I spoke in the General Debate on Covid-19 this week, raising a number of issues including:
- The success of the Welsh vaccination programme
- Issues with BTEC exams
- Mental health and the work of Newport County AFC
- Home Office waiting times
- Cuts to benefits
Here’s my speech in full:
During previous debates of this nature, it has not always been possible to draw positives from what has been a difficult, dark year for all of us, but the roll-out of the vaccination programme is providing, in my constituents’ words, a glimmer of light at the end of a long tunnel. On behalf of my constituents, I want to say a huge thank you to all the staff helping to deliver vaccinations at our GP practices and mass vaccination centres, as well as all the staff at the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board and the volunteers working behind the scenes to ensure that this enormous task is undertaken effectively. The Welsh Government also deserve credit for their effective management of the vaccine roll-out. Wales was the first nation to offer the Toggle showing location ofColumn 694top four priority groups a covid jab, and one in four people in Wales have now received their first dose. Well done, Wales!
While it is right to celebrate the positives, it is also vital that we remember all those who continue to struggle during the lockdown. I want to talk about a few of the issues that have been highlighted in the debate. Young people have had their school and college lives upended by the crisis, and there is still huge uncertainty over the complicated picture around vocational and technical qualifications. It is more complicated in Wales, with some awarding bodies responsible to the Department for Education—that includes BTECs—and some to the Welsh Government. Students and their colleges need clarity on issues such as struggling to get work experience, being assessed and getting their grades awarded. The Welsh Government are doing all they can with colleges such as Coleg Gwent, but UK Education Ministers need to get our national awarding bodies to tell colleges as soon as possible what to do this year.
Mental health is an ongoing concern for people of all generations, and I hope that one positive to emerge from this period will be a renewed focus on the impact of isolation and loneliness in policy making at all levels. There are lots of good groups in my constituency doing good work. I particularly want to thank Newport County AFC, who I met last week, for the work it is doing through its support network for supporters struggling with mental health problems when fans have not been able to meet up at games. The club is a prime example of how sport can act as a force for good in the community, and I encourage other English Football League clubs to learn from its successful model.
I would also like to speak about the plight of asylum seekers in my constituency. Home Office and UK Visas and Immigration processing times are very long, there are lengthy waits for biometric residency permits, and despite a promise to prioritise those who work in the NHS, that does not seem to be happening. There is real hardship out there in that community. There are people with nothing.
I have spoken in previous debates about universal credit. The Chancellor’s decision to scrap the £20 a week uplift from April, amounting to a cut of £1,000 a year, is indefensible, as is the fact that the uplift has never applied to the 2 million on legacy benefits. That needs to be sorted as soon as possible. We also need long overdue action for workers who have been excluded from UK Government support schemes during the pandemic. There is a Labour-led debate on this tomorrow and I hope that Conservative Members will listen and do the right thing.