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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 677: debated on Wednesday 17 June 2020

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Covid-19: Self-Employed Women

We have introduced an unprecedented package of support for businesses to get through this incredibly challenging period. More than £10 billion of grants has been paid and over 830,000 businesses of all sizes have been able to access more than £34 billion of finance through our loan scheme. As of 7 June, the self-employed income support scheme has paid out on 2.6 million applications worth £7.5 billion. Of these, 701,000 claims were from women, totalling £1.609 billion.

Can the Minister provide any extra help for new mothers whose periods of maternity leave mean either that they are not entitled to help under the self-employment support scheme or that their entitlement is significantly reduced?

The Government clearly understand the challenges for the self-employed, in particular, arising from the arrival of a new baby or adoption. We are working on additional guidance for individuals who took a break from work to care for a newborn or a newly adopted child, and for whom no income tax self-assessment tax return was submitted.

Covid-19: Public Health England Review

What steps she has taken in response to the findings on the risks of covid-19 for BAME people in Public Health England’s report entitled “COVID-19: review of disparities in risks and outcomes”, published in June 2020. (903360)

What steps she is taking in response to the findings in Public Health England’s report entitled “COVID-19: review of disparities in risks and outcomes”, published in June 2020. (903363)

We are taking the findings of PHE’s report, “COVID-19: review of disparities in risks and outcomes”, which was published on 2 June, very seriously. The next steps are to fill the gaps in the report, which necessarily had some limitations. The Race Disparity Unit and the Department for Health and Social Care are working with me to do this. This vital work will help us to take appropriate, evidence-based action to address the disparities highlighted.

Given the delays between publishing the report and publishing the recommendations, and the likely delay now in implementing those recommendations, how do the Government propose to rebuild trust and confidence in their actions with black and minority ethnic groups and individuals?

I believe the hon. Lady is conflating two different reports. There was no delay in publishing the first report, which did not have recommendations. The second report was published by PHE only yesterday, and many of the recommendations are already in train. I refer her to the written ministerial statement that I laid yesterday, which should hopefully provide additional clarity on that.

I begin by paying tribute to the very many BAME staff I have worked alongside in the NHS, including in recent months. They are an absolutely vital part of the NHS team. That is why it is really important that we get this review right. It is crucial that we get the necessary expert advice to help us to do that. What steps is the Minister taking to get that expertise to support the work she is undertaking?

I agree with my hon. Friend. We are determined to proceed with this in an evidence-led way, and we will be engaging with experts in the field. On Friday, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), and I held a virtual roundtable on these issues with a number of public health consultants and leading academics in this field, including Professor Michael Marmot. I am very grateful for their input. We intend to continue in this spirit by engaging with other experts such as the Office for National Statistics.

Professor Fenton’s report, finally published yesterday, highlights yet more evidence that socioeconomic inequalities, racism and discrimination are root causes of BAME communities being disproportionately harmed by covid-19, and that these injustices were already known and have already cost lives. The Government’s denial and delay further compound despair at their lack of care and concern. The seven practical recommendations that the Government should have acted on much sooner include risk-assessing our black and minority ethnic workers on the frontline. Black lives matter is more than just a slogan. So what immediate and decisive action will the Minister take now to develop and deliver culturally competent occupational risk assessment tools?

I refer again to the ministerial statement that was laid yesterday, which covers this. The Government did not delay publishing any report, and the recommendations that were published, on which most of the actions are already in train, can be seen on the gov.uk website.

Covid-19: Women in the Workplace

What steps she is taking to ensure that women in the workplace are not disproportionately affected during the covid-19 outbreak. (903361)

The Government are committed to helping all employees during this challenging time. The coronavirus job retention scheme is an unprecedented scheme to protect employment, and it has supported more than 9 million jobs. As always, equalities legislation requires that employers must not discriminate based on gender, or pregnancy and maternity, in the workplace.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that women are 47% more likely to have permanently lost their jobs since the start of the crisis and 15% more likely to have been furloughed. We know that social distancing has severely impacted hospitality, leisure and retail, where women are disproportionately employed in customer-facing roles. What steps can my hon. Friend take to ensure that women do not emerge as the accidental casualties of the crisis?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question and, in particular, for highlighting the situation with regard to the hospitality and leisure sector. I speak to many of the people in that sector on a daily basis. We are actively monitoring the impact of covid-19 on the labour market, but it is too early to draw any firm conclusions. Equality legislation requires that employers must not discriminate based on gender, and this law continues to apply.

As with any other economic downturn, it is women who are at risk of being worst hit by the economic consequences of coronavirus. As childcare responsibilities overwhelmingly fall on women, the closure of schools and childcare facilities could mean that many women are forced to leave work or to reduce their hours as the furlough scheme is wound up. The U-turn yesterday on free school meals is welcome and will help many families, but what will the Minister do to ensure that women are able to return to work in a flexible way in order to balance childcare commitments and not lose out financially, particularly as schools are not yet fully open?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. It is important that we manage to supply childcare. That is why women should be able to go to their local authority. They may not get their first choice of childcare provisions, but their local authority will be able to guide them. None the less, it remains the case that there should be flexible working: if people can work from home, they should be able to work from home, and employers need to be mindful of that.

