidance for existing regulations, licensing of animal exhibits, welfare of animals in transport, and Codes of Practice. Finally, it describes how the Welsh Government will work collaboratively with the other UK governments to further the animal welfare agenda.
This legislation represents a positive step in the right direction but this bill is far from perfect. Many changes are still needed at a UK level on animal welfare like closing the loopholes in the Hunting Act leading to wild animal cruelty.
I will follow developments closely as the legislation moves through the Lords, and I will continue to press for action to make much-needed improvements to the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill and to ensure animal sentience is formally recognised in law at the earliest opportunity.
18210 pensioners in Gower could see any energy bill savings wiped out by Tories’ real-terms cut to state pension
Analysis from Labour shows that the basic state pension will be worth hundreds of pounds less in real terms over the next year, affecting 18210 pensioners in Gower.
The analysis shows that, as a result of rising inflation and the Conservatives’ decision to only increase the state pension by 3.1 per cent, a basic state pension for an individual will be worth around £222 less in real terms over a year than in 2021/22.
For a couple it will be worth around £355 less. This is a real-terms cut to the state pension that is more than the amount Ministers are providing households to reduce their energy bills over the next year.
The motion to approve Conservative plans for a real-terms cut to state pensions was pushed through by Conservative MPs on Monday 7 February. This means that from Friday 1 April.
In the midst of a cost of living crisis, the Government’s decision to break the triple lock and give pensioners a real-terms cut to their pensions will leave older people in Britain paying hundreds of pounds more as a result of the rise in energy prices.
Labour’s plan to reduce energy bills would raise money to keep bills low through a one-off windfall tax on oil and gas profits to support all households, with households typically getting £200 off their bills. Labour’s plan will get £600 to the lowest income households while the Conservatives will only give them £350.
Commenting, Tonia Antoniazzi, MP for Gower said:
At a time of rising energy bills and prices going up in the shops, Tory MPs have pushed through a real terms cuts to pensions and the support families rely on.
With working people, families and pensioners struggling to make ends meet along with rising child & pensioner poverty this is clear proof that the Conservatives are simply not on the side of working people or pensioners.
It's clear that only Labour will always stand up for pensioners guaranteeing older people the respect, security and prosperity they deserve.
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said:
“The Tory cost of living crisis is set to hammer pensioners hard.
“Not only have Tory MPs broken their manifesto commitment to the pension triple lock, Tory MPs have endorsed Boris Johnson’s plan to cut the value of the basic state pension by hundreds of pounds, wiping out any gain from the energy loan scheme.
“This real terms cut on top of rocketing heating bills, price rises and cuts to other support such as the free TV licence means thousands of pensioners face a tough, bleak year faced with impossible choices between heating or eating.
“With pensioner poverty on the increase this is a shameful way to treat those who have contributed so much to our country. Labour will always stand up for pensioners guaranteeing older people the security, prosperity and respect they deserve.”
Shocking figures released this week by the Trussell Trust show the number of emergency food parcels being handed out in Swansea has increased by a shocking a 103% since 2017. Furthermore, research from The Food Foundation revealed that 4.7 million adults and 2.5 million children currently living in food insecurity in Britain.
Now with weekly food bills skyrocketing, inflation at a generational high, and with rapidly rising energy and petrol prices taking hold, I am concerned that more families could become reliant on support from food banks.
It’s shocking but not surprising that food bank usage is up so drastically in Swansea because my constituents have been hammered by a wasted decade of Tory austerity.
Welfare cuts, and broken promises on infrastructure investment like rail electrification and the tidal lagoon have had a real impact on my constituents.
It has already been a tough winter for the 5600 families in Gower who were hit by the Tories £1000 cut to universal credit. Now families are having to brace themselves for the biggest drop in living standards in thirty years.
Steep price increases in everyday and essential food items are going to make the situation worse and I am worried that increasing numbers of households are going to struggle to cope.
While inflation is spiralling and the cost-of-living crisis is taking hold, the Tories are preoccupied with infighting as Boris Johnson clings desperately onto his job.
Swansea and Gower residents deserve better from this government and they won’t get it while Boris Johnson is in charge.
On Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week we must recognise the epidemic of violence women face in this country.
Last week I was humbled and privileged to open the Petitions committee debate on support for victims of stalking.
I spoke about the struggle women are greeted with when they report instances of stalking to the police.
I highlighted the discrepancy that if you are mugged or burgled you are not asked to provide evidence, but if you are a victim of stalking you are. In essence, if you are a victim of stalking the onus ludicrously is put on you.
