It was a difficult start to the week as the Prime Minister’s announcement on Sunday night saw Wales and England’s approach to the coronavirus diverge significantly for the first time. Although the Prime Minister announced that restrictions would no longer be as tight for England with people now able to go out more than once for exercise and allowed to travel for exercise, this is not the case for Wales. Our lockdown conditions have not changed and it is vital that we continue to follow the Welsh Government social distancing guidelines so that the Welsh NHS are able to cope with the demand on their services and we continue to protect ourselves and each other. It is inevitable there will be some confusion with the four home nations now following slightly different paths, but, as always, the Welsh Government has taken a decision in the best interests of the people in Wales.
I was pleased on Tuesday to see the Chancellor announce an extension of his furlough scheme, which has seen workers paid 80% of their wages by the UK Government. This scheme has now been extended by 4 months and will continue until the end of October. There will be new flexibility introduced from August in order to get employees back to work and to boost the economy, but in Wales, this will remain dependent on the rate of transmission on the virus and whether the Welsh Government believe that it is safe to lift lockdown restrictions.
There was more work to be done with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm this week. We had a virtual session during which we heard from Dr Matthew Gaskell who is the Clinical Lead and Consultant Psychologist for the NHS Northern Gambling Clinics in Manchester, Leeds, and Sunderland, and who talked about the effects of the current pandemic on those suffering from gambling addiction. There are a range of risk factors as a result of the coronavirus – social isolation, boredom, stress, financial and job insecurity, alongside unfettered access to online gambling sites. Despite the absence of sport, there are still opportunities to bet in online casinos, and Dr Gaskell and his team expect a delayed rise in referrals as gambling addictions gradually poison lives in lockdown and push people into financial crisis.
You may have also heard me on Radio 4’s You and Yours on Monday talking about the gambling industry. We heard the awful story of a young woman whose life and that of her parents has been ruined by gambling addiction – in no small measure because of the irresponsible behaviour of the gambling company. Despite having maxed out a whopping nine credit cards on their site, they still allowed her to register her mother’s credit card – and then ironically threatened legal action because using a third party’s card was against their terms and conditions! Instead of asking her to prove her income, they searched for her parent’s address on Zoopla to confirm the value of property assets that weren’t even in her name. It’s clear that she was exploited by the company who only had their profits in mind, and the Gambling Commission’s paltry fines are having no effect on an industry that earns colossal profits each year. We need to see licences revoked if we are going to force adequate reform of the industry.
I am never surprised at the kindness and generosity shown by the people of our wonderful community – as I know just how fabulous you all are – but the continued donations of time and products is heart-warming considering the financial pressure and insecurity that so many are facing. This week, we have been out delivering donations from Beauty Banks to key workers around the constituency – I hope they are able to take some time out from looking after all of us to spend some time on themselves for a change!
Speaking of our key workers – we also marked International Nurses Day on Tuesday. If one good thing has come out of this crisis, it is that our understanding of the sacrifice and dedication of our selfless NHS staff has become far more widespread. We thank all of you for your hard work caring for us and for our loved ones during this difficult time.
On Thursday, I joined UK Labour leader Keir Starmer on his first two visits to Wales – virtually, of course! As we all continue to take every measure to battle the Covid-19 pandemic, Keir has been taking to Zoom to meet those Labour activists and members of the public that he would ordinarily be meeting in person. While online chat is never a replacement for the real thing, it did at least mean that we could catch up with people across Wales on the same day, covering a n umber of constituencies that would not have been possible in person. Keir also wrote for the Western Mail about his vision for the UK, the brilliant work of our Welsh Labour Government and how he plans to beat the Tories. You can read it here.
Today, as Deputy Leader of Welsh Labour, I was really pleased to catch up with Angela Rayner, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, and Jackie Baillie, Deputy Leader of Scottish Labour, to discuss our roles and how we will work together moving forward. It was great to talk to these fantastic women who are so dedicated to helping make the UK a better place for everyone. Our country will undoubtedly face a number of challenges moving forward that we hadn’t expected to see at the beginning of the year, but we will work together to hold the UK Government to account so that everyone in Britain gets the support they need.
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!