It’s been a very busy week in the new virtual Parliament. On Monday, I spoke in the debate on the Finance Bill, which was first brought before the House before the coronavirus pandemic and seems something of an anachronism now! MPs, as well as the public, want to know how the UK Government plans to transition out of lockdown and what this will mean for businesses so that they can plan for the future – how they will reopen and what guidelines will mean for their business plans. This must be taken into account in the Bill. I have been contacted by a number of iconic local businesses, including Castellemare in Mumbles and the King’s Head in Llangennith, who all have serious concerns about their future viability. We understand why lockdown cannot be immediately lifted completely and that there must be some form of social distancing in place to prevent a second spike, but businesses need some clarity about how that future will look.
Of course, in many ways, coronavirus has changed how we see our economy. I welcome the UK Government’s support for furloughed workers and our key workers, but our amazing key workers receive an hourly pay that is, on average, 8% lower than for other employees. They have selflessly and with unstinting dedication supported and cared for ourselves and our loved ones throughout this pandemic. We must not return to a world where they are, economically, at the bottom of the pile. Some of these key workers are in the vulnerable category but have not been furloughed because their employer is under no obligation to do so. The UK Government needs to clarify guidelines on furloughing key workers to ensure that those who are clinically vulnerable or who are caring for those who are, are able to be furloughed and are not forced to choose between unpaid leave or statutory sick pay.
I had hoped to contribute to the Second Reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill on Tuesday but unfortunately, due to the time constraints involved with the new socially distanced, virtual Parliament, was unable to do so. This is a crucially important Bill for so many across our community. For those experiencing domestic abuse, the lockdown has proved an incredibly challenging time and it has exposed the weaknesses in our system of support. Refuges have found themselves trying to cope with the increased demand as well as social distancing guidelines, leaving them with too few spaces for all those seeking their help. Calls to helplines across all support services have soared and online traffic to related websites and chat services have also risen dramatically. This Bill must ensure that services are well-funded and linked as a network across the country. It must also look to protect the children who are seriously affected both by perhaps experiencing direct abuse themselves and by witnessing the abuse of a parent. It must also lead to changes in the criminal justice system where children are not put at risk by family courts demanding the abuser is given unsupervised access to children. This Bill is a huge opportunity, not only for us to send the message loud and clear that abuse is not to be accepted, but also to put in place measures that will protect those who unfortunately fall victim to it.
For so many, the coronavirus pandemic has led to financial insecurity and for some, the necessity of navigating the complexities of the benefits system. It can be incredibly difficult for people to understand what support they qualify for, whether it’s council tax breaks or payments through Universal Credit. Citizens Advice Cymru may have closed their offices due to the social distancing rules but they are still open on the phone and through their website for support. There are specialist advisers available so please do get in touch with them if you need support. Call 03444 77 20 20 or visit their website here.
In happier news, I’d like to extend my congratulations to the Prime Minister and Carrie Symonds on the birth of their baby boy and wish them all the best, and as much sleep as is possible with a newborn, for the coming months!
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 home, keep well, and remember – keep washing your hands!