Parliament has resumed this week – albeit with a new virtual look as MPs asked questions to Ministers via video link. It will take some getting used to but I’m so pleased that we’re able to meet and scrutinise the Government’s actions. A special thanks must go to the House authorities who have made this possible, and who are putting in place measures to ensure social distancing for those MPs and House staff who do go into Westminster.
New Labour Leader Keir Starmer made a strong start at his first PMQs as he tackled the Government on inadequate levels of PPE for health workers. I have been inundated with emails and reports of hospital staff, ambulance workers, and care workers concerned at limited PPE resources and their resulting lack of protection. Keir also held the Government to account over their low levels of testing, particularly in comparison to other European countries. Care workers, in particular, are desperate for tests for both their residents and themselves. For those who are doing such a sterling job in looking after us and our loved ones, the least we can do is ensure that they have adequate protection.
I was glad to see that during the first virtual statement given by the Health Secretary on Wednesday, our shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth asked the Government to look into the disproportionate impact the coronavirus is having on those from ethnic minority backgrounds. I have been concerned by figures that show that more than a third of patients who are critically ill in hospital are from ethnic minority backgrounds. We need to know why this is happening in order to better protect those communities who are most at risk.
In connection with this, I wrote to the First Secretary of State Dominic Raab this week on the issue of multigenerational families during the coronavirus pandemic. Birmingham Ladywood has a high proportion of families, predominantly of South-Asian descent, who live with elderly relatives, sometimes in overcrowded conditions. It makes isolating very difficult, particularly when advice to use separate bathrooms is impossible to follow. This puts elderly members of these families at greater risk of infection and it also has serious implications for the process of easing lockdown when the Government decides that it is safe to do so. I want to make sure this has been taken into account.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, I’ve been working with constituents seeking to return to the UK from Bangladesh alongside cross-party colleagues. I’m pleased to see that this week the Foreign Office has confirmed that 4 charter flights have been made available from Dhaka. I hope that many constituents were able to find a place on these flights and that the Government continues its repatriation scheme – although its concerning that British nationals are still required to pay significant amounts to secure a place, considering many had already forked out for multiple flights which were then cancelled.
Reflecting the new virtual parliament, many of my meetings with organisations and community groups have now moved online. This week, I spoke about my longstanding campaign to regulate Shisha Lounges with Councillors from Manchester. They told me that they were experiencing the same problems regarding some Shisha lounges: antisocial behaviour, a rise in crime, and complaints from residents. Proposals for regulation are not about targeting those running Shisha businesses in a responsible way, but ensuring that communities aren’t negatively impacted from the proliferation of issues that have sprouted from an unregulated industry. It was interesting to hear about the different approaches proposed by Councillors in Manchester. It’s clear we are looking to tackle the same problem, and going forward we will be cooperating more closely on our next steps.
For some time, Coroner and Bereavement Services have been a focus of my campaigning. I spoke to the Chief Coroner of England and Wales this week to discuss my wider campaign about reform of the service in Birmingham. It was a great chance to talk about the viability of the super facility in Birmingham. We agreed on many points regarding sharing capacity across Coroner areas, developing specialisms where there are shortages in areas such as pathology, and the need for transparency in processes when it comes to Bereavement Services. I made it clear that I am taking a cooperative approach to moving the service forward and making it fit for the future. It was a positive and encouraging conversation, and I look forward to catching up with Birmingham City Council to ensure my proposals are being considered.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme went live this week and employers are now able to apply to claim up to 80% of employee wages if they have been furloughed due to the coronavirus. You can find more information on the scheme and see how to apply on the Government website here. You will need PAYE reference numbers and National Insurance numbers handy in order to put in your claim.
I have long campaigned on the issue of unfairness in car insurance, particularly on the discrepancies in premiums for people of a BAME background. This week I signed a letter to the Chancellor asking him to take action on car insurance premiums in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Despite an almost 50% drop in claims during lockdown as car use plummets, premiums remain at an all-time high. Insurers in the US and elsewhere have refunded premiums to customers, whereas in stark contrast this week Hastings Direct paid out a £36 million dividend to shareholders, which is in direct contravention of the Financial Conduct Authority’s instructions not to do so at this time. Families are facing extremely difficult financial situations, with many having lost work and struggling to pay for the essentials such as rent and food. To see the insurance companies appearing to benefit from the situation is particularly distasteful. I want the Treasury to take action to ensure that UK insurance companies repay some, or where appropriate all, of premiums to customers.
Ramadan began this week for the many Muslims in our community and around the UK – but the current circumstances will make this special month very different for all of us. Community prayers and time spent with loved ones will have to be done virtually as we continue to follow social distancing guidelines. However, I trust that the spirit of community can overcome any challenges this month and with the help of technology we will still be able to maintain our connections to friends and family during this important time. You can read what I had to say about Ramadan in the Eastern Eye this week here. For those unsure about how to manage over the coming month, the British Muslim Council have issued advice and guidance for those observing Ramadan which can be found on their website here.
This week I had the opportunity to speak at the Muslim Women Skills Workshop, a fantastic event about navigating a career as a Muslim woman in politics. I shared my knowledge about the challenges faced as a Muslim Member of Parliament, and the journey I made from being a young person growing up and living in Birmingham to representing my home city as an MP. Faith is something that is incredibly important to me, so I was delighted to advise the next generation of how to start their path towards a career in politics and Government.
As ever, 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 by calling 0121 661 9440. My team and I are of course subject to many of the same challenges and restrictions as other families in Birmingham Ladywood at the minute, but we will do everything we can to help constituents in these difficult times.