Parliament returned from recess this week and the UK Government took the decision to end hybrid proceedings and require MPs to be in the Chamber and to vote in person. This decision effectively disenfranchised the constituents of MPs who are shielding or have caring responsibilities at home, as they are unable to attend. It also puts at risk the health of the thousands of people who work on the Parliamentary Estate. The chaotic scenes of lines of MPs queuing to vote were shameful. We should be setting the example on how to protect employees, how to put in place hybrid working conditions, such as more home working, and how to use innovation to improve how we work. Instead, we risked giving license to bad employers to put their employees at risk.
We’ve all been deeply disturbed by the images from the US this week. The murder of George Floyd by police has shone a light on the racism and hatred experienced by many – including in our own country – but particularly the racism experienced by Black people across the world. It’s up to us all to face up to and address this. In a related topic, Public Health England published their review into the pronounced impact of Covid-19 on black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities this week. I’ve been raising this issue with the Government since the start of the pandemic, and the report laid bare the disproportionate impact the virus has had on BAME communities. It is vital that the Government takes action to reduce the risk that BAME communities face. You can read the report here.
During recess, there was widespread disquiet over the Government’s handling of the crisis with news breaking of the Prime Minister’s Special Advisor Dominic Cummings breaching lockdown rules in travelling to and from Durham and failing to self-isolate when his wife suspected she had caught the virus. Many constituents contacted me to complain about Cummings’ behaviour with some heart-breaking accounts of the sacrifices they have made in order to adhere to the lockdown measures. The Labour Party have written to the Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill calling for an urgent inquiry into these allegations and have also written to the Home Secretary to raise serious questions about the implications this has for policing in the wake of anecdotal suggestions that ‘doing a Dominic Cummings’ has become an excuse for behaviour that contravenes the remaining restrictions.
As you may have seen, Government advice changed this week for people who have been shielding on the advice of their doctors. People who are shielding do remain vulnerable and are advised to maintain strict social distancing, however, they are now able to leave their homes if they wish. This means they can take exercise outdoors and meet with, ideally, only one person from another household outside, but still continuing to maintain a 2-metre distance.
It’s clear that for those working in the ‘gig economy’ issues of job security and lack of paid holiday and sick pay have been exacerbated by the Coronavirus pandemic. I wrote to the Business Secretary this week to ask that the Government recognise the important service that these workers are offering – for example, in ensuring that restaurants and takeaways still have access to a wide customer base – and that the Government take steps to make sure they are supported with adequate PPE, full pay for those who contract the virus, a halt on contract terminations during the crisis, and a minimum working standards guarantee. The pandemic has shown us that often the people we rely on in our day-to-day lives are those who are among the worst paid and least protected in our society. That has to change.
I have also written to the Chancellor this week regarding insurance premiums on buildings with non-ACM flammable cladding. I welcome the Government’s Building Safety Fund which should help to reduce the insurance premiums of those affected in the future, but for those currently in incredibly precarious situations – such as flat owners at Brindley House – we urgently need a package resembling the Flood Re scheme which would support leaseholders to maintain affordable insurance premiums. It is also appalling that neither social nor private landlords will be able to draw from the Building Safety Fund if they have already begun remedial works on their building. We need the Government to step up, show some leadership, and support leaseholders who are facing astronomical insurance premiums for something that was completely out of their control.
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 – and please, keep washing your hands!