I can’t say life in parliament is returning to normal, but it is becoming more routine. Daily sessions are happening in the chamber (with MPs who are unable to attend for public health reasons able to participate by Zoom), legislation is being introduced by the government and debated in committees, and we’re now voting in the voting lobbies once again, although to respect social distancing, we can’t all pile into the lobby at once, and we’re registering our votes using smart cards.
I spent a lot of last week sitting in a committee room debating the Immigration bill. This legislation ends freedom of movement for EU nationals at the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December this year. It’s a short piece of legislation, but we managed to pack a wide variety of subjects into the debates. Last week, we discussed the implications for looked after children, British nationals who live in EU countries or own properties there, faith groups who welcome ministers of religion and religious workers from abroad, and people who are on a 10-year path to qualify for British citizenship but have no recourse to public funds if they lose their job. This has become a particular scandal, since many of them will pay UK taxes, work in key sectors (including the NHS and care), or have British-born children – yet if they’ve lost their income because of the covid crisis (for example if they need to self isolate), they won’t qualify for financial support. Even the prime minister seemed shocked to hear this when my colleague Stephen Timms asked him about it a couple of weeks ago, and promised to look into the matter, but I’m afraid we got nowhere with the minister in the committee last week.
But Labour (and Marcus Rashford!) did force the government into one spectacular U-turn last week. The campaign to get the government to provide funding over the coming summer holidays for children eligible for free school meals is a great victory, and will make an enormous difference to parents who’ve seen their incomes under huge pressure as a result of covid. There’s no doubt low-income families are having a particularly tough time during the crisis, as research from the Resolution Foundation and the Fabian Society has emphasised this weekend.
After last weekend’s illegal rave in Carrington, I’m pleased this weekend was peaceful in Stretford and Urmston. But the appalling attack in Reading and the shootings next door to us in Moss Side are deeply concerning and upsetting, and all our sympathies go to those who have been injured or lost family and friends. Rising community pressures and strains are a real concern as we get towards the height of summer, and it seems like the covid crisis has magnified many of the tensions and injustices, so I’m very grateful to local people who are working to support local families and our neighbourhoods. A special shoutout this week to the Friends of Victoria Park in Stretford, who are consulting on how local people would like their new community building to be used. It’s exciting to see a new project moving forward, ready for when we can all meet and be together once again.