Thursday 24 June 2021
[Christina Rees in the Chair]
White Working-class Pupils
Select Committee statement
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 25 February).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice in order to support the new hybrid arrangements. Timings of debates have been amended to allow technical arrangements to be made for the next debate. There will be suspensions between debates. I remind Members participating, physically and virtually, that they must arrive for the start of a debate in Westminster Hall and are expected to remain for the entire debate.
I also remind Members participating virtually that they must leave their camera on for the duration of the debate and that they will be visible at all times, both to one another and to us in the Boothroyd Room. If Members attending virtually have any technical problems, they should email the Westminster Hall Clerks at westminsterhallclerks@ parliament.uk. Members attending physically should clean their spaces before they use them and before they leave the room. I remind Members that Mr Speaker has stated that masks should be worn in Westminster Hall.
We begin with a Select Committee statement. Robert Halfon will speak on the publication of the first report of Session 2021-22 from the Education Committee, “The forgotten: how White working-class pupils have been let down, and how to change it”, HC 85, for up to 10 minutes, during which no interventions may be taken. At the conclusion of his statement, I will call Members as they appear on the call list to ask questions on the subject of the statement, and call Robert Halfon to respond to those in turn. Questions should be brief. I call the Chair of the Education Committee, Robert Halfon.
It is an honour to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Rees. May I start by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for providing me with this opportunity? I express special thanks to the Committee Officers for all their hard work on the report, and thank in particular my parliamentary colleagues on the Committee for all their amendments, which have strengthened the report.
Our Committee is dedicated to championing left-behind groups. We have looked at exclusions and children with special educational needs, and are currently undertaking two inquiries, on prison education and children in care. This is why we decided to examine the decades-long neglect of disadvantaged white pupils: the large number of disadvantaged white pupils who underachieve in education remains a significant obstacle to closing the overall attainment gap.
Our Committee is fully aware that other groups experience disadvantage and discrimination in education and deserve support. We understand the justified anger that people feel about racism, prejudice and discrimination. Of course it is vital that we work together as a country to address those issues. All disadvantaged groups struggle, but the picture for white British children eligible for free school meals is particularly bleak.
In 2019, just 53% of FSM-eligible white British children met the expected standard of development in early years. In the same year, just 17.7% of FSM-eligible white British pupils achieved a strong pass in English and maths at GCSE level. FSM-eligible white British pupils have one of the lowest rates of participation in higher education, with just 16% of that group going to university by the age of 19 in 2019. At every stage in the education system, disadvantaged white pupils on free school meals underperformed compared with most other ethnic groups.
There are many reasons for that gap existing and there will be no simple fix. Its existence is not due to any ethnic trait—a person’s ethnicity bears no relation to their natural ability or potential—nor is this solely an issue of poverty, as so many seem quick to assert. Children from ethnic minorities are more likely to experience poverty, yet many of them consistently outperform their similarly disadvantaged white British peers.
During our inquiry, we heard about many factors that may combine to put disadvantaged white pupils at a particular disadvantage. Those include these key areas: persistent and multi-generational disadvantage; place-based factors, including regional economics and under-investment; family experience of education; a lack of social capital; disengagement from the curriculum; and a failure to address their low participation in higher education. No one could deny that children from other ethnic backgrounds experience those challenges, which are often compounded by racism. However, we believe that white working-class families may be afflicted by a greater accumulation of those problems, which puts these children at a grave disadvantage when it comes to learning. Many of the solutions to the issues that we heard about—for example, the importance of high-quality early years support and ensuring that all pupils have excellent teachers—are likely to benefit all children from low-income families.
However, the evidence that our inquiry received also pointed to two key areas that we think are central to understanding the relative underperformance of disadvantaged white pupils: place-based disparity and cultural factors. To tackle them, the Department for Education must acknowledge the extent of the problem and recognise that its approach is not working. What is needed now is a tailored approach with targeted actions.
First, funding and support must be tailor-made at local level to level up educational opportunity. To do that, we need a better understanding of disadvantage and better tools to tackle it. We need data that pinpoints barriers and areas that need more support, so that we can always get extra help to the pupils, schools and neighbourhoods that need it most. The Department must also consider reforming funding mechanisms such as the pupil premium with weighting for long-term disadvantage and better accountability measures to ensure that funding is always spent on the most disadvantaged.
Secondly, disadvantaged white families must have access to strong early years support and family hubs to support parental engagement and tackle multi-generational disadvantage. The Department should set out a bold vision for every town to have a family hub, using existing community assets where appropriate. Those should offer integrated services, build trusted relationships with families, and work closely with schools to provide support for a child’s educational journey.
We also heard that disadvantaged white families may struggle with low levels of adult education, which makes it more challenging for those parents to help their children in school. To support disadvantaged white parents who want to improve their own level of education in order to help their children, the report calls for a community learning centre in every town and for a skills tax credit to incentivise employers to train their staff.
Thirdly, we must ensure the value of vocational training and apprenticeship options, while boosting access to higher education. That does not mean introducing a two-tier system, with practical subjects a second-rate alternative for children perceived to be less able. The Department must reform accountability measures by reforming the EBacc, with a curriculum that includes academic subjects and at least one technical, creative or vocational course in key stage 4.
We need a better approach to widening participation in higher education for disadvantaged white pupils. They deserve to know about all their options on leaving school, including higher education. The Office for Students found in 2019 that around £800 million is spent by universities on improving access and outreach. That money should be sent upstream in pupils’ educational journeys, teaching them about the opportunities of higher education, and spent on encouraging and supporting degree apprenticeships. We call on the Office for Students to do more to encourage providers to treat disadvantaged white pupils as a priority, given that they have such low rates of participation in higher education.
Fourthly, all students must have access to the very best teachers, as good teaching is one of the most powerful levers in achieving improved outcomes. We should have teaching degree apprenticeships, just as we have nursing degree apprenticeships and policing degree apprenticeships, and more investment in local teacher training centres to help to get good teachers to the pupils who need them most.
Fifthly, we have to learn to stop pitting one group against another, and find a better, less divisive way to talk about racial disparities in this country. The notion of white privilege can be hugely damaging in creating the perception that the disadvantaged do not need support. However, it has, worryingly, gained credence and exposure in recent months, although it remains a meaningless concept to the young boy or girl growing up in an area without opportunities from one generation to the next. They feel anything but privileged.
It is time to end the neglect and muddled thinking that have characterised the past few decades when it comes to helping and supporting the white working class. The disadvantaged in this country face an unacceptable attainment gap, which the covid-19 pandemic will only have worsened. By finally facing up to the problems faced by such a large group in society and doing something about it, the Government can really bring about a step change in efforts to close the chasm and ensure that everyone, whatever their background, has the chance to climb the education ladder of opportunity.
Thank you, Ms Rees. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) for securing the statement on behalf of the Committee, of which I am a proud member. Although many people would like to focus on the areas of division in discussions about white privilege, will my right hon. Friend highlight some of the positive recommendations on vocational education and apprenticeships for deprived areas, such as Radcliffe in my constituency, with particular focus on issues such as compliance with the Baker clause in relation to inspections?
I thank my hon. Friend for all his hard work on the report. I am proud to have him as a colleague on the Committee. He is absolutely right to point to the work that we have done on the report in supporting more degree apprenticeships; ensuring that universities encourage degree apprenticeships; asking for a teaching degree apprenticeship so we get more teachers, particularly in disadvantaged areas; looking at the curriculum; and introducing design and technology as part of the English Baccalaureate.
My hon. Friend mentioned the Baker clause. It is vital that schools enforce the Baker clause and ensure that children are taught about apprenticeships and skills as proper career options. We say in the report that if that is not done properly, schools should get an unsatisfactory rating from Ofsted. That has to be done. In the House of Lords, Lord Baker himself is introducing to the Government’s Skills and Post-16 Education Bill an amendment proposing that there should be a statutory element to enforcing the clause. I hope that some of our recommendations will be taken up by the Government.
We know that ethnicity, gender, class and economic opportunity all play a part in pupil attainment—to varying degrees in different schools and in different parts of the country—but may I put it to the Chair of the Select Committee that we know what works in tackling inequality? As a former schools Minister with responsibility for the London Challenge, I know that the performance of children in London schools, including the poorest pupils and those on free school meals, improved dramatically under the scheme. Of course, it was scrapped by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives in 2011. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that it would be better for him to focus on policies like that, rather than making simplistic and divisive comments in his report.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. If she reads through the report, she will see that we discuss concepts such as the London Challenge. The London Challenge was very successful, and I am glad that London schools are now some of the best in the country. The problem is that investment has been thrown at the cities and policy reform developed for them, but often the towns have been left behind. We have a significant section in the report, which I mentioned in my opening remarks: funding should be tailor-made. We need to reform the pupil premium and ensure that the funding goes to the neighbourhoods and areas that need it most, particularly in towns where disadvantaged white communities may live.
It is a pleasure to have played a part in this report and I congratulate the Chair of the Select Committee on putting it together in the way that he has.
I have been slightly surprised to see comments made by certain Opposition colleagues that this is all to do with austerity and that it is all to do with poverty in a general sense. If that were the case, surely all disadvantaged groups would be impacted in exactly the same way. A key issue here is the disparity when it comes to a certain disadvantaged group of pupils performing a lot less well than other groups.
Why does the Chair of the Committee, on which I sit, believe it is the case that, even when the facts are there in front of us, some people seem determined to ignore them? Is it wilful ignorance, or is it a sense that they believe that this group is less deserving of attention and support than other disadvantaged groups?
I thank my hon. Friend. He is another active and hard-working member of the Committee, and he did a lot of work on proposing important amendments to our report. He makes a very important point. Sadly, people read what they want to read. The section on white privilege is just a few pages of a report of 90-odd pages.
Lord Blunkett, a respected former Education Secretary and a senior Labour figure, said that our Committee is “entirely right” to highlight the “decades of neglect” of white working-class kids in schools:
“The report is about neglect, it is about aspiration whatever your race and ethnicity and background.”
And this is absolutely relevant to the point made:
“I just think we have got to stop these knee jerk reactions and examine the reality.”
Sadly, there have been a lot of knee-jerk reactions to our report, and people have not read it from cover to cover. I hope the debate on the statement gives people an opportunity to look at the report again.
I welcome the report and congratulate my right hon. Friend and his Committee on investigating the issue of the underachievement of so many white working-class children. Does he agree that it is vital that we encourage and help those pupils; that we need to recruit talented and inspirational teachers; that we must present role models to the children; and that we must get parents and families who have experienced poverty and disadvantage more engaged in their children’s education?
My right hon. Friend has been a champion of white working-class communities since he became a Member of the House of Commons. He is absolutely right. Two core elements of our report are about that issue. We have suggested not only that teachers should be given financial incentives and bursaries to go to disadvantaged areas, but that we should introduce teaching degree apprenticeships. We have nursing and policing degree apprenticeships, and we should encourage more teachers. We have a recruitment issue anyway. We should set up local training providers in areas of disadvantage and encourage teachers to be in those areas.
On parental engagement, the report includes evidence from Reach Academy Feltham, which has an incredible parental engagement programme and which works on parents who have been disengaged from the education system from generation to generation. It has had tremendous success, and we suggest not only that the Government should put family hubs in every town, but that they should work on and develop parental engagement programmes just as Reach Academy Feltham does.
A key finding of the Education Committee is that the use of terms such as “white privilege” might have contributed to the neglect of white working-class pupils. What utter nonsense. White privilege is not about kids from poor white working-class backgrounds not being disadvantaged; it is just that their disadvantage is not based on the colour of their skin. The crux of the issue is that continual cuts and lack of Government funding for the likes of free school meals leave all kids from poor backgrounds perennially pushed out.
I usually have a great deal of respect for the right hon. Gentleman and his Select Committee, but does he feel a sense of shame or guilt for having facilitated such a finding, which itself drew on a much discredited report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities to try to inflame the Tory culture wars, gain newspaper headlines and further stoke divisions and tensions within communities?
I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, who is a remarkable MP, but I completely disagree with what he has said. Let me make it clear: the problem is that the use of terminology such as “white privilege”, which keeps spreading, is wrong-headed for three reasons. It implies a collective guilt when individuals should be responsible for acts of racism. It portrays white working-class disadvantaged communities as white privileged. It is factually incorrect, as those from almost every other ethnic group who are on free school meals do much better than their white working-class counterparts who are on free school meals.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the funding issue. I have campaigned for more funding. A previous Committee report asked for a long-term plan and more funding. I had an article in The Sun newspaper two weeks ago calling for more funding from the Chancellor. The crucial point is this: everyone is under the same funding regime, so why is it that almost every other ethnic group under the same funding regime that he talks about performs better than white working-class boys and girls on free school meals?
Again, I quote the former Education Secretary, Lord Blunkett, a man I hugely admire, and a very respected Labour party figure:
“To put it bluntly, the last thing that young people facing disadvantage need to hear is anything about ‘white privilege’. Hope, support, guidance and, above all, adult role models are what all of them need—wherever they are from.”
If the hon. Gentleman does not want to listen to me or look at the report in its entirety, I suggest he listen to what David Blunkett has to say—
Covid-19: Community Response
I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice in order to support the new hybrid arrangements. Timings of debates have been amended to allow technical arrangements to be made for the next debate. There will also be suspensions between each debate. I remind Members participating physically and virtually that they must arrive for the start of debates in Westminster Hall and are expected to remain for the entire debate. I must also remind Members participating virtually that they must leave their camera on for the duration of the debate, and that they will be visible at all times to one another and to us in the Boothroyd Room. If Members attending virtually have any technical problems, they should email the Westminster Hall Clerks at westminsterhallclerks@ parliament.uk. Members attending physically should clean their spaces before they use them and as they leave the room. I also remind Members that Mr Speaker has stated that masks should be worn in Westminster Hall.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the role of the community in responding to the covid-19 outbreak.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I start by thanking so many Members from across parties who were kind enough to support the application for this debate to the Backbench Business Committee. It is wonderful to see so many here in person and online.
I called for the debate to give Members a fantastic opportunity to formally recognise the unprecedented and undoubtedly life-saving support that local community groups and their members have provided to those most vulnerable and in need during the covid-19 pandemic. I know I speak for so many when I say thank you to each and every person who has sacrificed in service of their neighbour and their community over these difficult and traumatic months. They are absolutely the unsung heroes of the pandemic, and their dedication and sacrifice, exemplified by the late Captain Sir Tom Moore and all his fundraising efforts, are an absolute inspiration to us all.
If anything positive at all can be taken from this pandemic, it is that it has shone a light on the strength of community spirit that has emerged through the local groups and individuals who have delivered support to those most in need. We would do well in the House to hold their sacrifice at the forefront of our minds as we look towards creating a brighter future out of the pandemic. I want to celebrate the work of several support networks in my constituency whose care and support for those in need over the past 16 months cannot be overstated: the East Kilbride Covid-19 Network, which includes organisations such as Share Alike; our local food bank, Loaves and Fishes; Moncreiff Parish Church; the East Kilbride Community Food Bank; Older & Active; and VASLAN, or Volunteer Action South Lanarkshire. The East Kilbride Covid-19 Network has provided hundreds of thousands of meals over the course of the pandemic and has packed and distributed thousands of toiletry parcels and hundreds of mental health and special birthday packs.
I also pay particular tribute to Denis Curran MBE and his wonderful wife Cathie, who recently announced that they are retiring from their roles at the heart of the Loaves and Fishes food bank in East Kilbride after nearly 30 years of dedicated service. I submitted early-day motion 113 celebrating their service to the local community through Loaves and Fishes and urge hon. Members to consider signing it. We owe it to Denis and Cathie, and all those we pay tribute to today, to ensure that future generations grow up without the need for food banks, an area of support that has grown exponentially during the pandemic.
I also celebrate the work of Avondale community support group, which as part of Working Together for Avondale has been working with Strathaven and Glassford Community Council, Sandford and Upper Avondale Community Council, Strathaven Business Association, Strathaven Evangelical Church, Outreach Community Church, Avondale LEAP, Glassford Community Group, Strathaven Foodbank, Avondale Young Farmers and Sandford Giving Tree.
