Conditions at the DVLA, vaccine priority for people with learning disabilities and supporting local business - Weekly update 27/2/2021
On Monday I was pleased to be able to speak in the debate on Covid-19 in the House of Commons. For months, stories have been coming out of the DVLA of wholly unacceptable working conditions in Swansea. I have had so many concerns raised with me by my constituents, and each and every one of them ends with, “Please don’t mention my name.” When I ask them why, they just describe a fear. They say they do not want to be singled out—they do not want to be that person who has caused any trouble. It is appalling that employees of a Government agency do not feel able to raise concerns with their employers (the UK Government) about risks to the health posed by the working conditions in Swansea. It is also unacceptable that the Secretary of State for Transport and the chief executive of the DVLA have refused substantially to change their position and have blocked more staff from working from home. They must face up to their responsibilities and to look after their workers.
I have generally been supportive of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s approach on deciding the prioritisation of the groups receiving the vaccine, but there was a particular issue in the priority groups. My constituent, Rev. John Gillibrand, contacted me about his son, Adam. Adam has a learning disability and lives in a care home, which is able to provide him with the extra support that he needs. People with a learning disability are up to six times more likely to die from coronavirus. Those under the age of 34 are 30 times more likely to die than their peers. That is an extraordinary disparity. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Health asking him to look at this issue as a matter of urgency for Adam Gillibrand and for all others with a learning disability. Following the debate, and after some high-profile voices including DJ Jo Whiley spoke out, the news broke on Wednesday that the JCVI has advised the Government that all people on the learning disability register should now be prioritised for the Covid vaccine. This applies to those in Wales too.
I also spoke during the Opposition Day debates this week. The Government’s handling of the economy over the past decade financially crippled the country and many of our constituents and meant that our public services struggled to cope with the impact of Covid and has forced so many into debt and precarious employment. To build back better as the Government is fond of repeating, we will need to address the huge inequalities facing the country. I heard the Chief Secretary to the Treasury talk this week about the apparent “sunny uplands” we have here in the UK, and I fear that he has not been living in the same world as the rest of us. The Tories have had 11 years to make the changes needed to rebalance our economy and make our society more equal, but they have not done so. They have made things worse for hard-working families, children, old people, single parents and people with disabilities, and for those who are unable to work and the homeless they have made it much, much worse. The pandemic has only made things worse for those already struggling.
Next week’s Budget must put people at the heart of the recovery. Big businesses undoubtedly need support, but it is our small and medium-sized businesses—our independent shops and our fantastic producers—that will drive the build-back from this crisis. It means brilliant local businesses like Cakes & Ale in Mumbles and the picturesque King’s Head Inn in Llangennith need support from the UK Government. I know many local hospitality businesses in Gower are proud to be supplied by local producers. Our agriculture and fishery sectors are also missing out on supplying those restaurants, cafés and hotels, and boosting the hospitality sector will mean passing the benefits on to them. Support for their businesses will boost the local economies, which is the best way to bring about a fair recovery.
On Friday, Welsh Labour Leader Mark Drakeford set out the ground on which Welsh Labour will contest May’s Senedd election. In his speech, Mark framed the election as a contest unlike any other, spelling out a bold and ambitious vision of the future. He spoke passionately of a Wales which is optimistic, outward looking and unapologetically patriotic. Mark also unveiled Welsh Labour’s new strapline - Moving Wales Forward. It’s a message that I’m happy to get behind as we work with Welsh Labour colleagues to elect a Government for all of Wales.
This Weekend Welsh Labour are hosting a series of Welsh Labour: Spring Forward events that will build on Mark’s keynote speech, setting out the agenda ahead of the election in May. It promises to be a great weekend.
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.
Keep well and remember – and remember - observe social distancing, wash your hands regularly and keep Wales safe!