Covid-19

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:55 pm on 14th December 2020.

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Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 7:55 pm, 14th December 2020

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The fact that we know that the vaccines are now on their way surely changes how we look at all this. It means we now know we are not throwing billions and billions into a pot where we will never see the bottom. We know some kind of end is in sight, so what a terrible waste of tens of billions of the public’s money it would be, were we to be penny pinching in the last part of this pandemic. That is why we should back hospitality and tourism, which is the fourth biggest employer in the country and the biggest employer in Cumbria. It is essential to our economy as a whole and is worth £3.5 billion to the Cumbrian economy every year. This is the point; to invest in hospitality and tourism to see us through to the end.

In my community, there is a preponderance of businesses afflicted by having been excluded from support. Something like 4,000 people in my constituency alone were given no support. We are often talking about people who became self-employed in the past 18 months or so—the directors of small limited companies, hairdressers, personal trainers, taxi drivers and the like—but got nothing throughout this period. People on maternity leave have had their support cut at one end or the other. Often, these are the people—the entrepreneurs—who we will desperately rely on to build back our economy once we are through the coronavirus. Not only is it lacking in compassion for the Government to not back those people who have been excluded, but extremely stupid when they are the engine of our recovery, or at least they would be, if only the Government would help them.

A source of employment and a very important sector within my constituency and constituencies like mine is the outdoor education sector. It has been overlooked in many ways, although I am pleased to be part of the all-party group that Robin Millar chairs, which is looking at how we can support outdoor education.

It is worth bearing in mind that about 15,000 people work in outdoor education around the country, and 6,000 of them have lost their jobs already, largely because residential stays have effectively been banned by the Department for Education under advice from the Department of Health and Social Care. I understand that, although I would argue that residential stays at outdoor education centres are at least as safe as children going to school in the first place.

It is important that we save our outdoor education centres, which are hugely at risk at this point, not only because it is right to save them, but because this is the moment to deploy them. I and others in this Chamber have talked about the impact this period has had on the mental health of young people and their disengagement with education. Those children have lost three months at school, but some of them went back two years as a consequence of all this. In our outdoor education centres, we have the skill and talent to engage young people in learning, to foster a love of learning, to improve their mental health and wellbeing and to engage them with the education process again. Will the Government bring forward a specialist package, as they have in Scotland, to make sure that we lose no more outdoor education centre jobs and protect all our outdoor education centres?

Finally, I will say a couple of words about health in general, but in particular mental health. In my constituency, we saw the closure of our adult mental health ward, the Kentmere ward, at Westmorland General Hospital for covid reasons. We understand why that is the case, and we are pleased that the foundation trust is now putting £5 million into redeveloping that service and opening again within the next year. I encourage Ministers to put pressure on the Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust to make sure that happens as soon as possible, and also to ensure that it remains a site to support people of all ages and all genders with mental health problems. It is incredibly important that we do not end up at the end of all this with a more exclusive and less accessible mental health service available in South Lakeland.

Finally, cancer. We have learned during this period that there is a backlog in cancer treatment of around 100,000 people. Cancer Research UK estimates that 35,000 additional deaths may happen as a consequence of covid through people dying as a result of cancer. We believe that for every four weeks’ delay in diagnosis and, indeed, in treatment starting, we see a 10% drop in the likelihood of surviving that cancer. I want to encourage the Government to look carefully, if belatedly, at the comprehensive spending review submission that the all-party parliamentary groups on cancer, including the radiotherapy group that I chair, put to the Treasury, but which the Government did not match or fund. That proposal would allow us to massively expand radiotherapy, which would be a way not just of treating people who would normally expect to get radiotherapy but of ensuring that we substitute for those other treatments that are not possible due to covid-19. It would be an absolute tragedy if we ended up losing tens of thousands of people to cancer through this period because the Government did not catch up with cancer when they had the chance to invest and to do so.