The Avondale community support group has put together a series of mindfulness sessions, which is quite unique, with local business Mind Marvels, has founded four peer support groups, and also ran an online family fun day earlier this month. It put together 200 craft kits for summer holidays in partnership with Creative Strathaven, and has worked with local restaurant Taal Cuisine and with Ann Davidson Butchers to provide food vouchers and food parcels, and with Climate Action Strathaven, which has kindly offered its hub as the food parcel outlet.
I also want to mention the work of the Blackwood and Kirkmuirhill Resilience Group and its support for the local area, through the establishment of an emergency call centre and distribution team, which has been travelling throughout Blackwood and Kirkmuirhill to provide emergency support and supplies to those most in need throughout the pandemic.
The Blackwood and Kirkmuirhill Resilience Group, run by the wonderful local lady Lesley Speedie, who has been in constant touch with me, has based its response on community recovery, community spaces and climate action challenges. It has also put on numerous events throughout the pandemic, including a children’s “Kindness Rocks” campaign, where young children painted rocks in the local community to brighten up local spaces. It has delivered spring flowers to isolated residents from Allison’s Flowers and ordered fish teas for elderly residents —I would have liked one of those myself, but I did not get one. The much-attended virtual online bingo has been a huge success. The group also organised a Santa parade at Christmas for all in the community to enjoy.
I must pay special tribute to South Lanarkshire Council’s community engagement team, in particular Heather Robertson and Brian Borland, who have gone so far beyond their official remits to help to facilitate, co-ordinate and empower the abundance of good will and generosity that has poured out of our local community.
It is vital for us to remember that many of the community groups in our constituencies would not have been able to do all that they could without vital financial support from our local businesses and community funds. With that in mind, I would like to thank Banks Renewables, Falck Renewables, the Sandford and Upper Avondale Community Council, Kirkmuirhill Second Chance Shop and our local Co-op, for all the financial support they have provided throughout the pandemic for our wonderful local efforts.
I also want to thank the Trust Jack Foundation in Stonehouse, which has supported young people’s mental health recovery—that is going to be so vital as we move ahead in the coming months—and NHS Lanarkshire psychological services, led by Dr Gary Tanner, with innovative online psychology programmes led by Professor Jim White. They have ensured that mental health and wellbeing have been prioritised in my constituency throughout the pandemic.
Many of the unsung heroes of the pandemic have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that daily lives continue to function. In that, I include pharmacies across the constituency and the UK, which provide a vital medicine supply, food and grocery stores, and factories and all their essential staff, as well as our local high streets, including the corporates who were so good locally and regularly kept in touch with me to provide special deliveries for the most vulnerable. I include bus and train drivers—all of those in public transport companies who kept going through the pandemic, ensuring that essential staff in our NHS and social care could travel safely to work and turned up for their roles, day in, day out, despite their own concerns about the pandemic.
I thank the essential council staff who provided care, support and maintenance of our local communities, and those emergency frontline staff of the police—including Police Scotland—the fire brigade, paramedics and the emergency response units. All of these services are vital, but many have perhaps gone less recognised than others. Not today. We salute their fortitude and dedication to our lives and our safety.
An amazing group has taken off in East Kilbride during the pandemic: East Kilbride Community Litter Pickers, led by the inspirational Alice Alves. Her motto and mine is “Take pride in East Kilbride”. There are now thousands of litter pickers across my constituency who work every week to clean up our town and local landscape, making such a difference to our outlook, taking pride in our area, our villages and our town, and showing that we care about our environment.
I thank the local schools who have helped—Our Lady of Lourdes, Calderglen High and Duncanrig Secondary, my own former school. They have been engaging in this work, and the Boys’ Brigade has also been collecting litter across the area as part of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards. They are making a vast difference, helping with positivity and inspiring our way ahead.
I want to draw Members’ and the Minister’s attention to some national initiatives. The Forest of Memories project aims to create a network of memorial forests across the UK in memory of all those who have lost their lives as a result of the pandemic. It has been supported by national bodies such as the National Trust and the Woodland Trust, and by charities such as Mind, Shelter and Marie Curie.
Sustainable forest can allow families to remember their loved ones in an environmentally sustainable way, surrounded by the beauty of nature. It is vital that we give our constituents every opportunity to take time and space to reflect and grieve, in the light of the loss and trauma that they have experienced over the last 16 months. As a supporter of the Forest of Memories and the primary sponsor of its early-day motion, and as we turn our minds to the legacy of the pandemic, I can think of no better tribute, and I commend its work to the Minister. We must look towards sustainable places of reflection, and demonstrate leadership through COP26 and across our Commonwealth. The legacy must pay tribute to the lives we have sadly lost, but also pay respect to our planet.
Finally, I draw Members’ attention to the Thank You Day celebrations, due to take place across the UK on Sunday 4 July. The initiative behind Thank You Day was started by just 13 volunteers, and it is now supported by hundreds of organisations, from the Scouts and the Guides, to Rotary, the Royal Voluntary Service and the NHS. This year, they have teamed up with Keep Britain Tidy to organise community litter-picks across the UK, as well as tartan tea parties, lunches and cheers for volunteer moments. I urge Members to look into how they might celebrate that occasion in their constituencies for those who have given so much to serve others.
I thank everyone who has come together to make a difference to the lives of the most vulnerable. We could not have come this far without them, and they make us strong in our will to get past this pandemic and build back better. I look forward to the contributions of Members of all parties today, and to learn about the amazing work that has taken place in their constituencies. The resilience of our scientists, our health and social care services and all those on the frontline has made a crucial difference to our lives. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts and are proud to represent them in this House of Commons.
I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing this debate. She has done the House an enormous favour by giving us the opportunity to thank our community champions for all that they do. As Members of Parliament, we know how much it means when people actually say thank you to us. This is a great opportunity to celebrate and say thank you.
I find increasingly that if you want a job doing, ask a busy person, and the community champions are all very busy. Local charities, community groups and individuals were vital for helping vulnerable individuals before the pandemic, but they have been especially brilliant throughout it. Many selfless volunteers in Southend have given up their time to assist those who cannot help themselves. This debate is so well judged.
Southend is fortunate to have plenty of wonderful charities that help a broad range of individuals and groups. The Music Man Project, set up by the brilliant David Stanley, would have been going to Broadway were it not for the pandemic. David Stanley is inspirational and has helped people with learning disabilities realise their full potential. It has played at the London Palladium and the Royal Albert Hall, and now it is going to go across to America.
I was pleased to support Trust Links’ new online wellbeing service, which adapted how it support individuals with mental health and wellbeing issues. I met Matt King, the chief executive, and I hope it can resume its services, which help 1,500 people every year with therapeutic gardening programmes, counselling, work programmes and mental health and wellbeing coaches.
Local charities that help rough sleepers have been extremely busy during the pandemic. I have been working closely with HARP—the Homeless Action Resource Project—and Off the Streets. Homeless people have been able to get into shelters and receive the coronavirus vaccine. I supported HARP’s “Everyone In” campaign to ensure that the progress made during the first lockdown was successfully continued to keep rough sleepers safe. I have seen the effects of homelessness first hand when visiting night shelters and during on-street visits. I urge the Government to support the charities helping rough sleepers as restrictions are hopefully easing.
I know colleagues will agree with me that our magnificent carers deserve recognition for the vital work that they have been doing. It was Carers Week earlier this month, and I was pleased to support Southend Carers and all those unpaid carers, to let them know how much they are valued. The contribution they made to families in Southend show a level of commitment and selflessness that is rare.
The week is Children’s Hospice Week. In July, Havens Hospices will be launching their Hares About Town project to bring communities together to raise awareness of the mental health problems children are facing and to raise money for the charity. I look forward to this project and wish them the best of luck.
Elderly people often need assistance with shopping deliveries and other day-to-day tasks that have been made more difficult during the pandemic. It was heart-warming to see the Southend Scouts and the Royal British Legion use their resources and time to assist those who could not go out food shopping or needed help collecting medicine. There are so many charitable organisations in Southend that have a passion for helping others.
Carla Cressy founded the Endometriosis Foundation, with which I have worked closely as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on endometriosis. It has done wonderful work. Similarly, Kelly Swain and Natasha Ralph have launched National Online Wellbeing Services’ “N.O.W’s the time for change” campaign, aimed at providing health-based and therapeutic coaching to improve emotional and mental health for children, young people, adults and families. It focuses on early intervention and coaching to overcome life’s challenges.
It is not just charities that have been champions in our communities. People have come to rely on the many places of worship that have done a magnificent job. With the weather thankfully improving, more people have been using the beaches. Southend Lifeboat and the Chalkwell Lifeguards have been very busy keeping people safe. I recently met the Chalkwell Lifeguards to present them with new emergency equipment, which will help save more lives. They do a wonderful job.
Southend emergency fund has given almost £200,000 to help local Southend charities and individuals to provide food, heating, personal protective equipment and mental health support to develop strategies to cope with life after coronavirus.
I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing the debate and for allowing us all the opportunity to highlight the role of community in tackling the covid-19 pandemic.
In my constituency of Upper Bann, I have been blown away by the support of local community groups with clubs, churches and other bodies, such as the Orange Institution, in meeting the challenges posed by covid-19. It is no exaggeration to say that without the volunteering spirit of so many, more lives would have been lost, loneliness and the consequences of isolation would have been more prevalent, and families facing unexpected struggles would have been left helpless.
Faced with the unprecedented need and facing so many unknowns, and balanced against the risk of increased exposure to covid-19, it was inspiring to watch so many stand with neighbour or stranger to help them through this challenging time. In Upper Bann, our food banks faced unprecedented demand, but never left anyone without supplies. Food parcels were distributed by Orange lodges, churches, sports clubs and community groups. Volunteers checked in by phone with elderly neighbours and we had groups such as Warrior Scrubs making much needed PPE for our local healthcare heroes on the frontline. There are literally hundreds of people in my constituency alone who deserve our recognition, and therefore I will desist from singling out any particular group, save to say our thanks and praise for what they have done and continue to do.
What must recognise the vital role of community and ensure that we provide this sector, in all its manifestations, with the support it needs to thrive. This needs to be though financial support, but also through support for volunteer recruitment and development. We also want to promote the benefits of community participation among our younger generations.
I am proud of the role played by young people in my constituency throughout the covid-19 pandemic, but I would love to see it as the start of a movement towards young people getting involved in community groups and driving their priorities forward. We are making steady progress on the road to normality, but let the journey of community activism continue when we get to freedom day, because we have much to do to recover from the trauma brought about by covid-19. I thank all the volunteers in Upper Bann.
I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing such an important debate. I am delighted to have the opportunity to spend a few minutes paying tribute to the community organisations and volunteers in Crewe and Nantwich who played—and continue to play—an enormously important role in helping us respond to the challenges of covid.
There is no way for me to recognise all the positive work done by so many different groups and people, but I thank each and every one of them. I will mention a few of the groups and individuals who enabled others to contribute, including Liz Parkin and members of the Nantwich Buddies team; Councillor Janet Clowes and members of her Wybunbury Viral Kindness team; Philip Garcia, Connie Davis, Helen Mollart and others, who are part of the Haslington Support Group; Nadiah McKeown and her team of 40 volunteers in the Community Isolation Help Group for the Wistaston, Crewe and Nantwich Facebook group—in fact, this year the local charity Motherwell recognised Nadiah as an inspiring woman for her fantastic work leading the group; and the fantastic group of volunteers, such as Chris, Emma, Christina, Paul and Nicola, who were supported by office. There are too many to mention, as I said.
I also want to mention the many volunteers supporting charities such as the Wishing Well, Hopes and Beams, St Paul’s Centre, Nantwich food bank, the YMCA and the Salvation Army. Collectively, they helped people stay in their homes, helped get medicines and helped pharmacy queues. They helped support lonely and isolated people. There was an enormous range of tasks that they engaged with. I had the pleasure of meeting Jean Fuller and husband-and-wife volunteers Geraldine and Ernie during a visit to the Wishing Well charity during Volunteers Week earlier this month. They exemplify community spirit—the idea that to give one’s time to help others is special, important and enriching.
If there is one thing that we can do positively as a result of the pandemic, it is to try to capitalise on that community spirit, on the many people who were new to volunteering, and on the new friendships and the new organisations that were built to respond to the pandemic. I am already seeing such groups grow and sustain beyond the work of responding to the pandemic. For example, the Haslington Support Group, like many of the groups I have mentioned, did not exist before the pandemic. As well as still helping people with collecting medicines and getting to appointments, the group recently created a poppy trail throughout the village and has just announced that it will be creating a scarecrow trail as well.
We all have a responsibility to each other. That is what it means to be part of a community, and I remain in awe of those individuals who are willing to do so much to try to fulfil that responsibility. If every person could give just an hour of their time once a month to volunteer in the community, as those people do, our communities—in fact, our entire country—would be so much better for it. I look forward to the proposals coming from the Department on the volunteering strategy for the coming year. If we can get behind people and grow what is positive as we come out of the pandemic, it will really create sustained improvements for all our constituents and our communities.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing such an important debate.
The last few months have been very difficult for so many different people, though I have nothing but pride for the way in which the people of my Ealing, Southall constituency have stepped up. Our community has responded with tremendous generosity and solidarity with those who have suffered greatly. Tragically, the poorest households and most vulnerable in our society have borne the worst effects of the pandemic, with rising levels of food bank use and social isolation.
I am so proud of the truly inspirational community and faith groups in my constituency who have played their part in supporting people during their time of need. They have handed out thousands of food parcels, and provided helpful advice and emotional support to the most vulnerable and to key workers in the constituency. In particular, I thank all the gurdwaras, all the Hindu temples, all the mosques and all the churches, along with the Indian Workers’ Association Southall, the Southall Lions, and many local restaurants such as Kulcha International, TKC, Saravana Bhawan and many, many more. Most importantly, I thank the Hope for Southall Street Homeless charity, which has worked closely with homeless people.
All places of worship have stepped up during this crisis, not only to feed the needy but to deliver medicine and host vaccination events. Their great work has helped the NHS to reach even wider groups of people with its highly successful vaccination programme, and to further safeguard public health. For their incredible work in protecting and improving our local environment, I wholeheartedly commend the Litter Action Group for Ealing Residents—LAGER Can—for their noble effort in cleaning our green and urban spaces. I am incredibly proud and inspired by their efforts to clean up our community during their Great Big Southall Clean-up fortnight, during which they were able to clean up every street in Southall—an astonishing feat.
I am incredibly grateful for the personal sacrifices of members of those groups, and want to let them know that their contribution to the common good has not gone unnoticed. I know I speak for everyone locally when I thank them for what they have done—the donations they have made and the time they have given up to help us all. Some of these groups were recognised for their outstanding contribution to our community with the great honour of a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, though their good works are deserving of so much more. The Government must commit more funds to the voluntary sector, and to local government, to ensure that these groups can sustainably continue and expand on their excellent work in our communities.
These groups, religious institutions and businesses have shown their commitment to shared strength and community co-operation. The coronavirus crisis has ultimately shown nothing but the best of our communities, the strength of our society, and the will of people to overcome any and all forms of adversity. I thank them for their efforts, and pledge to do all I can to ensure they can survive and flourish in the future.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on having secured this important debate.
I often talk about Peterborough being a special place—a caring city—and I talk regularly about being proud of Peterborough. It has become almost a personal catchphrase, but nothing makes me prouder of Peterborough than the way in which the community has responded during the covid-19 crisis. I would like to publicly thank a lot of the people who have worked with me—worked tirelessly—to support people during this effort.
Cocoa Fowler from the charity Food for Nought has supported teams across the city, delivering food to food banks. Hotelier Colin Wilson has been hailed as a hero by his wife for supporting his community during the covid-19 lockdown by cooking over 200 free meals a week—his local MP agrees with Mrs Wilson. Zoe Wareham, a nurse at Peterborough City Hospital, had to leave her children with their grandparents because they were particularly at risk of infection, but the hours she put in to support people were an inspiration. My friend Zillur Hussain, the chief executive officer of the Zi Foundation, has been honoured for his services to the community in Peterborough during covid-19. Along with his business partner Chavdar Zhelev, they provided thousands of free meals to the vulnerable and the deserving. He was honoured with an MBE, and again, he receives my public thanks. Ishfaq Hussain led efforts to provide meals to rough sleepers and, along with the charities Children of Adam, Unite 4 Humanity and the Garden House, ensured that rough sleepers were fed and housed during the outbreak. I also thank Atiq Rehman, Shezad Yousaf and Steven Pettican, who are good people in part motivated by their faith.