This is one of many instances where women are not being protected from violence but women are also being deeply failed by those who we would expect to support us in the upholding of the law.
Following what was revealed by the Independent Office for Police Conduct investigation into misconduct at Charing Cross Police Station last week, how can women trust the police to take allegations of sexual crimes seriously when police officers are joking about threatening to rape each other when they are on duty?
It's no surprise that when women approach the police for support, they are often turned away, made to feel like they are wasting police time.
Its clear as day that women are being let down by the government and the police and the latest Government figures on the prosecutions of rape paint a harrowing picture.
The number of suspects authorised to be charged by the CPS has decreased by 46% compared to 2016.
Despite last year registering the highest number of rape and sexual offences on record, charging for those offences has plummeted. Last year a record 61,158 rape reports were made to the police. However the CPS only charged 88 more suspects in 2020/21 than in the previous year.
Shockingly, just 0.6% of adult rape cases recorded to police result in a charge. Of the total number of rapes, both reported and unreported, just 1.5% result in a conviction.
The number of rape convictions in 2020/21 was 1,109. This is down from 1439 on the previous year and represents the lowest number on record.
That is in effect, the decriminalisation of rape.
At the current rate of progress, it will take the CPS 29 years to meet their own target to return to 2016 charging levels.
Troublingly, 61% of investigations are closed because the victim does not support further police action. That represents an increase of 4% compared to 2019.
The average time from when a rape case is referred by the police to the CPS charging decision has risen considerably from 155 days at the start of 2020/21 to 170 days at year end - over four times as long as the time taken for all crimes.
A rape victim’s experience of the criminal justice system from report to trial completion is around 3 times as long as the average across all other crime types (2.4 years vs 312 days).
Rape victims have to wait 12 times as long from report to a charging decision compared with the average across other crime types (33 days vs 419 days).
This indicates a worrying lack of action to address the many barriers to justice facing survivors, including police and prosecutors’ myths and stereotypes around victim credibility, and discriminatory treatment of Black and minoritised women. In essence, the system is so broken that it is forcing victims out.
Women want to feel safe & we don’t. On Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week we must recognise the epidemic of violence women face in this country.
IF YOU HAVE BEEN THE VICTIM OF VIOLENCE OR KNOW SOMEONE WHO IS AT RISK, SUPPORT IS AVAILABLE:
Swansea Women's Aid
24 Hour Helpline
For free confidential support and advice, contact our helpline on: 01792 644683
Live fear free
Helpline open 24/7 to listen to and support victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence.
0808 80 10 800
A charitable housing association that provides accommodation and support to women across Wales.
Transcript of my speech in full:
I beg to move, That this House has considered e-petition 593769, relating to funding for stalking advocates.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir Mark. As you say, this case is sub judice, so I will not go into details in my contribution. However, I pay heartfelt tribute to the parents of Gracie Spinks, who are here. I spoke to Richard and Alison last week, and was very moved by their story, but also angered. The trauma that they have gone through is unimaginable, and I hope that I am able to do them and Gracie proud today.
I also put on record my thanks to Jackie Barnett-Wheatcroft for starting this important petition, and for taking the time to speak to me last week. The petition, which has more than 105,000 signatures, states:
“The Government should provide more funding for stalking advocates for victims of stalking. This would help support victims, and should also help the police to investigate cases more thoroughly, potentially helping prevent threats to life.”
That seems a wholly appropriate way to deal with this issue, and there must be best practice that can be shared between police forces to make sure that the tragedy we are talking about cannot happen again. When I spoke to Richard and Alison, and to Jackie last week, one thing that struck me was their determination to find a solution to this issue.
Gracie’s case is a tragic reminder of what seems to be the ever-rising problem of violence against women and girls. Gracie had reported her stalker to the police, which, as we know, takes a huge amount of courage. What I am about to outline is not specifically about Gracie’s case, but there may be some similarities with it. Many women are dismissed by the police when they report violence perpetrated by men. Time and again, we have seen cases of women murdered by men who they have recently or previously complained about. Just this week, Yasmin Chkaifi was killed by her ex-husband. He had an interim stalking protection order against him, and was wanted by the police for breaking it, but despite this, he still found the opportunity to kill Yasmin in the street, just yards from her home—her safe place. In Swansea, we have seen the smirking face of Stephen Hill, who beat his girlfriend so badly that she needed a metal plate put in her head. He was given a sentence of just over two years—two years for life-changing injuries.