Covid-19: Female Entrepreneurship

What assessment she has made of the potential effect on the economy of increased levels of female entrepreneurship after the covid-19 outbreak. (903362)

The Government’s Rose review into female entrepreneurship found that £250 billion of new value could be added to the UK economy if women started and scaled businesses at the same rate as men. We must take the opportunity, as we recover from the covid crisis, to help make this happen.

I recently highlighted to my right hon. Friend that very point about the £250 billion, and, as part of that solution, I have been working to try to deliver a set of women’s business hubs across the UK, which I know the British Library is also working on. What other steps can she take to ensure that part of the covid recovery benefits women across the UK and encourages more female entrepreneurs?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work for the all-party group on women and enterprise. He is absolutely right: we need to make sure that, as part of our levelling-up agenda, this is a cross-UK phenomenon. We have growth hubs across the country. We are also working on mentoring schemes and on trying to ensure that investment is available right through the UK to help those start-up businesses get going.

My right hon. Friend has shown real passion and commitment to female entrepreneurship, which will be absolutely crucial as we seek to recover from covid. Unfortunately, those same women will not be able to start up their own businesses or to be assisted to go back into the wider workforce unless they can have reliable, accessible, available childcare. What specific discussions is she having across Government to ensure that that childcare is available? We recognise that there are challenges around social distancing and the hours that schools can operate, but will she please enlighten us on what she is doing?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the vital importance of childcare. We also need to ensure that the flexible working practices that have developed during this covid crisis are available to both women and men following the crisis. We are making sure that educational settings are open as soon as possible. More than 90% of nursery schools and colleges were open on 4 June, and I am working very closely with the Secretary of State for Education and his Ministers to ensure that we reform childcare and make more places available.

Black Lives Matter Movement

What recent assessment she has made of the implications of the Black Lives Matter movement for the priorities of the Government Equalities Office. (903364)

No one should face discrimination. Individual Departments and their Ministers must take account of the equality impact of their policies, and I can assure the House that my ministerial colleagues take this very seriously. Across the whole of Government, we have already taken significant steps to tackle the sorts of concerns raised by the Black Lives Matter movement, including continuing to act on the Lammy report, working to improve trust between citizens and police forces and ensuring that record numbers of ethnic minority people continue to go to university.

Over the past two weeks, we have heard members of the Government, including the Prime Minister, repeat that black lives matter, yet their policies fail to reflect that. The Unity Project’s report presented the Home Office with evidence that the “no recourse to public funds” policy discriminates against black British children and leaves them growing up in poverty. What steps can the Minister take to protect black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, and black people in particular, against further discrimination to ensure that the UK Government’s words are matched by their actions?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The issue of no recourse to public funds has been raised multiple times, and the Government are doing many things to tackle situations in which people who may not necessarily have been able to access public funds are able to do so. For example, the Government are ensuring that anyone who needs NHS treatment is not being charged, and programmes such as the coronavirus job retention scheme are available to people who have no recourse to public funds.

I wonder whether the Minister agrees that some racism is down to unconscious bias, and helping people to recognise and address their own bias could make a real difference. If she agrees, will she welcome the creation of the all-party parliamentary group on unconscious bias? It will conduct several investigations, starting with racial bias, so will she commit to working alongside us and to consider any recommendations with an open mind?

Conversion Therapy

Conversion therapy is a vile, abhorrent practice that we want to stop. We have commissioned research to look at the scope of the practice in the UK, and we will publish our plans shortly after we receive that research.

I thank the Minister for her words on this abhorrent practice. Will she consider taking specific steps to protect under-18s from conversion therapy?

I am particularly concerned about under-18s being coerced into so-called conversion therapies, and that is one of the specific points that we will address when we launch our plans shortly.

Covid-19: Economic Opportunity

What steps the Government are taking to ensure equality of economic opportunity after the covid-19 outbreak. (903366)

The Government take the public sector equality duty into account when developing, implementing and reviewing all policies, including the response to the covid-19 pandemic. We are gathering and developing evidence for the equalities impact of covid-19, which will be used to support and influence planning for the economic recovery.

Flexibility of working is important for both men and women, so will my hon. Friend tell me whether the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has plans to make flexibility the default, rather than an option?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising flexible working. The Government have been clear about the benefits of flexible working for employers and their employees. The manifesto we stood on talked about an employment Bill, which we will bring forward when possible, to make flexible working the default. We look forward to introducing those measures, subject to consultation.

