The pandemic has touched the life of every single person in this country to a greater or lesser extent, but for many, the impact has been devastating. We cannot get away from the inequalities that were already apparent in the UK but have been growing over the past 10 months. This Government have not tackled those inequalities head-on in the way that other nations have done.
Before focusing on that, I want to start on a positive note, by acknowledging the speed with which the Government are rolling out the vaccination programme; for once, there is no dithering. As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for cycling and walking, I also pay tribute to the Government’s speedy rolling out of funding and enabling regulation to allow councils to create safe space for cycling and walking.
I come back to the meat of my speech, on those who have missed out. The Government repeatedly reel off the billions of pounds and the millions of people who are being supported, but again and again they avoid addressing those who miss out and who are being supported in equivalent economies. There has been no decent uplift in sick pay, meaning that those on low pay cannot afford to be off work, so they risk infecting their colleagues. There has been no news about continuing the £20 uplift in universal credit—and by the way, with the £27,000 universal credit cap, west London’s high housing costs mean that families here are left with almost nothing after housing costs are paid.
There is nothing for the many families whose adult members were working but have no recourse to public funds. Year 11 and year 13 children are looking to the future, but they are stressed out because they have been told only now about the summer exams—and even now, the details are not clear—when Wales made its decision in November and the Republic of Ireland last August. Too many children are still waiting for adequate IT access.
We have had no announcement about extending support to those excluded altogether from income schemes—they are still the excluded—and there is no sign of the long-awaited aviation strategy and support for aviation communities. Some 20,000 Hounslow borough residents work—or rather they did—in or around Heathrow, many in low-paid work. They cannot wait until aviation one day picks up to pre-covid levels, if it ever does. We need support and help from the Government now.
Before I finish, I want to address the issue of the anti-vaxxers’ campaign among the black, Asian and minority ethnic community. I hope that the Government’s extended communications strategy and the additional funding work to identify which communities are getting this anti-vax message and which outlets they read and watch, and to get the Government’s messages to those outlets; it is about more than just translations. I hope that the Government are listening.