Speech to the HINSouthLondon ThinkDiabetes summit

Speech to the HINSouthLondon ThinkDiabetes summit 15.06.2019

Thank you.

It’s a pleasure to be here with you today.

This report could not come at a more important time and I fully support the call for employers to think about diabetes in the workplace.

There’s also a very personal reason why consider this issue to be so important.

I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

I’m not unusual – there are 3.7 million adults in the UK with diabetes, 90% with Type 2, which is more than twice as many as there were twenty years ago.

And that increase in numbers has a big impact on the NHS budget.

The most recent figure is £10 billion.

If we carry on as we are, the NHS estimates that by 2036 the cost of diabetes will be £32 billion.

The human cost is terrible.

I don’t need to tell an informed audience like this that diabetes can lead to blindness, strokes, heart attacks and even dementia.

It’s shocking, that as a country, we are amputating 120 feet or toes a week as a result of diabetes along.

And one of the reasons for the increase in Type 2 diabetes is the overweight and obesity epidemic, the poor levels of physical activity - but I think there’s one other absolutely vital ingredient: SUGAR.

For decades, our public health education has focused very strongly on the importance of cutting down our fat consumption.

For decades, it’s been easier and easier to have a low-fat diet. We’ve had more low-fat ingredients and processed meals available to us than ever before.

And yet for decades, we’ve been getting more and more overweight.

And over the same period, we’re eating vast quantities of sugar.

Four-to-ten year olds are estimated to eat the equivalent of 5,500 cubes of sugar per year – about 3.5 stone or 22 kilogrammes – the weight of a three year old in sugar.

Sugar is in places it doesn’t need to be… cereals, milk products, crisps, yoghurt.

It is in places parents don’t expect it to be.

I don’t blame parents for being confused.

But one of the consequences is that a third of children are overweight or obese when they leave primary school.

I’m pleased and very relieved to say that thanks to a - quite radical – change of diet and behaviour, not just exercising more, but eradicating all ultra-processed food, fast food, starchy carbs and refined sugar pretty much entirely, my own type 2 diabetes is in remission.

I’m no longer taking medication for it.

I feel fantastic.

Diabetes can be prevented, but I’m living proof that it can also be put in remission. And my central message today is that we need to get much better, as a country, at doing both.

Yet too many people have no clue that their condition can be beaten.

And I’d like to send a simple message to all type 2 diabetes sufferers. All three million of them.

I believe in Remission for All.

Remission for All.

The vast majority of those with Type 2 Diabetes can get off their medication with the right combination of nutrition and exercise.

And if they do, they will live longer and have more fulfilling lives.

Remission for All is a national necessity.

Because sitting behind those 3.2 million Type 2 diabetics are another million undiagnosed type 2 diabetics.

And sitting behind them there are 12.3 million more people at risk of Type 2 diabetes.

As a country.

As families and communities, we can’t afford the financial cost, or the personal cost, of that kind of increase.

That’s why we’ve announced Labour’s ambition to halt the rise of diabetes within a single Parliamentary term, once Labour is in Government.

That’s a shared ambition between me, as Deputy Leader responsible for sports policy and Jonathan Ashworth and the shadow health team.

And when I begin to drill down into this policy area.

I see that on too many measures, as a country, we’re moving in the wrong direction – unwilling or unable to make the right long term choices on public health and making it more and more difficult for people to get active.

Local authority spending on sport and recreation has been cut by over £300 million since 2011/12.

Participation in sport by young people, inside and outside of school is down, especially for five-to-ten year olds.

We need to do much, much better, and I want to examine how sport and activity can be allied with the correct nutritional advise, to reverse the terrible cost of these preventable and treatable diseases that threaten to sink our NHS and shorten our lives

We will invite a broad range of independent experts to help us answer a simple but challenging question:

“What would we have to do, to halt the rise of diabetes within five years?”

I have some ideas. Some of the things the independent commission will look at will be:

How do we extend social prescribing – where we offer activity and sport over pills and medicines in the first instance.

Is one size fits all public health advice about nutrition right?

Should we be aiming for greater personalisation of advice?

How can nutritionists and GPs play a bigger role in helping people achieve better diets and do more exercise?

How can food labelling, packaging and serving information be made clearer and more understandable?

And I’m not afraid to look at regulatory failure and whether we should extend measures like the sugar tax to those foodstuffs that have little or no nutritional value.

I learned so much from my own experience and I want to look at the territory in more depth to understand how the revolution in health diagnostics and tech can help others – from blood glucose monitors, like the PM wears which gives a much more accurate reading than a finger prick test, to new means of measuring blood pressure, blood ketones, and daily steps.

But I believe that this is only achievable if it’s led from the top.

Something that we recognise as one of the biggest challenges facing the country, and prioritise accordingly.

Something we expect to be accountable for.

And I also believe that this can’t just be about the NHS, and it can’t just be about treatment, or even diagnosis.

And nor can it just be about blaming people for being overweight, or about saying the answer is in their hands alone.

It is not simply all about obesity.

Thin people can have Type 2 diabetes.

We have to address the roles played by food manufacturers, retailers, advertisers, GPs, nutritionists, teachers, parents as well as the fitness industry.

If people are active, are getting the exercise they need, that combined with good nutrition will bring all sorts of benefits – to their wellbeing, their fitness, their social lives, their mental health – and it will help them prevent or manage diabetes too.

We must make sure it’s as easy as possible for people to take part in sport, to walk or cycle to work, to use their local swimming pool, to join a sports team or a dance class, to volunteer.

That’s not just about health policy, or DCMS policy – it’s about transport policy, and planning, and local government, and keeping our streets safe.

We need to embed these practices in the next generation, as early as practically possible.

So I welcome your report today and its call for employers think differently about diabetes in the workplace

We absolutely do need clear greater advice and support for people in their workplaces and I hope that we are able to use these ideas and your expertise as part of our strategy going forward.

I want Labour to have policies that will make it as easy as possible for people of all ages and abilities, in all parts of the country, to access advice and support on preventing and managing diabetes when they need it.

The twin harms of obesity and Type 2 diabetes represent the biggest health emergency facing the nation today.

All of you in this room are part of the battle to find a solution.

You should be proud of the work you do. And I’m looking forward to working with you.


Thank you.