Covid is sweeping through Westminster, and MPs are falling like ninepins. And for those of us lucky enough to have escaped the virus, a cold bug is also doing the rounds. So turnout at votes and debates has been lower than usual this week – although the surprise early finish on Tuesday evening turned out not to be due to a lack of MPs to participate, as I had thought, but because the Prime Minister was hosting a posh dinner for Tory MPs at a hotel across the river from parliament, and they needed to get away for their chicken ballotine. This is apparently part of Boris Johnson’s project to hang onto power even as the Metropolitan police have begun issuing fines for ‘partygate’ – and as families in my constituency are struggling with soaring bills for the basics, energy, food and fuel. Johnson’s priorities are all wrong.
Yet there have been some important announcements this week from the Education Secretary, on schools and on children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). All schools will be expected to become part of academy trusts (although local authorities will be allowed to set up trusts for the first time). Education, health and care plans will be standardised, which it’s hoped will speed up the process for parents to get support for children with SEND. But while there’s a lot of fiddling around with process and structures, teachers and parents know the real problem is lack of cash. Per pupil finding has fallen in real terms over the past decade, with schools in Trafford experiencing one of the lowest levels of funding in the whole country. I pay huge tribute to the education professionals who are doing a great job in difficult circumstances to help children recover from the effects of the pandemic on their learning and wellbeing.
For my part, I’m pleased to be co-chairing a National Youth Agency inquiry with Conservative MP Tim Loughton, on how youth work can join up with schools. Youth work has the potential to make a huge difference to young people’s welfare and their future success, and we are picking up some very interesting examples of how it can work well with schools. But we’re also learning what’s difficult – like lack of common inspection frameworks, and, once again, lack of cash. We’re collecting evidence for our inquiry now, so if you’d like to contribute, we’d love to hear from you. Click here to find out more.
Ukraine continues to dominate parliamentary business, with statements this week on speeding up visas for refugees and on the Homes for Ukraine initiative. Thank you to all my constituents who’ve put yourselves forward to offer accommodation in your homes to refugees fleeing the conflict. And thank you too to the Trafford secondary schools who invited me to participate in an online discussion to hear about what they’re doing to help Ukraine. I was very impressed with the efforts our young people are making to raise funds and raise awareness of the conflict, and to look out for one another’s mental health – we know that some young people are particularly distressed and traumatised by the awful reports of the war.
The disgraceful sackings at P&O have also been debated this week. Labour MPs pointed out that letting P&O bosses get away with sacking workers and employed unqualified staff on much lower wages isn’t just absolutely appalling for the P&O staff who’ve lost their jobs, but will give a green light to other unscrupulous employers too. Indeed, Unite the Union organisers at CHEP on Trafford Park told me this was exactly what they feared in the industrial dispute they’ve been involved in since November last year. They’d thought they were making progress in negotiations, but now the company seems to be taking a hard line. Stretford and Urmston Labour members are very proud to support the CHEP workers, who performed a vital service ensuring essential deliveries of food, medicines and other basics were made doing the pandemic, but who are now having to fight for a fair pay rise.
As ever, there have been some very interesting briefings for MPs from a range of organisations who’ve come to parliament, including Cancer Research UK and the Brain Tumour Charity, and I was also pleased to make a constituency visit to DWP in Partington to see their work with Your Housing and Trafford Council to help young people find jobs and support local families. And I want to give a particular shoutout to GM Citizens, who were in Westminster on Wednesday to campaign for a living wage for care workers, including paying for carers’ travel time between appointments. I was delighted to meet the campaigners, and I’m glad all ten Greater Manchester councils are committed to paying the real living wage by next year. Thank you for coming to talk to MPs – and thank you for the cake!