Takeaways and restaurants in Peterborough have been absolutely brilliant at offering free meals to the deserving, and my Peterborough’s Favourite Takeaway contest was a way to thank them for their efforts. Rony Choudhury of the Bombay Brasserie, Zeeshan Manzoor and the teams at Big Mouth and Five Lads, Touqeer Tariq of Rizq Peri Peri Grill, Becky and Emma at Flavour takeaway in Chadburn, the gang at Netherton Fisheries and countless others all deserve mentions, as do Jacki Wood, the landlady of The Bull pub in Newborough, for her efforts supporting the village, and Wendy Sayer of the Newborough coronavirus support group.
Peterborough is home to a number of community food banks. All organisers and volunteers merit thanks. I volunteered at the Millfield community fridge and was looked after by Carol Knight, and supported the efforts of Christine Nice at the Westwood community café and Erin Tierney at the Thorney and Eye food bank. Last but not least, Stevie Wiley and Richard Bastow of the Coronaheroes Facebook group led me to dress up as Father Christmas, handing out presents to children. They have been a real inspiration in Peterborough.
It is a special place, Peterborough, with the Sikh community, the Hindu community, the Nepalese community, five big mosques, churches across the city, the East Timorese community and Petr Torak from COMPAS, which provides support to the Czech, Slovak and Roma communities. They have all been absolutely marvellous during this campaign, as have the Peterborough Litter Wombles, the new organisation that supports litter picking and so on. Family Voice is another superb charity.
It is not difficult to say that Peterborough is a very diverse constituency with people from all sorts of communities. We come from different faiths, cultures and communities; we are different shapes and sizes and even speak different languages. But we came together as one city, and that is why I am proud of Peterborough, why it is such a special place and why all these people deserve a specific mention.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. Let me begin by thanking the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for securing this important debate.
There is no doubt that the covid crisis has been immensely challenging for people across the country. Devastatingly, just when they needed support most, the vulnerable in our society were let down by a Government intent on securing the country’s finances above protecting and supporting its people. Where the Government failed, the local community stepped up. Today’s debate presents an important opportunity to bring attention to the critical work of community groups up and down the country. In my own constituency of Manchester Gorton, which has some of the highest rates of poverty in the country, community groups became a lifeline to those who needed it most.
I have been left in awe at the selflessness, kindness, and compassion of the people in Manchester Gorton. Over the past year and a half, I have had the pleasure of visiting initiatives such as Cracking Good Food, Qadria Jilania Islamic Centre and Urdu Global, where teams of volunteers and local councillors have worked tirelessly to provide hot meals to those in need. Food banks across Manchester including Fallowfield and Withington food bank, Work for Smile Longsight and Smile Aid, with the help of the Rafay Mussarat Foundation, have worked long hours to ensure there is always food available to those struggling to make ends meet. And when the virus trapped many people in their homes, volunteers at The Place at Platt Lane and Ardwick and Longsight mutual aid group delivered food parcels to those forced to shield or self-isolate.
That incredible community spirit has extended beyond providing food. Initiatives such as Levenshulme Inspire’s virtual community drop-in has allowed neighbours to stay connected and even strike up new friendships. Such work has been invaluable as we as a society have struggled with increasing loneliness and worsening mental health. Although this new digitally connected world has allowed many people to stay in touch with friends, family and loved ones, for older people in our society with limited digital skills or connectivity this time has been even more isolating. Once again, in Manchester Gorton community groups rose to the challenge. The Myriad Foundation and Northmoor community centre have ensured older people can access the technology they need to connect with their loved ones.
Let me also take this opportunity to thank all the faith groups for the wonderful work that they have been doing. I am talking about all the mosques, the churches, the Levenshulme Jain centre, the Medina mosque and, in Whalley Range, our gurdwara and the Hindu temple. All have done incredible work in helping people. The wonderful community in Manchester, Gorton have ensured that “isolating” does not mean “isolated”, and I could not be prouder of them.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing this important and timely debate. It has been a real pleasure to hear the stories that we have heard so far about the way all our various communities have pulled together in the face of the pandemic that we have been going through, and to take a moment to celebrate the contribution of the many unsung heroes in our communities.
I will highlight just a few examples of the good work that has been carried out in the communities across my constituency of Gordon. Derek Davidson and the community council in Danestone, in the north of Aberdeen, have contributed a lot to their local community by keeping up local morale and spirits with the fairy doors and the welly wall and by organising litter picks and keeping the planters made by the gentlemen at the local men’s shed planted and brightening up the community in what has otherwise been a pretty dark time for us all.
Moving out towards Insch, in the countryside, the Rev. Dr Kay Gauld of the Insch-Leslie-Premnay-Oyne Church of Scotland and her team, Diane and Debbie, established a resilience group in the town of Insch, supporting people who were in isolation and who were shielding. They also set up a community larder, which continues to offer support, gathering—according to need —everything from firewood to clothes, bread to tinned goods, and even meals if there was a need to help out in that way.
In Ellon, the local Baptist church made its whole building available to the local food bank, which is run by the Trussell Trust and which normally operates out of a much smaller part of that building. Every square inch of the building was needed to cope with the generosity of the community in terms of the donations that were made and to accommodate the support in other aspects that was received.
In the time remaining to me, I would especially like to draw attention to what happened in the town of Huntly and how it pulled together in a particularly adverse set of circumstances earlier this year. On 2 February, the town experienced a complete failure of the gas network—a total shutdown. That left approximately 4,500 people without gas overnight, in temperatures of minus 6°. As if that was not enough, exactly the same thing happened just a month later, again leaving residents without gas overnight, that time in temperatures of minus 5°.
It was testament to the success of the multi-agency response that the prolonged losses of supply did not have more serious consequences, but what really shone through was how, without being asked, local organisations, agencies and individuals stepped up to the plate in order to assist each other in any way they could, whether that was by highlighting those in the community who were especially vulnerable or simply by taking any practical measures that they could to ensure the safety and comfort of others. It included local Facebook pages helping to share information and the local Neep & Okra Kitchen—a locally sourced food project and community business—giving away free food. So many people—too many to mention in the time available—stepped up to look after each other.
Often, it is in the worst circumstances that we find the best of ourselves. We hope that with more and more people each day being double-jabbed, an end to this situation might be in sight; and hopefully we have discovered not so much a sense of community as a renewed sense of community—the understanding that we are each of us part of something much greater and much bigger than ourselves and that our greatest calling in life is to be in the service of others. That is a sense of purpose that can serve us incredibly well in the weeks, months and years ahead as we all seek to build back better in our communities and beyond.
It is a pleasure to serve under you in the Chair, Ms Rees. I, too, thank the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for calling today’s debate.
The communities of York flow with generosity. Time and resources have poured out of people’s hearts to see injustice challenged, inequality quashed and people helped and supported in their time of need. From the unseen acts of kindness through to its highly developed and superbly led voluntary sector, the community effort has been the glue that has held our city together. Rehearsed in our response to flooding in York, we were adept at pulling together in a crisis and acting on values that are deep-rooted in our city’s history of social pioneers, Quaker heritage and progressive values. Literally thousands of people reached out: some to their neighbours, some to organisations, and some supporting community hubs to distribute food and pharmaceuticals. Others set up mutual aid groups and found a new calling to meet need.
My research into York’s pandemic response showed a community-led determination that no one should be left behind or go without. But as the weeks have turned to months, and with the ending of furlough drawing others back to work, one thing is clear: the sustained and enduring fallout from the pandemic continues. Need deepens, job losses grow and, for the isolated and lonely, the silence echoes ever louder. York is renowned as a volunteering city. According to Onward’s UK social fabric index, York scores extremely highly on all its indices. We love to be generous; we love to be kind.
Tragically, we had the first cases of covid in the UK, so we have already lived with the pandemic for 18 months. We are now ready to move on, but this time ensuring that no one is left behind. Although some are trying to go back 18 months, Labour will not. We want to go forward and focus on our community; build a greener, cleaner and more welcoming city with social projects to improve our environment; create a fully accessible and inclusive city; build a family-friendly city so that local people reap the benefits of living in such an incredible place; invest in jobs that are well paid and secure; invest in our new volunteers centre, a place of reciprocity, giving and gaining; and, as this last year has shown, create inclusive communities, building the homes that local people want to live in and the social infrastructure so that communities can thrive.
The past year’s community response has laid the foundations. Last spring, John and Julie McGall put out a table with some food on and invited others to share. Now they feed more than 100 people a day and make 1,000 deliveries a week. They have supported the homeless and those with no recourse to public funds, and found help for those experiencing domestic violence and comfort for those alone. Now a highly sophisticated operation, they serve our city every single day. People can expect to be bowled over by their gracious hearts and kindness.
Supper collective restaurants pooled their skills to turn out 12,000 meals for those in need. I know from constituents how much that has meant. Phone calls from Age UK, Tang Hall Big Local and many other places turned painful, empty days of isolation into moments where people felt the warmth of others and need was met. Bubble buddies went on walks with people, improving the health and wellbeing of their new-found friends.
A sector that has given so much and that must play a critical role in social recovery has received little support. The Government must now focus on supporting and sustaining an inspirational society that has been so transformative. My local community in York—the churches, the community groups and the individuals—have given us so much hope for our future. It is an honour to serve them.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Rees. I thank the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for securing this important debate.
This is a perfect opportunity to celebrate our community champions—individuals who go above and beyond to support their neighbourhood during this most difficult of times. I am proud that my constituency of Coventry North West is blessed to have so many people who fit that description. I could fill my time simply with a roll-call of names, but instead I will try to be selective and choose a handful who most embody the spirit of togetherness that binds great communities together in times of adversity.
With food poverty a serious issue in our city, Clare Allington-Dixon and her team at Urban Goodies have stepped forward to provide hot meals and food packages throughout the pandemic. Their community enterprise combines the best traditions of charity with a determination to make a lasting difference by teaching cooking skills that blend together all of the fantastic cultural influences that make Coventry special. Their work has given many hope in dark days over the last 18 months.
Others of our community champions have focused on imaginative ways of combating the isolation and loneliness that lockdown has created. Summer of Sunflowers, an initiative that started on the border between my constituency and the next, brings people together through the simple shared experience of growing flowers in their front garden. I have to mention two people in particular. Mark Halpin has put energy and effort into making this idea a success, and I am not the only person delighted to see how Summer of Sunflowers is spreading across our neighbourhoods and schools, encouraging neighbours to work together to turn our streets golden.
Likewise, Katie O’Sullivan’s fantastic artwork on the side of O’Toole’s Cafe has created a centre of community interest in recent weeks. In giving her time to the community, Katie has created a brand-new landmark for Coventry, one I am proud to have in my constituency. The buzz around Summer of Sunflowers has allowed communities to start socialising once more, in a responsible and covid-secure way.
I also pay tribute to Langar Aid for not only helping Coventry’s homeless community but going as far as Dover in Kent to provide meals to lorry drivers who were stranded there due to covid restrictions.
Coventry is blessed with many organisations supporting the most vulnerable in our community, and I would like to thank Hugh McNeill at Coventry food bank, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this month, for all its hard work over the past decade. I am proud to have had the opportunity to volunteer and support it with food bank deliveries.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the faith groups for their incredible work in supporting the local community by distributing food and pharmaceuticals and ensuring the success of Coventry’s vaccination scheme. I am grateful to all the gurdwaras, mosques, churches and faith institutions. In addition, the volunteers at Lawrence Saunders Baptist Church and St Oswald’s have done an incredible job in providing wraparound support for families during this difficult time through their food bank, debt relief and job club services.
I also thank Jac Danielle, Robin Synnott and all the fantastic volunteer litter pickers for keeping our streets and parks clean. They have played an incredible role in bringing pride to our local area and showing that we value our environment.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the remarkable women who have been selected as the 14 modern-day Godivas, representing our city as community champions as we celebrate Coventry being the city of culture this year.
I could go on listing individuals, but for the sake of time I will close by giving thanks to everyone who has gone the extra mile to help our city weather the storms of the past year and a half. They are the glue in our neighbourhoods that binds us together, and I am incredibly grateful to each and every one of them for all they have done over the past 18 months.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I am also grateful to the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for securing this debate.
Have we ever seen a better example of the strength of community spirit than that shown during this pandemic? The community response to this unprecedented situation was simply incredible. In my own constituency of the City of Durham, Fram School, Belmont School, Durham rotary club and many others sprang into action to make and donate PPE to frontline workers. While some were donating PPE, the Capital Indian restaurant generously donated curries to keep NHS staff at the University Hospital of North Durham well fed on their shifts. While lockdown has often kept us apart, that has not stopped youth groups such as Cheesy Waffles and Durham Area Youth, which have continued to deliver fantastic services for children and young people, both online and in person. They are both incredible projects.
Then there are the community groups and organisations that recognised the need to support families throughout the pandemic. I have seen for myself the incredible work of Gilesgate and Belmont Wellbeing Project, which has supported people in a variety of ways over the past year, including through its food bank.
I never cease to be amazed by the graft and drive of the colourful character and Ludworth legend that is Dave Woods, who along with the community association volunteers, Tesco community champion Joanne Reay and Councillor Lucy Hovvels, worked tirelessly to keep community spirits up with food deliveries and hot food services.
Conservative Members present will be glad to learn of the generosity of the Durham branch of the National Education Union, which has been a constant source of support in the community. It gifted presents to 344 children in Durham last Christmas, donated key equipment to schools, ran online extracurricular sessions and so much more. It has been truly amazing, and it would serve the Tories well to remember that before they continue to scapegoat unions and school staff.
We cannot ignore the fact that groups have often had to step up because of Government failure. That the Brandon community runs the food bank at Brandon Primary School is brilliant, but it should not need to in 21st century Britain. When the Government disgracefully decided that feeding hungry children was not a priority for them, businesses and organisations decided that it was a priority. Hospitality businesses such as the Drunken Duck and community organisations such as the Brandon Carrside Youth and Community Project and One Step at a Time selflessly provided free lunches during the holidays. Durham Women’s football club ignored the fact that it could not take gate receipts last season, and instead asked its fans to watch online and donate the cost of a ticket to the End Child Food Poverty campaign, which raised thousands to feed children in Durham.
Those services should not rely on the generosity of society, because it is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that no one lives in food poverty or any kind of poverty. Fortunately, in Durham we had a Labour council for most of the pandemic, whose support was noted to be among the best in the country. I hope the new Lib Dem-Conservative coalition is equally committed.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the work of the City of Durham Labour party, which made a series of donations to food banks and community organisations across the constituency over the past year, putting people before politics. I have shared those examples to give credit and thanks to the unsung heroes of Durham. They reaffirm my belief in the strength of community. We can say once and for all that Mrs Thatcher was wrong: there is such thing as society.
I thank the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for securing this debate. I always enjoy the debates that she brings forward. She and I are often on the same side and say the same things.
I want to put on the record my thanks to the people of my constituency. The unity and dedication that they have shown through the course of this pandemic have been truly admirable and inspirational. The past 15 months have not been easy for anyone, but people have been brought together. That is what I have noticed. I see the good coming out of all the badness and hurt that there has been in the past year.
I have a love for my country, and its history makes it even more unique, because the term “community” was not often used in a positive light during the height of the troubles. There was little sense of community across the great divide, and at times we had a justified fear of going out of our way to help others who were different from us. We were a much-divided nation, and that continued for years, but things have changed. In a way, covid made that happen to our advantage.
I believe that the constant efforts of the people of Northern Ireland, and particularly those in my constituency of Strangford, have been tremendous throughout the pandemic in addressing that fear and creating that togetherness when we had to be apart. Some 79,000 people were furloughed in Northern Ireland and 62,000 lived off self-employment schemes. The need within the communities was very clear, and the people came together in the best way they could. We may be apart, but you are not alone—that is the statement that I want to make in my contribution.
