This has been a monumental week, witnessing a triumph of human endeavour as members of our society received their first dose of what promises to be a highly effective vaccine against Covid-19 – something we perhaps only dared dream would be possible. With December comes the anticipation of Christmas, and I fully appreciate just how different this festive season will be for many this year. Unfortunately, cases are rising again steeply in Bedford after moving out of lockdown and into tier 2, and I hope we are all able to find the balance between enjoying the season whilst keeping each other safe.
In the constituency
As we approach the end of this extraordinary year, I would like to sincerely thank the efforts of my team, who have handled an astonishing 13,092 emails into my office email address alone in 2020 so far, opening 6.5k new cases and keeping on top of correspondence. I am impressed and grateful that despite emails into the office doubling from previous years, constituents have continued to receive prompt responses and committed support with their issues. Since my November update my team opened 544 new cases and 159 of these are new casework.
My constituents in Bedford and Kempston continue to engage with a wide range of issues – challenging me and calling for action on a variety of topics. The Chancellor’s spending review in November has given rise to a large volume of work with constituent’s questioning the Government on their spending allocations and other priorities.
This month, the health, social care and public sectors have been at the fore with constituents writing in support of pay rises for Nurses and other workers, expressing their concerns about the impact of lockdown upon patients with dementia and their families, and questioning the current Government’s approach to addressing a Cancer backlog.
Environmental issues are always a matter of concern and this month I received significant correspondence on the efficacy and scope of the Environment Bill as it passes through Parliament, as well as more specific issues such as ending Peat Burning and Sea Blasts – both of which have worrying detrimental environmental effects.
As we navigated a second national lockdown, constituents continued to express concerns about inconsistencies in the Government’s approach to restrictions and their devastating impact on areas such as hospitality. In particular, a campaign to save local pubs features heavily in my inbox.
Brexit is ever present – this month I received many emails and letters relating to the Internal Market Bill following its amendment by the House of Lords.
The last week of November and early December saw a torrent of correspondence on the matter of significant cuts to the UK’s Foreign Aid commitment. I have assured concerned constituents that I will continue to oppose the decision to reduce the UK’s aid budget.
I’m aware of significant additional costs faced by school leaders making their schools Covid-19 secure from PPE, cleaning costs, to paying to cover absent staff. Schools are also face loss of normal income through hiring out their premises, and combined this is leading to very difficult decisions. I await a response having written to the Chancellor on this topic ahead of last month’s Spending Review.
Universal Credit has been in the spotlight recently due to loopholes and fundamental flaws in its design and I urge anyone who feels that they or someone they may know may have been underpaid due to pay date clashes and double counting, or any disabled students unlawfully refused a work capability assessment, to please get in touch with my office for advice.
In the constituency, I was pleased to meet last week with the new CEO of the Kings Arms Project Kirstie Cook, to hear to hear about current work and future plans to support those without homes, in particular meeting the challenges of the pandemic but crucially what may follow. I was pleased to also meet with WASPI National Campaign Manager Linda Jack regarding next steps to redress this injustice.
As it hasn’t been possible to visit schools as I would under normal circumstances, I’ve been very pleased to be invited to school events online, where I’ve met with students answering questions about politics and leadership. Earlier this month I was delighted to virtually attend the Bedford College Achievements Ceremony and I congratulate ALL students and pupils in Bedford and Kempston across every school and college for their resilience and commitment to their studies during such a tough and uncertain year in education. Likewise, my sincerest thanks to all those working in the sector.
I was also pleased to be invited to the first meeting of a group established to discuss Health Inequalities and the Black Community, and I am certain that this will be an extremely important and useful forum for change in Bedford and Kempston.
Thanks to NHS and care too…
I made the following representations recorded on the Hansard:
18th November – HOC Chamber: Question to the Prime Minister on Government failures for the disabled
19th November – HOC Chamber: Financial Support for the Sport Sector on the furlough scheme
30th November – HOC Chamber: Question to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the Universal Credit uplift
The HCLG Committee published its report on the Building Safety Bill which was drafted following the Grenfell Tower fire. In our report, we urge the Government to guarantee that leaseholders will not have to pay, come up with alternative proposals for financing the remediation work, explore ways of making building companies pay for fixing problems they created.
I voted against the Government’s decision to strike out the Lords amendment to the Internal Markets Bill to override the Brexit divorce deal and break international law which had been removed in an historic defeat in the House of Lords. Despite all but 1 Tory MP supporting the measures, they were in fact dropped by the Government the next day.
The Government presented parliament with a vote to agree to its flawed tier system or to risk no restrictions at all. So, I abstained to express my concerns at the government’s measures as they stand but not to leave us in the reckless position of having no measures at all to keep the virus under control.
I joined pupils at The Hills Academy to be part of Be Internet Legends livestream assembly -a fantastic virtual event, part of a wider campaign offering primary school teachers across the UK the chance to download and be virtually trained on a free PSHE Association-accredited curriculum pack and a new teaching module on digital wellbeing.
I supported letters to the Government on inadequate levels of Statutory Sick Pay, to extend the free school meal provision to children from low-income families – for those on Universal Credit and those who have no recourse to public funds, a Letter asking the Government to protect free-to-use ATMs in the hardest to reach places, a letter to the Chancellor regarding the Small Breweries’ Relief (SBR) scheme, a letter supporting Sue Ryder’s campaign to introduce a paid, statutory right to bereavement leave, a letter to support the end to the import and sale of fur in the UK, a letter ahead of the Spending Review asking the Chancellor for an increase in local authority funding and a letter to the Health Secretary calling for NHS parking to be free for staff, a letter to support farmers rights in India and a letter to the Home Secretary asking for the deportation flight to Jamaica to be halted. Although the deportation went ahead, there are reports that an estimated 37 fewer people were on the flight than planned, including people that the Home Office has now acknowledged may be victims of modern slavery.
On the launch of Disability History month, I asked the Prime Minister why his Government has let down disabled people so much during the pandemic. 6 out of 10 people killed by Covid-19 is disabled. Yet during this pandemic, disabled people have seen their care cut back, struggled to isolate without sufficient support, and been excluded from the government’s shambolic communications.