Online Harms

Taiwo Owatemi Excerpts
Wednesday 26th October 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Taiwo Owatemi Portrait Taiwo Owatemi (Coventry North West) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd.

I thank the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) for securing this important debate, which has far-reaching impacts for the whole country. I welcome the Minister to his place. I look forward to the Online Safety Bill completing its passage in this Session. We have had to wait quite some time. Four years ago, the Government promised to tighten the law on online harms. The delay has, unfortunately, had devastating impacts for many people in this country: £3 billion has been lost to fraud and 60,000 offences relating to online sexual abuse material and grooming have been committed.

As many Members have said, cyber-bullying has a disastrous effect on young people and, indeed, everyone across our communities. We know that big tech companies will not regulate themselves if it is not in their interest to do so. Sadly, it has taken a while for the necessary actions that we need to be taken. Instead, leading charities have been forced to support the many families who have been affected. I will focus on a key organisation in my constituency that does excellent work fighting for young disabled people and their rights.

Coventry Youth Activists is a wonderful organisation that has played a central role in campaigning for change in the way that disability hate is handled by social media platforms. CYA told me of a staggering 52% increase in online hate crime in 2021; however, their attempt to reach out and ask social media companies, specifically Facebook, to look into how hateful, ableist crime is posted on their platforms and to review their algorithms and respond effectively has not really been taken up, and certainly not by Facebook.

We cannot continue this way. Many young people have suffered devastating impacts. There are tragic consequences to the bullying that many young people face online. One of my constituents told me that when he went to an online platform and asked to volunteer for a community organisation, someone said to him, “What is this giraffe thing? I hope he doesn’t procreate.” That had a significant impact on his mental health and ability to feel valued within the community. That is absolutely wrong. No one should have to experience such bullying.

As things stand, the online world is a space where bullies feel emboldened, because they know that there are zero consequences for their shameful actions. We cannot allow that to continue. Bullies need to know that when they post harmful, hateful things online, they will be dealt with effectively. I urge the Minister to meet with me and Coventry Youth Activists to discuss the important work they have been doing and to ensure that no young person is bullied online, specifically those with a disability. I want to see a world in which the virtual space is a safe space for everybody, regardless of whether one is able or has a disability.

Lastly, I wish to mention the importance of eradicating misinformation and protecting young people. As the right hon. Member for East Hampshire said, misinformation is having a significant impact online and is making the online space more difficult for many people. I encourage the Minister to ensure that action is taken to make the digital space a safe space for young people.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Women’s Football

Taiwo Owatemi Excerpts
Wednesday 26th January 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Taiwo Owatemi Portrait Taiwo Owatemi (Coventry North West) (Lab)
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Once again, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) for her excellent and detailed speech and for securing this important debate. I also thank all those who continue to make women’s and girls’ football the fastest growing sport in the United Kingdom. Over the past decade, we have seen more and more clubs take on a women’s squad on a full-time basis, and grassroots football has made huge progress in ensuring that more women’s teams are able to thrive.

I grew up playing football, and as a teenager I absolutely loved the game. Many of my fellow female MPs are keen followers of the game, as we have heard today, and I am sure they will agree that it offers so much more than purely health-related benefits. Football taught me about communication, teamwork and competition. Had I not been given the opportunity to train at an academy, I doubt I would have had equal access to football and its many benefits. I am so grateful to have this opportunity to speak today on behalf of all the women and girls who simply do not have the same access to our national game as their male counterparts.

Progress in increasing participation has been made largely by the unsung heroes of the sport: the volunteer coaches, referees, administrators and community groups, without whose efforts women would not even have access to the game. Too many girls who love playing football constantly find themselves facing unnecessary barriers. For example, girls often cannot access teams because there are so few teams playing in organised leagues that it is not possible to get a proper fixture list together. That is why it is really important that we are here today looking at how we can best support new and existing women’s clubs so that women can have equal access to playing football, and that goes for all programmes, both amateur and professional.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central outlined, the professional women’s team in my own city of Coventry, Coventry United Ladies FC, was recently narrowly saved from liquidation. The club experienced significant financial pressures as a result of the pandemic, meaning it was forced to enter voluntary liquidation days before Christmas. Players and staff faced losing their job at the worst possible time. The club would have gone bankrupt, were it not for the 280 private donations from community members and an eleventh-hour takeover by a local midlands-based energy company that helped provide the necessary funds to keep the club afloat.

