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Written Statements

Volume 704: debated on Friday 3 December 2021

Written Statements

Friday 3 December 2021

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Building Digital UK update

Broadband plays a pivotal role in today’s society. Its significance has been highlighted by covid-19 and its importance will only increase in future years. Tackling the digital divide means ensuring that everyone in the UK can access and use digital communications services. Achieving this means ensuring the right infrastructure is in place to deliver nationwide connectivity for all.

In 2020, the Government committed to a new programme of work which would see a £5 billion investment in fixed broadband infrastructure and £0.5 billion in mobile broadband infrastructure over the coming decade. The programmes are a top priority for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and represent a significant increase in ambition and scale from previous schemes.

The organisation responsible for delivering the investment in broadband infrastructure, Building Digital UK (BDUK), has historically delivered spending commitments as a directorate within the Department. However, BDUK requires expert and independent board oversight, appropriate operational autonomy and delegated authority to further drive effective delivery.

I am therefore announcing my intention to establish BDUK as a specialist delivery Executive agency of the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in April 2022, to drive the effective execution of BDUK’s substantial portfolio of delivery commitments.

As an Executive agency, BDUK will be a clearly designated unit that will be administratively distinct but will remain legally within the Department.

The objectives for BDUK are complex, challenging and on a demanding timescale. The move to an Executive agency will improve the likelihood of success by enabling BDUK to deliver in a manner tailored to its specific requirements, reducing dependencies on central departmental functions for critical path activity.

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Health and Social Care

Health and Social Care Approach to Winter

Today the Government publishes the health and social care approach to winter.

This joint publication between DHSC and NHS England and Improvement sets out the expected challenges of this winter, and the wide range of preparations we have made to ensure that health and social care services remain resilient, joined up and available to patients over the coming months.

The document also announces the allocation of £700 million targeted investment fund announced in September this year. At least £330 million will be invested in NHS estate, and £250 million on digital initiatives that aid elective recovery efficiency and reconfiguration, with a further £120 million to support associated or additional revenue costs.

Funding has now been allocated to regions on a weighted population basis, with investment of:

£112 million in north-east and Yorkshire

£97 million in the north-west

£131 million in the midlands

£78 million in the east of England

£105 million in the south-east

£69 million in the south-west, and

£109 million in London.

The importance of these preparations has been brought home to everyone over the last few days with the emergence of the B.1.1.529 “omicron” covid-19 variant. With the roll-out and acceleration of covid-19 boosters alongside the largest flu vaccine programme in UK history, we are doing more than ever to support people to stay well this winter. We will continue to work closely together across health and social care to ensure people continue to access the services they need, when they need them.

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Women and Equalities

Covid-19 Health Disparities

I am publishing today my final report on progress to address covid-19 health disparities among ethnic minority groups.

When the Prime Minister asked me to lead this work in June 2020, we knew that ethnic minorities were more likely to become infected and to die from covid-19 but we did not know why. Thanks to analysis from the Government’s race disparity unit and new research backed by over £7 million in Government funding, we now have a much better understanding of the factors that have driven the higher infection and mortality rates among ethnic minority groups. These include occupation, living with children in multigenerational households, and living in densely-populated urban areas with poor air quality and higher levels of deprivation.

We also know that once a person is infected, older age, male sex, and having a disability or a pre-existing health condition (such as diabetes) increase the risk of them dying from covid-19. Genetics may also play a role in survival rates from covid-19. 61% of south Asian people carry a gene which doubles the risk of respiratory failure and death from covid-19 in under-60-year-olds, compared with 16% of people of European ancestry.

These insights have been crucial in shaping our response to covid-19.

Early action, informed by the emerging data and scientific advice, focused on reducing the risk of infection and protecting key frontline workers who were most at risk, particularly our NHS workers. Our approach evolved as our understanding of the risk factors developed. For example, in the second wave of the pandemic, we published guidance on preventing household transmission, recognising that people from the Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnic groups faced a higher risk of dying from covid-19 and are more likely to live in multigenerational households. We also piloted approaches where families could get jabbed together at vaccine sites to promote uptake in these groups.

The most significant measure to protect ethnic minorities from the risk of covid-19 has been the vaccination programme. We led the way in terms of the scale of our programme to approve, procure and deploy the covid-19 vaccines. The largest mass-vaccination programme in British history has been delivered through an unprecedented partnership approach between citizens, national and local government, health agencies, and the voluntary and community sector. This has involved tackling misinformation and building trust with ethnic minority groups through measures such as housing vaccination centres in places of worship and providing over £23 million in funding to the community champion scheme, which has used trusted local voices to drive up vaccination rates. These learnings are informing our approach to the current roll-out of the booster programme to ensure we continue to drive up vaccination rates in ethnic minority groups.

Through these combined efforts we have seen increases in both positive vaccine sentiment and vaccine uptake across all ethnic groups since vaccine deployment began.

There are a number of wider public health lessons that we must learn from these experiences and these are reflected in the recommendations in my report, which the Prime Minister has accepted in full. These recommendations will still be applicable even as we see the emergence of new variants. Work on addressing covid-19 disparities will now be taken forward by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities as part of our longer-term strategy to tackle health disparities.

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