I was pleased to be called to ask a question during Prime Minister’s Questions this week. We were all eager to stand on our doorsteps and come together on a Thursday evening over the summer to applaud our hard-working and dedicated frontline NHS staff. It was very moving to see thousands upon thousands stand outside their doors, clapping their hands, banging saucepans, and making an almighty racket to pay tribute and to show their support. It is therefore even more sickening to know that the key workers we were clapping will now be hit with a real term pay cut to their wages by the Chancellor’s pay freeze. The summer clapping was a moving and important act of solidarity, but those claps do not pay the bills. Our nurses and junior doctors already struggle on pitiful wages for the difficult, complex, and emotional hours that they work in order to save and improve lives. It is disgusting; almost as patronisingly tone-deaf as the Prime Minister’s response to me when he told me I should “contain [my]self” as I spoke out for our key workers.
Following the Chancellor’s statement, I went on Radio Wales to discuss the contents. I was extremely disappointed with the lack of understanding and clarity from the Chancellor on the issue of public sector pay. He was not very clear at all – he said that nobody earning under £24,000 in the NHS would be impacted, but public sector workers have had a pay freeze for the last 8 years. 8 years without a pay rise while goods and products have risen in price – this has had a huge impact on the key workers themselves but also on the economy. The Covid-19 crisis has come at the end of a decade of austerity and the debt that we now have as a country is like a war debt – tightening our belts and introducing more austerity will not help. Both the IMF and IFS have said that now is not the time to be tax focused, but instead build and support consumer confidence and ensure that people have the resources to spend in shops, on services, to get the economy going again. And on a more human level, these are the workers who have kept the country going during this crisis – we relied so heavily on our frontline workers and they have sacrificed so much and worked so hard, beyond what anyone could have expected from them, and now the Chancellor is handing them a real-terms pay cut. It is completely unacceptable and a real kick in the teeth.
The Spending Review was also disappointing in the lack of funding for Wales. The UK Government have promised that Wales would not be worse off outside the EU, but the Shared Prosperity Fund investment falls far short of what we would have received from the EU Structural and Investment Funds and will have serious implications for our businesses, communities, and people across Wales who are struggling after a decade of austerity and now the significant effects of the Covid pandemic. There was also no mention of the promised funding to support the recovery from the horrific flooding that hit parts of South Wales at the start of the year. The UK Government must respect the devolution settlement and provide the funding Wales requires to be able to recover the economy and contribute to the health and wellbeing of the United Kingdom as a whole. We need investment, not tax hikes and pay cuts - especially with Brexit just around the corner.
In happier news, on Thursday, I was pleased to be able to once again bring up the fantastic work of Surfability and the importance of supporting community groups that work to ensure inclusive activities locally I am so proud of the work that Surfability do to allow those with disabilities to enjoy surfing, and while it may not be something that Jacob Rees-Mogg MP has any intention of trying, I hope that the publicity they have enjoyed from DIY SOS means that other such groups are inspired across the country.
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.
Keep well and remember – and remember - observe social distancing, wash your hands regularly and keep Wales safe!