Nick Smith MP Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent
Tough decisions were made over the Christmas period and Wales and the rest of the UK is now under lockdown again in a bid to slow quickly rising Covid case numbers.
Our local NHS is currently under extreme pressure.
In my most recent conversations with the health board chiefs I was told that ITU beds are almost at maximum capacity and extra beds are now being developed with staff from other areas being redeployed to help.
We must do all we can to stay safe by following the now familiar measures and observing the new rules while the enormous task of rolling-out the vaccine gets under way.
The Welsh Government set out its vaccination plan and timetable this week with the aim being to have offered it to all eligible adults in Wales by the autumn, following priority groups in the spring.
Vaccinations using both Pfizer and Astra Zenica (Oxford) vaccines have started in Gwent, with residents in care homes, the over-80s and frontline health and care workers being prioritised initially.
You will all be aware of the terrible scenes that took place in at the US Capitol building last week.
I have always had a strong interest in American politics and have travelled to help with Democrat party organisation and campaigning during previous elections.
What I saw last week can only be described as an outright assault on the democratic process.
This was in no doubt encouraged by President Trump who, in seeking to overturn the outcome of a fair election, has stoked up dangerous levels of division and discord.
I stand in solidarity with democratic legislators, their staff and the millions of Americans who have been horrified by what they are witnessing.
Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and their administration are entering office with an optimistic view of the future and the Labour party look forward to working with them in the coming years
The Chancellor has delivered yet another update with no new information.
He seems to be running out of steam at a time when support is needed more than ever.
There are still many gaps in the financial support available for employers and employees and we are still racing towards several looming economic cliff edges.
I wrote to the Chancellor recently about an issue around reopening eligibility for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to ensure that no-one is excluded.
As it stands people who have taken up employment since the end of October would not be eligible for furlough.
The answer I received was poor and simply reiterated how the scheme currently works.
This is just one of the important issues that is continuing to go unaddressed.
There must be clarity around ongoing help for self-employed people and also assistance for those who have been shut out of support since day one.
Some of the £2bn in business rate relief returned by supermarkets and other retailers should be redirected into supporting those who, when all is said and done, will have been left without help for close to a year.
It must be made clear that working parents can be furloughed if they have new childcare responsibilities caused by restrictions.
Plans to cut the Universal Credit uplift in two months’ time must be scrapped.
The Government should also be addressing the inadequacy of Statutory Sick Pay so that anyone who is asked to self-isolate can do so without facing a financial disincentive.
With the UK in another lockdown, the Government has to alter the short-sighted approach it is taking.
There must be a long-term framework that allows for assistance to be adjusted in line with the tightening or easing of restrictions, rather than deadlines being pinned to dates on the calendar in the hope that things will be back to normal by the time we reach them.
I am continuing to fight for the Government to acknowledge and deal with an issue around ex-miners and Covid-19.
It was right at the start of the pandemic that I first spoke about ensuring that ex-mineworkers’ families receive the justice, support and compensation they are due in the event they pass away due to Covid.
The problem being that families of ex-mineworkers – who are at risk due to being more likely to have underlying respiratory conditions – are only entitled to compensation and support if ‘industrial disease’ is recorded on a death certificate rather than simply ‘Covid-19’.
I also raised it in a question to Matt Hancock who assured me that he would raise it with Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy officials (https://fb.watch/2UaWJR412I/)
Alongside my Labour MP colleagues Stephanie Peacock, Conor McGinn, Yvette Cooper and also General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers Chris Kitchen, I wrote to the health to again raise this matter and request that he meets with a delegation of coalfield MPs and the NUM to resolve this concern.
I was happy to support British Gas workers in their ongoing efforts to receive better treatment.
No one takes strike action lightly and the workers are only asking to be treated fairly.
I had previously written to British Gas/Centrica about the dreadful fire and rehire tactics they are employing, and I maintain that this is unacceptable behaviour.
They should return to the table and seek to reach a negotiated agreement with the GMB Union.