This week we marked a year since the start of the first UK lockdown due to the Covid pandemic. We had a minute’s silence to mark the day and to remember all those who have died and to think about those who have been sadly bereaved. There have been more than 126,000 deaths, and behind each of those numbers is a family member and friend who is now much missed by those they leave behind, a life of stories and experiences that will not be heard again or added to. My heart goes out to all those who have lost someone during this difficult year. The vaccination does give us hope for the future, but we must not forget those who have died, and we must continue to support those who are struggling as a result of the impact of the crisis.
At the start of the week I attended an Inter-Parliamentary Union event hosted with UN Women on reaching gender parity in the post-Covid world. The impacts of crises are often hardest felt by women and we know the additional challenges that many women have faced in the past year, juggling home working or continuing to work as key workers with childcare and home schooling. We’ve seen the pressures felt by pregnant women and the closure of sectors employing high percentages of women – affecting their income and their future opportunities. Added to this, the Covid pandemic has highlighted the shadow pandemic of domestic abuse, which affects around 1 in 4 women during their lifetime.
In order to tackle the growing problems of gender equality as a result of the pandemic, it is vital that women make up a significant percentage of government departments, cabinets, and leadership teams. They must be involved in the decision-making process. As we saw with the UK Government’s sniggering at questions over support for the beauty and wellbeing industry in Parliament, there is little understanding among the male UK Government members about the impact this pandemic is having on women and we must be represented. We had some fascinating and inspiring presentations and discussions from women around the world who are doing remarkable work in promoting women’s interests, which, when encouraging and supporting women to achieve their full potential, support everyone’s interests.
I chaired a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm this week where we received a briefing from Oxford University researchers. A study was recently published by a team at Oxford and Warwick Universities looking at the impact of gambling on individuals’ health and quality of life. Researchers concluded that there was a statistically significant correlation between gambling and declining health, opportunity, and quality of life outcomes – with harm rapidly escalating at higher levels of gambling spend. Researchers tracked the habits of 6.5 million Lloyds Banking Group customers over 7 years and found that those who exceeded a 3.6% monthly outgoings on gambling (£91.37 for the average household) were 33% more likely to miss a mortgage payment, 22% more likely to use an unplanned overdraft, and 19% more likely to take a payday loan. All of these have significant consequences on the wellbeing, financially and mentally, of an individual and their family.
I was pleased this week to appear on Jacob Rees-Mogg MP’s podcast Why Parliament Works. We discussed the vital role that MPs play in campaigning on issues close to theirs and their constituents’ hearts. Campaigns are a way for MPs of all political colours to come together and work on issues that enjoy cross-party support. The adversarial politics of PMQs is what many people think of when they think of politics and Westminster, but there is so much more going on behind the scenes and so much more cooperation between MPs of different parties. Jacob asked me about my first campaign, the campaign to support bereaved families with funding for children’s funerals. It was an emotional discussion to think back on my motivations for campaigning for the Funeral Fund but I was really pleased with the response from politicians from across the House and worked really well with some Conservative politicians on establishing this Fund for bereaved parents. That work with politicians from across the House has continued; Iain Duncan-Smith MP and I work closely on the gambling related harm work and I consider him now a good friend. This is the aspect of politics that I think is lost amidst the combative nature of the House of Commons debates but is a vital and satisfying part of the job. You can listen to the podcast on whichever platform you choose for your podcasts.
This week has been Debt Awareness Week and this year’s campaign is about destigmatising debt. During the pandemic, many people who never dreamed they’d be in debt have been forced into debt as a result of the terrible impacts of the pandemic and we must destigmatise debt and encourage people to talk about their money worries. Talking about money is often difficult and talking about money problems can be even more so. However, it’s vital to take that first step in discussing money problems with family or friends if you don’t yet feel ready to reach out for help. Step Change have some fantastic advice for those struggling to deal with money worries and stress and can help find the support you need to get out of debt. Don’t leave it longer to get worse; talk to someone, share your worries, and find the support you need to get out of debt.
This week I was thrilled to organise for Easter Eggs to be delivered to schools in the local area for children to enjoy for Easter. It’s only something small, but everyone deserves to have a little chocolatey goodness for Easter, and I hope everyone enjoys their egg!
This Sunday and next Wednesday are the last meal deliveries of a hot roast dinner and a lunch that we’ll be doing. I want to thank Morrison’s, and everyone involved for their generosity in donating their products and time to support the most vulnerable in our communities during these difficult and strange times. The response has been truly humbling and heart-warming and I cannot say enough how proud I am to support such a wonderful little part of the world. Thank you all.
As I’m sure you will have seen, Coronavirus restrictions will change this weekend in Wales, with travel now permitted across the nation, the reopening of self-contained holiday accommodation and six people from two different households allowed to meet up outside. That this is possible is testament to the work of everyone across Wales in sticking to the rules and driving the infection rate down, as well as our amazing vaccination programme. I’m sure there will be many joyful reunions this weekend, as well as over the Easter holidays – but please do remember to stick to the guidance around social distancing to ensure that the progress we have made so far is not wasted.
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 email@example.com – my team and I are here to help. And remember – stay home, observe social distancing, wash your hands regularly and keep Wales safe!