As I’m sure you will have seen, business in Parliament this week has been dominated by the Budget and by the ongoing issues around the spread of Coronavirus.
While it’s good news that the Government has taken the sensible decision to make sick pay available to those who need to self-isolate and to make benefits available to those who do not qualify for sick pay, we need to look at how inadequate our statutory sick pay is in comparison to many other European countries. In the UK, even for those on full-time contracts, our statutory sick pay is pitiful: £94 per week. For most people that won’t cover rent, let alone utilities, food, council tax, insurance, car or travel costs – so although I welcome the steps the Government has taken, they do not go far enough and will not guarantee financial security to those who might be affected by the virus and are doing the sensible thing in staying at home.
I was however pleased to see that the Government have chosen not to raise Beer Duty in the Budget – a victory for the many constituents who have contacted me about the ‘Long Live the Local’ campaign. It’s also welcome that the Government have responded to calls to temporarily scrap business rates for small businesses to help mitigate the effects of the coronavirus on small businesses like music venues and restaurants – of which we have a number of fantastic examples in Bristol.
On Sunday, I attended Keir Starmer’s climate event in Birmingham. I particularly enjoyed the discussion around how solutions to the climate emergency have to offer hope to communities that have seen so much upheaval with the negative impacts of deindustrialisation, globalisation and austerity. The climate emergency is a very real and very serious threat – but it also gives us the opportunity to reshape our economy so that everyone can participate in the benefits and no one is left behind.
I spent much of the week on the Environment Bill Committee, where we considered air pollution and the long-term funds for investment in transport and housing that will be needed, if we are to meet clean air targets. More and more cities are looking into implementing a CAZ – a clean air zone – that will limit traffic in inner-city areas. As you may know, there is a proposed CAZ for Bristol which we expect to have in place by March 2021, which would propose a diesel vehicle ban combined with a charge for those accessing the CAZ. A scrappage scheme is envisaged for older diesel vehicles, but we need more detail about how this would work. We can also learn from teething issues in other cities – there has to be a discussion over who the charge applies to, i.e. do those living within the area have to pay the charge? And how do we also limit unnecessary journeys within the CAZ for those exempt from the charge?
You may have seen me mentioned in the Guardian this week in an article about the Government’s dismal record on tree planting. In response to my question, the Government admitted that it would spend about £27 million on tree planting by the end of this Parliament – enough for about 6,500ha of forest. This falls far short of the 30,000ha of new trees per year the Government pledged in its manifesto. In the Budget statement, the Chancellor seemed to be saying that the target is now to plant 30,000ha between now and the end of this parliament, rather than the 30,000ha per year for the next five years promised in the manifesto, so I will be following this up!
Trees are of huge importance to our environment – taking carbon out of the atmosphere, providing habitats and helping prevent flooding, for starters – but they are also important to our health as humans. Hospital patients with rooms overlooking trees have been found to recover faster than those without such a view and they help reduce our stress and anxiety, helping us to reconnect with the natural world. If these aren’t good enough reasons for the Government to fulfil their tree-planting pledge, I don’t know what will convince them.
Lastly, I just wanted to say a few words on Coronavirus. This is obviously a worrying time, particularly for those of you who are more vulnerable to the virus or who have friends and relatives that could be affected. As always, I would urge everyone to follow the advice that the NHS have provided – its the best thing we can do to help limit the spread of the virus.
I spoke to the Mayor this morning about Bristol’s response, including in relation to food shortages, the economy, the impact on cultural life, and our health service, and will be posting more on that soon.
If you have any issues or concerns to raise with me as your local MP, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 0117 939 9901.
I hope you all have a great weekend!