I was pleased to lead a debate in Westminster Hall this week on cervical screening. Like all women, I know all too well the sort of dread getting the call-up for our smear test. For most women, it is not painful, but it is uncomfortable and awkward. What can someone even chat about when the nurse is having her little look? But why should it be like that? We have all been there; the nurse has seen it all before. It is just not spoken about, so we feel a sense of shame about it. It is time we stopped being so coy about it, because that may well persuade more women to go for screening and ultimately it may save lives.
Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in women under 35, and 99.7% of cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus, or HPV. In recent years, testing for HPV has meant that it is easier to identify who is at greater risk from cervical cancer at the earliest stage. Covid is the immediate concern for most people, but cancer has not hit the pause button during the pandemic. We need to do all we can to ensure that women are going to appointments and that the UK Government’s recovery plan looks to build up our cancer workforce because the earlier cancer is spotted, the better the prognosis is.
On the Welsh Affairs Committee this week, we heard from Greg Hands MP, the Minister for Trade Policy at the Department for International Trade on the impact of the Australia deal on Wales. We had the usual boasts about how incredible this opportunity will be for us in the UK, but it appears that the UK Government intends to have few people on the ground in countries abroad to ensure that trade is as extensive and beneficial as it can be. The intention appears to be to have just two Agriculture Commissioners to promote British agricultural produce and exports around the world: it is hard to imagine how they will be able to fulfil the UK Government’s promises to develop trade with countries across the globe.
Last month the Committee opened an inquiry into the benefits system in Wales, examining the challenges it faces, the extent to which it is effective in tackling poverty, and possible reforms. This week we launched a survey to hear from claimants their experiences. We want to hear directly from claimants, to understand the issues they face and what questions the Committee should ask the UK Government. The survey is open to all claimants in Wales as well as those who have considered claiming. It covers UK benefits as well as Welsh Government and local authority support, such as Council Tax Reduction and the Emergency Assistance Fund. It is available in both English and Welsh and is open until 17:00 on Wednesday 22 September. It should take approximately 5-10 minutes to complete. You can access the survey here.
As summer holidays approach and we reach the end of the academic term, I want to say a huge thank you and well done to all the wonderful teachers and teaching assistants for all their hard work this year. As a former teacher, I cannot imagine the pressure they faced to completely change their lesson plans and teaching styles to manage the switch from face-to-face teaching to online. Despite concerns for their own health and for the challenges ahead, teachers then welcomed back students with enthusiasm and supported them through the difficulties of school life during the pandemic. Thank you to all of you and I hope you take the opportunity to relax and recharge this summer!
As the kids leave schools they can look forward to a more usual summer, especially given the reduction in restrictions in comparison to last year. I know how fed up we all are of restrictions and not being able to spend time with friends and family, but Covid has not gone away. In Wales, it remains mandatory to wear face masks in indoor settings such as shops and public transport. Please continue to social distance where you can, be considerate of others who may be more anxious about the impact of the loosening of restrictions, and continue to wash your hands regularly.
I am proud to be support the TUC Union campaign #SickPayForAll. Cases of Covid are set to rise this summer, especially given the UK Government’s irresponsible ditching of measures to ensure compliance with wearing face masks, but they have barely considered those who will likely be ‘pinged’ to self-isolate but do not have adequate levels of sick pay to allow them to afford that. I am supporting TUC’s calls for the Government to increase the weekly level of sick pay from £94.25 to the equivalent of a week’s wage at the Real Living Wage. Self-isolating and not risking spreading the virus is a service to the community and to the country. No one should have to suffer the indignity of struggling to afford the necessities in order to do that.
I am also launching my Summer Survey to hear from constituents about the issues that are important to you here in Gower. From litter issues to housing issues, your concerns will help inform my Parliamentary work and ensure that I am representing Gower residents and putting their concerns to the UK Government. Take the survey here.
You can keep up to date with Welsh Government announcements and information on their dedicated coronavirus page. If you have any issues or concerns to raise with me as your local MP, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 01792 899025. My office is not open, my staff and I are working from home, but my email and phone are still being monitored and responded to. You may experience a slight delay in receiving a response from us as the demand has increase, but we will get back to you as soon as we can.
This is my last weekly round-up before the summer, but you can keep up to date on my summer survey and other news on my Twitter feed and Facebook page.
Keep well and remember – and remember - observe social distancing, wash your hands regularly and keep Wales safe!