I want to put on the record my thanks to local residents groups—the Eastend Residents Association, in particular, which has delivered 165 food parcels, the Scrabo Residents Association, the Westwinds Development Association in Newtownards and the Glenn Association. They devoted themselves in their local areas to elderly residents who have to self-isolate or are at high risk. My colleague Councillor Billy Walker, who represents Killyleagh, Crossgar, Saintfield and part of Ballynahinch in the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, paid out of his own pocket for butchers’ meat parcels for elderly residents in his area of Killyleagh. It was a really massive contribution. We cannot take away from these people whose generosity was incredible. The list goes on.
Ards Elim Church sent a team out in full personal protective equipment with home-baked goods for elderly and ill. The Eastend Residents Association had a localised leaflet drop with emergency contact numbers. We must not forget the work of our local schools either. Tor Bank School in Dundonald undertook work for local pupils whose parents worked full time or did not have sustainable childcare for their special needs because of the coronavirus. People came together.
Community carers and district nurses have also earned our utmost respect. They went to multiple houses of the vulnerable daily in full PPE. We can never really acknowledge or understand just how great their contribution was, not just for the community but because of the danger in which they put themselves.
I hope that the last year has brought us closer together as friends and neighbours. If there is a lesson we can all learn, it is not to take things for granted. As restrictions lift, we must not forget about those who are suffering. I thank the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow for leading this debate on this topic, which we have all thought about a lot. I am always proud to represent Strangford, but when I consider the grit, determination, love and empathy shown by people in my constituency, and in everybody’s constituencies, I am humbled and I honour them in this place.
I offer huge thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for giving us the opportunity to thank the incredible people in our constituencies who went above and beyond the call of duty during the main lockdown.
I remember a family member telling me that lockdown had brought out the worst in people, and it saddened me because, by virtue of our jobs, we are able to see how it brought out the best in so many. We were not sheltered from the negative impacts. Apart from experiencing some of them personally and in our families, as constituency MPs we were fully aware of the despair and sometimes desperation felt by the people who were most affected. For me, any low moods that were induced were offset by the incredible people I am about to tell hon. Members about.
I hope it is not just me, but normally when I make a speech I feel the ever-present pressure to be inspiring, but not this time. The material I am working with and the people of Glasgow North East are inspiring enough. The pressure today is not to forget to name anyone. I could not possibly give a comprehensive list of everyone I would like to thank, because that would take up the entire 90 minutes allocated to this debate. Instead, I have decided to tell hon. Members about the organisations I was involved with during the main lockdown. I acknowledge that there were many more, and if anyone listening would like some recognition for a group I do not mention, please get in touch and I will publish an early-day motion in their honour. I appreciate that makes me sound like a radio DJ taking requests, but it is worth noting.
I hoped to have time—although I do not think I will—to comment on some of the people we have heard about today. I would normally do that when summing up, but I am sure other hon. Members will forgive me if I prioritise Glasgow North East champions. It has been really good to hear about everybody, across the whole of the UK.
To my mind, there are three categories of people who fit the term “champion”. First, there are those who carried on doing their regular paid job in very difficult circumstances: healthcare workers, emergency workers, communications workers, shop workers, journalists, public transport workers and, yes, teams working for MPs and MSPs. They did not have any reduction in income but there were massive change to their daily lives and they were working in unsettling, if not downright scary, environments in order to keep our essential services going. They provided such reassurance to us that the world was not completely falling apart and I know we are all very grateful to them.
I pay tribute to those workers forced against Government guidance to go into work, when they could have worked at home. I have talked about that before and I will talk about it again. I thank them for bearing with us while we try to fight their corner.
Secondly, there are those whose jobs changed completely, such as housing officers, who suddenly had to organise, stock and manage food deliveries, or youth workers, who had to find creative ways of keeping in touch with young people when they could not meet in person.
Thirdly, there are those who volunteered. It was not their job and nobody was paying them, but they just got up and said, “What does my community need?” and got on with it. I am certain many of them thought it would be for just a day or so, maybe a week, and it turned into more of a full-time job without pay. Others thought it would be for maybe three weeks, and then the weeks turned into months and then a year, but they carried on, I will not say for no reward, but certainly for no financial reward.
Turning to the community champions in Glasgow North East, all of these groups and people did much more than I will be able to talk about in the time I have, but I want to name them and put my personal thanks as their MP on the record.
In March last year, I started to host a weekly Zoom meeting of all the groups working to support people in the Springburn area and another weekly meeting of everyone in the Milton and Lambhill areas. Today, both those groups still meet regularly and I want to list the members of each group. In Springburn, we had NG Homes, a local housing association. I want to make particular mention of Margaret Fraser, who leads the community outreach for NG Homes and tires me out just by watching her. She never stops. There is no way she can do everything in the hours she is employed for, and her imagination knows no bounds. If there was anything I could not find for a constituent, she had it, or she could access it.
Overnight, the Brunswick youth centre spent all of its reserves on food and became a full-time food delivery service. Not only that, they would turn whole streets into bingo halls, which was pretty crazy, but it was so much fun. New Rhythms for Glasgow was one of the groups that worked creatively with young people, and also worked creatively under the restrictions we had with people experiencing addiction. Glasgow Girls Club developed software that allowed groups to easily get up-to-date information about what help was available in this terrible time. Sisco does incredible work with addicts in prison and—so importantly—addicts leaving prison. Imagine leaving prison during lockdown, but Sisco was there for them, every minute of every day, and its workers just put so much energy into it.
I only had to tell Glasgow North baby food bank about a baby whose family needed food, milk, clothes or nappies, and its workers were on their way to support them. Colston Wellpark Parish Church provided food and advice several days a week, and support for the other groups as well. Tron St. Mary’s Church delivered fish and chips to older people on Fridays—they never let me go to that, for some reason—and held numerous online events, none of which could top their weekly get-together of the Cannae Sing choir. Just for the record, they can sing, but they cannot sing on Zoom—trying to sing with a group of people on Zoom was one of the funniest experiences I had last year. North Glasgow Community Food Initiative is about not just providing food, but helping people to eat healthily. It offers so many different things, with online cooking classes being just one of them. I also thank the Salvation Army, Afghan United, Bangla Centre, Stronger Together Enterprise and North Glasgow Integration Network.
If I may, I would like to say a bit more about a couple of organisations. Springburn Community Council, Springburn Parish Church and Spirit of Springburn are three organisations that work together, and many people were involved in working day in, day out to shop for and deliver food and prescriptions to people who either had no money or simply could not leave the house. The one person who is part of each of those three organisations, who has been working full time throughout the past year for not a single penny while also contending with family bereavement, is Helen Carroll. She spearheaded the entire operation and is now leading Spirit of Springburn, set out to regenerate her local area, and I pay particular tribute to her.
African Challenge Scotland provided food that African families could not easily access during lockdown because it was not widely available from supermarket deliveries or food banks. I accompanied them on a few trips and watched how tirelessly they worked, led by the indomitable Ronier Deumeni. It is not members of this group in particular that I am talking about, but Springburn Youth Forum held online quizzes, and had the nerve to beat my team one night. They are still doing wellness packs for young people. The Milton group includes Lambhill Stables, North United Communities, LoveMilton, Healthy North Glasgow, Milton Community Council, Milton Food Hub, Colston Milton Parish Church, North Glasgow Community Food Initiative, and the Ashgill Recreation Centre in Milton.
If have time—I have two minutes left—so will name just a few more, starting with Royston Youth Action, Spire View and Copperworks housing associations, St Paul’s Youth Forum, Everlasting Arms food bank in Dennistoun, Carntyne and Riddrie Credit Union, and FARE. Citizens Advice has been incredible. Lifelink is an organisation providing a counselling lifeline for people who felt that they really were struggling to go on. I also thank the Green Deal Action Group in Balornock and Barmulloch, Achieve More! Scotland, Susan Wilson at Reidvale community allotments, Possobilities in Possilpark, Possilpark Young Peoples Futures, Thriving Places Ruchill and Possilpark, Partick Thistle football club, and councillors, MPs and MSPs from across the political spectrum who recognised how important it was to just make sure that people survived and that we put our political differences aside.
Something that grew from the pandemic was the Scottish Pantry Network, of which I am now a board member. It was dreamt up by Glasgow councillor Mandy Morgan, and I need to mention it because it is a great solution to food poverty and food waste, and introduces that element of dignity. We now have seven of them, and not just in Glasgow. Basically, the idea is that food that would otherwise go to waste but is still fresh is taken there. People go along, pay £2.50 and get £15-worth of food in a nice shop and a nice environment. They can get meat, fish, fresh fruit and vegetables. It takes away that sense of it being “the poor shop”. It is not a food bank—people are paying. People go whether they need to save money or whether they want to save the environment. It adds an element of dignity.
I have tried to mention those I worked with during lockdown. I have mentioned a couple of others, but I do not want to miss anybody out—I know there were others, and I am very happy to hear about them. As the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) said, these people are the glue of our neighbourhoods. If they are keeping our neighbourhoods together, I as their MP want to know about it.
I pay special thanks to the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for calling such an important debate, where we can thank and honour those who have provided exceptional services to our nation, especially in the last year when, due to covid, their efforts were taken to new heights.
We live in an era where clickbait stories and internet trolls sometimes overshadow the true community spirit of our nation, but in the darkest of days, when businesses were closing their shutters, workers leaving their workplaces not knowing if they would return, families suddenly shutting their doors to their friends and relatives in a single moment, not knowing what would come next or whether they would ever get an opportunity to say their last goodbyes, at that moment our nation witnessed the best of being British and the true image of modern Britain.
People from every community, those of faith and no faith, from all four nations of the United Kingdom, stood up to play their part and support our nation in our time of need, with their kindness and generosity. Our brave NHS staff stepped up to the pedestal, working long hours to provide the care and vital support needed, including for the Prime Minister when he was infected with covid-19.
In those moments, there was no debate about whether someone was a foreign doctor or a refugee nurse. They were our doctors, our nurses and our frontline staff, delivering care to more than 100,000 people taking their final breaths and to hundreds of thousands who they saved with their care.
In those moments, when most of our economy was shutting down, we witnessed the hard work of frontline workers—shopkeepers, supermarket workers, delivery drivers, police officers, taxi drivers and so many more—who continued to carry on with their work, despite being in high-risk jobs. If it was not for them, the pandemic in those early days could have been so much worse.
Millions across the UK felt the true community spirit that I felt here in my community, with communities coming together. Those who had never volunteered became volunteers. Those who had left the NHS were signing their names to enlist once more, to play their part. In the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi), they are the glue that binds us together.
Despite the challenges that covid-19 was bringing to churches, mosques and community centres—to everywhere across the nation—we now find cathedrals or churches in almost every city or town that are vaccine centres. People of the Christian faith opened their hearts and responded to covid-19 relief efforts from day one.
In London, the famous Lord’s cricket ground handed over the bat to the Jewish community of St John’s Wood synagogue, which will now house the vaccine centre. In Slough, one of the largest Sikh gurdwaras in the UK, Guru Maneyo Granth Gurdwara, responded by providing more than 1 million meals across every borough in London to all those in need. Hindu communities responded in various ways, including the volunteers from Swaminarayan Sanstha, who rallied to launch a nationwide programme to support communities during the pandemic. Various UK Hindu temples, including the Neasden temple, were illuminated in blue every Thursday as a mark of respect and gratitude for the tireless and selfless NHS workers.
I saw at first hand the efforts put in by Muslim communities, not only in my home city and constituency of Bradford, but in all the efforts documented in the covid-19 report of the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims—from mosques becoming emergency morgues and hospitals, to local Muslim shopkeepers in Scotland leading the way by providing emergency relief. In fact, when those such as the Moonlight Trust in Batley started their voluntary work, they thought, like many of us, that covid-19 would be here for the short term. As covid prolonged, so too did their efforts.
The charity sector, which has always been the backbone of providing support to the vulnerable and needy, had an even bigger task on its hands, and despite its finances being in a vulnerable state, it delivered. Our brave Army personnel were always ready to protect our borders, provided strategic and hands-on support for the NHS, and were involved in building the Nightingale hospitals and delivering the vaccines. They did what they do best: worked to protect our nation and its people.
While our institutions played their part, including local councils that had to restructure essential services, there were individual heroes who we will never forget, many of whom were themselves grieving the personal loss of loved ones to covid. Many of them were from minority communities, which were impacted disproportionately by covid-19. When the Government dithered over providing free school meals, it was the business community across the country that stepped in.
Captain Sir Tom Moore began walking 100 lengths of his garden in aid of NHS Charities Together, with the goal of raising £1,000 by his 100th birthday. On the morning of his 100th birthday, the total raised by his work had passed £30 million, and by the time the campaign closed at the end of that day, it had increased to more than £32.79 million. While Captain Sir Tom Moore may not be with us any longer, his efforts have surely made his family and friends, and our nation, proud. He will forever be remembered.
Similarly, Dabirul Choudhury, another 100-year-old, walked lengths while fasting in the month of Ramadan, and raised £150,000. Susan Rees, an advanced nurse practitioner from Johnstone in Pembrokeshire, Wales, recently received a British Empire Medal. After semi-retiring from her full-time role in infection prevention in 2018, she returned to work for three days a week as soon as covid was on the rise. In Belfast, Michael Oliver McBride, the chief medical officer for Northern Ireland, worked tirelessly during the pandemic.
I am sorry, but even if I stood here literally all day, I would still not be able to mention the efforts of everybody in our communities during this period, so please forgive me. On behalf of the Labour party, I put on the record our thanks and our pride to each and every person who played their part, be it through volunteering or fundraising, to support our nation during this pandemic. You are all our country’s heroes.
In closing, I say this to those who want to create culture wars, to pitch community against community and to target minorities, making them feel like they do not belong in the UK: reflect and think again. As my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) said, there is such thing as society. As the chief executive of the Ramadan Tent Project, Omar Salha, tweeted this afternoon:
“The force of separation and division is strong, but the force and power of our community spirit...is most definitely stronger.”
If I am asked, “What is the British spirit?”, I say that it is what we saw in this pandemic, whether it is the Muslim doctors who were sadly the first to die from covid-19 on the frontline or the Sikh volunteers delivering langar; the black train driver in London or the white taxi driver in Devon; the church providing PPE or the synagogue setting up a vaccine centre; the European supermarket worker or the refugee delivery driver; the doctor, the nurse, the care worker or the cleaner. This is modern Britain: diverse, inclusive and all playing our part to protect our country, our NHS and our people. This is modern Britain.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees, I think for the first time.
I extend the thanks of everybody here today to the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for securing this hugely important debate. This afternoon, we have seen the best of this House and heard about the best of Britain. We are all grateful to her for the chance to put on the record our thanks to so many remarkable people right across the country. Today’s debate has given us the chance to talk about community champions and the incredible work they have done during their remarkable response to covid-19. I am very proud, and I am sure all Members have been proud, to stand here today and thank them, recognise their work and put it on the record that they were the backbone of our response to covid-19.
Even in the most difficult times for our country and the globe, we have seen the best in people and the best in our communities. Even in the midst of great loss, suffering and hardship, communities have come together to support each other with great bravery, spirit and love. Whether it was as part of community groups, charities or faith groups, or as individuals reaching out to each other and their neighbours, it is the strength of character of the people in our towns, villages and cities that has got us through this incredible period.
We have heard so many inspirational stories this afternoon, and there are so many unsung heroes, as the hon. Lady said. I will mention a few of them, starting by thanking the Blackwood and Kirkmuirhill Resilience Group, and Lesley, who has clearly done so much work to deliver flowers, to order in those fish teas, which I am extremely jealous about, and to organise the online bingo—that sounds absolutely incredible. We are equally grateful to the East Kilbride litter pickers and Alice. It is fantastic to hear about the passion and pride that they have shown for keeping the community clean over the last year and a half. I cannot begin to say how grateful we all are.