Disabled People: Benefit System

What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the effectiveness of the benefit system for supporting disabled people. (903367)

We remain committed to ensuring that the benefit system is effective and positive in supporting disabled people. That includes several measures, such as suspending face-to-face assessments, extending personal independence payment awards where necessary, and increasing the universal credit standard allowance and local housing allowance rates.

We know that people with existing health conditions are more likely to become seriously ill with or succumb to covid-19 than the population as a whole. For example, more than one in four of all people who have died of covid in hospital in England also had diabetes. What assessment have the Government undertaken of the proportion of people with health conditions in receipt of social security support who have also died of covid?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising an important issue. The Department for Work and Pensions looks to identify and learn lessons swiftly. The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon is engaging extensively and holding conversations with charities and stakeholders on exactly these kinds of issues so that we can understand the impact on the most vulnerable.

Global LGBT Equality

We want LGBT people across the world to be free to live their lives without discrimination or persecution. I am working closely on that with the Foreign Secretary and, as we launch trade negotiations with Australia today, I am delighted to have worked with high commissioner George Brandis, who played a leading role in Australia’s legalisation of same-sex marriage. We will continue to work with close allies to lead the world on this issue.

In the month of Pride, being celebrated around the world, and looking forward to the rescheduled global LGBT conference being hosted here under the chairmanship of the right hon. Nick Herbert, does the Minister agree that it is essential for us to deliver on our 2018 LGBT action plan in order to preserve our place as a co-chair of the global Equal Rights Coalition?

I take this opportunity to wish everybody the very best for a happy Pride. I am sure that we will be doing a lot of things virtually rather than on the streets, but it is very important that we celebrate, and I am delighted that we are hosting the LGBT conference on the theme of “Safe to be me”. In response to my hon. Friend’s question, we will be updating our plans for LGBT rights for 2020 and we want to continue to lead the world on this issue.

Covid-19: BAME Key Workers

What steps she is taking to help ensure that BAME key workers are protected during the covid-19 outbreak. (903369)

All NHS organisations continue to make appropriate arrangements to support their ethnic minority staff, and NHS human resources directors are considering a range of mitigating actions, including redeploying staff to alternative roles, stringent testing procedures, equity of personal protective equipment provision and training, and improved occupational health support. For those in other key roles, Government have issued safer workplace guidance, which emphasises the need for employers to carry out risk assessments, to engage with their representatives and to take account of equality impacts.

In my constituency of Burton and Uttoxeter, we have sadly lost a number of dedicated frontline workers from the black, Asian and minority ethnic community. My constituents are understandably worried, and I have raised concerns previously in the House about how we can protect those in at-risk groups who work on the frontline. Public Health England’s recent stakeholder engagement work contains a number of recommendations. Can the Minister give an outline of Government’s progress on them?

Many stakeholder recommendations are already in progress, as my hon. Friend states, and as part of existing Government work, we are collecting better data on ethnicity—that was one of the recommendations. We agree that that is imperative and we are working to overcome technical barriers. NHS employers have published some excellent frameworks and occupational risk assessment tools, which can be used now; the race disparity unit is working on communication with covid teams across Departments; and I have said that further research to fill the gaps in PHE’s review is one of my immediate priorities.

Covid-19: Disabled People

The Government are committed to supporting disabled people through the covid-19 outbreak and beyond. We continue to monitor its impact on disabled people and those with a health condition, using existing and new data sources to improve our understanding.

Many people with disabilities and parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities have contacted me, feeling very fearful that they will face abuse for not wearing a face covering on public transport. Labour supports the use of face coverings, but the Government’s messaging needs to be very clear. Will they ensure that their public advertising campaign includes and explains the exemptions and look at supporting local charities that are trying to address that?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this point. We need to recognise that some people with disabilities face particular difficulty when it comes to social distancing and are impacted on by the reaction of others due to their inability to socially distance—I understand, particularly, the situation for young children. I reassure her that the Department for Transport has revised transport guidance for travellers and operators and considers the details needed for disabled travellers. I hope that that reassures her.

Covid-19: Gender Pay Gap Reporting

What assessment she has made of the potential effect on the gender pay gap of the suspension of gender pay gap reporting during the covid-19 outbreak. (903377)

To ease the burdens on businesses due to coronavirus, we suspended enforcement of the gender pay gap reporting in March. Despite that, more than 5,500 companies have reported to date, and employers continue to do so.

Gender pay gap reporting was removed in March, yet even then, just two weeks before the deadline, only around half the businesses expected to report had done so. This cannot become a lost year for narrowing the gender pay gap. Eliminating pay inequality, especially for those women in low-paid, insecure work, must be at the heart of the recovery. Will the Minister tell me exactly when gender pay gap reporting will be restored and how the information will be used as part of the coronavirus recovery?

We are in a serious economic situation due to covid-19, and my priority, as the Minister for Women and Equalities, is to make sure that women stay in employment where possible and are able to get jobs where possible. That is where I am putting all my efforts.

