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Coronavirus communication from Kevin Brennan MP

Kevin Brennan MP is backing a campaign to help people who were due to start a new job after February, but due to the coronavirus have either lost the job or are not receiving government help.

Kevin said, "Too many people are falling between the gaps of government help in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak."

"I have received correspondence from several constituents who were due to start a new job after the Chancellor's cut-off date of February 28th.

"In many cases their future employer has not taken them on because they would be ineligible for the furlough scheme - this is unacceptable.

"That's why I've joined forces with a group of cross-party MPs and signed New Starter Justice's letter below calling on the Chancellor to remove the cut-off date and allow these people to be part of the furlough scheme.

"They have done nothing wrong and should not be punished for it.No one should be left behind"

Here is New Starter Justice's letter which Kevin has signed:


Dear Chancellor,

We are New Starter Justice –the voice for the new starters your Job Retention Scheme has left behind. You may have heard of us. You certainly haven’t listened.

We don’t envy your task. It’s never easy to start a new job, and you’ve certainly been thrown in at the deep end, immediately faced with the responsibility of steering the nation through an unprecedented economic challenge. We imagine when you started your new position, you were excited for the future and the opportunities it would present. The current situation must feel a world away from that. This is, perhaps, a small something we have in common.

We have felt the excitement of better prospects too—except ours have turned into a living nightmare. Through no fault of our own, we are left without work, income or financial security. All because we stepped forward into what we thought might be a brighter future.

Our campaign represents a vast collective of individuals from all sectors and backgrounds. Every day, the number of people you seem to have forgotten grows. We now estimate in excess of one million people have fallen through the cracks of this policy. And now, as our incomes start to dry up, our families are suffering too. Is this fair?

Over a month ago, you made the first announcement about the Job Retention Scheme. You made a direct promise that each and every person would “not be left behind”. It provided the nation with the comfort that we needed as we faced these difficult times.

Unfortunately, you have failed to deliver on this promise to over a million families and, despite thousands of us calling out to you, you have yet to acknowledge our fears. How can you continue to publicly laud the Job Retention Scheme as a roaring success, when it leaves so many at risk of losing everything?

When you announced your policies to save UK jobs, hidden amongst the fanfare was a stipulation that those who started—or were due to start—new jobs following 28th February would be ineligible for the Job Retention Scheme, despite our new employers being desperate to access the grant to retain us. This leaves us both struggling in the present and scared for the future. How can you fail so many workers and employers?

As you have scrambled to plaster over the cracks in other hastily-made policies, those in the Job Retention Scheme are left open and ignored. To date, your proposed solutions to address these gaps in the scheme are wholly inadequate.

First, you suggested we approach our former employers to re-hire us to immediately place us on furlough. A survey of over 8,000 members showed that this was unsuccessful for 96% of us. The process of returning to our employers, begging and pleading, was an embarrassing and inhumane proposal. Many left following experiences of bullying, discrimination and abuse. You forced them to return, ‘cap in hand’, understanding that this would be the only way to provide safety and security for their families. This solution, which you continue to suggest, simply isn’t viable. It’s emotional torture. We invite you to take a second to imagine how that would feel.

You then asked us to apply for Universal Credit. Yet the vast majority of us have been told we are not eligible for this support. And for those that are, the amount offered does not cover a fraction of our household bills. Whilst we appreciate that many people rely on the Universal Credit system day-to-day, we have always worked. We have built lives for ourselves that are reliant on our incomes. The amount offered to those few who have been told they are eligible will not keep a roof over their heads, pay their bills or feed their families. Why should we be expected to live on less than 10% of our income (if we’re lucky) when others are offered 80%—just because of unfortunate timing?

A small glimmer of hope emerged when you announced an amendment to the scheme. For a moment, we thought our voice had finally been heard. On the surface, this appeared to be an extension of the ‘cut-off date’ to 19th March. Initial elation turned quickly soured as it proved to be nothing more than a smoke screen. The requirement for our RTI to have been submitted to HMRC by this date means it offers no hope to those who are paid on a monthly basis – over 84% of the workforce. It was a mere clarification that only helped a small proportion of those who you had left behind. In fact, it took that support away from many who would have previously been eligible. Your treasury reported that this would provide support for an additional 200,000 people–a figure that has been widely debunked. You have left millions of families feeling abandoned, desperate and frustrated. How can you continue to ignore us?

You argue, in defense, that to extend the scheme to save us would leave it open to fraud. Yet by your own admission, you have the capabilities to mitigate against such crime and have systems in place to carry out checks. You allow this for the self-employed. You allow this for TUPEd workers. But you choose not to allow this for new starters, despite it being proven as possible. You openly admit this, but dismiss it as an administrative ‘burden’. Are millions of people and their families not worth the time or effort?

You have brushed us aside and written us off. And you have remained suspiciously quiet on acknowledging the flaws in your policy or the millions of people they will impact. We can assure you, we will not stay so quiet.

We are the taxpayers that you repeatedly state you must protect. For our entire working lives, each and every one of us has supported the government. Like everybody else, we will continue to pay the cost of COVID-19 for years to come. It is so undeniably right that the government must provide us with equal support through this crisis too. How can you show such blatant disregard for the taxpayers you claim to respect so much?

The stories we hear every day from our members, each one heartbreaking and desperate, highlight the number of ways people fall through the cracks in the Job Retention Scheme. They show that a ‘cut-off’ date isn’t a viable solution for all. Our members may be in a variety of different situations, yet we all have something in common: contractual proof of employment. We have signed contracts. We have offer letters. We have tax records. So many have attended work, for days, weeks, and have paid taxes on the earnings through payrolls but you fail to accept that as proof. Many were not even lucky enough to get the opportunity to start, left in limbo and waiting for this living nightmare to end. But both our past and present details and contributions are logged on HMRC systems. The evidence is available and so clearly displays that a solution that works for all is achievable. We have proof. We’ve done everything right—so why are you punishing us?

