Yvonne Fovargue MP: Shocking events in Afghanistan
The events of the last few weeks have been shocking and deeply concerning.
The Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan exposed the staggering complacency from our Government about the Taliban threat.
We now face the tragic rollback of the gains that UK soldiers, diplomats and NGO workers, and their coalition and Afghan partners, worked so hard for.
Following the end of military evacuations from Afghanistan through Kabul airport, the Government should now support the safe evacuation of the British nationals and Afghans who have been left behind.
Thousands of at-risk people eligible for resettlement in the UK remain in Afghanistan and I am concerned that few practical measures have been put in place by the Government to help them.
The Government has announced a new Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), but few details have been confirmed.
What we do know is that the ACRS will resettle Afghan nationals who have been forced to flee their home or face threats of persecution from the Taliban.
The Government has also said that it will take a total of 20,000 Afghan nationals “in the long term”, with 5,000 expected to be resettled in its first year of operation.
I do not believe this meets the scale of the challenge. For those who desperately need our help now there is no long term, just day-to-day survival.
The ACRS must be generous and welcoming. If it is not, we know the consequences: violent reprisals in Afghanistan; people fleeing into the arms of human traffickers; and more people risking and losing their lives on unsafe journeys including across the English Channel.
The new reality in Afghanistan demands the widest coordinated international approach in dealing with the Taliban.
Global leaders should agree a coordinated humanitarian response, collective help for refugees and work to guarantee the safety of humanitarian workers and diplomats remaining in Afghanistan, while doing all possible to try to protect the gains made in the last 20 years on human rights, girls’ education and counter-terrorism.
Councils are on the frontline delivering the services that people rely on and which support and enrich our communities every day.
I pay tribute to care staff, refuse collectors, social workers and all local government staff for their significant contribution in the national effort to deal with COVID-19.
Despite financial pressures, the response of local authorities like Wigan during the pandemic has been remarkable.
They have worked to protect local communities and businesses while continuing to deliver existing services.
COVID-19 has in turn placed significant pressure on local authorities’ finances, which in many cases were already under strain going into the pandemic.
According to the National Audit Office (NAO), total funding across England has fallen in real terms by 56.3% over the last decade. The Local Government Association equates this to a £15 billion reduction.
A recent NAO report found many local authorities are relying on reserves to balance their budgets; three-quarters of all councils report a funding gap and almost all expect to make cuts in service budgets this year.
The NAO said a combination of high funding gaps and low reserve levels means that some local authorities are at risk of financial failure.
At the start of this pandemic, the Government pledged to support local government. Instead of listening to councils and giving them the resources they need, the Government instead asked them to increase council taxes across the country, at a time when the UK economy is coming out of the biggest crisis in three centuries.
I urge Ministers to keep their promise to do whatever is necessary and provide councils with the support, national leadership and focus they deserve.
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