It was a huge pleasure to meet students from Afifah School in Old Trafford this week to discuss their campaign to repeal the Vagrancy Act. This outdated piece of legislation dates back to the end of the Napoleonic wars, when parliament wanted to prevent wounded veterans from coming onto the streets to beg. I’m sure everyone in Manchester will recognise the resonance with the awful levels of street homelessness we continue to experience to this day.
People living on the streets face terrible dangers to their health, safety and wellbeing. They need access to services and housing, not criminalisation. So I’m really proud of the students at Afifah High for taking up this campaign. It’s supported by a number of charities, and has cross-party support in Westminster. The government minister said the Act needs to be ‘replaced’; the Labour party agrees with Afifah students that it should be abolished.
The students are encouraging anyone who wants to support the campaign to sign a petition they’re promoting. You can do so at: https://www.change.org/Scrap_The_Act
I was also very glad to meet Dr Muhammed Imran, a Stretford GP who also chairs Trafford Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). Primary care staff, doctors, nurses and all who work in our frontline GP practices, have worked flat out over the past 15 months, thanks to the pandemic, and right now, with backlogs of non-covid cases and the need to get everyone vaccinated (and probably re-vaccinated this winter), there is little sign of respite. Dr Imran told me staff are becoming burnt out. We owe so much to our frontline health and care workers, and I promised to raise this with government ministers – if we don’t act to protect their wellbeing, we risk their leaving the profession altogether, putting further pressure on the NHS.
Finally, a shout out to all students who were due to sit GCSE, A level or vocational exams this summer, and will now receive grades from teachers instead. In my role as Labour’s shadow education secretary, I’m hosting an online discussion next Wednesday 23 June, 4pm-5pm to hear from students about your experiences over the past few months, how your teachers are assessing you, whether you’ve been doing mock exams, and what you want to happen on results day. If you’d like to join the discussion, please register by clicking on this link.