Weekly round-up

I started the week with a meeting with Caroline Abrahams from Age UK. We discussed waiting lists, GP appointments, and care residents’ rights of tenure as well as other important issues. In December of last year, over 6 million people were on the waiting list for pre-planned NHS treatment in England – a staggering one-tenth of the population and an increase of a third since the start of the pandemic. For those whom Age UK support, there is also the added worry of waiting lists for care homes. Long-term waiting lists have almost quadrupled as care homes close across the country, adding health concerns for older people and their families. With NHS staff and care home staff struggling with shortages and limited resources, those they care for are feeling the pinch. The Government urgently need to address issues across health and social care that will allow people to continue leading health and independent lives.

We had a meeting of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee with Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, and Neil O’Brien, the Minister for Levelling Up, the Union and Constitution. Jacob Rees-Mogg was at PACAC to discuss with us the scrapping EU rules on public procurement. We are concerned that, instead of replicating these rules in UK legislation, this could see further powers concentrated into the hands of UK Government at the expense of devolved administrations. This is part of the so-called red-tape bonfire, but could lead to less scrutiny of government contracts. The Covid pandemic and the revelations about inadequate PPE providers being awarded huge contracts and contracts given to connections of the Government prove that scrutiny is needed.

I was pleased to contribute to a debate in Westminster Hall on the impact of Covid on social work. Every debate I have been involved in since taking on my role as Shadow Front Bench spokesperson for health and social care has been dominated by one issue, which is the lack of people available to do the jobs we so desperately need. It would be good if the Government could come back with some support for a workforce plan that is credible, is funded, and will give hope to all the people who are keeping our society functioning at that level. Some 5,000 children and family social workers have left a social worker post in England, which is a massive increase over five years. The vacancy rate is at a five-year high with about 6,500 vacancies and that is part of the wider trend, with the pandemic exacerbating the issue. The wider trend, from high-pressured jobs to the undermining of support services such as Sure Start, has left social workers to pick up the pieces.

I met with the Regional Schools Commissioner to discuss progress on the new school in Knowle, collaboration across Bristol South schools, and ongoing concerns around post-16 education. The first images of the proposed new secondary school were released last August. The plans include teaching and support areas, as well as a separate four-court sports hall and activity studio. We need the Government to look seriously at our educational centres and ensure that they are suitable for 21st century learning. The pandemic has shown us that we need to consider the possibilities for online learning to be a more regular occurrence with the technology to facilitate that and to consider ventilation and heating in schools so that students are safe and comfortable. It’s also important that there are different pathways at post-16 for young people to pursue either a vocational education that prepares them for work or an academic education with the view of going to university.

The Chancellor announced his Spring Statement this week. The day before, he had said “work begins tomorrow” – perhaps someone should have told him that the Tories have been in Government for 12 years. A decade of Tory cuts to health and social care and other public services have left the country decimated and struggling to cope with the crises that have hit us. We are at the start of a cost-of-living crisis, with energy bills set to rise astronomically for families, despite the huge profits enjoyed by the oil and gas industry. Prices of food and other essentials are rising as National Insurance rises for many people and real pay packets shrink. £11.8 billion has been lost to fraud and error under this Chancellor. Now he’s expecting that to be paid back from hard-working people who can barely afford it.

I was pleased to be able to respond to the Chancellor’s statement. I am old enough to remember the rampant inflation of the 1990s, when I started my career. I am old enough to remember when, under Ted Heath’s Government, we had to go to the local café because we had no lights on in the house. However, I am not old enough to remember Anthony Eden and the 1950s. I asked the Chancellor what he had to say to pensioners who worked through the 1950s about the fact that he is presiding over the greatest fall in living standards since that time. His response that the state pension is £2,000 higher today than it was in 2010 shows that he simply doesn’t understand the situation. He doesn’t understand the financial pressures facing pensioners – the rise in accommodation costs, in energy bills, in essential products. This tone-deaf Government are completely inadequate for tackling the challenges today.

Let’s not forget that the independent Think Tank, the Resolution Foundation, crunched the numbers the day after the Spring Statement and found that 7 in 8, yes you read that right, 7 in 8 working people will be worse off after this statement and a shocking 1.3 million more people will be forced into absolute poverty. We are nearly reaching the point where 50% of children in single parent households will be growing up in poverty in the UK.

Pleased to end the week meeting the team at Brunelcare and discuss all things social care and visit Waverley Gardens extra care scheme which provides homes in a community setting for people to live independently but with a care team on hand to support if needed.

If there are issues you want to raise with me as your local MP, please get in touch by emailing Karin.smyth.mp@parliament.uk or by calling 0117 953 3575.