On Tuesday this week, we marked 4 years since our Labour colleague and friend Jo Cox was so cruelly and brutally taken from us. We remember her for her compassionate politics, her determination to make the world a better place, and her selfless dedication to the values that she held dear. Jo was an inspirational politician and I continue to think of her every day as I work to make a small difference in my little corner of the world.
As you will have seen, today the Welsh Government have announced upcoming changes to lockdown in Wales. From Monday, non-essential retail will be able to open with physical distancing in place. The ‘Stay Local’ guidance will end in just under three weeks time, and people will be able to travel anywhere for any reason. The First Minister has also given an early warning to sections of the tourism industry e.g. self contained accommodation that the Welsh Government will consider easing restrictions on tourism in the next three week review. It's really important to note that all of these things depend on the virus staying under control - so it's more crucial than ever that we continue to follow the guidelines on social distancing in the meantime, to ensure we don’t compromise our hard won gains and risk our progress. You can see further information about the changes here.
On Tuesday, I spoke in the opposition debate on free school meals. It is truly scandalous that in this day and age, in one of the richest countries in the world, children are going hungry. And it is not, as some would have us believe, due to the fecklessness and profligacy of parents, but rather due to countless policies that have seen the value of work decrease and a minimum wage that cannot hope to provide for all of life’s necessities. The Welsh Labour Government committed weeks ago to continuing free school meals throughout the summer and now, after cries of outrage from both the opposition benches and the Government’s own back benches, a campaign by international football star Marcus Rashford, and public backlash, the UK Government have been forced to concede that actually, yes, we need to support our most vulnerable families and their children. I cannot understand why it took them so long.
There was another ridiculous move by the UK Government this week with the unnecessary, counter-productive, and purely distracting merge of the Foreign Office and Department for International Development. The Department for International Development does such important work around the world, in humanitarian terms and with wider geo-political consequences. Supporting education programmes for children, especially girls, promoting vaccinations, and supporting family planning practices all have an impact on the security of our world. This distraction ploy will not work; we know there have been widespread UK Government failings relating to the coronavirus from the scandal around protection for care homes to inadequate provision for continuing children’s education. We will continue to call the UK Government out on these failings and hold them to a higher standard.
It’s cervical cancer awareness week this week, and although routine screenings such as smear tests have been put on hold during the coronavirus pandemic, people concerned about possible cancer symptoms are being urged to contact their GP and get themselves checked out. Cancer referrals are worryingly low, and as a Member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer, I know how important it is that we all make sure we get any symptoms checked out immediately and do not wait. Public Health Wales have announced that they intend to resume routine cancer screenings in July but emphasise that tests and treatment for cancer are still available. Please, if you notice any symptoms that concern you, do not wait and contact your GP.
It’s also Loneliness Awareness Week and various studies have found that over 9 million people in the UK of all ages are either often or always lonely and that disconnected communities could be costing the UK economy a staggering £32 billion every year. The health risks are shocking, with loneliness as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness has been found to increase risk of death by 29%. It’s clear that this is a significant challenge facing us, and the coronavirus has focused us more clearly, I think, on the importance of maintaining our family and community connections in general. We benefit so much from contact with other people – it’s good for our mental health to have that sense of togetherness and we need to work harder to ensure that no one in our society is left outside the connections we make.
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 increased, but we will get back to you as soon as we can.
Stay local, keep well, and remember – keep washing your hands!