Topical Questions

As we recover from the covid-19 pandemic, the Government will ensure that everyone has the opportunity to succeed, which is why the Prime Minister announced that we are setting up a new commission on race and ethnic disparities, and why we will be hosting an international LGBT conference once international travel allows. We will work to support businesses to maintain some of the positive changes we have seen, such as greater flexible working, which benefits women, men and their families.

In the light of that answer, I refer the Minister to the latest report by the Social Mobility Commission, which highlights that in the past seven years there was little or no action by successive Governments on a third of its recommendations, including on ensuring that child poverty is not exacerbated by universal credit, which received the lowest, red rating, based on evidence showing that 72% of children living in poverty live in households where at least one adult is in work and that black, Asian and minority ethnic children are more likely to be in poverty. Given the total lack of leadership by the Minister’s UK Government, as highlighted by the report, will she take ownership so that her Government can finally step up and ensure that that report, and the millions of children in poverty, are not ignored?

The most vital tool in social mobility is education, which is why we are absolutely determined to get children back to school and to support children who are not in school through virtual lessons. I encourage the Scottish Government to follow the leadership that we are showing.

Nobody’s chances in life should be limited by the colour of their skin or their ethnic background. What progress is the Prime Minister’s race disparity commission, and when might we start to see results? (903401)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and touches on why the Government have set up the commission: to understand why disparities exist, what works and what does not, and to present recommendations for action across Government and other public bodies. It should report by the end of the year.

The Government ran a consultation on ethnicity pay reporting that closed back in January 2019. Nearly 18 months on, the Government have failed to publish a response to the consultation and have said twice in replies to written questions on the issue that something will be published “in due course”. That is not good enough. Mandatory pay gap reporting will be one small but significant step towards addressing pay equality, so when will the Government finally publish their response to the consultation and take urgent action to introduce mandatory pay gap reporting?

Pay gaps are caused by a range of factors. The hon. Lady is right that we ran a consultation on this issue in late 2018; I will write to her to provide her with an update.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in celebrating the good news that the so-called “rough sex gone wrong” defence will now be outlawed? (903402)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It was a disgrace that that was being used as a defence in criminal cases of murder. I pay tribute to Members from all parties who have run an effective campaign and congratulate the Ministry of Justice on taking action on the issue.

I am pleased that the Prime Minister is in the wings to hear this question. We know that the Disclosure and Barring Service sometimes bars people from work for decades and is, frankly, unfair and discriminatory; we know that the Windrush scandal is still ongoing, and there is dither and delay in the Home Office; and we know that in health and care services there has been a disproportionate impact on those from BME communities, especially among women in nursing and care roles. We do not need another commission to decide this; what we need is some action. What is the Minister going to do about it? (903400)

The right hon. Gentleman makes a fair point about the Disclosure and Barring Service. It is something we are looking at, but it is important that we look at this across the board, and that is why we have set up the commission.

I have a short question. Being out of school really impacts on children’s opportunities. Can the Minister commit to getting every single child back to school in September? (903403)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is vital we get our children back into school. My right hon. Friend the Education Secretary is working very hard on this, and we are doing everything we can to make it happen.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and I shall have further such meetings later today.

The journey of Munira Mirza from the pages of the Srebrenica-denying Living Marxism and the Revolutionary Communist party into the heart of No. 10 has not gone unnoticed. On Monday, the Prime Minister appointed them to lead the commission—the Government’s commission—on racial inequality, and it was greeted with some disbelief, given their well-known views on the matter. So I wonder: can the Prime Minister tell us today, does he agree with Ms Mirza that previous inquiries have fostered a “culture of grievance” within minority communities?

I am a huge admirer of Dr Munira Mirza, who is a brilliant thinker about these issues. We are certainly going to proceed with a new cross-governmental commission to look at racism and discrimination. It will be a very thorough piece of work, looking at discrimination in health, in education and in the criminal justice system. I know that the House will say we have already had plenty of commissions and plenty of work, but it is clear from the Black Lives Matter march and all the representations we have had that more work needs to be done, and this Government are going to do it.

Following the disgraceful events of the last week, with folks defacing national monuments, including Churchill and Queen Victoria, and offending the memory of hero PC Keith Palmer, what will the Prime Minister do to uphold British values and carry out the rule of law? (903345)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I can tell her and the House that any incident of vandalism or attack on public property will be met with the full force of the law, and perpetrators will be prosecuted. I can also confirm that we are looking at new ways in which we may legislate against vandalism of war memorials.

Can I start by welcoming the announcement of a major breakthrough in the treatment of coronavirus by UK scientists? That is really fantastic news. We are all behind it and I pay tribute to all of those involved.

Can I also welcome the Prime Minister’s latest U-turn, this time on free school meals? That was the right thing to do and it is vital for the 1.3 million children who will benefit. It is just one step in the fight against child poverty.