We have heard some incredible stories about how groups have utilised online technology to support people with their mental health, including the incredible work done by Trust Links over the last year. We heard about the work by those in the Nantwich Buddies support group and what they do collecting medicines and providing support, and it is incredible to hear that they are starting the poppy trail and a scarecrow trail. I cannot wait to visit and see that. It sounds absolutely incredible, and I thank them for the work that they are doing.
We have heard that Peterborough is the caring city. I have heard that said many times before, but today we really saw that through the examples, including Food for Nought and the Norfolk community fridge. A really important point was made about those who volunteer to give up their time for childcare to ensure that key workers can still get to work and support the health service and our key services. We have heard the same about Manchester, Gorton, where community groups run online virtual drop-ins to support mental health, and my huge thanks go to them, too.
We have heard about the Insch resilience group in Scotland and the excellent work that it does. I thought that the story we heard about the community in Huntly, who had a gas outage on 2 February and another a month later, and were experiencing temperatures of minus 5° but all came together to support each other and vulnerable people through local food groups and share information online, was really fantastic.
We have heard about the spirit and determination in York to ensure that nobody is ever left behind, about the focus on community, and about the work done by Age UK to reach out so many of the constituents of the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell). I am pleased to hear about the volunteer centre and how beneficial it will be.
We have heard how in Durham, the rotary club has been supporting people with PPE, and we have heard about the work of Cheesy Waffles to support young people. My thanks go to them.
We have heard about Clare Allington-Dixon and her team in Coventry North East. They have been teaching cooking skills to people during the pandemic. What a fantastic way to support the community, by encouraging people to make better use of their food through such a difficult time. We have heard about the Summer of Sunflowers and the work that Matt is doing spreading literal growth right across the community and the country.
The SNP Front-Bench spokesperson, the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin), spoke passionately. She was nervous that she would sound like a community DJ taking requests, but she did not, I can assure her. She sounded like a passionate representative of her community and her country, talking about the types of community groups that have contributed so much, including housing officers, youth workers, the volunteers who were giving back so much that they almost became full-time workers, Margaret and what she was doing, the Brunswick youth centre and the parish church in Springburn. We are really grateful to them for everything that they have done.
I also want to say something about rough sleeping. We have heard so much about the incredible work in Southend to support people in the Everybody In scheme, the street homeless charity in Ealing that has done such incredible work, and the Garden House in Peterborough, which has contributed so much. Looking at the Government’s response to the pandemic, we see that one of the most important pieces of work carried out was to support rough sleepers, and the work that has not been praised enough as part of that is the volunteers’ response. Volunteers were out there, night after night, day after day, supporting rough sleepers who, in some cases, had for years been nervous about engaging with the council or with volunteers. The volunteers really stepped up and supported people during that time, meaning that by May 2020, 15,000 people had been supported into accommodation and were receiving help and support, often for the first time in years. That was, of course, an important part of the national Government response, but I think it shows the alignment with volunteers and how that can really deliver the best for our society.
We saw the same with shielding, as we have heard. Volunteers helped shielding individuals by delivering food, providing support and just phoning them up to make sure that they were okay. Although the Government work is hugely important, the most remarkable response to the pandemic was surely on the ground, as we have heard. It was the willingness of individuals to step up and go the extra mile, be it for friends, neighbours or simply anybody in need, regardless of whether they had met before. It was truly heart-warming, and the scale of the volunteer response was unprecedented. As we have heard, more than 12 million people across the UK delivered support during this pandemic, which is incredible to behold.
We also saw how almost 2 million people delivered support and services as NHS volunteer responders, completing millions of tasks and supporting 171,000 people at risk from covid. My thanks go to them as well. In addition to the volunteer response through the formal channels that we and communities have helped to organise, we saw a huge growth in informal volunteering—people stepping up to help others when they saw need, whether through collecting shopping, walking dogs, gardening or checking in on neighbours. You name it, someone in this country volunteered and did it over the past year and a half.
Throughout our country, we saw communities rapidly mobilising to help local people, especially those who were particularly at risk or who were hit the hardest by isolation. That shone through, certainly in my experience as a constituency Member of Parliament. We saw more than 2.5 million people volunteer with 4,000 mutual aid groups. That is a unique grassroots movement, the likes of which we have never seen before.
We have seen communities in all corners of our country demonstrate their resourcefulness and adaptability by working on their individually unique strengths. Despite the daily challenges and difficulties for so many people during such an incredibly difficult part of our country’s history, many people took their first steps into volunteering. Many new volunteers got involved for the first time—over 4.5 million people.
Although many millions of people were mobilised and joined volunteering for the first time, we should take a moment to recognise the people who normally volunteer and do so much but who were constrained because they were shielding during the pandemic. Many such people found new and innovative ways to support others throughout the last year, be it through getting to grips with technology or just phoning up people and keeping in contact in ways that they had not done before. I can imagine how it felt for people not to be able to be involved or offer support in the way that they wanted, but that adaptability has shown real resilience. The national effort saw volunteers spring up from less traditional places in some respects, and I pay tribute to everybody who did so much.
We have the chance to thank communities, organisations and individuals for what they have done, and to thank people who have volunteered in any way over the past 18 months. I want to put on the record and promote the Prime Minister’s Points of Light awards, which recognise all the work that has been done by those at the forefront of the response to the pandemic. The hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) talked about Captain Sir Tom Moore. Who can forget the incredible and inspirational example that he set the rest of us in this country?
We have heard a lot about faith groups. I extend my thanks to our faith communities for what they have done during this pandemic, including Moncrieff parish church, Colston parish church and the others that we have heard about. Faith groups have risen to the challenge by providing services in a way they have not done before and offering solace, comfort, advice and support through a multitude of different support services. We have seen examples of groups from all faiths delivering food and supporting people who were shielding. I really believe that faith communities have been a linchpin for many people by providing pastoral care and support networks, especially for older and more vulnerable people, and even continuing some forms of informal education for people who did not have access to the same external services during the last year or so. Yes, faith communities were already undertaking much of that work, but it increased in scale, passion and determination. We all put our thanks to them on the record.
The hon. Member for Bradford West talked about the role of volunteers in the vaccination programme. I join her in thanking all volunteers for the work that they are doing, and I ask for their kindness and forgiveness to just keep going. They are helping us—our whole country—to light the way towards the better days that are now within our grasp. We need everyone’s support to signpost communities to verified sources of important information about the vaccines, and we must continue to reinforce positive messages.
I also put on the record my thanks to civil society. The Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership, made up of over 200 community organisations, has supported the covid response, helping to map unmet need and improve emergency response through new data platforms. The response really has been incredible. We have provided clear support with £750 million for charities, social enterprises and the voluntary sector, ensuring that civil organisations, including those at risk of financial hardship, continue the incredible work they did before and throughout the pandemic. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has provided £23 million of funding to 60 councils and the voluntary sector to expand their work and to support those most at risk from covid.
I want to leave the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow some time to wind up the debate, so I thank all hon. Members here today and, on the Government’s behalf, everyone who has done so much in every corner of our country. Volunteering is a vital part of our national identity, and that has only increased over the past year. I agree with the hon. Lady who said that when we start to build back better we will be holding the sacrifice that others have made over the past year and a half at the forefront of our minds.
I thank all Members who have taken part today. It has been extraordinary to hear about the efforts that have gone into supporting communities across everyone’s constituencies. As others have said, we cannot mention everybody today because so many people have contributed, but we can thank them all, and we have put our thanks on the record today.
I thank all elected Members of Parliament, because what has shone through today’s debate is how intrinsically well everyone knows their communities and how everyone has worked hard to galvanise the frontline effort across all parties. MPs, MSPs up in Scotland, Members of the Welsh Parliament and those in Northern Ireland have all been working tremendously hard to ensure that they support volunteers and those working on the frontline. I must say that I did not really know much about what MPs did before I became one myself, but I now know a bit more about the hard work that goes on. Elected Members really have stepped up to the plate.
We will need many more resources going forward to continue to support volunteers in communities, so I am pleased that the Minister said that thought will be given to finance and support. We still have some way to go, but we can have hope, given all the work and motivation that communities have brought to the effort so far, that we will come out the other end of this, perhaps with stronger communities. I thank everybody.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the role of the community in responding to the covid-19 outbreak.
Covid-19: Support for Aviation, Tourism and Travel Industries
[Dr Rupa Huq in the Chair]
[Relevant documents: Fifth Report of the Transport Committee of Session 2019-21, The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the aviation sector: Interim report, HC 1257, and the Government response, HC 28; Seventh Report of the Transport Committee of Session 2019-21, Safe return of international travel?, HC1341; e-petition 565102, Allow international travel to visit partners and family; e-petition 303081, Support the British aviation industry during the COVID-19 outbreak; e-petition 549014, Extend furlough beyond October for the travel industry; e-petition 331434, Extend furlough scheme for the UK Aviation sector to help stop redundancies; e-petition 552725, HM Government to outline a plan to Save Future Travel; e-petition 332280, A government cash bailout for the coach industry before it’s too late; e-petition 585438, Allow ALL vaccinated British Expats to visit the UK without quarantining.]
I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice to support the new hybrid arrangements. Timings of debates have been amended to allow technical arrangements to be made for the next debate. There will be suspensions between debates. I remind Members participating, physically and virtually, that they must arrive for the start of a debate in Westminster Hall and are expected to remain for the entire debate. A couple of people have trains and planes to catch, appropriately, and they have negotiated with me. That is okay because the timing of this one did change.
I remind Members participating virtually that they must leave their camera on for the duration of debates in Westminster Hall. There is one exception; we know who you are. That has been okayed by me, at the discretion of the Chair. Members will be visible at all times, both to one another and to us in the Boothroyd Room. If Members attending virtually have any technical problems, they should email the Westminster Hall Clerks at email@example.com. I think everyone got something that said what to do about email.
Members attending physically should clean their spaces before they use them and before they leave the room. I remind Members that Mr Speaker has stated that masks should be worn in Westminster Hall. I think we are sorted, and everyone is sitting in the right place with a tick on it.
Members who are not on the call list but wish to intervene—do we have anyone of that description? No, that is not necessary. In that case, I call Henry Smith to move the motion.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered support for the aviation, tourism and travel industries in response to the covid-19 pandemic.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair for this important debate, Dr Huq, as we seek to recover from the covid-19 pandemic, and I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Minister in his place. I will be interested to hear his comments.
Aviation, travel and tourism were among the first sectors to face the negative effects of the covid-19 pandemic, which were almost immediate, and unfortunately, owing to the nature of those industries and the restrictions still in place, they will be among the slowest to recover fully. In normal times before the pandemic, more than 1.5 million people were employed in those sectors. Sadly, many of them have lost their job over the past 15 months or so. About 50% of people in the sector are still on furlough, which finishes at the end of September, and I fear that if travel, aviation and tourism cannot pick up meaningfully over the summer months, many of them will also unfortunately lose their job.
This is devastating for aviation communities such as mine in the Gatwick area. An assessment of unemployment from February 2020 to February 2021 showed an increase of 115% across the nation, but for the top 20 aviation communities the increase was 147%. I do not think we have yet seen the worst of the situation.
Do not mistake this for some parochial plea for support for these sectors because aviation and international connectivity are essential for the UK economy. In normal times, outbound travel accounts for a contribution of about £37 billion to our economy, and inbound travel accounts for £28 billion. That travel has not been able to operate meaningfully for a year and a half, and the impact has been significant. If we were able to operate in a more meaningful way this summer, it would make a contribution to the UK economy of an estimated £19 billion—quite significant.
The title of the debate refers to support for the travel and aviation sectors. The best way to support them is to allow them to meaningfully and safely operate. If that cannot happen, I am afraid the bill for unemployment benefits this coming autumn and winter will be a significant burden to the taxpayer. Many companies and employers in the sector will be coming to the Government asking for bailouts. Far better that we let the industry recover and make money for the UK Exchequer, whose bills are already significant, than cost it some more.
I pay tribute to the Government for the world-leading vaccination programme over the past six months. We were told just before Christmas that if we had a successful vaccination programme, that would allow us our liberty and enable us to get back to much more normal life. Yesterday, we hit the target of 60%-plus of people across the country who have been doubly jabbed with covid-19 vaccines. I fear that we are squandering the vaccine dividend that we were told would allow us far greater freedoms once again.
We are, quite simply, at a competitive disadvantage. Many countries in the EU and the world are allowing a far greater number of countries to be travelled to, particularly for those who have received full covid-19 vaccinations. This is not just about two weeks on the beach in a sunny environment, nice though that is. It is about global Britain and us being a trading nation. For every day that there is not meaning transatlantic travel between the UK and the US, an estimated £32 billion is lost to the British economy.
I welcome and support the Government’s traffic light system for international travel. It is absolutely right that for parts of the world where cases of covid-19 are still unfortunately far too high, we must protect ourselves against that and new variants. I support those quarantine arrangements, but for countries that have had a similar vaccination roll-out success and similar or lower infection rates than the UK, we need to have a much more pragmatic regime for amber and green list countries.
I welcome the fact that the Government are reportedly looking at requiring those who are fully vaccinated and travelling from amber countries only to test, rather than to quarantine at home. That would be very positive, but I think we need to go further. We need to expand the green list of countries—I welcome reports that it will be announced later today that Malta and the Balearic Islands will be added to that list—but the list needs to be far wider than that.
The cost and complexity of covid-19 testing for international passengers is a major disincentive for people to travel. For a family of four, it really becomes prohibitive. It is ridiculous that many tests are more expensive than the flight itself. Perhaps more rapid antigen testing for lower risk countries would be appropriate, particularly if we are also dealing with people who are fully vaccinated. If there is a positive test, they can have a PCR test to back that up. It is interesting that, of those who have been tested who have been able to travel, less than 1% have proved positive in that test.
This is about people’s jobs and livelihoods. It is not just about going on holiday. Airports are likely to lose a further £2.6 billion if we do not see meaningful opening up. We are losing about £60 million in exports throughout this period because we do not have people able to visit this country and spend their money here.
Finally—I want to make sure that as many colleagues as possible can take part today and I am grateful to hon. and right hon. Members from all parts of the country and across the House for contributing to this important debate today— I want to comment on where respect for the restrictions is beginning to seriously break down. We hear that Wembley will be three quarters full for the Euros final, because an exception will be made for VIP guests from UEFA to come to London. I do not mind Wembley being near capacity. I welcome that easing of restrictions, but what is not right is to have one rule for VIPs and another for everybody else. When parents cannot go to school sports days, VIPs should not be able to come to Wembley.
The answer is to open up in a realistic and pragmatic way, to save jobs and recover our economy from the devastating effects of covid-19. The best way to support the travel, aviation and tourism sectors is to allow them to operate, save those jobs and make money for our economy, rather than them being yet another burden on every taxpayer for years to come.
Given the popularity of the debate, the three Front-Bench spokespeople and the new finish time of 5.25 pm, I reckon that if everyone sticks to within four minutes, everyone gets in and Henry Smith has time for concluding remarks. I call Ben Bradshaw.
Thank you very much indeed, Dr Huq. Many of us here attended yesterday’s day of action for the travel industry. Fine people from all over Britain were there. They do not want a handout. They want to get back to work and they were united in one thing: a feeling of total abandonment by this Government and, I am afraid to say, by my party and all the Opposition parties in this House. In 26 years as a Member of Parliament, I cannot remember an instance like this, when the leadership of all the political parties have been more or less in the same position on a policy, and on one that has no basis in the evidence any more.
We hear the Government say constantly that their decisions are based on the data and public health is a priority, but, as the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) has already pointed out, that is now clearly belied by the facts. The seven-day covid rate in the UK is as of yesterday 97 per 100,000. In Greece, it is 31— much lower on the islands. In Italy, it is 13—one seventh of the UK rate. In Germany, it is eight—less than a tenth of the rate here in the UK. Yet people arriving from or coming back from those countries to here, all with a negative PCR test, still have to quarantine for 10 days. It makes more sense in health terms to quarantine someone travelling from Ealing to Exeter than someone travelling from Italy, Germany or Malta to the UK.
