Villager September 2015 ‘Walk a mile in my shoes’
One of the many privileges of my life as an MP, and occasional Minister in Government, is the opportunity, however fleetingly, to experience the lives of others. Contrary to more cynical observations, my job, through my advice centre work, or immersion in ministerial remit, gives me the chance to see people living in many different circumstances, and a range of those experiences which many other people may not come across.
I had the chance recently to ‘step out’ on the streets of Biggleswade as if I had severe sight problems. Someone becomes blind or partially sighted every fifteen minutes, so understanding as a policy maker what it is like to be on our streets and pavements in such a condition is more than helpful. When offered the chance by Natalie Doig, a local RNIB campaigner, as part of the charity’s ‘Street Aware’ promotion, I agreed, to see what challenges there are today on our local streets for those who need to get around independently, but whose journeys are made more hazardous than they might be. As the picture shows, even knowing Natalie was there to guide me, my steps were hesitant and uncertain.
Villager Magazine article August 2015 - The sadness of needing an International Commission for Missing Persons
As I write this article I am heading to Sarajevo in my role as the UK Commissioner for the International Commission for Missing Persons – an organisation you may not have heard off but is doing very important work in post conflict and disaster situations around the world. My fellow Commissioners are an esteemed group; US Ambassador (Retired) Thomas Miller; Ambassador Knut Vollebæk, former Norwegian Foreign Minister; Ambassador Rolf Ekéus, former OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities; Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan; Willem Kok, former Prime Minister of The Netherlands; and James V. Kimsey, Chairman Emeritus and Chair of the Kimsey Foundation.
Burt on the Benches August 2015 Sport, faith or politics - which is best for your health?
As we are deep into Parliamentary recess and the holiday season, and as the election fades into memory, it is not the month for a searing analysis of current political activity. We can leave my views on Jeremy Corbyn, with whom I served on Haringey Council some thirty years ago, until he forms his first shadow cabinet.
Instead I was intrigued by the results of a survey which suggested that health, particularly mental health, was best improved by belonging to a church or faith based group, rather than a sports, community or political group. The survey has looked at 9,000 people across Europe for four years to obtain their results, suggesting that faith groups provided long term support and resilience, whilst the initial benefits of joining other groups tended to fade for one reason or another. Political groups came in for still more severe stick, suggesting those involved suffered mental decline over a period of time.
Burt on the Benches July 2015 - Look after each other, and ourselves
Last week the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt made a speech which contained two sad and disturbing statistics. The first was that nearly one in ten older people had no contact with their families, even once a month. The second was that every day, local councils in England organise eight ‘lonely funerals’, that is a funeral for those who have no one, family or friend, to see them through this last act on earth - two and a half thousand every year.
Only the other week we heard of a gentleman in Edinburgh who may have been dead for some three years before anyone knew, and occasionally there will be a news story about a war veteran who has died alone, with an appeal for people to attend the funeral, which they usually do, in large numbers.
Village Magazine July 2015 - Summer trips and tips
Summer holidays: trips and tips
Every year in the office I have a series of constituents come to me with issues that have arisen to do with travel. Missing documents, late applied for passports, travel insurance and the like.
Sometimes I can assist and extricate a passport, but sometimes the situation is just too complex and holidays are missed. It pays to get organised, and take note of what is happening not just here, but also around the world. So I thought a few hints and tips to make your summer go with a swing, based on some of the concerns brought to us in the past, might be helpful.