As a Labour and Co-operative Party MP, on Saturday 6th March, I attended the Wales Co-operative Party Council AGM. Swansea Cllr Sam Pritchard has done an excellent job in the chair for the past three years, but he decided to step aside, allowing Jackie Jones, former Labour MEP for Wales, and present Senedd Candidate for Preseli Pembrokeshire to become the chair. Swansea Cllr Wendy Lewis was elected vice chair and KC Gordon re-elected secretary. I presented my Parliamentary Co-operative Party Group report and paid tribute to Deputy General Secretary of the Co-operative Party and General Secretary of the Wales Co-operative Party Karen Wilkie who is retiring after 26 years service.
This week I spoke during the Department for Work and Pensions Oral Questions. I asked the Minister to urgently correct the anomaly whereby someone with a severe condition eligible for an ongoing award under the normal rules has a light-touch review after 10 years, but someone with a terminal illness such as motor neurone disease has to reapply after three years under the special rules or risk having their benefits stopped. It is utterly nonsensical and uncompassionate, forcing those with terminal illnesses who are fortunate enough to live beyond three years to reapply for welfare support. The UK Government have said that they are reconsidering the rules, but I will continue to push them to correct this injustice.
I spoke during the debates on the Chancellor’s Budget, which has created a new cliff edge at the end of September. The furlough scheme, the 5% VAT reduction for food and drinks in hospitality, and the £20 uplift to Universal Credit all stop at the end of September. Plus, the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts peak UK unemployment of 6.5% at the end of September – that is 2.2 million people without jobs at a time when coronavirus and flu may be overwhelming. The Chancellor’s Budget is rhetoric over substance, playing down his £4 billion of cuts. But once again, the Welsh Labour Government have stepped in to protect public services, build a greener future and create positive change for a more equal Wales, filling in the Chancellor’s gaps in support to move Wales forward. The Welsh Labour Government’s £2 billion Economic Resilience Fund is the most generous coronavirus support package in the UK, securing 141,000 jobs in Wales. An extra £150 million will also be available through the non-domestic rates scheme, with each business receiving up to £5,000. The business rates holiday for retail, leisure and hospitality in Wales will be extended for 12 months, with a targeted, responsible £380 million for businesses with rateable value up to £500,000, plus charities. Only the Welsh Labour Government are ensuring that businesses are supported through these difficult times.
This week, the UK Government has finally listened to campaigners, sporting bodies, and MPs to close a loophole in the law that allows sports coaches and other people in positions of power to have sexual relations with 16- and 17-year-olds in their care. The Positions of Trust law, which is used to prevent relations between adults in positions of trust and power, such as teachers and social workers, with young people in their care will be extended as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill. I’ve worked with so many young people over the years, coaching squash and it is such a rewarding experience to see young people grow and develop. They should be allowed to do this without concerns of abuse from the adults they look to for support and guidance.
As chair of the Hairdressing, Barbering and Cosmetology All-Party Parliamentary Group, and vice chair of the APPG Gaps in Support, we combined APPGs to listen to Keith Conniford CEO/Registrar of the Hair and Barber Council and Helen Ward owner of a large salon in London speak about the lack of support from the UK Government throughout the pandemic. Keith and I have written to the PM, Chancellor and Business Minister many times asking for support, for example, that the 5% VAT reduction for hospitality be extended to the hair and beauty industry, but we have been ignored until last week’s budget, where a restart business scheme was announced, but this is a one off grant up to £18,000 and is based on the rateable value of a salon. Self-employed and mobile hair and beauty practitioners are still excluded, and being low wage earners have used the little savings they may have accrued to survive since the first lockdown was imposed, and are now in debt. The professional hair, barber and beauty sector contributed over £6.6 billion pounds per annum, employed over 337,000, in over 40,000 businesses in the UK before coronavirus, and deserves more recognition and support from the UK Government.
As vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for History and Archives, we received a presentation from Jeff James, CEO of the National Archives (NA), and senior colleagues. The NA houses an incredible variety of records from famous wills to Foreign Office correspondence. We heard about the recently released political papers, under the twenty-year rule. The NA is also responsible for publishing legislation and has published 895 Statutory Instruments since December 2020. All of this information is provided free by digital download. National Archives also provides training for regional archives to build digital capacity and distributed the £500,000 Archive Covid Fund to rescue collections, but the fund was massively oversubscribed, which illustrates the importance of preserving our history.
