It’s been another busy week! I started the week contributing to the debate on the Budget, perhaps one of the most important we’ve had in recent times. Nobody has been immune to the impact of Covid, so nobody should be left out when it comes to recovery support. Unfortunately, so many have been, and last week’s Budget suggests that that is set to continue, especially for the hair and beauty sector. On average, these businesses were closed for 140 days in 2020 and will be closed for at least 101 days in 2021. 50,000 businesses employing around 560,000 people—most of whom are women. Despite the unnecessary and insulting snickering from a number of men on the Government Benches, including the Prime Minister, it is an industry worth a staggering £30 billion to our economy: not something to be laughed at. Other industries have been granted a third VAT cut; this sector has, yet again, been left to fend for itself. These businesses are facing, on average, £40,000 in lost revenue, so even with business restart grants and, hopefully, a guaranteed date for reopening, their future survival is by no means certain. To recoup their losses, they need a VAT reduction to match that of other sectors. They are not asking for special treatment. They are simply asking to be included in those arms that the Prime Minister is so keen to tell everyone that he is wrapping around the whole country.
Closely linked to the hair and beauty sector is the wedding industry, with each relying on the other for a proportion of their income. Both are multi-billion-pound industries that contribute hugely to our economy, both support hundreds of thousands of jobs, both employ women, and both are at risk of collapse due to sustained lockdowns and insufficient UK Government support. It feels as though this Budget has simply ignored women – and in the week of International Women’s Day, it saddens me to say that this UK Government has let women down throughout the pandemic.
On Tuesday I led a debate in Westminster Hall on support for women leaving prison. Before the debate, I had a chance to chat to Matt Chorley on Times Radio about the debate and the issues involved. When you look at the female prison population, you are faced with the stark reality that, for the most part, it is nurture, not nature, that has led these women down the path they are following. Nearly 60% of women who come into contact with the criminal justice system are survivors of domestic abuse, and more than half report emotional, physical or sexual abuse during childhood. If we add issues such as poverty and addiction to that, we can start to see the full picture of how past trauma leads to crime, conviction, and imprisonment.
However, their problems and difficulties are not over when they leave prison. They walk through the gate with three things: the paltry £46 prison discharge grant, a plastic bag full of belongings, and the threat of recall if they miss their probation appointment. For some, the simple fact that they have been in prison a long way from home means that they have no local connections when they are released. For others, who are victims of abuse, returning to their homes, and consequently to the perpetrators, comes at a huge personal risk. Without secure housing and support, leaving prison is not the new start that these women need. We have to break the vicious cycle that sees these women trapped in poverty and abuse and provide the compassion and support that will provide them with the tools they need to build themselves a better future.
I also was pleased to speak in the debate for International Women’s Day this week and was proud to be able to highlight a few women who work incredibly hard for our community. I have a team of staff, predominantly women, who between them try very hard to keep me in check – which as you can imagine can be a challenge in itself! The newest member of that team is Melissa Rice, who has written a book: Sobering: Lessons Learnt the Hard Way on Drinking, Thinking and Quitting. I first met Melissa back in 2019 when she was living at Amy’s Place – a recovery house set up by the Amy Winehouse foundation for young women who are overcoming drug and alcohol addiction. Even then, this was a woman who wanted to use her experience for good – for change. Melissa is a strong young woman and I am so proud of her for her determination not just to turn her own life around, but to help others to do the same.
And helping others is also key to the work of two other wonderful women who deserve to be celebrated. Believing that hygiene and being clean is a human right, not a luxury, journalist, and the Guardian’s resident beauty columnist Sali Hughes, and beauty PR legend Jo Jones, joined forces three years ago to set up Beauty Banks. This not-for-profit organisation collects discontinued and unused stock from High Street and high-end brands and redistributes it to those experiencing hygiene poverty. I have been working with Jo and Sali for over two years now and regularly receive packages to my constituency office to deliver to men and women around the constituency that need it. Sali and Jo chose to challenge the poverty that they were witnessing and challenge the beauty industry to do something about it and the results of their determination have made such a difference to the lives of so many. There are some incredible women out there doing amazing things and I wanted to celebrate them and thank them this week and demonstrate the great things that happen when women are fully involved in our society.
We are continuing to support those who are vulnerable and isolated locally by providing a lunch with the support of Morrison’s on a Wednesday and hot roast dinners on a Sunday. Thank you so much to everyone involved for their continued support – you’re all superstars!
You may have seen today’s announcement that from tomorrow (Saturday 13th March) Covid-19 restrictions will begin to relax slightly in Wales, with more scope for meeting outside, participating in outdoor sports, and a roadmap for the reopening of non-essential retail, as well as a return to school for more children. It’s brilliant that all the hard work we have put in means we can safely enjoy some changes, but we need to make sure we keep sticking to the rules as they change so we don’t lose any of the hard fought progress we have made.
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 team and I are here to help. And remember – stay local, observe social distancing, wash your hands regularly and keep Wales safe!