A report last week from the Government’s Social Mobility Commission concluded that there are now

“600,000 more children…living in relative poverty”

than in 2012. The report went on to say:

“Child poverty rates are projected to increase to 5.2 million by 2022.”

What does the Prime Minister think caused that?

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for what he said about dexamethasone, and I am glad that he is finally paying tribute to the efforts of this country in tackling coronavirus. But I can tell him, on free school meals, that this Government are very proud that we set up universal free school meals. I am very pleased that we are going to be able to deliver a covid summer food package for some of the poorest families in this country and that is exactly the right thing to do. But I must say that I think he is completely wrong in what he says about poverty. Absolutely poverty and relative poverty have both declined under this Government and there are hundreds of thousands—I think 400,000—fewer families living in poverty now than there were in 2010.

The Prime Minister says that poverty has not increased. I have just read a direct quote from a Government report, from a Government commission, produced last week, which says that it has gone up by 600,000. The Social Mobility Commission has a clear answer to my question:

“This anticipated rise is not driven by forces beyond our control”.

I gave the Prime Minister the number: 600,000. He did not reply. The report goes on to say, and this is a real cause for concern—[Interruption.] The Prime Minister is chuntering. He might want to listen. This is a real cause for concern because the commission goes on—[Interruption.] I am sure that the Prime Minister has read the report. On the increase to 5.2 million, it states that

“projections were made before the impact of COVID-19, which we expect to push more families into poverty.”

This is a serious issue. I am sure the Prime Minister would agree that an even higher child poverty rate would be an intolerable outcome from this pandemic. So what is he going to do to prevent it?

I have understood that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is talking about what he calls an anticipated rise rather than a rise that has actually taken place. A new concept is being introduced into our deliberations. What we are talking about is what has actually happened, which is a reduction in poverty. I can tell him that of course we are concerned. The whole House will understand that of course this Government are deeply concerned about the impact of coronavirus on the UK economy. I think everybody with any fairness would acknowledge that this Government have invested massively in protecting the workforce of this country, with 11 million jobs protected by the coronavirus job retention scheme, unlike anything done anywhere else in the world, and £30 billion-worth of business loans. We intend to make sure that we minimise the impact of coronavirus on the poorest kids in this country. One of the best ways in which we could do that, by the way, would be to encourage all kids who can go back to school to go back to school now, because their schools are safe. Last week, I asked him whether he would say publicly that schools were safe to go back to. He hummed and hawed. Now is his time to say clearly that schools are safe to go back to. Mr Speaker: your witness.

The Prime Minister obviously has not got the first idea what the social mobility report, from a Government body, actually said last week. He talks to me about consistency and U-turns. The Government have had three U-turns in the last month. First, we had the immigration health charges; then we had MPs’ voting; and then we had free school meals. The only question now is whether U-turns at the Dispatch Box are before or after. Three U-turns. He argues about one brief one week and one the next; he is an expert in that.

This is not the only area where the Government are falling short. During the pandemic, local authorities have been working flat out on social care, homelessness, obtaining protective equipment for the frontline, and delivering food and essential supplies. On 26 March, the Communities Secretary told council leaders directly and in terms, in a letter to council leaders and in a speech:

“The Government stands ready to do whatever is necessary to support councils in their response to coronavirus”.

Does the Prime Minister believe that the Government have kept that promise?

We put £3.2 billion extra into local government to tackle coronavirus, but I must say that we did not hear an answer, did we Mr Speaker? How can the right hon. and learned Gentleman talk about tackling the effects of coronavirus on the most disadvantaged? It is the most disadvantaged kids who need to go back to school, and it is those groups who unfortunately are not going back to school. Let’s hear it from him one more time: will he say that schools are safe to go back to? Come on!

This is turning into Opposition questions. If the Prime Minister wants to swap places, I am very happy. I could do it now. The only bit of an answer he gave to the question I asked was about £3.2 billion—[Interruption.] It is a lot of money. The Conservative-led Local Government Association has said that councils will have a shortfall of £10 billion this year—[Interruption.] The Health Secretary heckles. The Conservative leader of Lancashire County Council wrote a letter to the Communities Secretary a month ago, on 7 May. He said that

“the overall financial impact on councils nationally and locally will be far in excess of the £3.2 billion provided to date”.

He went on to say that

“we…would like some assurance from you that all councils will be fully reimbursed for the costs of…covid-19”.

These are the Prime Minister’s own council leaders. He must have known about this problem for months. Why has he been so slow to act?

We have not, because in addition to the £3.2 billion, we have already put in another £1.6 billion to support councils delivering frontline services, plus—from memory—another £600 million to go into social care. I want to return to this point about poverty. We want to tackle deprivation in this country. I want kids to go back to school. The unions will not let the right hon. and learned Gentleman say the truth. A great ox has stood upon his tongue. Let him now say that schools are safe to go back to.

