It’s really good to see progress being made in rolling out the covid vaccine, and I pay tribute to the NHS staff, scientists and volunteers behind this successful programme. It’s given us all hope that there will be a way out of the pandemic, and while the infection rate remains very high, the NHS is still very stretched, and it’s shocking that over 100,000 people in this country have died as a result of the disease, the prime minister has now said that he will be announcing a roadmap out of lockdown in a couple of weeks’ time. But what we have learnt in the past few months is the need to proceed with great caution. And meanwhile, many businesses and families are suffering severe financial pressures as the support the government is supposed to have put in place hasn’t reached them.
That’s why Labour has been pressing for the £20 uplift in universal credit to be maintained, for the coronavirus job retention scheme to be extended, and for self-employed people who have been excluded from protection to be treated fairly. It’s shocking that 11 months after the pandemic first arrived in the UK, we are still having to beg chancellor Rishi Sunak to put this support in place.
One sector that is suffering acutely in the pandemic is travel, and I held a very powerful zoom meeting with constituents who work in or own travel businesses in my constituency to hear of their concerns. They’re in a particularly difficult position, still having to work to handle refunds, cancellations and customer queries, but without any income coming in, and too often they have been ineligible for government support. I’ve written to a whole range of government ministers about the issues they’re facing – one of the problems they identified is that no one in government wants to take overall responsibility for the needs of the sector. We were delighted that a journalist from Travel Weekly joined the call, and you can read her writeup of the event here.
It was a great pleasure to visit the Urmston foodbank, being run from the Masonic Hall along with Forget Me Not Trust. They’ve already collected around 4 tonnes of food, which they’ve been distributing to needy families and veterans in our community. This is a great initiative – thanks to all involved for what you’re doing.
In parliament, this week we had an important debate on the continuing cladding scandal – again, I find it incredible that over 3 years after the Grenfell tragedy, the government still hasn’t acted to ensure that all tower blocks across the country are made safe. While housing associations like Trafford Housing Trust are now carrying out remedial measures, progress has been slow, and, unlike tenants, many leaseholders across the country face terrifyingly large bills for dangerous cladding to be replaced. Labour called the debate on Monday to demand the government step in to prevent leaseholders having to foot the bill for what has been a terrible failure of fire safety regulation. There’s cross-party support for action on this, and we’ll be keeping up the pressure.
Two terrible genocides have been in my mind in the past few days. Last week we marked Holocaust Memorial Day, and I was very pleased to join Greater Manchester’s online commemoration event and listen to the very powerful testimonies of genocide survivors. And last night, I logged onto Remembering Srebrenica’s launch of their 2021 campaign, Remembering Lives. It’s 26 years this year since 8000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered by Serbian troops, having been abandoned by UN soldiers who should have been there to protect them. I visited Srebrenica a few years ago and saw for myself the scene of this terrible atrocity, and met survivors and their families. I’ve pledged never to let these events be forgotten, and to do everything I can to ensure that we never let them happen again.