We had further proof this week when the Government published Public Health England’s findings on the testing of arrivals from amber list countries and all arrivals between 20 May and 9 June. Those results show that the proportion of positive tests on people arriving from amber list countries was 0.4%, compared with a level of 2.7% of the tests carried out on people living here in the same period. That means that someone coming from an amber list country is one seventh less likely to have covid than someone moving around the United Kingdom. Also, not a single variant of concern was found on any passenger returning from amber or green list countries.
If the Government were really basing their decisions on data and public health, there would already be more countries on the green list and there would be a significant expansion of that list today—and not only places such as Malta, Madeira or the Balearics, as briefed by someone in Government for today’s newspapers, but Italy, Germany, Finland, the Greek and several Caribbean islands, and many other countries currently on the amber list that all now enjoy a fraction of Britain’s covid rates. If the Government do not do this, we will know their decisions have nothing to do with the data or public health, and everything to do with politics and control.
We have seen that in the UEFA decision. It is completely outrageous for the Prime Minister to grant an exemption to our quarantine rules for thousands of bigwigs from European football when he is actively preventing ordinary British families from seeing loved ones abroad or from simply having a holiday, destroying thousands more jobs in an industry already on its knees in the process.
I am beginning to think that the Prime Minister does not want British people travelling abroad this summer because they will see how life in other countries got back to normal and that those countries are freer than us, despite our much-vaunted vaccine dividend. Many of our European neighbours have been free to travel since Easter, and now Americans can too. From next week, every EU citizen will be able to travel freely—with a vaccine, a negative test or proof of infection—using the green card system, and Americans are already flocking back to their favourite destinations in Europe, although of course not to here. Our Government are only just now talking about the possibility of a vaccine passport— allowing people to travel without quarantining if they have a vaccine. We are less free than our neighbours, we are less free than Americans and we are less free than we were last summer, in spite of being the most vaccinated country in Europe after Malta.
Even with this high level of vaccination and immunity, if we are to remain closed for fear of an as yet unknown new variant, we will never unlock. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), the shadow Defence Secretary, told Sky yesterday that we need to restart travel again as soon as possible, and he warned that Britain is getting left behind. He was absolutely right. I hope that signals a change in in my own party’s policy. Regardless of that, the Government, who are responsible for this, need to do the right thing, let the British people travel safely again and throw the thousands and thousands of fantastic people who work in our transport and travel sectors a desperately needed lifeline. Let them get back to work before it is too late.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), who has done so much to champion the plight of Gatwick and the wider Sussex community, and my friend the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), a fellow Transport Committee member, who speaks for me as well as himself. The remarkable point is that our calls are on all our Front Benches—we are all, cross-party, disappointed with all the Front-Bench positions. We do not feel that we are being led to a better place for our constituents and those who want to go abroad to see their loved ones and retain some life.
I have received emails not only from constituents but from people across the country who are crying out for some form of help to allow them to get back to their lives. I will read a few, if you do not mind, Dr Huq. Anna Wozniak is a cardiac physiologist at Doncaster Royal Infirmary. She has worked hard through the pandemic. She cannot afford to meet her boyfriend in America anywhere and meet the cost of testing, nor to take time off work to quarantine. Erin Cork from London has not seen her boyfriend, who lives in New York, for 467 days. Imagine that.
Missed life events have come through as well. Giulia Molteni is a dual UK-Italian national. She is 35 weeks pregnant with her first child. Her double-vaccinated Italian parents have not seen her while she has been pregnant, and she feels that she needs her mother’s support. Her parents want to come to the UK, but it is a huge financial commitment, and they are concerned that Italy could be added to the red list, as hotel quarantine costs are out of the question. One of our own in the travel sector, Louise Gardiner, works as a ground staff member at Heathrow. She had her son Rowan in May 2020 and he has met his Californian father only four times. He has never met his paternal grandparents. Louise was supposed to move to the US to be with her partner, but due to the pandemic her earnings have been lost, so she no longer qualifies as a sponsor.
I could go on and on with all the emails that I have received, but this is not just about holidays, as people sometimes say—although what is wrong with going on holiday? People’s lives are being ruined. Their mental health is being put at risk because of a ridiculous and restrictive policy that appears to have no basis when we look at the data. Let us look at what has happened with the traffic light system and travellers returning to the UK. Analysis of the latest figures from NHS Test and Trace found that only 89 of 23,465 passengers who travelled to the UK from amber list destinations between May and June tested positive for coronavirus—a rate of 0.4%. There are 167 countries on the amber list, and there were no positive cases from 151 of those.
If the Government look at the data, it surely demonstrates that going abroad is safe when we consider the amount of covid on these shores. It has positive benefits not just for people, but for our international trade and our economy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley has stated, it is worth billions to the economy. What will actually pay for our NHS and our vaccination programme? International travel and international trade.
I will be particularly interested to hear the Labour Front-Bench spokesman’s speech and whether he will talk about why the sector needs aid and a specific sector-based deal. He might be better placed to call for his own leader and shadow Home Secretary not to ditch the amber list and move all those countries to red, because that will just put more and more people on the scrapheap when it comes to their jobs.
Dr Huq, I have taken my four minutes, but I could go on for four hours. I am absolutely sick and tired on behalf of all the people who want to get their lives back safely and travel abroad, and the workforce I met yesterday, who care so passionately and are so positive about their sector and their customers. Let us give them their opportunities back, take a bit of a risk, cash in on the vaccine dividend, and allow people to travel internationally again.
Thank you for your leniency, Dr Huq, in permitting me to leave a little earlier. I commend the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) for securing this debate on a very pressing matter facing many constituents and businesses across the United Kingdom.
Yesterday, I joined representatives of the Association of Northern Ireland Travel Agents, local pilots, cabin crew, ferry workers and hoteliers at a protest at Stormont, as part of the national Unite day of action to highlight to the devolved institution at Stormont the need for support for the sector and to demand a restart to international travel. It has now been over a year of devastation for jobs, family incomes and the future of the sector. Many have already lost their jobs. In my constituency, just three weeks ago, Thompson Aero announced 180 job losses, one quarter of the workforce, in a devastating blow to the local economy. Each of those jobs is someone’s livelihood—the means to pay their mortgage, feed and clothe their family and to secure their future.
Although the support provided by the Government to the sector has been welcomed over the past year, I know from a conversation I had with the industry yesterday that what it really desires more than anything is an indicative date of hope—a date for when international travel will be allowed once more. That will be the kickstart that the industry requires for the businesses to make money, generate cash flow, and support the jobs of tens of thousands of people once again. We have to get to that point soon because businesses are at breaking point right now. With no clarity and constant knock-backs, their sustainability becomes more difficult day by day. We need to do this safely and sustainably, as stop-start will only cause more problems for the industry. I believe we can do this now, and I urge the Transport Secretary and the global travel taskforce to provide this pathway.
The vaccine roll-out is our passport to restart travel. It is proven that the vaccine is of huge benefit to people, and therefore we need to go forward and get travel opened up again. We also need clarity around travel. A lot of constituents are confused by the mixed messaging, and this is also inhibiting travel. Now is the time to act, before it is too late for jobs and much-valued local businesses.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq, and thank you for your leniency in letting me leave slightly early this afternoon.
I am grateful to be called in this important debate, not least because, like most hon. Members here, I joined the lobby yesterday and met constituents who had travelled to Westminster. I wanted to show my support for the travel industry in these challenging times. It was a lobby that highlighted yet again that the UK travel industry has had to deal with extremely tough impediments, more than most industries, and needs our support.
Today’s debate comes in the midst of what is still an incredibly challenging time for businesses and workers in the travel and tourism industry. Analysis from ABTA—The Travel Association estimates that 195,000 people working in the travel industry have either lost their job or are at risk of losing their job due to the crisis. Considering that the sector employs around 526,000 people across the UK in normal times, we are looking at the livelihoods more than a third of the people in the industry being wiped out.
I will focus my remarks on smaller travel businesses, which feel forgotten and are staring into the unknown. Office for National Statistics figures show that revenue for travel agents and tour operators have been down 86% to 90% each month since February 2020, with no specific sector support forthcoming from the Government and limited access to more general grant support measures. ABTA estimates that around 60% of SME travel agents will not have the cash to survive for more than three months, based on current trading conditions and the Government support that is available at the moment.
Last week, I visited Karen Marin Reyes and the team at La Vida Travel in Newport East. La Vida Travel is an award-winning business with a loyal local following and a reputation for very good customer service. Karen, who was here in Westminster yesterday for ABTA’s day of action, spoke to me about the difficult outlook her business and the sector faces, and echoed all the calls for sector-specific financial support for the travel industry, which remains busy but is struggling to make money in the face of very low new bookings and cancellations.
Companies such as La Vida Travel were not able to shut their doors when the pandemic came; they were busy helping their customers, including processing many cancellations and rebookings. Like all hon. Members, having helped constituents abroad to get home during the first months of the pandemic, I do not underestimate how stressful that is for clients and the staff helping them, or the sheer amount of work involved. These businesses were also having to foot the bill for transaction charges from credit cards, debit cards and banks, which are not refunded to the travel agent. I would like the Minister to look at that specific point, because they are carrying that loss themselves.
Travellers typically book six months ahead, so there are long delays in receiving payments made for bookings, which are only received a few months before the date of travel. These companies do not see the money for many months. For bookings that are being made now for next summer, the travel agent will receive payment in the spring at the earliest. Because of lack of confidence, many travellers are unwilling to pay in full for holidays next year because of the uncertainty. I note the comments made by other Members about the need for consistency in travel advice. My right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) made a strong contribution about that; we need confidence in the Government’s system.
The knock-on effect of all these factors is a shortage in cash flow that is especially pronounced for smaller travel businesses, especially as they make their money to survive through the winter in the summer. They need more help with the loans that they are due to pay back, because many just do not have the money at the moment to start making payments.
We need the Government to step up and do better. As others have said, it is not just about holidays; it is about people’s jobs and livelihoods.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) on securing this debate. He was spot on with his remarks about Wembley, much as I want us to win that match on Tuesday, and I also agree with the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), the Chairman of the Transport Select Committee. We do have an airport in Southend, which is very popular; I always have to balance that with the complaints about damage to the environment and night flights, but I am very proud of it.
I want to concentrate briefly on the tourism sector. A major aspect of the tourism industry is that it is seasonal, and Southend is a coastal town where the local economy thrives in the summer. With the extension of restrictions, many businesses in the tourism and hospitality industries will continue to suffer despite the recent warm weather. The Government have undoubtedly provided generous financial support packages, but many limited company directors and businesses in my constituency have frankly been left to fend for themselves. I ask the Government to implement a robust recovery strategy in the travel and tourism industry as we return to some sort of normality.
I have spoken to concerned business owners in my constituency who rely on tourists to eat in their restaurants, drink in their pubs and stay at their hotels. Grants were welcomed by many of my constituents, but they did not cover the fixed costs of operating small businesses, and those businesses do not, unfortunately, have the reserves to survive much longer. Many of them are running at a loss. The Government should provide further support in the form of extending the reduced rate of VAT and the business rate relief.
However, it is not just the hospitality industry that relies on the influx of tourists: it is the leisure and entertainment industries as well. Being a popular seaside town, Southend would normally attract plenty of tourists to our wonderful summer festivals and theatres, for example. Southend carnival has been cancelled this year, and the Leigh regatta, the Leigh Folk festival and the Village Green festival have all been postponed, which damages the local economy. I say again that, when coronavirus lockdown measures come to an end and restrictions are fully lifted, the Government should provide support to local authorities to help them cope with the influx of people to tourist hotspots such as Southend.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Qatar, I have seen how helpful Qatar Airways has been to our country during the pandemic, transporting over 100,000 people safely back to the United Kingdom, and I say a big thank you to them. Qatar Airways is heavily suffering, and that country is on the red list despite having relatively few coronavirus cases compared with other countries, and despite a high proportion of its population having been vaccinated.
In conclusion, there are so many reasons why Southend should become a city next year. We are a cultural hub with a plethora of charming local boutique shops and brilliant stores, and if it is not being greedy, I think we should be the city of culture as well. Southend attracts many visitors each year to our beaches, our theatres, and the world-famous Southend pier. Tourism is a major part of our diverse economy in Southend, and while it will play a part in gaining us city status, the individuals and businesses who comprise the industry need urgent governmental support to recover from the pandemic.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq, and a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West—in the new city of Southend—(Sir David Amess). I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) for the work he has done to champion this issue. Like him, I have a great interest in aviation because of the close proximity of Manchester airport to my constituency: obviously in his case, it is Gatwick. Around 3,500 people living in my constituency work at that airport, not just as pilots and cabin crew but in all the ancillary services—the catering services and engineering services—that generate business and provide employment for people who live in my constituency. It is those people who I am speaking for today.
Actually, I have already spoken quite a few times in the House on this matter, because it is an incredibly important issue for our economy. This is a critical sector, not just for my constituency of Warrington South but for all of our regional economies. It is really interesting that Members from every part of the United Kingdom have attended the debate, demonstrating the critical issue that we are all facing.
In Parliament Square yesterday, the pilots, cabin crew, travel agents, catering staff and all those in the wider supply chain, who are desperate for the industry to make some progress, had some incredibly compelling messages. More than 1.5 million people are employed in the aviation, travel and tourism sectors, and the cabbies are really feeling it as well. I cannot say how many times I have got into a taxi in London and the first thing the driver has talked about is the lack of tourists in the city and how it is impacting on their livelihoods. Sadly, many of the people working in the sector have already lost their jobs, and so many are still on furlough. We know that the aviation and travel sectors make their money during the summer in order to survive through the winter.
As furlough comes to an end in September, we need to look carefully at how we extend the support for the sector if travel is not possible, so that it can generate income through the winter months. The lost summer, which I fear it will be, will cost our economy somewhere around £19 billion. I mentioned earlier my relationship with Manchester airport, and we have rightly heard lots about airports. Manchester airport is the engine room for the northern powerhouse, and we need to do everything we can to support it and get it back up and running.
I want to spend my remaining time by talking about some of the microbusinesses in my community that really rely on the sector. I listened to the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) talk about travel agents in her constituency, I am hearing about exactly the same issue from travel agents in my constituency. Adrian Harper, who owns a travel agency in Lymm, talked to me last week about consumer confidence being shattered. As we heard earlier, the sector has gone through massive structural change and disruption through the arrival of global competitors such as Expedia, which has changed the nature of the business. It has not just damaged the business in the short term; it has made a massive change. The clientele—predominantly now a base of older people—need to be able to plan for the future, and they have no certainty about what will happen in the months and years ahead. These are not people who want to jet off to Ibiza with a week’s notice; they are planning six to 12 months ahead, and sometimes years in advance, for worldwide cruises and trips to see family on the other side of the world. One of the key issues that the sector faces is that, due to low consumer confidence, people are booking, cancelling, rebooking and everything else in between. That is impacting significantly on the cash flow and income of small businesses.
I am looking forward to the announcements due to be made later this evening by the Secretary of State for Transport. I very much hope that we will see some advances in terms of the green list, and I look forward to giving the industry the chance to get back on its feet.
I express my gratitude to the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) for securing this important debate. As we know, the past 15 months have scarred many of our once-thriving and great industries, which have been struck down by the consequences of a devastating pandemic, but the aviation, tourism and travel industries have been especially hard hit.
Despite bringing in £22 billion to the UK economy in a normal year and sustaining thousands of jobs, including in my Slough constituency, the Government seem to have left the industry largely to fend for itself, even though restrictions have reduced international travel by 97%. Coronavirus measures have undoubtedly saved lives and protected the NHS, but they have not come with the levels of financial support required. Some 50% of all aviation staff are still on furlough. UK airlines have announced over 30,000 job cuts, and a further 1.5 million jobs are still at risk. That is without taking into account the supply chain and supporting businesses that rely on the aviation and tourism sectors.
Given my Slough constituency’s proximity to Heathrow airport, I know all too well the impact that the situation has had on our community. My inbox has been full of correspondence from airline workers, ground staff, taxi drivers, travel agents, retail workers and others who have been left behind despite working in the industry for decades. Behind each of the numbers, there is a lifelong career, a family being supported and a passion being fulfilled. Real people are involved here, and they have been continually let down by Government through no fault of their own, which is why Government should step in. Restrictions must come with measured and tailored support. The Labour party has been clear about that all along in discussions with unions, airlines and airports. Political squabbles will not help those who have lost their jobs, but assured and sensible action from Government will.
