As you will have seen, this week there were changes to the current lockdown restrictions. On Sunday night the Prime Minister announced that from now on, people would be allowed to take exercise outdoors more than once a day and that they would now be able to travel for exercise. This, unfortunately, was where the clarity ended, and I was incredibly concerned to see that the Government guidance on returning to work was so unclear. Instead of working with employers to ensure that workplaces are covid-secure, the Government have said that people can return to work provided that businesses use ‘common sense’ in addressing the practical considerations of social distancing in the workplace. This is completely unacceptable and puts too many workers at risk if their employers do not put in place adequate safety measures. I spoke to West Midlands radio about the issue this week and am working to ensure that we have greater clarity and specific guidance in place before employees return to the workplace.
There was welcome news from the Chancellor on Tuesday as heeded calls from the Labour Party Treasury team and announced that the furlough scheme has been extended until the end of October, with furloughed workers to continue to receive 80% of their current salary until then. There will be greater flexibility from August when it is envisioned that the cost of the employees’ wages will be shared between the Government and the employer. Although the extension of the scheme is a positive step, I continue to have some concerns over the shortcomings of the Government’s economic response. The gender gap has soared to £62 a week since the pandemic began, with women more likely to be furloughed than men, and BAME communities more likely to be disproportionately affected by the pandemic. I asked the Chancellor via virtual questions in Parliament this week what impact assessments had been made of the financial support packages and was disappointed that he could not confirm whether such assessments had been completed. In order to protect people and to better support people in the future, we need to understand which groups are disproportionately impacted by this virus. I’ll keep pushing for answers from the Government on this.
I had a meeting with the FCA this week, and one of the issues we discussed was the ongoing situation of cladding. I wrote to the FCA in March and again in April to call on them to ensure that insurance companies were offering fair premiums to those affected by the national cladding scandal. The response to the letter in March was disappointing and I am still waiting for a response to my second letter. We need an investigation into the behaviour of the insurance companies in this matter urgently in order to best serve the interests of the consumer – which, indeed, is the remit of the FCA. I also brought up the issue of car insurance and the worrying correlation between race and high premiums. The FCA said that there were always other risk factors that came into play and that, in their experience, the insurance companies were always able to prove underlying reasons. However, companies do not publish their data in order to refute accusations of race bias. We need to see what data is being used and how it is being used in order to be sure that there is no discrimination based on race taking place.
Like many of you, I’m of course extremely concerned that we’ve had two shootings this week in the area: one on Sunday night in Bordesley Green and another in Great Hampton Row on Tuesday evening. My thoughts are with the victims and their families and I would urge anyone with any information relating to either of these serious incidents to contact West Midlands Police on 101, quoting 3491 12/5. Alternatively, you can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
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.
Keep your social distance, stay safe and healthy.