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Coronavirus Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:54 pm on 23rd March 2020.

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Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee 6:54 pm, 23rd March 2020

There have been some fantastic speeches this evening so far, including from my hon. Friend Robert Largan who made a stunning maiden speech, but I wish to go back to the words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State when he said that the virus impacts most the weak and vulnerable. He is of course right.

I support the measures in the Bill. They are extraordinary measures that can only be used in extraordinary times, but that is exactly what we are facing. Tonight I wish to speak for the weak and the vulnerable, as hon. Members might expect from the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee. I have real concerns about how equalities might be impacted and about how those people with protected characteristics for whom we speak might be affected. I draw particular attention to the elderly, who we know are the most impacted by this disease, and their need for care that is appropriate in their own homes at the right time. I speak for the disabled, who of course have the biggest challenges and who desperately need assistance. I appreciate why we have the powers in the Bill, but they must be used proportionately and reasonably.

I also speak for those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and, of course, the Paymaster General, my right hon. Friend Penny Mordaunt, has done some phenomenal work with faith communities, making sure that funerals can be held appropriately for religions. But I would like to point out that it is in the gig economy where we are most likely to find people from a BAME background working: they are also most likely to be young people. They are also most likely to be self-employed, on zero hours or sole traders, and we must be particularly cognisant of the impact the virus will have on those people who we will want—when this horror is over—to be able to bounce back to be the entrepreneurs who will enable our economy to recover from this difficult period.

I will also, of course, mention women. We know that caring responsibilities fall most heavily on their shoulders. We also know that in areas such as childminding, childminders are not only doing the caring, but of course are providing the support that enables women to go out to work, whether it be in our essential professions at the moment or in all parts of the economy. We must provide support to the childminding sector as well as the early years sector, because when the virus is quashed and we are in a position to rebuild the economy, we will need childminders to enable that 50% of the workforce to go back to work. We have done great work over the past few years in making sure that there are more women in employment, but we have to make sure that it is possible for them when this is over to be able to—