The Prime Minister just does not get how critical this is. I spoke with council leaders from across the country this week. The Prime Minister must know that they face a choice between cutting core services and facing bankruptcy under section 114 notices. Either outcome will harm local communities and mean that local services cannot reopen. That will drive up poverty, something the Prime Minister says he does not intend to do. Local councils have done everything asked of them in this crisis—the Government have not. Will the Prime Minister take responsibility and actually do something?

With great respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I have outlined what we are doing to support local government, and I think this country can be very proud of the investments that we have made. It can be very proud of the incredible work that local government officials have done across this country, but I must say that there are some councils, particularly Labour councils, alas, that are not opening their schools now when they could be opening their schools. I say to him, for I hope the last time: now is the moment when he can say to those Labour councillors that it is safe for kids to go back to reception, to year 1, to year 6, to early years, as they can. Will he now say it?

Every week, the Prime Minister seems to complain that I ask him questions at Prime Minister’s questions. If he wants to swap places, so be it.

Finally, I want to return to the Prime Minister’s other recent U-turn, which was on the immigration health surcharge for NHS and care workers. Following Prime Minister’s questions on 20 May, the Government announced that they would drop that deeply unfair charge—that is nearly a month ago. Nothing has happened. The British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Physicians and Unison have all written to the Prime Minister, so he must know about this. One doctor was quoted on Monday as saying:

“My colleagues who have applied, even yesterday, one of them said he had to pay for himself, his wife and four kids so that is £6,000…The Home Office is…saying that…nothing has been implemented”.

These are people on the frontline. The Prime Minister said he would act. When is he going to do so?

I am genuinely grateful for an important question, because it is vital that people who are working on the frontline, and NHS workers in particular, get the support that they need. That is why I said what I said a few weeks ago. What I can tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that NHS or care workers who have paid the surcharge since 21 May will be refunded, and we are getting on with instituting the new arrangements as fast as we possibly can.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s rejection of the extension to the Brexit transition period. Does he agree that taking back control of our fishing waters in January 2021 will benefit the fishing communities within the Great Grimsby constituency? (903347)

I can tell my hon. Friend that it certainly will when we become once again an independent coastal state. I know how brilliantly she campaigns for fisheries in Grimsby and I urge her to engage with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make sure that the people of Grimsby can exploit the recapture of our spectacular natural marine wealth.

Marcus Rashford has shown more moral leadership in tackling poverty in a matter of days than this Tory Government have in the past decade of cuts, but, as he says, people are struggling all year round and more needs to be done. This morning, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Save the Children published research showing that the ongoing health crisis is causing six in 10 families to borrow money, seven in 10 to cut back on essentials and over five in 10 to fall behind on rent and other essential bills. An extra £20 a week in social security support would prevent millions of families from having to make the choice between paying their bills or feeding their children. Will the Prime Minister now immediately uplift the child element of universal credit and child tax credit by £20 per week?

This is a Government who have done everything we possibly can so far to help families in need to make sure that nobody is penalised for doing the right thing during the crisis. I know how difficult it has been. That is why we uprated the universal credit by £1,044, benefiting, I think, 4 million families in this country. I say in all sincerity to the right hon. Gentleman that we are fully aware that there will be tough times ahead and we do stand by to do more where we can.

Twenty pounds a week—twenty pounds a week to help families with children. That is what we are asking for. We are talking about an extra £20 a week to stop families having to make the choice between paying their bills or feeding their children. That is the harsh reality, Prime Minister. This is a question of helping people survive. This Tory Government have seen a decade of austerity that has driven people into poverty, and they have scrapped child poverty targets. Rather than reversing their damaging policies that have pushed millions into poverty, the Prime Minister is more interested in finding money to spend on his own vanity project: a luxury VIP plane. Is he seriously saying that he will not find £20 a week to help families who are struggling to survive?

No, of course not. That is why we are investing massively in universal credit, employment and support allowance, and benefits across the board, to say nothing of the novel schemes we have introduced, such as the coronavirus job retention scheme, which is a model that I think the whole world is admiring. There is no other country that has put its arms around 11 million workers in the way that this Government have supported jobs and supported incomes across the whole of the UK. We are going to get this country through it, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman supports our measures.

This morning, with the Social Market Foundation, I published my report titled, “Unlocking Britain”, which sets out 10 reforms that the Government can put in place to help our economy recover once the health crisis is behind us. Would the Prime Minister agree to work with me and consider some of those ideas, in particular my idea of a recovery fund for British small and medium-sized businesses—indeed, small and medium-sized businesses from the entire United Kingdom—to help to reduce their debt burden and give them equity, so they can power our recovery forward? (903348)

I have studied my hon. Friend’s proposals with interest. He is an expert in what he speaks of and we will certainly look at all kinds of imaginative ways in which we can stimulate a strong rebound, a strong economic recovery. He should stand by for what the Chancellor is going to be announcing in the next few weeks.