Even though the team has now survived this ordeal, the episode serves to highlight the systemic challenges still facing women’s football. The players were left in a precarious position after they were told that their contracts had been terminated. In a sport where women already have to contend with short contracts and low pay, these players also had to deal with the near collapse of their team with no safety net.

The barriers that women in professional football face are not only financial but cultural. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central about Durham University’s recently published report examining UK men’s football fans’ attitudes to women’s football. This study was, sadly but unsurprisingly, the first of its kind. Ridiculously, 68% of those polled thought women should not participate in sport at all, or if they did, that they would be better suited to more feminine pursuits than football. This attitude is appalling and is reflected in how unequally women’s football clubs are treated in this country.

The change in tone and in the perception of women’s football needs to be set from the top. If the Government truly want to create equality between men and women in football, they must do more to support women’s football clubs. As a proud sponsor of Coundon Court Ladies FC in my constituency, a former amateur player and a lover of the game, I urge the Government, mayors and local governments to do everything they can to support women’s football.

Legacy of Jo Cox

Taiwo Owatemi Excerpts
Thursday 9th September 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Taiwo Owatemi Portrait Taiwo Owatemi (Coventry North West) (Lab)
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It is an honour to speak in this debate and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield). Like her, I was not lucky enough to know Jo, but Jo’s work has touched the lives of many in my constituency and of myself as well. I would also like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) for securing this important debate.

I would like to start by welcoming my hon. Friend the recently elected Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater) to Parliament and by thanking her for her powerful maiden speech. Can I just say that it was an absolute pleasure to come up to Batley and to support such a relentlessly positive, optimistic and outward-looking campaign?

Remembering Jo and honouring her legacy is not something that we must do with words just once a year at a debate; it must be with our actions in our work every day as well. Jo championed many important causes, such as refugee aid, fighting loneliness, internationalism, and empowering women and girls—to name just a few. On that note, I would like to focus on Jo’s work on combating loneliness and how we can continue her work today.

Loneliness is an issue that does not discriminate based on age, gender, background or ethnicity. It is often debilitating, damaging to our mental health and can affect us all equally. Almost from the beginning of Jo’s parliamentary career, she worked to bring to light the causes and effects of loneliness so that we may better understand and tackle it. She co-established a cross-party loneliness commission with Seema Kennedy to do just that. That commission brought together 13 organisations to highlight the scale of loneliness across all areas of society and at different stages in everyone’s life. Partly because of the awareness that that commission brought to loneliness and mental health more broadly, those issues receive greater consideration and resources today.

There is still much work to be done, and the Jo Cox Foundation, which campaigns relentlessly to combat loneliness, cannot do it alone. In my patch of Coventry North West, grassroot community groups have worked to ensure that no one in my community feels alone. During the pandemic when we were all socially distancing, loneliness and poor mental health became a more pressing issue. Those groups stepped up to stop the spread of loneliness. Holbrooks community centre in my constituency has organised many community events and provides a safe space for residents to come together and socialise, and Grapevine in Coventry has done much to stamp out isolation and to support vulnerable people, planning events such as socially distanced gatherings at our local parks. With our high streets and town centres struggling, the Government must consider more innovative ways to empower such groups. They must also consider how we can better support community pubs, repurpose community and disused buildings, and make our green spaces more accessible to combat isolation and loneliness. My constituency would certainly welcome such support. I am incredibly grateful to be able to honour Jo and her work, and to speak on such an important issue.

