I want to offer my congratulations to the England football team, not only for their achievement in reaching the final of the Euros, but also for the leadership qualities they have shown and the role models they have become for so many young people across the country. What a contrast to the Government who have found themselves facing criticism for their attacks on the players’ stand against racism. We’ve sadly seen shocking scenes and stories coming from outside Wembley stadium. I am appalled by reports in newspapers that foreign fans, even children, were abused in the streets and felt uncomfortable on the streets of London. I am also concerned at the lack of security around the stadium, given experiences such as the Manchester Arena bombings in recent years. Nothing can take away this amazing achievement from these young men, nor the accolades that they are rightfully receiving. But there are questions to be answered by the Government and the police about the racism and lack of security that blighted this event.
The Prime Minister has announced that despite rising infections, all legal restrictions are to be lifted on 19th July. I know that we are all tired, we are all frustrated, and we are all rather fed up. We want to see friends and family, we want to go out and have fun, but the pandemic is not over, and we have to dig deep to keep helping each other. Case numbers across Bristol are currently very high. Thanks to the incredible efforts of the vaccination teams, fewer people are seriously ill in hospital, but many people are unwell, and many of those people are young. In Bristol, the City Council recommend continuing to wear a face covering in indoor spaces such as on the bus or in the shops to continue to protect those more vulnerable to the illness and the frontline workers who are much more exposed. Continue to wash your hands regularly and keep your distance where you can, and get yourself tested if you experience any symptoms.
This week the Government announced three key proposals for moving the peace process in Northern Ireland forward. They have proposed a new independent body to focus on the recovery and provision of information about Troubles-related deaths and most serious injuries. They will introduce a package of measures to include a major oral history initiative for people from all backgrounds to share their experiences and to learn about the experience of others. Finally, and most controversially, they will introduce a statute of limitations to apply equally to all Troubles-related incidents and end any criminal prosecutions. The Government’s treatment of victims of the Troubles has been appalling and consequently trust is at rock bottom. We in Labour are worried that reconciliation will not occur with a complete amnesty in place. In my previous shadow ministerial role I have heard first-hand the trauma families have faced. I have met with victims of the Troubles. We are also worried that the truth will not come out and families of victims will be left forever wondering what happened to their loved ones. The five main political parties in Northern Ireland have objected to the proposals, as have many of the major victims’ groups from across the community in Northern Ireland. It is hard to see how the UK Government imposing measures that do not find support in Northern Ireland will bring reconciliation and trust or help to find the truth.
Along with Labour colleagues, I voted against giving a Second Reading to the Health and Care Bill. While we do urgently need for a plan for greater integration between health services and social care services the Bill represents dramatic shift in the NHS’ organisational structure during a pandemic leading to a loss of local accountability. It also fails to make the necessary reforms to social care, and it will allow further outsourcing permitting the private sector to sit on local boards. Critically, it fails to introduce a plan to bring down waiting lists for routine NHS treatment or tackle the growing backlog of care as a result of a decade of underinvestment and the immense impact of the pandemic. We know how hard our NHS staff have worked throughout the last decade but especially during the pandemic, and this Bill fails to put forward plans to increase the size of the NHS workforce and see them better supported both in terms of pay and workplace support. What I want to see is us harness this Bill to achieve proper root and branch reform of the NHS so that we enshrine the principle of local accountability. I have deep concerns that the Government is planning on removing the links between community and NHS. This will lead to poor quality of service and an inability to react to the different needs of areas. We need a balance between accountability on the ground and fundamental universality of provision. Without this in the Bill we will see erosion in NHS standards.
I am supporting Unite the Union’s campaign to Cancel the Cut. Six million people rely on Universal Credit to get by. Over a third of them are in work. Cutting £20 a week from Universal Credit at the end of September risks pushing even more people into deeper debt and poverty, just as furlough is also due to end. This £20 a week doesn’t buy luxuries, it buys food. The Government is arguing that the uplift will no longer be needed as the economy is opening up, but the pandemic is still with us. Infections are rising and businesses are still seriously struggling. Just because the Prime Minister has decided to remove restrictions, doesn’t mean that this difficult period is behind us.
Unfortunately, taking from the poorest is a common theme with this Government as they voted to reduce our International Development Aid budget this week, despite concerns voiced that it would reduce Britain’s standing in the world and leave us vulnerable to the continuing pandemic. Once again, it is false economics. Pushing people into poverty will not help the economy recover and it will burden support services that are already struggling. The Government must think again.
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