This week I was in Parliament to speak in the debate on the Finance Bill. I am concerned that support for further education and colleges which specialise in more vocational training for 16 to 18-year-olds and adults is absent from this Bill. We hear a lot from this Government about levelling up and it is vital that we do level up not only to improve the lives of everyone in the UK but also to support the growth of the economy which is sorely needed. The more we support people into well paid jobs, the more we will see levelling up. I’ve seen the incredible impact that colleges can have on the young people and retraining adults they see through their courses, and I want to see more young people have those opportunities. They will, in the long-term, benefit us all.
I was also able to speak in the debate on the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill. There are all sorts of problems to be solved with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill and the disruption that has been caused by Boris Johnson’s Tory Government reneging on the deal agreed with the EU has also created a significant problem of a lack of trust in the relationship between the UK Government and Northern Ireland. None of the other problems – future alignments, changes to freedoms and trade agreements etc. – will be solved until we can rebuild the trust between us. That will require dialogue and a huge amount of goodwill on both sides.
The collapse of power sharing in Northern Ireland is a direct consequence of the UK Government’s policies. This has left thousands of people struggling as financial support for heating bills and day-to-day decision making cannot progress without a sitting Stormont Executive. In parliament I spoke about the need for the UK Government to get a grip on the relationship between us and Northern Ireland because as I said above, there is no trust to act as a basis for agreements.
In connection with cost of living, this week I visited the “We’re Skint”; Young People’s Experience of the Cost-of-Living Crisis drop in in Parliament for the release of the new report from the End Child Poverty Coalition on the experiences of young people aged 16 to 25 of the cost-of-living crisis. It was heart-breaking to hear about some of the experiences that young people have had and the worries that they are carrying when they should really be thinking about meeting up with their friends or about studying for a test. They shouldn’t be having to think about whether their families have enough money for them to have 3 meals a day, or whether they will be warm enough at night. The UK Government need to get a grip on this and stop failing our young people. They deserve so much more.
I also spoke in my capacity as a member of the Public Administration and Public Affairs Committee on the sorry situation of the Government’s Independent Ethics Adviser. Since Lord Geidt resigned shortly after giving evidence to our committee, the Government have had no Ethics Adviser. We have seen throughout the Covid pandemic the significant powers that the Government hold. It is vital that those powers are held in check and that an adviser is truly independent and able to investigate possible breaches of ethics without interference.
At the end of the Parliamentary week, I secured a debate marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls. In my speech I noted how we need to stop talking about violence against women and girls in the abstract. It is violence at home. In the playground. In the workplace. On the walk home from school and across social media. It can be short, sharp and brutal; it can be sexual and degrading; it can be insidious and coercive; it can be hidden behind closed doors or hiding in plain sight.
As Chair of the Women’s Parliamentary Labour Party, I pressed home the need for the Government to act now to get its house in order. We need proper, detailed data gathering on attacks against women and girls. This must mean sex-disaggregated in order to fully understand the impact of all crimes.
I hope before we gather again next year that not only have the statistics become slightly less depressing and the government response slightly less dispiriting. Let us hope that we have taken some steps, however small, toward empowering every woman and girl to believe that they have a right to live a life where they matter equally.
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