Due to the covid crisis, tens of thousands of British businesses face bankruptcy and millions of British people face redundancy. In Britain’s hour of need, will the Prime Minister put the practical imperative of saving jobs before his Brexit ideology, rather than risk a bad deal or a no deal due to the deadline set before coronavirus? Why does the Prime Minister not show some good old-fashioned British common sense, give our economy the chance to breathe, and accept the EU’s offer of a delay?

I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that there is another way of looking at it. The first point is that the people of this country are heartily sick of us going on about Brexit. They wanted to get it done. We got it done and we are going to move forward. The other point is that when we come to the end of the transition period, we will be able to do things differently. We will be able to respond to our economic needs in a creative and constructive way, looking at regulation and looking at ways in which we support industries in a way that we have not been able to do before. That will be very productive for this country. Let us not delay that moment; let us get on with it.

I am sure everybody will be delighted that my right hon. Friend is back in this House in such robust form. He will be pleased to know that almost 50% of the children in Gloucestershire who qualify are back at school now, but their education has suffered over the past few months. Will he consider therefore doing two things? First, will he ask all teachers to set all their children and pupils a catch-up plan before the summer? Secondly, will he ask all headteachers to get a recovery plan so that everybody can go back in September? (903349)

Yes, indeed; it is absolutely crucial that we do that. There is a big catch-up plan that my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary is going to be announcing very shortly. It is vital that kids catch up on the education that they have lost, but even more vital, as I think I may have mentioned to the House already this morning, that the kids who can go to school should go to school. Would it not be a fine thing, Mr Speaker, if we heard from all parts of the House that schools are safe to go to, rather than the wibble-wobble we have heard from the Opposition this morning?

A strong UK steel industry is essential for the UK’s economic recovery. Plants such as Llanwern and the Orb steelworks in Newport—the only electrical steel plant in the UK—can play a key part in that recovery, but we are three months into the crisis and steel companies are still waiting for Government liquidity support. That is critical. Will the Prime Minister commit to addressing that now? (903346)

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady, because we take the issue of the UK steel industry very seriously. We are doing everything we can to maintain UK steel production. Clearly it was always facing difficulties, even before corona struck. I will make sure that I look at the particular needs of the concern that she raises in Newport East. We will ensure that we do everything we can. I just remind her that we have supported 9,200 workers in her constituency through the furlough scheme.

Coronavirus has underlined the importance of improving broadband infrastructure. Does the Prime Minister agree that extending the existing relief on business rates for new full-fibre infrastructure could see the release of the investment we need to level up rural areas such as North Devon? Will he thank telecommunications workers for their efforts during the pandemic? (903352)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why we have provided 100% business rate relief for all new fibre investment. I am very happy to join her in thanking telecommunications workers for their amazing work. Many of them have kept going throughout the pandemic to put in that broadband infrastructure. I thank them with her.

The Prime Minister has previously stated to the House that he had no correspondence or discussions with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government about the Westferry Printworks application. Will the Prime Minister now also confirm that none of his officials or advisers had such correspondence or discussions with the Secretary of State or his officials and advisers? Will the Prime Minister undertake to publish all correspondence relating to the matter when the Cabinet Secretary reports? (903350)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I certainly had no correspondence about the matter myself, nor as far as I am aware did any of my officials, but if there is anything to be said, I think the hon. Gentleman has written to the Cabinet Secretary, and I know that he will be writing back.

The reopening of non-essential shops in Aylesbury on Monday has been a very welcome boost to restart the local retail sector. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that he will do everything necessary to stimulate the rest of the Buckinghamshire economy in the weeks and months to come, for example, by easing restrictions on outdoor tables and chairs, cutting unnecessary regulation and, perhaps most importantly, providing a dedicated stimulus for our small businesses—the businesses for which the county is rightly renowned? (903353)

Yes. I thank my hon. Friend for the way he campaigns for business in Aylesbury. We will do what we can to flex the social distancing rules, but only as we make progress in driving the incidence of the virus down. I think everybody understands the tension that the whole country is operating under and the trade-off that we have to make. We must continue to defeat the virus. We will stick ruthlessly to our plan to continue with the opening of hospitality sectors on 4 July at the earliest and proceed on that basis.

Last week, in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), the Prime Minister said:“newly shielded people may be asking themselves whether they will be entitled to furlough funds. I have been made aware of the issue very recently. I can assure her that we will be addressing it forthwith.”—[Official Report, 10 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 281.]Since then, the deadline for applying for the furlough scheme has been and gone, and there has been no announcement about the support for shielding workers. Is this yet another U-turn, or has the Prime Minister just forgotten what he said in the Chamber last week? (903351)

It is really good to see the Prime Minister looking fighting fit. Where are we in the process of trying to stop repeated vexatious claims against servicemen and women who have been involved in fatality shootings in the Northern Ireland campaign? (903354)

My hon. Friend is right. We will be bringing forward legislation that focuses on protecting people who have been involved, whether victims or veterans alike, ensuring equal treatment in Northern Ireland for our veterans and also for those who have served overseas.

