Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:36 pm on 12th January 2021.

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Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) 5:36 pm, 12th January 2021

Covid has created many additional challenges for our country and I want to touch on but a few. Women, particularly pregnant women and new mothers, are more likely to be in insecure jobs. The result is that women have been even more likely to see a loss of income. The Government have finally released guidance for pregnant women in the workplace. It took nine months of campaigning by groups such as Maternity Action to push the Government to release that guidance. I urge Ministers to look at adapting furlough schemes to allow employers to recover the full cost of the maternity suspension of women who are 28 weeks pregnant and beyond.

Many students in my constituency have written to me in the past couple of weeks. They are feeling isolated and let down by the lack of guidance that their universities have received from the Government. In addition to paying full tuition fees, they are also paying thousands of pounds for accommodation they cannot live in. I am calling on the Government for the rapid implementation of a review of this academic year, including recommendations for financial compensation.

I want to add my voice to the calls to prioritise teachers and school staff for vaccination. If the Government are serious about prioritising education, then the profession must come top of the priority list after the most clinically vulnerable and those on the frontline of healthcare. Protecting teachers and school staff from the effects of the virus must be a key part of the plan to get children back into schools. There would be no education for young people without the staff to deliver that education.

The same applies to the staff working in early years settings. The Government must urgently look at the support for early years providers. These remain open despite the fact that staff do not have access to testing and are not prioritised for vaccination. Widcombe Acorns, an outstanding pre-school in Bath, has raised concerns that settings are not able to make their own decisions as to whether they stay open. I urge the Government to confirm what they will do to support early years providers, both in terms of testing and access to vaccines, and on the flexibility to make their own decisions on closures to protect their workforce.