Randolph Turpin

Taiwo Owatemi Excerpts
Tuesday 13th July 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
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Lionel was indeed courageous fighting in the battle of the Somme, but sadly he died some years later having sustained permanent damage to his lungs. Together with hundreds of others, he had been the victim of a gas attack. As is so often the case, his sacrifice is barely recognised, together with those of so many other nationals who served the British empire.

It was left to Randy’s mother Beatrice to raise him and his four siblings, taking on part-time domestic work to provide for them. Beatrice was the daughter of a former bare- knuckle fighter and was by all accounts a feisty woman who would tell her children to stand up for themselves when they were subjected to racial abuse.

Sporting success in the Turpin family did not stop at Randy; indeed, his elder brother Dick Turpin, the first black British and Commonwealth middleweight champion in 1948, paved the way for black Britons throughout the country to compete on the same stage as white Britons for the first time. If we accept that Randy and Dick broke the colour bar in the boxing arena—as it was described at that time—the current success of British boxing owes a lot to their work.

When I talk of the successes of British boxing, I only need to mention Anthony Joshua, Chris Eubank, Lennox Lewis and others. None of those great athletes would have had the chance to reach the heights they did were it not for Dick and Randy Turpin breaking through the glass ceiling of race.

Taiwo Owatemi Portrait Taiwo Owatemi (Coventry North West) (Lab)
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I thank my hon. Friend for bringing Randy’s history to Parliament. Does he agree that that history shows the need to have more funding for sporting activities for young people, so that we can get more diverse and more ethnic minority participation?

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
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I totally agree; I will come to that shortly.

Despite Randy’s momentous accomplishments during his sporting career, his troubled personal life and at times flawed character would lead to violence against some of those closest to him and others. He was financially cheated by those he trusted, his debts mounted up and he was declared bankrupt. Ultimately, alcohol would get the better of him. Most sadly, he took his own life; he was 38.

But it is for his sporting success that we and many people in my constituency remember Randy today. His extraordinary reputation, recognised more in the United States than here, led many to visit Warwick and Leamington to pay homage to the great man. In fact, even Muhammad Ali came to Warwick in 1983 as part of a visit to the midlands to pay his own homage and respects.

Randy’s legacy in my constituency of Warwick and Leamington is clear. Only last week, I had the great pleasure to meet three talented young Asian boxers in Warwick, Serena Mali, Jaya Kalsi and Aman Kumar—to demonstrate the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi). We stood by the statue and chatted briefly with their coaches. The reputation of local boxing clubs is still inspired by Randy, Dick and Jack Turpin. Seventy years after that great fight, the legacy of boxing in Leamington lives on. There are six other clubs in Leamington that are powerful and important in our sporting community. Another fine boxer, Lewis Williams, who won gold in the 2018 GB elite three nations championships, may soon be the heir to the Turpin legacy. It is an exciting prospect that the future of heavyweight boxing may indeed reside in Leamington.

The successes of Randy and his brother as the first black world middleweight champion and the first black British and Commonwealth middleweight champion respectively spelt the beginning for inclusion in sport. With them, the tide turned, although—let us be honest—not completely. It took more than 25 years after Randy Turpin’s victory over Sugar Ray Robinson for Viv Anderson, the first black man to play football for England, to put on a white shirt and proudly sport three lions on his chest. It is unimaginable now to think that it should have taken that long for a black man to represent his country in our national game, but therein lies another piece of history. In truth, a black player would have represented his country as far back as 1924, but was denied the opportunity—not on talent, but by the colour of his skin, for it was only when Football Association officials learnt that Jack Leslie was black that he was deselected from the England squad. Leslie is the fourth highest all-time goal scorer for Plymouth Argyle football club, but racial stigma spelt the end for his international career. As we know, sadly, even today that undercurrent of racism persists in sport. I hardly need to remind Members of the abhorrent racist abuse endured by some members of the England team following the final on Sunday. The national team and their manager brought about great pride and unity across our country, and the racism that continues to haunt those who represent England on the field or in the ring should be called out for what it is and condemned as totally unacceptable in 2021.

