This has clearly been a very challenging week for everyone, and I know many of you are struggling with the rapid changes to our daily lives. I hope to be able to sum up some of the most important information and advice for constituents here.
As you will all know, the UK Government is asking that we take social distancing measures to slow the spread of Coronavirus. You can read the guidance here: Guidance on social distancing.
I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that people follow these guidelines. We all have a role to play in tackling this epidemic – and social distancing is a very clear way for us to do that. Of course, that’s not to say it will be easy. We are naturally social animals! So if you know of anyone self-isolating, particularly the elderly, vulnerable, or people living on their own, do give them a call and check in with them. We’re lucky that nowadays we have so many ways to stay in touch – be that messaging, calling, or video chat services such as Skype. We mustn’t neglect our mental health while we fight this physical virus and making sure that we remain in contact with our friends and loved ones will help us – and them – to remain healthier.
One of the biggest changes to our daily lives this week is undoubtedly the announcement that schools in Wales will be closing from Friday for all children except those who are particularly vulnerable or those with key worker parents. If you are not sure whether you/your child fall into one of those categories, please do contact the school as soon as possible to help you plan.
Parents – and I’m sure older children – will obviously be concerned about the impact the closure of schools will have on education. The Welsh Government, schools, and exam boards are in discussions over how we can work around the cancellation of exams, but in the immediate term, there are things that can be done in the home to give children the structure that they need and activities that will keep them learning. And, most importantly for the sanity of the whole family, some relief from the boredom of being at home! I’m sure schools have planned some activities for children to be getting on with at home, but as a supplement, BBC Bitesize have some fantastic interactive resources for primary, secondary, and post-16.
Another big concern around the schools closing is the provision for those who receive free school meals. Parents, already perhaps losing work and income, are faced with the added pressure of providing an extra meal a day. To compound this, with many elderly people self-isolating and perhaps struggling to get shopping, we have too many people at risk of going hungry. Last week, with the help of the Principality Stadium, we gave out 150 packed lunches in 24 hours, and I’ll continue to work with partners – as safely and hygienically as possible – to tackle problems of household hunger.
I have already been contacted by many constituents who have seen all the measures put in place for payment of statutory sick pay, business rates scrapped for the year, and mortgage payment holidays, but are still worried that because they are self-employed and living in rented accommodation – and thus understandably concerned about how to provide for their families. I raised this in the Chamber this week and told a personal story – my son, Stuart, is self-employed, his wife is on home dialysis, and they and their 10 year old son, Liam, are all in self-isolation in rented accommodation. With no income coming in, and utilities essential for the running of the dialysis equipment, it is vital that families like mine are also given the support that they need. The UK Government have said that they will ensure that welfare support is made quickly available to those who need it, and I will continue to pursue this to make sure no one has to face a choice of protecting their health or providing for their family.
As always, 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. This is an extremely fast moving situation and myself and my staff are of course subject to the same restrictions and challenges as other families, but we are here to help in whatever way we can.
I hope you all keep well and remember – keep washing your hands!