Last week we passed the grim milestone of 100,000 lives lost in the UK to Covid-19. It was a desperately sad moment: we urgently need a public inquiry now - so that lessons are learned before more lives are tragically and needlessly lost. The PM keeps saying he takes “full responsibility”, yet no-one has resigned over the mishandling of this crisis. So what responsibility is he taking? Nearly a third of the deaths have been in care homes – exposing the Government’s claim that it had “thrown a protective ring” around them as the empty claim it was.
There is ongoing huge pressure on the NHS, including in Brighton and Hove. The Royal Sussex County Hospital reported in mid-January that it was struggling to cope amid a surge in cases. It is deeply worrying, and we are very far from being able to put this crisis behind us.
But there is also some good news. The rollout of vaccinations is going well in the city with a new vaccination centre open now at the Brighton Centre. There are also GP-led local vaccination services at Brighton Racecourse, County Oak Medical Centre and Portslade Health Centre. When you’re eligible for your vaccination, you’ll be contacted by the first NHS service that is able to offer you the vaccine. A huge thanks to everyone who’s been involved in getting these centres up and running.
I know there are some people who are nervous or hesitant about having the vaccine. There’s a new website takethecovid19vaccine.com/ which has a lot of useful information which answers many of the questions people are asking.
Meanwhile Brighton City Cabs have launched a brilliant initiative, offering free taxi transport to anyone over 80 living within Brighton who needs to travel to their vaccine appointment at the racecourse. They’ll also be taken home.
Long Covid inquiry
It’s estimated 300,000 people in the UK have Long Covid, with research suggesting more than half of people who’ve been in hospital with the virus have symptoms 6 months later. As a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group that’s been taking evidence on this issue, I've called for more public funding for research into this awful condition, a Long Covid compensation scheme and better support for people who can only work at a fraction of their previous level because of the condition – as was reported in the Argus.
The self-employed excluded from Covid support
Ever since the start of the Covid crisis, I have been calling for the Chancellor to listen to the more than 3 million self-employed, freelance, limited company directors and others who are excluded from any financial support. But despite a growing chorus of calls for him to give them the support they desperately need, he is still refusing to do so, and is yet to be persuaded by a scheme (called DISS) drawn up to help some of those excluded – those who’d set up small limited companies. I spoke in their supportin a late night debate in Parliament.
Nurseries and Covid
I have been working closely with Brighton and Hove Council leaders and representatives of the NEU to get more funding for nursery provision in our city. The Council has taken the decision to close its nurseries other than for vulnerable children and those of key workers, but risks losing financial support in the future because most children won’t be there when numbers are calculated to determine future funding from the government. It’s completely unacceptable that, in the middle of a public health crisis, ministers should be threatening to penalise nurseries by withdrawing funding in this way. Private nurseries too are facing a critical situation - many would prefer, on safety and public health grounds, to close to all but vulnerable children but cannot afford to do so - and they also need financial support to ensure their futures.
This is a major piece of legislation which should be improving environmental protection in the wake of our departure from the EU. But it does the opposite: weaker protections than we had as EU members, a regulator which risks being under the thumb of the minister, and a real lack of any sense of urgency – the Bill isn’t even going to become law until much later this year. But its real weakness is the failure to address the root causes of ecological and climate breakdown – an economic model which is built on endless GDP growth on a planet of finite resources. I opened the debate on the Bill’s report stage in the Commons (my opening speech is here) and wrote about its failings in both the Independent and The House magazine.
Prime Minister’s Questions
I had the chance to question the Prime Minister directly at PMQs last week and challenged him on the huge gap between his Government’s environmental rhetoric and what it’s actually doing – raising in particular the sanctioning of a new coal mine (unbelievable when we are due to host the UN climate summit later this year) and the continued export of plastic waste to poorer countries. Needless to say, I didn’t get a satisfactory response.
This is another important piece of legislation going through Parliament. MPs should have a voice in trade deals, both the terms and the final agreement, as they do in other countries – particularly when there is the real risk that the NHS will be on the table in future deals. But Parliament is being denied any meaningful say in what amounts to a ministerial power grab. Speaking slots for MPs in debates are limited and unfortunately I wasn’t called for the Trade Bill, but this is what I had prepared to say. It still astounds me that Tory MPs voted to deprive themselves of the powers to scrutinise and approve new trade deals, so giving the Government a clear majority – one wonders why some of them wanted to be an MP at all if they are prepared to simply surrender their vital oversight role.
Wellbeing week/Future Generations Bill
Last week was the Big Issue’s Wellbeing Week, when young activists lobbied their MPs to back the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill which would give them a say in current policy-making and help protect their futures. I am sponsoring the Bill in the House of Commons, the Big Issue’s founder John Bird is doing so in the House of Lords. We talked about what the Bill aims to achieve on BBC Radio’s Today in Parliament and I spent time with some young activists who told me about their priorities for the future.
Climate & Ecological Emergency Bill
With the UK due to host the UN climate summit this year, it is critical that we get our own house in order on the climate emergency and the biodiversity crisis. Businesses are a vital part of any climate action and I was pleased to take part in a Business Declares Emergency event about the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill, which I introduced in Parliament in September.
Brighton’s hospitality sector
The Treasury seems to have its head in the sand about how bad the situation is for the hospitality sector. I had asked ministers to extend VAT relief for hotels, pubs, restaurants etc beyond March 31st, as the impacts of Covid restrictions will be felt for months to come. I was told there were no plans to do so – not good enough, and I won’t stop pressing ministers on this issue.
The night-time economy
This has also really suffered during lockdown yet pubs, clubs, entertainment and music venues are a vital part of Brighton and Hove’s economy. As a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Night Time Economy, I’m working with other MPs and peers to address some of the challenges facing the sector and we’re asking people to let us know what it means to them. Please take part in the survey if you can – it’s available here.