It’s been a busy week this week with some important issues being raised both in and out of Parliament. Tuesday marked four years since the brutal and senseless murder of our dear and inspiring colleague, Jo Cox. We remember her for her dedication to public service, her compassion and her determination to make life better for everyone.
As you will have seen, today the Welsh Government have announced upcoming changes to lockdown in Wales. From Monday, non-essential retail will be able to open with physical distancing in place. If the conditions permit, the ‘Stay Local’ guidance will end in two weeks’ time on July 6th. The First Minister has also given an early warning to sections of the tourism industry e.g. self contained accommodation that the Welsh Government will consider easing restrictions on tourism in the next three week review. It’s really important to note that all of these things depend on the virus staying under control – so it’s more crucial than ever that we continue to follow the guidelines on social distancing in the meantime, to ensure we don’t compromise our hard won gains and risk our progress. You can see further information about the changes here.
It was down to London on Tuesday to take part in questions to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Unfortunately, I was quite far down the order paper so wasn’t able to ask my question to the Minister, but I wanted to know if guidance will be published to support the hair, beauty, and spa and wellness industry to begin to implement changes to allow them to return as soon as it is safe for them to do so. Despite rumours to the contrary(!), I can confirm that my hair colour is not my natural colour and it does make me and thousands of people like me feel good to have it coloured by a professional rather than with the help of our other halves and children in our own bathrooms! The beauty industry contributes a staggering £6.6 billion to the economy and salons are a cornerstone of our high streets, bringing people into town centres and helping people who may be a tad lonely with some chat and gossip while they enjoy being pampered. It is vital that the UK Government support these businesses and give them the information they need in plenty of time to allow them to prepare to reopen.
I did, however, get to speak in the Opposition Day Debate on Free School Meals. I find it appalling and horrifying that in one of the most developed nations on earth, families are still struggling to put food on the table to feed their children. Years of austerity, the propagation of zero hour contracts which perpetuate job insecurity for hundreds of thousands of people, and a refusal to set the legal minimum wage at the national living wage has ensured that food insecurity is a reality in the UK. Free school meals are a means of combating this and the Welsh Labour Government recognised this and pledged to continue this vital support through the summer holidays. We’ve all seen the news of the terrible impact the coronavirus has had on our economy and know that for many businesses, getting back up and running is going to take some time. It’s a worrying time for those who don’t know if they’ll be able to reopen and if social distancing measures will render their businesses unviable. They do not need to have the added worry of whether they can feed their families. Thankfully, the UK Government u-turned on their refusal to implement a summer scheme following a public backlash and support from the Labour Party and Marcus Rashford and have now pledged to provide all children who need it with a hot meal over the summer holidays. I just wonder why it took so long.
You may have heard me on Radio 4’s Today programme this week, discussing online gambling and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm’s report which has now been published and for which I co-chaired a meeting of the Senedd, Westminster and Scotland cross-party groups with MS Mick Antoniw. We have spent a year gathering evidence and hearing the most harrowing tales of an industry rotten to the core that preys on the vulnerable. We want a complete ban on gambling advertising, both on TV and online, an end to VIP schemes and inducements to bet which often target problem gamblers, a £2 stake limit on online slot machines, independent affordability checks which should prevent the vulnerable being targeted, and, crucially, a new ombudsman to resolve disputes. Gambling is as addictive a problem as any drug or alcohol and its effects can be life-changing and lifelong. These firms cannot and will not regulate themselves, and it is high time we put a stop to them running roughshod over people’s lives.
This week is Cervical Cancer Awareness Week and it is vitally important that if anyone is concerned about cancer symptoms they do go to their GP. Although routine screening such as smear tests have been paused due to the coronavirus, testing and treatment is continuing for those who need it. Jo’s Trust have information on seeking cancer treatment during the pandemic. Please do visit your GP if you are concerned about any symptoms.
We are also into Citizens Advice Scams Awareness Fortnight and it is so important that we keep an eye out for scams relating to the coronavirus. With so many people applying for income support, and the rolling out of a test and trace scheme, there are many opportunities for the unscrupulous to target the vulnerable. Do not respond to any emails asking for bank details and if you are unsure, check Citizens’ Advice’s pages here.
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 local, save lives – and keep washing your hands!