It has been an incredibly busy week here in Swansea East! We started the week with a win as gambling companies are to end TV and radio advertising during the lockdown. While I welcome this decision, I wish it could have been put in place six weeks ago, to prevent so much damage being done in the interim. During this worrying time, many people will be turning to whatever makes them feel better, or keeps them distracted from the worries we all have about our jobs, our health, our families. For those who cannot control their gambling, this could have long-term and catastrophic consequences. There is still more to be done, however, and I would like to see banks assist their customers with blockers on gambling websites, and gambling companies behaving more responsibly by not targeting problem gamblers and by introducing caps on online bets. I spoke to the BBC about this this week and you can read the interview here.
In other big news, the Domestic Abuse Bill returned to Parliament this week for its Second Reading. Again, this is long overdue, with it having been delayed first by the General Election and then again by Coronavirus. Lockdown has shown how critically important this Bill is with the news of significant increases in calls to helplines and visits to support websites, police reporting higher incidences of callouts for domestic abuse-related reports, and the number of deaths of women and children in domestic abuse-related cases higher than in normal times. Frustration with the lockdown restrictions and concern about finances are no excuse for abuse, but with workplaces closed and limited excuses to leave the home, domestic abuse survivors are increasingly trapped in their own homes with an abuser. It’s also concerning that with schools closed to most children, they will be at increased risk of witnessing and falling victim to abusive behaviour themselves.
It’s clear that there is wide cross-party consensus on the importance of this Bill and a desire to protect all those who find themselves victims of this terrible crime. Fellow Welsh Labour MP and new Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, made some important points that although the new funding announced by the Government for frontline services is welcome, it is not nearly enough to provide the emergency support necessary. Refuges are struggling to cope with increased demand and social distancing rules and the staff are doing incredible work keeping their services running. We all want to work constructively on the Government on this Bill, but we must make sure it protects everyone. It is no mean feat, but we must ensure that this Bill is as robust as it possibly can be.
Before the debate on the Domestic Abuse Bill, I asked the Attorney General about the impact of the CPS’s new guidelines which advise prosecutors to give priority to the most serious criminal cases – will domestic abuse cases be considered among them? The Attorney General didn’t actually answer the question but shared her goal of eliminating domestic abuse from our society. Domestic abuse can take many forms, and even though someone may not be physically violent, that does not mean that they are not inflicting significant pain and suffering on another person in the confines of their home – the place where we are all meant to feel safe. We must accept the severity of all forms of domestic abuse – physical, emotional, financial, – and ensure that they are all treated seriously by both the police and the courts.
It’s been a serious week, but there was some heart-warming relief in the form of fabulous donations from Great Western Railway of cake and coffee that we were able to distribute among the St. John Ambulance Pontarddulais Division and Community Care. Our key workers are continuing to work so hard and so selflessly for all of us and I cannot express just how grateful we all are to all of them – and to their families – for the sacrifices that they are making.
This is an incredibly difficult time for everyone, and there are many people who are in financial difficulty now who have never been in such a position before. For those who have not been furloughed or who do not qualify for the Government help, they may well be in a position where they’re having to claim benefits. The benefits system is extremely complex and, for anyone who has never had to navigate such a system, it can be extremely confusing. Citizens Advice Cymru are still working, although social distancing means that their offices are now closed and are still available on the phone or online if you need any help or guidance. You can call them on 03444 77 20 20 or find information on their website.
Lastly, I want to add my congratulations to the Prime Minister and Carrie Symonds on the birth of their baby boy. It is a difficult time for all families expecting and welcoming a new arrival into this strange new world of ours, but I am sure that the joys of parenthood will alleviate some of those other anxieties.
You can keep up to date with Welsh Government announcements and information on their dedicated coronavirus page. 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. My staff are continuing to work from home, and are as always, here to help in whatever way they can.
I hope you all keep well and remember – stay home, save lives – and keep washing your hands!