The Chancellor’s financial statement was the big news out of Parliament this week, and frankly it utterly failed to live up to expectations. We need a budget that will support people back into work or to help them retrain if they’ve lost their jobs because of the pandemic. Giving money to businesses who retain staff might help some, but it will be wasted on many who would have brought staff back anyway and been able to manage the difficulties. The 50% restaurant discount will not help those worried about the public health risk of being out and about with no effective test and trace system, or those like many of my constituents in Swansea East who have had to rely on food banks to get them through this crisis. And how quickly the UK Government have forgotten our key workers, praised and applauded throughout this crisis but still languishing in vital jobs paying well below the living wage.
There was some concerning news this week with the Huffington Post revealing that students are facing a hidden debt trap when their loved ones die. Organising a funeral is never an easy task, but for too many of our youngsters who face the heart-breaking task of organising a funeral whilst at university, they are finding out the hard way that loopholes can prevent them from getting help. Students cannot claim benefits and it is this fact that means they are ineligible for financial support with funeral costs, despite having little extra money from their student loans to spend on small things, let alone a funeral. The average cost of a funeral in the UK is not £4,217 and even a basic service can cost over £3000. The UK Government must do more to ensure that everyone can afford a dignified and respectful funeral for their loved ones and that families’ grief is not compounded by worries of how to pay for their final farewells.
The news this week of an injection of £1.57 billion to support the country’s arts and cultural institutions was some welcome news, however, it does appear to be rather too little, too late. Just £59 million of this will be given to Wales, despite the Millennium Centre in Cardiff alone reporting possible losses of £20 million in this financial year. The arts are not just a luxury item – a nice-to-have, but easy to do without. Local economies depend on this sector with many theatres, galleries, and music venues directly and indirectly supporting thousands of jobs. For many, the online productions streamed over lockdown from the National Theatre, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the Royal Opera House have kept people entertained throughout this crisis. The arts bring in tourists and develop our reputation around the world – we punch well above our weight in terms of our stars and our productions. We cannot lose this sector and this UK Government must do the right thing and stand by all those working in these industries.
I wrote to the Prime Minister last week and intervened in a debate in Parliament about the disrespectful and ignorant behaviour of many Conservative Members of Parliament in relation to Britain’s beauty industry. Concerns about reopening this industry were met with laughter and the Prime Minister himself referred to this economic powerhouse as merely ‘nail bars’. Our beauty industry contributes almost £8 billion to the UK economy and the industry as a whole contributes over £28 billion to UK GDP. Nearly 400,000 are employed in the sector, many of whom are women working part-time to support their families and micro businesses which provide employment and a boost to the local community economy. It may seem a laughing matter to a man unaccustomed to living a ‘normal life’, but to most of us, it is part of our routine, part of our self-care, and an essential part of our economy. Those who work in the sector as well as those who visit salons for a treat or company deserve much better from this UK Government.
I co-chaired a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Beauty, Aesthetics, and Wellbeing this week where we heard evidence from the Chair of the Cosmetic Practice Standards Authority, Alexander Woollard, the Director of Quality and Standards at the National Hair and Beauty Federation, Caroline Larissey, and Dr John Curran, Former President at the British College of Aesthetics Medicine, among others about the current qualifications and training required in order to administer non-surgical cosmetic procedures. There have been concerns that there is little regulation around qualifications and training required for practitioners of non-surgical procedures such as botox injections and dermal fillers. These procedures may be routine, but there are still risks for people and the industry must have strong regulation that will ensure all clients and consumers are protected.
On Thursday I was pleased to host a workshop on recognising the symptoms of the menopause and how to alleviate the symptoms. 10% of women over 50 quit their job as their menopause symptoms become too unbearable for them to cope with while working. The subject of the menopause and its accompanying hot flushes and mood swings have been taboo for far too long, but happily, things are starting to change. It was fantastic to host this workshop and to contribute towards supporting women to remain in the workplace for longer. We must work harder to ensure that talented, experienced, and passionate women are supported to remain in the workplace and feel they are valued and respected.
The First Minister has today announced further easing of lockdown measures in Wales, with a number of changes expected in the coming weeks and covering hospitality, the beauty industry, tourism and leisure. It has also been announced this week that all children in Wales will be able to return to school in September, with an additional £29 million of funding provided to recruit teaching staff and help children catch up. As things change it’s even more important that we continue to practise good hygiene and make sure we are up to date on what we can and can’t safely do. You can keep up with Welsh Government announcements on their dedicated Coronavirus page.
Although my staff are continuing to work from home where they can in order to minimise the risk of the coronavirus, we are still responding to and working with constituents on a daily basis. It was wonderful to speak face-to-face with some constituents today, albeit virtually! I would like to encourage any Swansea East constituents who are experiencing any problems or who have any concerns to get in touch and organise a video call where we can talk confidentially. As always, if you have any issues or concerns to raise with me as your local MP, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope you all keep well and remember – follow the guidance, stay healthy, and keep washing your hands!