I was pleased to speak in a debate this week on the issue of violence against retail workers. I am an ardent supporter of USDAW’s Freedom From Fear campaign and 2020 was a year like no other. As the pandemic took hold, we realised what services and occupations we relied on most. Our shop workers are vital frontline key workers and for too long, they have been undervalued. The pandemic exacerbated that. We have to acknowledge the contribution that those workers make: ensuring their safety and protecting them from violence and abuse is a good place to start. Each year, USDAW conducts a survey of the violence and abuse experienced by members and those working on the frontline of the retail sector. The 2020 survey found that 88% experienced verbal abuse, 61% were threatened by a customer and 9% were assaulted, and that abuse, threats and violence doubled in the first few months of the pandemic. This is unacceptable, and it is essential that we take action to reduce incidences of abuse. I urge the UK Government to listen to the many MPs across the House, to the 104,000 people who signed the petition, and to the shop workers who were subject to this vile treatment. Our shop workers’ safety is paramount. We do not need empty words; we need change and we need it now.
It’s been a busy week on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Beauty, Aesthetics and Wellbeing! At the start of the week, my co-Chair Judith Cummings and I had an article featured in the Times Red Box on the importance of supporting the beauty industry with the funding and resources that it requires to recover given its significance to our high streets, bringing footfall into our town centres and local areas; its huge contribution to the UK economy; and the flexible employment it offers to a large number of women across the country. One of the issues relating to the pandemic that has not been much discussed is the impact on the training of new practitioners in the industry. A year has been lost for many and this will have an impact on what services can be offered and the businesses who may be short of staff. This needs to be considered as well as the impact of restrictions and Covid regulations on the industry. I’ll keep raising this with UK Government Ministers.
I was pleased to join fellow Labour MPs Stephen Kinnock and Jim McMahon on the steps of the Department for Transport in London to stand in solidarity with our friends in the PCS Union – the trade union for civil and public servants and private sector workers on government contracts. The horrendous working conditions being forced upon staff at the DVLA is utterly wrong and now they are walking out on a deal they were previously supporting. We stand in solidarity with DVLA staff and will keep pressing the UK Government to do more to protect them.
I was pleased to be able to lead a debate in Parliament this week on the lack of support available for women experiencing the menopause. I brought the issue of a lack of understanding of the menopause to the UK Government’s attention over 2 years ago when I spoke on World Menopause Day in 2018. There is still a lot of work to be done. The first point of call for women regarding their health will be their GP. And yet a recent survey on menopause support revealed that 41% of UK universities do not have mandatory menopause education on the curriculum. This is something that will, at some point, directly affect half of the population and yet it is completely overlooked when training the people that they will turn to for help. Women are suffering unnecessarily, and whilst some barely notice any changes, for others that suffering is unbearable – stressful, debilitating and completely life-changing. Yet despite this, many doctors complete their training and leave university with absolutely no education in menopause at all. I’m fairly confident that no other condition set to impact the lives of 50% of the population would be left out in this way.
We also need workplace guidance to ensure that employers are aware of the ways in which they can support women going through the menopause so that they can continue working. Capable and hard-working women should not feel that they need to leave their job because of a lack of understanding about how the workplace can be adapted to support them. It’s time that we get rid once and for all of this taboo around women’s health and particularly the menopause, have more open discussions, and ensure that women feel comfortable and happy as they mature – we’ve certainly earned that much!
During one of the Opposition Debates this week, Labour called on the UK Government to do more to tackle failure in the justice system. The backlog in the Crown Court is at record levels of more than 57,000. This has been exacerbated by the pandemic but it was created by the Conservatives closing half of all courts in England and Wales between 2010-19 and allowing 27,000 fewer sitting days than in 2016. This is not the fault of those working tirelessly in the courts, but of those who have slashed budgets year on year. With the news this week that thousands of women are being released from prison with just £46 and a plastic bag of their belongings and ending up homeless, it is clear that urgent reform is needed to improve our justice system: to make it efficient, to ensure it protects victims of crime, and also to make sure that it is fair and just. The Centre for Social Justice issued a report in 2018 that demonstrated clearly how the justice system fails vulnerable women, and how much of our female prison population can be traced to state failure and social breakdown. With childhood trauma and domestic abuse significant factors in female offending, we need to look closely at the nature of our justice system and where changes can be made so that it is indeed a just system.
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 home, observe social distancing, wash your hands regularly and keep Wales safe!