One million people with no recourse to public funds cannot access the universal credit safety net. I agree with the Prime Minister’s point at the Liaison Committee that hard-working families in that position should have help of one kind or another. Will he deliver help by suspending the “no recourse to public funds” restriction for the duration of this crisis, and do it before the school summer holidays, so that destitute families can at least claim the free school meal vouchers he announced yesterday? (903355)

Of course they should be eligible for those, but as I have said to the right hon. Gentleman repeatedly in the Chamber, those who have no recourse to public funds do have access to the coronavirus job retention scheme, the self-employment income support scheme, the measures that we have introduced to protect renters and the mortgage holiday for those who need it. When an individual has been working for long enough in the UK and enough national insurance contributions have been made, they may also be entitled to employment and support allowance. Although “no recourse to public funds” sounds as though it means just that, it is a term of art. There are many ways in which we support the poorest and neediest in this country. We are proud to do so, and we will continue to do so.

I welcome efforts by companies such as Facebook to make the internet a safer and less misleading place. I know my right hon. Friend will agree that we cannot leave online platforms to regulate themselves, so may I urge him to allow no further delay in bringing forward the Government’s response to the online harms White Paper consultation and legislation that will enable this country to play the global leadership role on this that it can and should play?

I know that my right hon. Friend has campaigned on this issue, and I remember the interest that he has taken in online harms. They are an evil. There is a real risk that, during the lockdown, terrible things have been going on behind closed doors and closed curtains in this country on the internet. We had a summit on the matter in No. 10 recently, and we are working at pace, as he knows, on new legislation against online harms.

As if BA’s behaviour has not been bad enough, an agency in its supply chain, Shorterm, did not pay staff during the covid crisis, claiming that it was awaiting clarification from HMRC about furlough. The workers could not access benefits and have now been made redundant after 10 weeks of zero income. Will the Prime Minister ensure that HMRC clarifies the matter and considers an extension to the furlough deadline? If Shorterm is found to be bluffing, what will he do to stop companies treating workers like numbers on a spreadsheet? (903356)

I am concerned about the behaviour of some companies, and many colleagues in the House will have received similar representations from their constituents. I do not want to single anyone out, but it is important that companies recognise that the Government —the taxpayer—have gone to huge lengths to help and to put our arms around UK business. They should do what they can as well to look after their workers in very difficult times, because those workers will stand them in good stead when the economy turns up again.

In Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, I have the incredible Chatterley Whitfield colliery. Once the beating heart of the industrial revolution, Chatterley is now, sadly, at risk of being lost. Will my right hon. Friend support me, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Historic England and the Friends of Chatterley Whitfield to protect and preserve this historic landmark by creating an industrial heritage park to stimulate tourism, create new green jobs and memorialise the history from the pits to the pots?

I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Friends of Chatterley Whitfield colliery on the ambition that he has just outlined for a heritage park. It is a proposal that he needs to work up in more detail and bring to the Government, and we will certainly look at it with interest.

Question 25 has been withdrawn by Amy Callaghan. I am sure all those in the House pass on our best wishes to her and are looking forward to her speedy recovery and return to the House.

Does the Prime Minister agree with me that as our country emerges from this crisis, we have an opportunity to be bold in putting innovation at the centre of our response, to support high-growth sectors such as green energy and FinTech, and also to use innovative financial solutions such as social impact bonds as a tool in delivering our levelling-up agenda?

Yes. My hon. Friend may not believe it, but when I was the Mayor of London we pioneered social impact bonds to tackle the most entrenched rough sleepers and to give value to companies and charities for their success in dealing with that terrible problem. I am proud to say that those social impact bond schemes are now being used in seven projects across the country to tackle rough sleeping. We have made huge progress in dealing with rough sleeping. The number of rough sleepers has been a scar on our consciences. It has got much, much better over the crisis, but we must make sure it does not recur.

Beef farmers in my constituency produce high-quality products in which consumers can have confidence because our farmers can demonstrate lifelong traceability of their cattle. Their efforts, however, are undermined by labelling legislation in this country, which allows beef from anywhere in the world to be labelled as British beef as long as it is packaged in this country. If the Prime Minister is serious about maintaining food standards, especially in light of any future trade arrangements, will he do something to close that loophole?

Yes. If what the right hon. Gentleman says is indeed the case—I am sure that he knows exactly whereof he speaks—I can only say that it must be one of those things that is currently governed by the laws of the EU, to which he is bound to return an independent Scotland, should that catastrophe ever arise. On this side of the House, we intend to take advantage of the freedoms that we have—the freedoms that the British people have decided to take back—to make sure that Scottish beef farmers have the protections that they need.

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.