Alongside the new-found recognition, we need to invest in our local communities for the next generation of English sportspeople. In writing and researching this speech, I was reminded of some brilliant and talented sportspeople, in particular boxers: Cooper, Bruno, Khan, Benn, McGuigan, Minter, Ahmed, Hatton, Lewis, Calzaghe, Eubank, Honeyghan, Buchanan, John Conteh—all names I knew, even though I was not a major fan of the sport. I also remember Nicola Adams and her great success, and now Joshua and Fury.

When I was growing up, of course, I knew about Our ’Enry, but I was captivated by the great bouts between Ali and Frazier, and then Norton. One of the things I remember most is how Henry Cooper and others were described as “the great white hope”, an expression dating back to the early 1900s when heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson, who was black, seemed invincible. The term would be used for any white opponent who might defeat him. When he decisively beat James Jeffries, put up against him and nicknamed the great white hope, Johnson’s triumph ignited confrontation and violence between blacks and whites throughout the United States, leaving around two dozen people dead, almost all of them black, and hundreds injured.

Thankfully, today we do not think in those terms—or rather, I hope we do not. I would like to think that we consider only a sportsperson’s ability and who can better another opponent rather than their race and colour of their skin. Everyone loved Henry Cooper. I did. He was knighted in recognition of his boxing and wider contribution to sport and British life, but he was never a world champion, let alone undisputed world champion. Randy Turpin was an undisputed world champion. To repeat: he beat Sugar Ray Robinson, one of the all-time greats, to claim that particular pinnacle of sport. I hope that he will one day get the national recognition he deserves for boxing, but arguably more importantly, for what he and his brothers did in punching through the glass ceiling of being barred through their race; for breaking down the racial barriers that ultimately led to the Anthony Joshuas, the Nicola Adamses, the Naseem Hameds, the Viv Andersons, the John Barneses, the Raheem Sterlings, the Marcus Rashfords, the Jadon Sanchos, the Bukayo Sakas and so many others being among the best of British sport. For that reason, I ask the Minister to meet me to discuss how this country can rightly honour Randolph Turpin.

Given recent events surrounding the England football team, I suggest that recognition of our first black British world champion is long overdue.

Online Anonymity and Anonymous Abuse

Taiwo Owatemi Excerpts
Wednesday 24th March 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Taiwo Owatemi Portrait Taiwo Owatemi (Coventry North West) (Lab)
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I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in this debate on what is a growing concern for me, my constituents and Members across the House. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) on securing this debate.

Social media platforms have connected us in a way that no one would have thought possible. From rapid instant messaging to sharing content on our everyday lives, we are immersed in readily accessible information and news in a way that our parents would have only dreamed of. In the past two decades, this immersion in an always on and always connected world has had another consequence. A study by the Turing Institute on online abuse in 2019 estimates that up to 40% of people in the UK have seen or been exposed to abusive content, and 10% to 20% have been targeted by abusive content. Worse still, that same year, Oxford Internet Surveys found that 27% of respondents had seen contents or imagery that were either cruel or hateful and that 10% had received abusive emails.

The ethnic breakdown makes for even more depressing reading: 41% of black respondents received abusive emails compared with just 7% of white respondents. That should come as no surprise to Members who witness this kind of content on a daily basis. They know all too well the sheer scale and impact that this abuse can have, particularly as this abuse is often anonymous and spread by accounts with peculiar user names with either eggs or silhouettes as profile pictures. While we must protect freedom of expression, there should be the same level of accountability for someone who commits abuse online as there is for someone who verbally abuses a person on the street. I know the strength of feeling across this issue in my own area, which is why I am supporting Coventry Youth Activists’ campaign for a change in Facebook’s policy so that it recognises hate speech and discrimination specifically targeting disabled people. At the moment, that form of discrimination is reported under the “other” category, which makes it seem acceptable and less important than other types of abuse. Tech giants can and must do more to protect the rights of their users to feel safe, both online and in their everyday lives, and their users’ free expression should not mean that they are free from consequences of their action. Social media companies can absolutely do more to make the online environment safer. They have the tools at their disposal, so do this Government. If the tech giants will not take action on it, it is up to the Government to give the regulators the resources and teeth they need to take appropriate actions to safeguard all users, so that social media platforms can be a place for people to truly feel safe.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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No. 33 has withdrawn, so we are moving to our final speaker from the Back Benches, Christine Jardine.

