On Tuesday we remembered our colleague, the compassionate and determined Jo Cox, who was brutally and horrifyingly taken from us 4 years ago. We remember her desire to improve the lives of others and her belief that we have more in common than that which divides us. It is a message that I carry with me and my thoughts were with her family this week.
As you will have seen, today the Welsh Government have announced upcoming changes to lockdown in Wales. From Monday, non-essential retail will be able to open with physical distancing in place. The ‘Stay Local’ guidance will end in three weeks time, and people will be able to travel anywhere for any reason. The First Minister has also given an early warning to sections of the tourism industry e.g. self contained accommodation that the Welsh Government will consider easing restrictions on tourism in the next three week review. It’s really important to note that all of these things depend on the virus staying under control – so it’s more crucial than ever that we continue to follow the guidelines on social distancing in the meantime, to ensure we don’t compromise our hard won gains and risk our progress. You can see further information about the changes here.
This week the UK Government bowed to pressure from the Labour Party, footballer Marcus Rashford and the general public, and promised to continue providing free school meal vouchers to the most vulnerable children in our society. It is morally reprehensible that this was not considered a natural policy choice by Boris Johnson, even though it was something that the Welsh Labour Government had been pledging for weeks before. It cannot be right that in one of the richest nations in the world families are struggling to put food on the table. In the wake of the economic damage that the coronavirus has wreaked on our society, we must ensure that we rebuild in a way that promotes job creation, and well-paid, secure jobs that will allow people to provide for their families.
It was also announced by the UK Government this week that they are merging the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development. This is pure distraction politics, aimed at diverting attention away from the failings of the Government in tackling the pandemic crisis and embarrassing u-turns such as the provision of free school meals. DfID is consistently rated as the most effective and transparent of the Government departments in delivering real value for money for British taxpayers, providing life-changing and life-saving support to millions around the world. Merging the departments in the middle of a global pandemic is irresponsible, counter-productive, and completely unnecessary.
I have been made aware of a number of scams circulating, particularly relating to the NHS Track and Trace testing system and the job retention schemes from the Treasury. Please be wary of any emails purporting to be from the NHS or the Tax Office – and never give your bank details in response to any text message or email. Citizens Advice are raising awareness of such scams and have plenty of advice on their website for those concerned that something may be a scam and what to do in the event that they find themselves a victim.
We saw truly shocking figures this week from the trade union Usdaw, who have found that violence against shop workers has doubled during the lockdown. It is shameful that shop workers, who have been working tirelessly to ensure that essential supplies are readily available to the public, have faced so much violence and abuse whilst doing their job. I am pleased to support fellow Labour and Co-operative MP Alex Norris’ Bill on this issue as it returns to Parliament in the coming months. His Bill has support from the trade unions and will provide greater protections for retail workers and tougher sentences for abusers. The UK Government have consulted on this issue but still have not published the results. The longer they delay, the more harm is done to our key workers, who deserve so much more, especially during these unprecedented times.
It’s cervical cancer awareness week and although invitations to routine screening are paused, it is still very important that people who are concerned they may have symptoms still go to their GP. Testing and treatment is continuing despite the pandemic, and it is very worrying that referrals from GPs are considerably lower than normal. Jo’s Trust have some information about what to do if you’re concerned about symptoms during the pandemic, but please do contact your GP if you’re worried about possible cancer symptoms.
I am pleased to hear that Neath Port Talbot Council is now planning on reopening our parks, including Margam Country Park and Gnoll Country Park. It is so important that we continue to follow the strict guidance relating to social distancing and personal hygiene, but it is right that we recognise the importance of fresh air and being able to spend time in green spaces for our mental health. The list of the parks that are reopening can be found here.
As always, if you have any questions or issues and want to get in touch, please do not hesitate to drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 01639 630152. My staff are working from home to comply with the social distancing measures, but, as always, we remain there should you need to get in contact with us.
I hope you stay well, enjoy the weekend and, remember – stay local, protect the NHS and save lives.