Although I’ve been in London all this week, my diary has been packed with meetings with my constituents. One of the (few) advantages of virtual meetings is that I can participate in many more constituency activities even when I have to be in Westminster. It’s one of the ways in which life has changed that I hope will continue after the pandemic (though there aren’t many of those, to be honest!).
So it was great to attend Q&A sessions with students at Stretford High, and with Trafford College. I also really enjoyed last Saturday’s conference organised by GM4Women, at which the third annual Pankhurst-Fawcett Scorecard was unveiled, comparing data gathered over the past three years on employment, safety, education, health, and participation for women in Greater Manchester. It was good to see so many women attending, including from my constituency, and to welcome supportive men who also joined us.
Meanwhile in parliament this week, we are rushing through legislation to enable the Attorney General, Suella Braverman MP, to take maternity leave from her role in government. It’s astonishing that it’s taken so long for careers in politics to catch up on basic rights for pregnant women, and even now, my colleague Stella Creasy MP, who is also pregnant, is planning a court challenge because, despite the changes we’re making for cabinet ministers, the maternity rights of backbench MPs remain inadequate.
Education shadow minister Tulip Siddiq and I were very glad to have the opportunity to meet around 70 headteachers from special schools this week to hear about the pressures they’re facing in educating children who have often profound disabilities and high levels of need, during the pandemic. Recently I’d heard from heads of special schools in my own constituency, and the challenges they’re facing are echoed right across the country. School staff are doing an incredible job, and hearing about their dedication was inspiring, but I’m very worried at the levels of stress and exhaustion many are experiencing. Some staff in special schools perform tasks similar to those working in the care sector, and are exposed to the risk of infection at work, but they’re not being given early priority for the Covid vaccine. Labour has called for all school staff to be vaccinated in the half term holiday – but as usual the government has left it too late to act.
And the latest statement from the government this week also badly let down those victims of the cladding scandal who are leaseholders living in buildings with a height of below 18 metres. The need to remove flammable cladding from their homes is just as great as from taller buildings, but despite the total failure of the regulatory regime, which put their safety in peril, these leaseholders are being left to foot the bill to make their homes safe, meaning many will be left with huge levels of debt, and unable to sell their flats. Many Conservative MPs share the despair and anger of the Labour party at this terrible injustice, and I have added my name to a number of amendments to the Fie Safety Bill currently progressing through parliament to attempt to strengthen protections for leaseholders. We still hope the government will think again, and do the right thing for those who, through no fault of their own, have been left in this terrible position.