Women’s Rugby: Government Support

Taiwo Owatemi Excerpts
Tuesday 13th October 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Fay Jones Portrait Fay Jones
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Again, the hon. Lady is absolutely right, and I congratulate all those rugby clubs who have worked incredibly hard to consider social distancing measures. It is a contact sport, and it is very much to be celebrated that we are getting community rugby back up and running again.

The number of girls playing rugby in the 95 schools and colleges with full-time rugby hub officers has gone from fewer than 200 to almost 10,000 in the space of just a few years. I can only hope that each and every one of those girls enjoys rugby as much as I did. While I am the first to admit that rugby is my sport of choice, I am a firm believer that all sports provide lifelong benefits. Unfortunately, it is a sad fact that women and girls are still 20% less likely to participate in team sports than men and boys, with many contributing factors to why that is the case. Sport England research has found that the main reason for this lack of participation is fear—something that I am sure all women in the House can relate to.

Taiwo Owatemi Portrait Taiwo Owatemi (Coventry North West) (Lab)
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Does the hon. Member agree that it is high time that women’s rugby teams, such as Coventry Welsh Ladies in my constituency, enjoyed equality of esteem with that afforded to men’s games?

Fay Jones Portrait Fay Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not disagree. I think anybody watching the women’s game derives exactly the same amount of value and entertainment, and it is a sporting spectacle in the same way.

The fear identified in Sport England’s research as the main barrier to participation is a fear of being unable to participate, a fear of the judgment of others and, for many, a fear of choosing to spend time on themselves rather than their families. That fear is in addition to many other factors. For many women rugby players I spoke to, there are practical barriers to participation too, such as not having a club nearby, having to travel long distances to fixtures and, in one club’s case, only having two changing rooms, which meant that they were unable to arrange a fixture at the same time as a men’s match was going on. That said, I am pleased to hear that over the past decade women’s sport in the UK has been on an upward trajectory, and I wish to pay tribute to all those who have brought that about, particularly the Minister’s predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), whom we look forward to welcoming back to her place in this House very soon.

Increased resources from international and national bodies, alongside funding from brands, such as Vitality’s sponsorship of netball and Barclays funding of the women’s super league, have resulted in the growth of a variety of women’s sport. I wholeheartedly endorse campaigns such as This Girl Can, which has seen nearly 3 million women get more active, across all sports. The Welsh Rugby Union’s schemes such as rookie rugby and rugby fit are very much to be celebrated, as they challenge the perception that rugby is not for girls. This has allowed far more women and girls to reap the physical and mental benefits of playing.

However, it would not be 2020 if I did not have to mention the dreaded C word. Coronavirus is threatening the momentum generated over the past decade for women’s sport. During the lockdown earlier this year 42% of women, compared with 35% of men, reported a drop in activity levels. With a move en masse towards working from home, 32% of women said that they could not prioritise doing exercise during the lockdown as they had too much to do for others. Some 25% of women became worried that getting back into the habit of exercise would be hard, which I can say from personal experience is very true. As organised sport and exercise were put on hold for men and women alike, we saw the loss of events that showcase gender parity in sport, such as the Tokyo Olympics and The Hundred cricket competition. The visibility that these events provide for women’s elite sport is vital to making women’s sport a natural and accepted part of the sporting landscape. It can also have an impact on grassroots participation by highlighting to women and girls the possibilities of what they can do. At the elite level, although some men’s sport has started to return, women’s sport is further behind. The women’s premier 15s rugby was cancelled because of covid and started back only on 10 October, well after the men’s game, which restarted in August. In order for it to start significant changes have been made to the game so as to reduce face-to-face contact time and therefore avoid the expenses required for regular covid testing—these changes were not made to the men’s game.