This is not the first time that I have spoken about violence against women. Just a few months ago, we were in this Chamber debating the rise in drink spiking, and over the past 12 months, we have been inundated with stories of serious attacks on, and murders of, women across the country. We have rightly been appalled by the murder of Sarah Everard at the hands of a policeman; the police’s taking photographs of sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman after they were murdered in a park; and the killing of Sabina Nessa as she walked through her local park. It cannot go on like this. The Government must recognise that we have an epidemic on our hands.
When women approach the police for support, they are often turned away and made to feel as though they are wasting police time. If someone is mugged or burgled, they are not asked to provide evidence, but a victim of stalking is. The onus is put on the victim. Many stalkers are also guilty of other crimes against their victims. Affray, criminal damage, voyeurism and other offences are often recorded in stalking cases. If a stalking advocate were on a police force, a link between those offences could be established, and we could avoid such cases as those that we are talking about today.
Much is made of postcode lotteries, but we have a police force lottery when it comes to imposing stalking protection orders. It appears that some forces are using them to much better effect than others. We need to ensure that their use to good effect is replicated. A BBC investigation in March 2021 found that only two full orders had been granted in the whole of Wales since the introduction of stalking protection orders in January 2020, despite more than 3,000 stalking offences being reported to the four police forces. It is paramount that we find out how some forces are protecting women; that information then needs to be shared across the board. Much of this comes down to the training that officers receive. How are police forces learning from their mistakes and improving outcomes for all victims of stalking?
There are also issues with trivialising the crime of stalking. I know that I have used the verb to describe having a nose at somebody on social media, and that is not acceptable. It makes it a bit of a joke, when we know that it is not, and we must all recognise that. The dangers that social media can pose cannot continue to go unchecked. We have become so much more connected. That is great for staying in touch with family and friends, but it exposes us to the dangers of having our details available to the world. Posting photos, checking into places and keeping location services on are tools that can be used to find people. Where there are no checks on people setting up accounts, stalkers can create numerous accounts and use them to bombard victims with messages.
Just last week, stories were emerging about the new threat of people using Apple AirTags to follow women without their consent. Tracking devices such as AirTags and Tile are designed to be attached to things that we may lose, such as ours keys or bag, so that we can locate them from our phone, but in the wrong hands they are the ideal tools for stalking and locating someone. Stories emerged last week of that happening in America, and of women having to rely on a beep from the offending device. Even more worryingly, only 100,000 Android users out of a potential 3 million have downloaded an app that Android users are being asked to install that identifies such tracking devices.
Safety concerns about devices and technologies used in the home, such as smart speakers giving away someone’s location, or smart devices getting hacked and compromising home security, have not yet been addressed properly by the tech giants. They need to step up and take action. They have a duty of care to everyone using their products and services. I am not sure whether the Minister has had conversations with any of them, but I would welcome their engagement on the issue, and would be interested in hearing more about how she will approach that. I thank her for her engagement on the subject after I sent over questions earlier. We want and need a constructive discussion. I know that she has met the petitioner, Jackie, but I hope that she will agree to meet the family, and other families, to discuss the best way forward.
In the meantime, very simply there are a number of questions that I, and I am sure the family and friends of Gracie and many others, would appreciate the answers to. How many stalking prevention orders have been given out since they were introduced? Are they uniformly spread across all police forces, or are some doing better than others? What assessment has been made of the pilot scheme being run by West Midlands police? Has the Minister discussed with Government colleagues and police representatives the introduction of stalking advocates to police forces in order to deal with the issue? We would also like to know whether there has been an audit of other offences recorded against perpetrators who are later convicted of stalking. It is those red flags that could stop women such as Gracie being murdered.
The themes running through my research on this subject were that police forces need to share best practice in a much more structured and regulated way, and that training across all forces needs to be massively improved—although “massively” does not go far enough. The Minister needs to take a strong lead on these issues, and shadow Front-Bench Members and I are willing to help in any way we can. I echo the calls in the petition for an advocate on each police force to be made available to victims of stalking. Patterns of behaviour can be identified if someone is looking for them, but many police forces simply do not have the time to do that.
Women want to feel safe, but we do not. Just look at this case, and look at the number of women killed in the last 12 months. Every year, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) on the Front Bench reads out the number and names of the women killed at the hands of men that year. It is a stark reminder to all of us that we are not getting any better on this, and that we need to address the issue. Look at the conviction rates for rape that have just been released.
Look at the Met’s response to the Sarah Everard vigil. As a country, we must do better, and I want to work with the Minister across the House to make sure that happens. Gracie’s parents have made it clear that they will not let this go; I will not let it go, either. Things must change. I will continue to fight for women everywhere who are suffering at the hands of men.