It is clear what is needed: a bail-out package for aviation on the conditions that a clear climate plan is in place and that companies have set out terms to protect workers and their rights. Rather than delivering that and ensuring that struggling industries flourish post pandemic, the Government have taken their usual approach of confusion and backtracking, with bluster over the amber list, being too late to put countries on the red list and providing little clarity for passengers.
The mess we have seen over the last few weeks on the quarantine policy epitomises that, so why have the Government not reviewed the policy and outlined options for robust testing in airports to safely minimise the need for 14-day quarantine periods? Why have they left passengers, including my own Slough constituents, to pay thousands for quarantine hotels without sufficient access to drinking water and good-quality food? Why did Ministers not prevent, from the outset, the mixing of passengers from green list countries with those from covid hotspots? Why is it one rule for elites who have the ear of Government, and another rule for hard-working Brits? The whole thing is chaotic.
Like all here today, I want to see a thriving and greener aviation sector in a post-pandemic Britain. If we are to achieve that, we must ensure that adequate support is available now, because this shambles has gone on for long enough.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dr Huq. Today, I feel a sense of déjà vu. On Monday this week, I spoke in the House about the future of the steel industry and the devastating effect that the loss of jobs in that industry can have on communities such as mine in Cynon Valley. Here I am, three days later, speaking about the aviation industry, and again I must highlight the same problems facing my constituents.
I have said this before, but I cannot say it often enough for some Government Members to grasp what it really means. Unemployment, poverty, worrying about their family’s future, worrying about keeping a roof over their head and worrying about whether to heat or eat—these are realities for far too many people in areas such as mine. Those are areas that this Government talk about levelling up, in a sham and a shambles of an attempt to address the underlying problems caused by a total lack of investment or an industrial strategy to take people such as my constituents into a greener, more secure and more prosperous future.
Like steel, aerospace is a vital manufacturing industry for the Welsh economy. In Wales, it generates £1.47 billion in GVA. The threat to GE Aviation in Nantgarw in south Wales, which employs workers from my constituency, is significant, and it arises because of the lack of an industrial strategy from this Government and the dominance of their belief in a free market economy. In 2020, 540 redundancies were made, and more job losses are on the horizon. There is no question in my mind but that aerospace needs a strategic, sector-specific support package, and I fully support Unite’s industrial strategy, “Fighting for the Future of UK Manufacturing”, which was published this time last year. The answers and the way forward are there.
In GE Aviation, we have here in south Wales a skilled and relatively well-paid workforce, and the loss of those jobs will have a huge knock-on effect on the local economy. One of my constituents, Ross Williams, who is an aviation worker and a trade union official, said:
“We’ve lost almost half of the workforce at GE aviation Wales, and almost half the workers from Cynon Valley…We fear that without sector specific support either by way of a furlough extension or other government funding…jobs within it are under massive threat. We as a Trade Union feel that once these jobs and the specific skills sets within them are lost they will be gone forever. We are desperate to maintain these highly skilled engineers, these well paid jobs”.
The answers are there—read Unite’s document and invest in upskilling and reskilling our workforce.
We know from the pandemic how vital and helpful a sound British manufacturing industry is when repurposed to meet new challenges. We must build local, buy British—positive public procurement—stop offering contracts to the lowest bidders, involve the workers, through their trade unions, in decision making and look at new models of ownership of these industries. The free market economy is not the answer to our economic woes. We cannot build the economy on job losses and site closures. We need Government investment for a just and well-resourced transition to a green industrial revolution to tackle climate change. The will is there to make these changes. The skills and the workers are there. Their trade unions are there. Where are this Government?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dr Huq, and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter). My thanks go to the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) for leading this important debate and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) for his work on this issue.
There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has had a severe impact on the aviation sector. It has already caused a huge number of job losses in my own constituency and throughout the country. To add insult to injury, we have seen bad employers in the sector resorting to outrageous fire-and-rehire practices—essentially, using a pandemic to disgracefully diminish the terms and conditions of their hard-working staff during the most stressful of times. There is no doubt that the situation for the aviation and tourism industries is complex. They are some of the only industries where the easing and tightening of restrictions are not wholly determined by the UK Government; they are also reliant on decisions taken in other nations.
The Secretary of State for Transport said that the traffic light system was based on infections, vaccination, variants, testing and quality of data and that he would publish the detail. He still has not done so. Does this Minister agree with me that there needs to be transparency over the traffic light system, and the criteria used, to enable the industry to plan?
I am pleased that positive noises are now coming out of Government regarding the likelihood of restrictions ending on 19 July, but there is no guarantee that restrictions on inbound travel will not be extended beyond that date. The airline and ferry industries are the only industries in this very specific situation when it comes to easing restrictions arising out of the pandemic.
I commend this industry for its flexibility during this crisis, but the ongoing complexities and uncertainties mean that there must be a tailored support package. The industry cannot survive much longer with frequent and unplanned stops and starts. Does the Minister agree with me that the aviation and tourism sectors must be given a bespoke job protection scheme beyond the current proposed end of the coronavirus job retention scheme? A bespoke financial support package would allow the industry to engage in proactive recovery planning. It would offer a sense of security for employees against further stop-and-go travel restrictions that may occur in the future.
Skills retention is key for the stability of the sector, but we are already seeing a skills leakage from the industry to sectors that have managed to recover faster. A new starter in the aviation industry will need to go through a complex process of training, qualifications, checking and certification. The time between recruitment and the first day at work is usually a matter of several weeks. A medium-term extension of the furlough scheme is therefore necessary to protect the skills that the sector will need in the future.
A recent report by Syndex UK—a report commissioned by Unite the union—stated that the support required for the industry as a whole would be a maximum of £1.4 billion for 18 months, based on the assumption that an average of 40% of the employees are eligible for furlough during the whole period. The support package would begin to pay for itself in the long term, as it would aid a faster recovery. In addition, we can easily measure the recovery by looking at passenger numbers. That means that the duration of the support could be tied to the return of demand and therefore it could fall away when the industry recovers.
I hope that the Minister will consider these ideas, because, as I am sure he will agree, the aviation and tourism industries are critical to both the UK economy and our national interest.
We can all agree that of all the sectors affected by the pandemic, aviation, travel and tourism have been hit particularly hard. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has indicated that the aviation sector has been the hardest hit of the entire economy, with hundreds of thousands of jobs lost or under threat. The latest data also shows that travel agencies and tour operators suffered an 89% decline in output in the first year of lockdown, when severe restrictions were imposed across the travel industry.
If the traffic light regulations continue to have the impact that they are having, more support will be desperately needed. We need to retain the existing furlough scheme and self-employed income support for businesses operating in aviation and international travel, without tapering, for a minimum additional six months, with future reviews built in. Also needed is the creation of a new sector-specific recovery grant regime for travel agents, tour operators and travel management companies that rely on international travel for their revenues. Travel agency businesses receive all their income through commission paid close to their clients’ departure dates. Given the cautious restart of travel, they need additional financial support to help them through the coming months. The issue of travel agents carrying the cost of refunding card payments was raised earlier in the debate, and I raised it specifically with the Chancellor last April. It has still not been addressed.
International travel is extremely important to our tourism and hospitality sectors, but we also know that it is important to reduce the risk of importing new cases and new variants of the virus. Indeed, the new delta variant entered Scotland while Scottish restrictions were at their highest levels because the UK Government would not engage with concerns expressed by the Scottish Government. They were too slow to act. That could have undone all the hard work and sacrifice that populations across the UK have made to help beat the virus. That is not good enough.
We need to reinstate a four-nation decision-making approach to international travel, which was suspended by the UK Government as the Scottish Government urged more action. It must be recognised that the aviation industry faces one of the longest periods of recovery, given the impact of covid-19 on route networks. The French and German Governments have given more than twice the financial support for every aviation and aerospace job than the UK Government have.
The Minister will be keen to tell us about the support that his Government have already provided, but there is no escaping the fact that the French and German Governments have provided double the support that those jobs have had in the UK. Clearly, those Governments are backing their travel industries now to help provide a driving force in the economic recovery of their countries. I urge the Minister to do all in his power to provide further support to these sectors at this challenging time.
Thank you, Dr Huq; it is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship. I thank the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) not just for securing this debate but for his tenacity and championing of this cause from the very start. That really should be recognised. I also thank the Minister before he even gets to his feet. Our meetings have not been as productive as I would have liked, but despite that he has been available and he has listened. Like others, I urge him to listen to the gaps. It is the gaps that we are concerned about today and the gaps that urgently need the support.
As the Minister will know, my constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath is very close to Edinburgh airport. Constituents of mine include pilots, cabin crew, ground crew and those who work in the general airport environment. I also have constituents who are travel agents, and they are the group I am currently most concerned about.
In ordinary times, outbound travel is worth more than £37 billion a year to the UK economy. It supports the employment of more than half a million people across the UK and plays a crucial role in sustaining our leisure and business activity. ABTA’s collective membership puts people on planes, ships and trains—outbound, inbound and domestically—across leisure and travel. It is fundamental to our regional connectivity, opportunity and prosperity. The aggregate turnover is £40 billion in normal times and that supplies over £6 billion to the UK Treasury.
Those businesses know that recovery will be slow. The travel sector has been hardest hit, with bookings down by 90% and in some cases more. A 2021 survey of ABTA members found that 57% of small and medium-sized enterprise travel agents did not believe they had the cash to survive more than six months, based on current conditions and available Government support. Strikingly, 87% of SME travel agents believed they would fail within a year.
I am not complaining about this only to the UK Government; I am raising the issue across these islands. The Scottish Government recently said that travel agents have had support. They have had support in Scotland and down here, but it is not enough, it is not tailored and it does not recognise their unique needs. That is the fundamental issue. It must be really hard for business people who have invested their lives in building a thriving travel business to hear of an underspend by the Scottish Government of more than £450 million when they desperately need that help now.
This is about a joined-up approach. It is about coming together and recognising where the gaps are, and, most importantly, recognising the fundamental role that travel agents play in the industry. The airlines have had staff on furlough and been bailed out, and the public have either been on furlough or been allowed to continue to work and enjoy an income, but the travel agents are the ones who have moved bookings, taken the cancellations and kept open the pipeline of supply for the recovery we all hope for.
All of us—Government, tour operators and airlines—should be bending over backwards to ensure that travel agents get the support they desperately need, because they will secure and supply business as we move forward.
With Heathrow in my constituency, naturally I am worried about what is happening in both aviation and tourism. The number of people claiming unemployment benefit in my constituency has risen by more than 220% in the first year of the pandemic, so there is an urgent need for action.
I will make four brief points. First, I agree with the criticisms of the Government’s list system made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) and the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman). The system is confusing and ineffective, and it needs reform based on the data we now have, but whatever system we use, it needs to be properly resourced. Also, there has been a lack of sufficient staffing support for border control at Heathrow. That has put existing staff under intense pressure, and even put their health at risk.
My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) raised the issue of the quarantine system resulting at times in the abysmal treatment of families who have been forced to quarantine at great expense. On arrival at Heathrow, they have been crowded on to buses, often unsafely, and they often find that the booking for their original accommodation has been cancelled. When placed in accommodation, they are provided, exactly as my hon. Friend said, with inedible, inadequate or unsuitable food.
Secondly, my constituents—the workers in those sectors—want to get back to work and to get back to earning a decent living, but they know that doing so safely will take time. They are not unrealistic about that, so it is critical that the Government recognise the fact that some sectors will need continuing support. As my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Kate Osborne) said, precipitously ending the furlough scheme and the financial support being provided now will force many of my constituents into either losing their job or having their wages cut even further. The Government need to provide some certainty and reassurance to the companies and the workers in those sectors that there will be continuing support to get them through the remainder of the pandemic.
My third point, regrettably, is that the appalling practice of fire and rehire, which has taken hold in our economy, started initially on any scale at Heathrow. Thanks to Unite, we fought off the worst aspects of the first wave of that attack on my constituents, but that does not mean that the threat has gone away. Other companies are persisting in what is effectively workplace bullying. That is why we need urgent legislation to ban the practice, not the mealy-mouthed, broken-promise approach that we have seen from the Government so far.
My fourth point is that, as we come through the current crisis brought on by the pandemic, we need to recognise that we must face up to the next crisis, which is the existential threat of climate change. The Climate Change Committee today criticised the Government for setting wonderful targets with no means to deliver them, and that is exactly the situation in aviation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) said, we need a sustainable aviation strategy, and we need it fast. It should be based on a clear, just transition programme so that communities such as mine are given resources to develop a local economic strategy that will ensure we benefit from the environmentally sustainable aviation sector and have access to skilled and well-paid jobs in other developing sectors of the economy. We need that urgently, if not tomorrow.
Finally, as a west London MP, I want to say this: let us end the ludicrous nonsense that building a third runway will in any way comply with our climate change duties.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Dr Huq. I thank the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) for securing this debate and the Backbench Business Committee for granting it.
We had a similar debate in the Chamber less than two weeks ago, but the situation facing the aviation sector, and indeed much of the wider travel industry, is so stark and immediate that we could debate the issue of support every week. The hon. Gentleman, who represents Gatwick airport in much the same way as I represent Glasgow airport, has campaigned hard on this issue, and I commend him for it.
One third of the 6,000 on-campus jobs at Glasgow airport have gone, and countless more have gone in off-campus support services and supply chain companies. Perhaps the most important thing to note is that those thousands of local jobs have gone while there is a furlough scheme in place, such is the cash burden and the grave outlook for the sector. I do not want to begin to imagine how many more jobs will go in September if the furlough scheme is not extended in that industry at least.
We are looking at a calamity for thousands of families across Renfrewshire, and perhaps hundreds of thousands around the UK. That would be an economic catastrophe, both locally and nationally. I very much echo the comments that the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) made about fire and rehire. It needs to go now.
Amid all this doom and gloom, there is a sector trying to remain positive and plan for a brighter future. It includes Loganair, based in my constituency at Glasgow airport, which has announced that its new GreenSkies programme will include a £1 charge on every ticket to invest in schemes aimed at tackling climate change and to remove the same amount of carbon from the environment as is generated by its aircraft. It is also beginning trials in Orkney of aircraft powered by hydrogen and renewable electricity. It has committed to being fully carbon neutral by 2040. That, of course, follows Glasgow airport becoming the first to introduce electric bus fleets to its operations, and achieving carbon neutrality for emissions under its direct control in 2020.
Ambitious plans for net zero are not only the preserve of Glasgow. I am not parochial—well, not on this occasion. I spoke to Bristol airport recently, which proudly told me of the ambitious plans on contributing to making the industry and the country at large net zero. That is all excellent stuff. It is very welcome and, indeed, necessary, but the reality is that if the sector survives, much of it will be so indebted or reduced in scope and capacity that the capital required to make such investments simply will not exist. That is clearly me done with the positivity, Dr Huq.
I said to the Secretary of State this morning during Transport questions that I have lost count of the number of times I have brought up support for the aviation sector since the start of the pandemic, either before or after the Government promised to do just that. I have since had the opportunity to check and the answer is 34. I have brought this up 34 times with the Government and had the same bluff and bluster response, including that the industry has had access to various routes for loan funding. That has resulted in our airline industry having a higher debt ratio than much of its international competition, where support has been largely through non-repayable grants, which in the USA totalled over £23 billion, in Germany nearly £8 billion, in France £6.5 billion and in the Netherlands £3.2 billion.
In November, the Government finally announced limited business rates support for the sector, seven months after the Scottish Government had announced a similar scheme in Scotland. I say similar, Dr Huq, but in Scotland the scheme is uncapped and extends to airlines based there as well. Moreover, this moratorium has been extended by a full year by the Scottish Government, while the UK Government’s limited and capped version will continue for only six months. Given the situation the sector faces, this is clearly unsustainable. In his summing up, I hope the Minister will confirm that an extension is being considered. If so, will the caps and limitations be removed?