Unfortunately, as sport returns, fans will not be returning. Admissions to matches provide a key funding source, particularly for rugby. Without that money, the WRU announced yesterday that its revenue was down from the £90 million level in 2019. The Rugby Football Union has predicted potentially losing up to £142 million and the rugby league union is also expecting losses, with the cancellation of the first home ashes series since 2003. As the rugby unions tighten their belts, I am extremely worried that women’s rugby will be the hardest hit. The RFU has already taken the decision to cut financial support to each of the 10 teams in the premier 15s by 25%, which means that each club will be receiving just £56,000, a reduction from the £75,000 this season.

At a grassroots level, clubs I have spoken to also have serious concerns about the finances of the women’s game. Some are worried that because women’s and girls’ rugby does not receive the same financial support as the men’s game, they will struggle to restart training and matches. But it is not all bad news, because in July the WRU committed to providing an additional £600,000 fund to support clubs in Wales. Enabled by the UK Government funding of more than £4 billion to cope with coronavirus, the Welsh Government have recently announced a £14 million fund for Wales’s sport and leisure sector. Significant support has also been provided to clubs by the Be Active Wales Fund, which has also seen funding awarded to seven bids from rugby union which positively target women and girls. I was also pleased to see the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport work with Sport England to make up to £195 million of funding available to help the sport and physical activity sector through the ongoing coronavirus crisis. The UK Government are also making more than £11 million of Sport England investment in the Rugby Football League. In May, the Government announced that the RFL would receive a further £16 million cash injection to safeguard the immediate future of the sport for the communities it serves.

I welcome the investment of up to £10 million in rugby league facilities to help drive the legacy from the 2021 rugby league world cup, which will, for the first time, see a combined men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournament. The visibility provided by the 2021 rugby league world cup and other future events, such as the Birmingham Commonwealth games, could really help to boost participation in women’s rugby. As the organisation Women In Sport has said, “Given the gap in participation between women and men, which has widened during covid, the visibility of women’s sport has never been more important.”

While I welcome the much-needed funds being made available for sport across the UK, we must fund the change we want to see in the sport. As we recover from covid-19, we should be aiming to increase the participation of women and girls in sport, the accessibility of women’s sport and its visibility. At the very least, we should not be prioritising men’s sport over women’s.

Cultural Attractions: Contribution to Local Economy

Taiwo Owatemi Excerpts
Tuesday 6th October 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Taiwo Owatemi Portrait Taiwo Owatemi (Coventry North West) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure, once again, to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I thank the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) for securing this important debate.

I am delighted that Coventry is set to become the UK city of culture in 2021. In the run-up to that event, however, our theatres, live music industry and other cultural attractions have been hard hit by the pandemic, with too little support promised far too later. Concerns raised by people in the arts and culture sector have been ignored by the Government. The arts and culture sector in Coventry enriches lives and employs hundreds of my constituents. Venues have rightly closed their doors to the public because of the pandemic but have, unforgivably, not been supported enough financially by the Government to ensure their viability once they open their doors again. Our theatres, live music venues and other cultural attractions play a big role in our local economy. Not only do they provide jobs to my constituents, but they ensure that other local businesses surrounding them benefit from increased footfall.

I want to pay tribute to community institutions such as Imagine theatre and Belgrade theatre, which have brought tears of laughter and joy to adults and children alike across Coventry. It is what they do best, but there is no such joy for them now. Without urgent care and consideration from the Government, my constituents might not have access to theatres to look forward to once the pandemic ends. Both of those prestigious theatres are confronted with potentially 22 months with no income whatever, with their productions postponed to 2021. They have no income, but the Government expect them to take back staff from 1 November through the job retention scheme.

Can the Minister tell me how the Government expect our theatre businesses to survive? The sector is facing mass redundancies, and many businesses will be bankrupt. How can we expect such industries to thrive post covid, or to be part of rebuilding our society, if the Government are not investing in them now to ensure the viability to safeguard jobs? If a better package is not delivered soon, up to 800 jobs could be lost from those two theatres in Coventry alone. That is 800 jobs too many.