Supporting DVLA workers, scrutinising Government cronyism, and joining the Shadow Treasury team - Weekly update 25/06/2021
This week I was delighted to announce that I will be taking up the position of Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rachel Reeves. I am honoured to be asked to take up this position, and look forward to working with Rachel and the rest of the Shadow Treasury team in scrutinising the UK Government’s plans for the recovery.
On Monday, I took part in a Westminster Hall debate on UK Government contracts during the Covid-19 outbreak. During my speech I gave a taster of what has been happening behind closed doors whilst our frontline workers have been battling to keep us safe, including a £102.6 million contract for PPE with Samir Jassal, former No.10 adviser to David Cameron and twice Conservative parliamentary candidate, which was awarded without tender. The much-maligned Test and Trace system in England similarly was awarded to a chum of David Cameron, and has so far cost £37 billion. The UK Government must offer more clarity on where this money has gone. The Public Accounts committee has been pretty scathing in its assessment of the whole thing, saying that the system does not seem to have made much of a difference to the spread of Covid-19. The public have the right to question the validity of giving millions of pounds of public money to contracts which don’t even work, and they deserve answers.
On Tuesday I spoke in the European Assembly on the topic of media freedom, public trust and people’s right to know. People often choose to read the media that is easiest to access, which is often on social media. I believe there is an obligation on parliamentarians, such as myself, and on institutions such as the Council of Europe to ensure that people have the skills required to be able to think critically about what they read and develop their own opinions when receiving new information. I also joined other parliamentarians around Europe in demanding the release of prisoners in Belarus, who are still being illegally detained. I welcome that the UK Government has notified all UK airlines to cease all flights over Belarusian airspace and to suspend the operating permit of the Belarusian airline Belavia with immediate effect.
The formerly agreed deal between the PCS Union and senior management that would bring to an end to the industrial dispute over Covid safety at the DVLA was recently retracted at the last minute. During Transport Questions on Thursday, I asked the Minister if this happened as a result of his direct intervention. It is unprecedented for a deal such as this to fall through in the final stages, yet the Minister refused to answer the question, instead claiming that the site had been made sufficiently Covid safe. He has clearly paid no attention to the numerous Covid outbreaks which are at the root of this industrial action, which plainly show the safety measures the Minster claims have been put in place are not effective. I will continue to work closely with the PCS Union to bring the negotiators back to the table with the hope of reaching an agreement to end the dispute.
This week we heard an End-to-End Rape Review statement from the Ministry of Justice. Rape convictions and persecutions are at a record-low following a decade of Conservative incompetence and cuts, so Labour have been pushing the UK Government for clarity on the actions they plan to take to increase the number of rapists being brought to court and convicted. Previously the Justice Secretary apologised for the Government failures, but after committing to bring rape convictions and prosecutions back to at least 2016 levels, Robert Buckland has now labelled such targets constitutionally illiterate. Dithering and blame shifting are the last thing victims of rape need. Women and girls deserve to feel safe; we need urgent action from the UK Government.
On Saturday we mark Armed Forces Day, an opportunity to remind ourselves of the varied work our Forces do and the essential contributions they make. The Covid pandemic has highlighted the importance of all our servicemen and women here in Britain: engineers helped build the Nightingale hospitals, medics and dentists contributed to the development of the testing and vaccination programmes, and their expertise in leading in a time of crisis has been invaluable. Abroad our Forces carry out vital work protecting shipping lanes from piracy, continue to promote humanitarian work in countries across Asia and Africa, and in the Caribbean, they provide essential support during hurricane season. The adaptability and expertise of our Forces is something to be proud of, so this Saturday I will be saying thank you for all their work.
You can keep up to date with Welsh Government announcements and information on their dedicated coronavirus page. If you have any issues or concerns to raise with me as your local MP, please get in touch by emailing email@example.com or calling 01792 899025. My office is not open, my staff and I are working from home, but my email and phone are still being monitored and responded to. You may experience a slight delay in receiving a response from us as the demand has increased, but we will get back to you as soon as we can.
Keep well and remember – and remember - observe social distancing, wash your hands regularly and keep Wales safe!
Highlighting the problems at the DVLA (again), accurate data and the impact of a trade deal with Australia on our farms - weekly update 29/05/21
Reflecting on the Queen's speech and embracing Nature for Mental Health Awareness Week - Weekly Update 15/5/2021