We finally have an agreed four-nations approach to border health to manage the risk of importation of new cases and variants from international travel, in the form of the traffic light system. Under the previous arrangements, the delta variant entered Scotland because the UK Government would not engage with the Scottish Government’s concerns, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) has already mentioned.
The level of risk earlier in year was such that all UK Governments were advised that all direct arrivals should enter managed-isolation hotels. Scotland did so, but only red list arrivals had to do so in England. Moreover, the UK Government refused to help identify passengers in England travelling on to Scotland, so that they could also be required to enter quarantine hotels. The significant delay, perhaps for political reasons, in announcing that India would go on to the red list was far too long and we can see the direct results of that in our record case numbers in recent days.
Any system, traffic lights or otherwise, needs to be dynamic, requiring rapid decision making on emerging risks that are identified by the Joint Biosecurity Centre. The Scottish Government are keen to stick to a four-nations approach, but if Scottish Ministers feel they need to, they will make the decisions that are right to protect Scotland. Fundamentally, we absolutely understand the importance of international travel to the tourism and hospitality sector, not least for jobs in my constituency.
In terms of the wider tourism and hospitality sector, which is equally important to the Scottish economy, UKHospitality is clear: while the Scottish Government are providing firms with breathing space on business rates, the UK Government are just kicking the can down the road. The Scottish Government’s extension of 100% hospitality rates relief is for a year, which is far longer than the three months offered in England, with a discount for a further six months.
In fact, retail, tourism, hospitality, aviation and newspaper businesses in Scotland will pay no rates during 2021-22 at all. Kate Nicholls, the chief executive at UKHospitality, told the Treasury Committee earlier this month:
“In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, 100% business rates holidays have been given to hospitality for a full year. It gives those businesses breathing space to avoid having to make the tough decision between paying taxes and paying people. In England we do not have that luxury. We will have to pay our taxes from day one.”
One of the cogs of the Scottish tourism sector is the coach industry, which is worth an estimated £400 million and supports around 4,000 jobs. Around 80% of the coach industry’s income is derived from tourism. The Scottish Government have a coach operators fund to support the sector, but the UK Government have no such scheme.
In written evidence to the Transport Committee, Kevin Mayne of Maynes Coaches said that the help and understanding of the Scottish Government towards coaching has been well received by the industry. Moreover, the then Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, Fergus Ewing, told the Scottish Parliament in January that Westminster “declined” his calls to provide support for the coach industry across the UK. He said:
“That is why we are going ahead with the Scottish scheme to compensate coach operators, which are an essential and quality part of the tourism offering in Scotland.”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 21 January 2021; c. 32.]
Mr Mayne provided the following in evidence:
“Mr Ewing’s description of coaching as ‘essential’ contrasts with controversial comments made by Transport Minister Baroness Vere at the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK Bus and Coach Conference on 12 January.
She told delegates that the UK government regards home-to-school and rail replacement services as essential, but that other coaching activity is seen as ‘non-essential.’ That created a ‘very difficult’ situation for them when deciding whether to offer a UK-wide support package for coaches.”
Will the Minister commit to comprehensive support for the English coaching sector?
It is regrettable that the Conservatives remain committed to imposing a September cliff-edge on the tourism sector by ending the 5% VAT rate. In particular, extending the relief is critical for those who operate on a seasonal basis, a significant amount of whom are in Scotland, especially given that summer lasts for about a week. Kate Nicholls of UKHospitality said in the same Treasury Committee meeting:
“The single biggest thing that the Government have done to help the sector through this crisis, which has helped to support and sustain jobs through the crisis, has been to introduce a lower rate of VAT for tourism services”.
Can the Minister confirm that an extension is being actively considered?
I will conclude by bringing my remarks back to where I started: aviation. I said earlier that I had raised the issue 34 times—it is now 35 times. This morning, I asked the Secretary of State directly if he was going to introduce an aviation, travel and tourism recovery package to support the sector and its workers, such as those protesting on College Green yesterday. He could not jump out of the way quick enough, even though he was sat before the Dispatch Box at the time. Instead, the Minister, whom I very much respect, had to take the hit and repeat all the various stats about support. Although that support is welcome as far as it goes, we will see the demise of the sector if it is not improved. I ask the Minister again: are the Government actively considering an aviation, travel and tourism recovery package or, at the very least, some further support for the sector?
As I have said previously in this place, the UK started the pandemic with the world’s third-largest aviation sector. With about one third of the workforce already gone, it will certainly not be the third largest coming out of the pandemic, and there is a real risk that we will never regain such a lofty position without some dynamic and urgent action from this Government, who still seem unable to understand the importance of aviation to connectivity and the wider economy. Their time is running out.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. To the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), with whom I have been a fellow traveller for a number of years on the matters of aviation and the Chagos islanders, I say well done for securing the debate.
The hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and I have just had a private discussion about the people of Scotland and Greater Manchester giving peace a chance. The First Minister should perhaps have picked up the phone to Mayor Andy Burnham before she made a decision to ban people from Bolton, which has a smaller covid outbreak than Dundee. I think we can do better than that. We are not going to burn the First Minister in effigy—that betrays human dignity—but we are thinking of donning the woad and marching north as a conurbation.
It was heartening to see the whole industry come together to lobby. As has been mentioned, yesterday on College Green, hundreds spoke up for travel, airlines, airports and travel agents. Unions, cabin crew, and colleagues from all parties united to highlight the dire situation of the UK’s aviation, travel and tourism industries. The hon. Member for Crawley robbed from my speech when he spoke in his articulate way about the worth of those industries not just to our constituencies but, as the hon. Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) pointed out, to the wider economies around airports in particular.
That is why I really want to push the Government on what the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North said about the sector-specific deal. The Chancellor promised way back at the beginning of the pandemic that he would deliver a sector-specific package for the aviation industry, and we are still waiting. The Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston) assured the House that a tourism recovery plan was on the way and would be announced by the end of spring. Well, solstice was on Monday, and according to my rusty Latin, it means “when the sun stands still”. The only things standing still at the moment are our travel, tourism and aviation industries.
There has been much debate about the traffic light system, which I know has been challenged by the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman). I should point out that there have been great speeches from Members from both sides of the Chamber, and I wish I could name them all in the time I have available. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, there is a real human cost. We in this House have lost friends. I have lost Lord Jimmy Gordon of Strathblane, who was a mate of mine. I lost an aunt to covid the other week. A councillor where I live has just come out of hospital after being in ICU. I have not seen my friends and family in the west of Ireland for nearly two years. There is a real human cost to this disease, and the hon. Gentleman was right to mention it.
On the traffic light system, the Government have to get going so that we capitalise on the immunisation dividend that hon. Members have mentioned, but maybe that is a discussion for another day. We are talking about getting confidence back in our industry, not lurching from false start to false start. Her Majesty’s official Opposition are thinking of setting up a taskforce to look at the number of taskforces that the Department for Transport has set up in the past 12 months that have been ineffectual.
Nobody is arguing in favour of unrestricted travel, but given the success and advanced state of our vaccination programme, thanks to the wonderful NHS, it may now be time for the Government to follow their own recommendations, which were announced in the global travel taskforce. As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), how can we as a nation be more restricted now than we were 12 months ago when we did not have a vaccine? The rationale and data must be published, and the methodology shared of how the decisions are made to place a country on the red, amber or green list.
I say directly to the Minister that the Manchester Airports Group should not be having to launch legal challenges against the Government in order to get transparency on the traffic light system. We will listen at what the Government say tonight, but we will see in a couple of weeks what the courts say.
We have a pandemic. We are not attacking the Government, but we are highlighting their inadequacies. This stop-start nature is ruining the confidence of this industry. As we approach the summer, the Prime Minister has been saying it is not going to be a full season. That immediately knocks millions more pounds off these important industries.
We have said time and again that we support the furlough scheme. I agree with Members who have said that we will highlight unscrupulous employers who have attacked workers’ pay and conditions during this time. That is not British and it is unpatriotic every time, and we will call it out.
We have consistently called for a sectoral deal. As is illustrated in this debate, politicians are urging the Government to intervene. Ministers have to intervene. The dither and delay cannot go on. We have to either get a summer season or introduce a package. The Government’s modus operandi is to put the situation back on the industry, whether it be travel agents or the cruise industry, which takes 2 million passengers a year from UK shores and adds billions to our economy, or whether it is passengers in amber list countries, making it up as they go along—“It is your responsibility for you to be safe.” The Government need to tell us and give confidence and certainty to the industry. That is what it is crying out for.
The delay in opening up on 21 June was a hammer blow to the industry and a potential final blow to many who are struggling. The message that we should go with from here today is that we are very proud of our world-class aviation industry, which is the third biggest on the planet—one that we want to be greener, cleaner and more efficient—with world-leading technologies and well-unionised jobs across the sector. Millions are employed by it. We have a world-class cruise industry that takes people across the planet and around our shores. We have a world-class travel industry, second to none. This is what is going to regenerate our economy, give pride back to our nation and get the country back on its feet. We need certainty. We do not need any more dither and delay.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Dr Huq. I thank the House for all of the excellent speeches that we have heard—all of them impassioned, well informed and constructive. I particularly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) for securing this important debate. He is the voice of Gatwick and is consistently eloquent in his advocacy. He is consistently constructive. He has put the case with real passion and clarity today, and not just for his constituents, but for the travel, tourism and aviation sector in a much broader sense, highlighting the global importance of the sector. I thank him for so doing.
The House should be under no illusions: the Government recognise and deeply value the critical importance of international travel. My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley said that it is not just about two weeks in the sun, although as my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), who chairs the Transport Committee, said there is nothing wrong with that—and he is right, partly because of the enjoyment that it brings people and partly because what lies behind those two weeks in the sun are people’s jobs. It is about the industries and the sector in a much broader sense.
We have heard much, understandably, from many right hon. and hon. Members on the impact on jobs in their constituencies. I hope they will forgive me if I only mention them by name, given the very limited time I have. The right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and the hon. Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), for Jarrow (Kate Osborne), for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart), for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Neale Hanvey), for Newport East (Jessica Morden) and for Slough (Mr Dhesi) all mentioned the impact of this crisis on their constituents with real passion and clarity. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) talked about the wider ecosystem and those who support the wider sector.
It is about jobs, of course, but it is also about much more. Travel, aviation and tourism also connect families that have been kept apart. It is about people’s lives. Travel underpins the economy in every possible way, but it is also central to the way we see ourselves as a nation: outward-looking, global, a trading nation. The desire to explore is in the British DNA. That is perhaps why so many Members are here today. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle gave a vivid description of the personal costs of the pandemic. That is why it is essential that the steps that we take now lay the groundwork for a sustainable return to international travel in the future and build upon our successful vaccination programme.
I will say a word or two about our approach at the outset. The Secretary of State confirmed on 7 May that non-essential international travel could resume on 17 May; that is when the “stay in the UK” regulation was lifted, allowing international travel to recommence under the new traffic light system. This system cautiously balances the reopening of international travel while at the same time managing the risk posed by imported variants. That is the basis of the traffic light system.
I heard the comments from hon. Members, and I heard the speech from the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), for whom I have the greatest respect. However, when I hear Labour Members call for the amber list to be scrapped, which is precisely the thing that will harm the travel sector even more at the moment, and I set that alongside the reported comment that the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) gave from the shadow Transport Secretary yesterday, who said that we should open up travel, if I have understood it correctly—
The shadow Defence Secretary; I am grateful to him for correcting me. That is the confused position of Labour: simultaneously calling for the travel sector to be opened up while at the same time arguing to scrap the amber list, which would damage the sector. I hope Labour Members will forgive me for saying that they are not in any position to give lessons to the Government about how to manage this when their party’s position is changing by the day.
The right hon. Member for Exeter gave a reported comment from someone. Provided that is the case, Labour’s position is changing by the day.
In any event, the Joint Biosecurity Centre produces risk assessments of countries and territories for the traffic light system, so it is data-driven. Sometimes difficult decisions have to be made, which are guided by the information given by the JBC and then made by Ministers. A summary of that is published on the website, alongside the wider public health factors that we have to take into account.
The right hon. Member for Exeter made a powerful speech. I entirely share his passion for international travel and I have the greatest respect for him. I know he will understand that, at a time like this, the Government have to take difficult decisions. We are in the early stages of a return to international travel, and as the data allow, we will look to open up international travel as it is safe to do so, but it must be safe, it must be sustainable and it must be robust. We have to accept that travel may not be quite the same this year. I say that because it is so important that we do not throw away the hard-won steps we have taken.
Thanks to the sacrifices of the British people, we have been able to get to the stage that we are at now. I accept that the approach is cautious, because it is meant to be robust. These have been difficult times, but none of us wants to go backwards, for the reason that the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East said at the beginning of his speech, when he reminded us of the cost of covid.
I hope the Minister will go on to say something about the expansion of the green list and what will happen with covid passports. Can he explain why the Governments of other countries—Germany, those in the rest of the Europe, and America—who have just as much concern for the health of their people, are ahead of us on international travel, when we are more highly vaccinated? Where is the vaccine dividend that the Government promised? We are getting left behind comparable countries, in spite of our vaccination levels. How does the Minister explain that?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point. Every country is approaching this issue in a slightly different way, and it is not as straightforward as simply comparing the way one country manages it with the way another does. We are doing something that is cautious, because we are seeking to protect the vaccine dividend to which he rightly draws attention. He asked me to talk about the green list. I know he understands that I cannot foreshadow any announcements that might take place later today, either on that or on the point of vaccination. We of course recognise the strong strategic rationale and the success of the vaccination programme, and we are working to consider the role of vaccinations in shaping a different set of health and testing measures for inbound travel. We will be able to set out our position on that in due course.
I stress that the measures that are set out at present, and what is seen by right hon. and hon. Members in the traffic light system at present, are not set in stone. We are working towards a future travel system that can co-exist with an endemic covid-19. As such, and as recommended in the global travel taskforce report, the Government’s approach will be assessed on 28 June, 31 July and 1 October to ensure that the measures and approach that we have in place are adequate. Of course, as Members will realise, the first such review is imminent. I know Members have a real hunger for further information, and we will set out our position in due course.
The Government recognise that there is plenty more to do. The tourism recovery plan has recently been published—I would have very much liked to speak about it in a bit more detail, but I am conscious that the time is rapidly running out. The Government are developing a forward-looking strategic framework for aviation, which will explore key issues such as workforce, skills, regional connectivity, noise, innovation, regulation and consumer issues, alongside climate change and decarbonisation.
I am sorry that I need to sit down to allow my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley time to sum up at the end, but I will finish by quoting him. He said that the best way to support travel and aviation is to enable them to operate. The Government and I fundamentally agree with him on that, and we are working hard to turn those words and aspirations into reality. There are no two ways about it: the pandemic has brought dark times on the country. Thanks to the success of the vaccination programme, however, the light is growing.
I thank the right hon. Members for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) and for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), my hon. Friends the Members for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), for Southend West (Sir David Amess) and for Warrington South (Andy Carter), and the hon. Members for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart), for Newport East (Jessica Morden), for Slough (Mr Dhesi), for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter), for Jarrow (Kate Osborne), for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Neale Hanvey), for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) and for Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands)—he has had to fly back to Scotland and cannot be present.
I also thank my hon. Friend the aviation Minister. I know he understands the importance of getting the sector back up and running. Even though he cannot say so, I know he shares many of our frustrations. The message I want to leave is that we cannot operate as an economy, be it international travel or anything else, on a zero-covid strategy. The coronavirus will probably be with us for the rest of our lives. We will probably have to have a rolling vaccination programme for the foreseeable future. We will have to learn to live with it. We cannot afford for it to dominate our lives for much longer. Otherwise, the impact that it will have on employment and general prosperity—mental health has been mentioned as well—will be severe. There is a special case for the sector to have furlough extended beyond September, because of the fact that, unlike most other parts of the economy, it seems, sadly, that it will not be able to open in a meaningful way.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their eloquence and erudite comments, many of which, if not all of them, I very much agree with.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered support for the aviation, tourism and travel industries in response to the covid-19 pandemic.