We must do everything we can to support businesses in our arts and culture sector, both in Coventry and across Britain. Venues are a shining source of entertainment and culture, showcasing the very best of our country. The post-pandemic viability of the industry will depend on action—not taken later, not taken if or when it folds, but taken now. I am willing to work with partners, including the Government, to safeguard the sector.

Covid-19: Support for UK Industries

Taiwo Owatemi Excerpts
Thursday 25th June 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Taiwo Owatemi Portrait Taiwo Owatemi (Coventry North West) (Lab)
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Thank you for calling me to speak in this important, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The full effect of the coronavirus pandemic has yet to be felt, but we have already seen the impact that this invisible disease is having on my city of Coventry and on the United Kingdom. Sadly, in the months to June, as many as 270 people lost their lives to the virus in my city, according to the Office for National Statistics. Our normal way of life has changed, and some of us have mourned the loss of friends and family.

We have seen lay-offs in companies large and small. According to the Library, in Coventry North West there were 4,630 claimants for unemployment benefit; a further 3,200 claims were made to the self-employment income support scheme, which is equivalent to 71% of the potentially eligible population; and there are currently 13,100 jobs on furlough through the job retention scheme. Although the Government’s support package is commendable, my fear is that it may mask the true extent of the crisis in our jobs market, and these figures do not show those without recourse to public funds, who may be eligible for the Government’s covid-19 support package, but are unable readily to claim vital welfare benefits. I will briefly highlight causes for concern in my patch and businesses that have been affected by this crisis.

Let me turn first to the job losses at Rolls-Royce in Ansty. The UK’s aerospace sector is world-leading, supporting hundreds of jobs directly in my constituency through the supply chain. Rolls-Royce’s announcement to cut 65 jobs from its workforce of 167 at Ansty is hugely disappointing. The site is renowned for its expertise, being the only one that can weld the veins of plane propellers. From my conversations with staff and union reps at the site, I understand that they fear the company is using coronavirus as an excuse to ship jobs outside the UK, and to rehire staff on worse contracts here and abroad. There are also concerns that this move has been in the works, as their pensions will also change. Is this what the Government meant by global Britain—allowing companies such as Rolls-Royce to receive research and development funding, and job retention money, while they ship British jobs overseas?

The arts are also under threat. The brilliant Belgrade theatre in Coventry is losing income. Small businesses such as Exhibit 3Sixty have also been in touch with my office. Exhibit 3Sixty is an award-winning and successful exhibition stand design and build company based in Coventry with six permanent employees and 12 self-employed tradesmen and women. My office has been supporting Alan Craner, the managing director, who has applied for the retail, hospitality and leisure grant fund, but has been refused. Despite the Chancellor’s statement on 17 March, when he appeared to say that the exhibition sector was eligible for the same help that is available to businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality sector, it seems that there is no special support for companies like Mr Craner’s. Will the Minister meet me—virtually, of course—so that I can present my cases and he can provide clarity on the support available?

Oral Answers to Questions

Taiwo Owatemi Excerpts
Thursday 4th June 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the important role that local radio plays. During this time of crisis, reliable news is more important than ever and local radio stations provide that. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Media and Data has been working with them very closely, looking at issues such as the RAJAR rebate. We are determined to support them through this period.

Taiwo Owatemi Portrait Taiwo Owatemi (Coventry North West) (Lab)
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T4. Coventry City Council, local community groups and charities have been working exceptionally hard to support people across the city during this crisis. Many of those charities have used up their reserves after coming under an unprecedented amount of pressure and a decade of savage local government cuts. Will the Secretary of State commit to providing funding for the charity sector throughout the lockdown and in the time following the crisis?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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The short answer is yes. That is why we have provided a £750 million package and announced £200 million being administered by the national lottery to go specifically to small and medium-sized charities. The charity in the hon. Lady’s constituency and others are very welcome to bid for that.