The APPG for HIV and AIDS held a Q&A session with Lord Speaker. After a visit to America in the 1980s, Lord Speaker realised there was a need to deal with the AIDS crisis as a public health issue, and launched a nationwide multi-agency campaign, “Don’t Die of Ignorance” to educate people about HIV and AIDS because it was a killer disease. But with huge advances in testing and treatment new infections can be prevented. If someone living with AIDS is on effective treatment, they can’t pass it on. But there remains massive global challenges, in 2019 there were 1.7 million new infections and 690,000 people died of an AIDS-related illness. Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS is still prevalent today.
I was re-elected vice chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Phenylketonuria (PKU), a genetic condition, whereby sufferers cannot ingest protein, and must live on a very low protein restrictive diet avoiding meat, fish, dairy, eggs, plus having to endure a foul tasting protein substitute. The side effects, if they don’t, are immense – depression, confusion, memory loss, anxiety, loss of motor skills, and hospitalisation.
We have been campaigning for many years for the medication Sapropterin (Kuvan) made by Biomarin, which allows sufferers to eat a normal diet, to be approved and provided to all sufferers of PKU. However, last Thursday the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), published its preliminary assessment on Kuvan treatment and recommended its use only for children up to the age of 18, and have not made a recommendation on its use in pregnancy, nor pre-conception.
There is now a consultation period which ends on 18th March, and we shall be submitting evidence from the National Society of PKU, and our constituents, which will justify the use of Kuvan in adults, as well as in children. We shall also be writing to NICE. It’s good news for under 18s, but very disappointing that once a PKU sufferer reaches 18, Kuvan treatment is suddenly withdrawn, and that adult sufferers are excluded.
It was great to speak during the International Women’s Day debate in the House of Commons on Thursday. It is a great privilege to be the first female MP for Neath – and wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the first female General Secretary of Welsh Labour, Baroness Anita Gale of Blaenrhondda, fighting for All Women Shortlists. Baroness Gale was succeeded as Welsh Labour Gen Sec by my honourable friend the MP for Newport East, Jessica Morden, and the current General Secretary of Welsh Labour, Louise Magee – three inspirational female leaders. Gwenda Thomas, the first and only female Senedd Member for Neath, is a staunch advocate for equal opportunities. As a Labour and Cooperative MP, I will miss my dear friend Karen Wilkie, who is retiring as Deputy General Secretary of the Cooperative Party in June, after 26 years of loyal service. We also have some fantastic female artistic talent originating in Neath: Katherine Jenkins, renowned soprano, Sian Philips famous actress and singer, and singer Bonnie Tyler.
During the 1984 Miners’ Strike, women were at the front of picket lines, organised valley support groups, and kept spirits up across South Wales. Pride was filmed in Onllwyn Welfare Hall, called the Palace of Culture, by my dear friend Hywel Francis. Dove Workshop was formed during the Strike, by women for women, its founders were Hefina Headon, Mair Francis, and Lesley Smith and they retrained women to gain qualifications.
Welsh women are also pioneers in sport. As a former Welsh Squash International with over 100 caps and the only female Squash Wales National Coach, I was awarded the Sport Wales Female Coach of the Year in 2008, for my contribution to squash. I’m proud of all our current Welsh Squash Senior Internationals, including Tesni Evans ranked World number 9 – Commonwealth bronze medalist, British Champion two years running, Emily Whitlock former World number 12, and Ellie Breach age 15 and sister Millie age 13 from Neath – Ellie and Millie are age group internationals. Squash Wales held an International Women’s Day virtual session with Tesni and over 40 women across Wales joined in. And I’ll continue to fight for squash to become an Olympic sport. My friend Bethan Howell, captain of Seven Sisters RFC Ladies Section, a Welsh International and Ospreys player, is a fighter for women’s equality, on and off the field, and I am immensely proud to be Patron of Seven Sisters Ladies. I was delighted to highlight all these amazing women in the Commons this week.
I am incredibly proud to represent Neath, to promote and encourage women in all fields, and to be a role model for young girls who are now growing up, knowing that they too can fight for a better world. But the job I am most proud of doing is being a mother. I thank my daughter Angharad from the bottom of my heart for her love and support. Angharad is my world and I am so proud of the woman she has become.
You may have seen today’s announcement that from tomorrow (Saturday 13th March) Covid-19 restrictions will begin to relax slightly in Wales, with more scope for meeting outside, participating in outdoor sports, and a roadmap for the reopening of non-essential retail, as well as a return to school for more children. I know these changes will come as a welcome relief to us all, but we need to make sure we keep sticking to the rules as they change so we don’t lose any of the hard-fought progress we have made. You can keep up to date with all the Welsh Government’s announcements on their dedicated Coronavirus page: https://gov.wales/coronavirus
As always, if you have any questions or issues and want to get in touch about any matters that fall under my role as MP, please do not hesitate to drop us an email on email@example.com 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, and remember – observe social distancing, wash your hands regularly and keep Wales safe!