We do not profess to have the answers. We’re not policy makers. That’s your job. We are the families facing poverty because you took our jobs away.

You are disregarding us as collateral damage, Chancellor. We rely on you to support us through this and right now, you are failing us. We will not accept this any longer. How far are you going to push us?

People will suffer, homes will be lost, and children will go hungry as a direct result of this neglect. You are pushing millions of people to the edge. Reports show that 100,000 people attempt suicide each year due to debt and financial hardship. Will it take somebody to end their life before you listen to us? Could you live with that on your shoulders?

It’s not too late. All we ask is that you keep the promise you made and that you do the right thing.

Please, do not leave us behind.





New Starter Justice
Taxi drivers need help from the government.
Kevin Brennan MP has written to the Chancellor after receiving representations from local taxi drivers who are being backed by UNITE the Union.

Many of the drivers have been badly hit by their loss of trade in the current crisis and are facing genuine hardship and financial distress despite measures the government has already introduced.

Mr Brennan has written to the UK government and urged them to look at a number of measures and issues which local taxi drivers have raised.

These include:

Wage support is needed straight away without having to wait until June.

• No means testing of Universal Credit or other benefits.

• Suspending or reducing all taxi related running costs, including licence plate fees, monthly radio fees, rental fees and insurance payments for taxis not on the road. This would include lifting the age limit on vehicles for those that may need to be changed within this next three months, to be suspended until late December.

• Backing loan repayment holidays for private hire vehicles and moratoriums on marking down drivers’ credit files.

• Emergency interim payments to keep the taxi on the road.

• Reviewing the licensing regime and stop all payments for licences, with a three month temporary extension for those expected to renew in the next 12 months.

It is important to know that Hackney cabs are fully licenced and DBS checked, clean, safe and wheelchair accessible. They are also equipped with a glass partition separating driver from passenger. The Government could also help by sub-contracting taxi drivers, as appropriate, to do the following important work:

• Transport patients to and from non-emergency appointments.
• Deliver shopping for the elderly or transport them to and from supermarkets
• Transport NHS and other groups of key workers to work
• Where appropriate delivering medical supplies.
Modern technology has made it easier to work from home.
Ofcom has published some advice and guidance for those trying to stay connected whilst working from home. For more details you can visit their website
here.

These are Ofcom's seven steps:

1. Use your landline or wifi calls if you can
More people are making calls on their mobile network during the day. Because of this high demand, you may find you get a more reliable connection using your landline. If you do need to use your mobile, try using your settings to turn on ‘wifi calling’. Some smartphones and mobile packages  allow your phone to make calls over your broadband network, which often provides the best sound quality and also helps reduce demand on the mobile network. Similarly, you can make voice calls over the internet using apps like Facetime, Skype or WhatsApp.

2. Move your router clear of other devices
Keep your router as far away as possible from other devices, and those which operate wirelessly. Cordless phones, baby monitors, halogen lamps, dimmer switches, stereos and computer speakers, TVs and monitors can all affect your wifi if they’re too close to your router. Did you know that microwave ovens can also reduce wifi signals? So don’t use the microwave when you’re making video calls, watching HD videos or doing something important online. Also, place your router on a table or shelf rather than on the floor, and keep it switched on.

3. Lower the demands on your connection
The more devices attached to your wifi, the lower the speed you get. Devices like tablets and smartphones often work in the background, so try switching wifi reception off on these when you’re not using them. If you’re carrying out video calls or meetings, turning the video off and using audio will require much less of your internet connection; or try starting them at less common times, rather than on the hour or half hour. You might also want to manage your family’s online activity, so that different people aren’t carrying out data-heavy tasks (like HD streaming, gaming or video calls) all at the same time. Downloading video in advance, instead of streaming it, can also help.

4. Try wired rather than wireless
For the best broadband speeds, use an Ethernet cable to connect your computer directly to your router rather than using wifi. This is a computer networking cable which should give you a faster, more reliable connection. They’re available from as little as £3.

5. Plug your router directly into your main phone socket
Where possible, try not to use a telephone extension lead, as these can cause interference which could lower your speed. If you have to use an extension lead, use a new, high-quality cable with the shortest possible length. Tangled and coiled cables can also affect speeds. So can interference from your phone line, so try plugging ‘microfilters’ into every phone socket in your home. They look like little white boxes and split the phone and broadband signals so that they don't affect each other. Different providers have varying setups in the home, so always check their website before unplugging any cables.

6. Test the speed on your broadband line
Find out what speed you’re actually getting. You can run a speed test using Ofcom’s official mobile and broadband checker. If possible, carry out tests over a few days and at different times of day. A number of in-home factors can affect wifi speeds, so look on your provider’s website for guidance on improving your signal around the home. You can download Ofcom’s checker as a smartphone app (search Ofcom in Apple’s app store or Google Play) or use it through your internet browser.

7. Get advice from your broadband provider
Then, if your connection isn’t working as well as it should, you can find advice on your broadband provider’s website – which is also available on mobile phones. If you need to contact them for help, please be aware that, because of coronavirus, some companies have many fewer people to help with your queries. Most are prioritising vulnerable customers and essential public services, so please take this into consideration.
While housing is normally a devolved issue, Welsh Government announced that any strengthening of protection for renters in the Coronavirus Bill drafted by the UK Government would also be applied in Wales for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Coronavirus Bill recently passed through Parliament and extends the notice period for evictions in the private rented sector from 2 months to 3 months, ensuring landlords cannot apply to start the court process until after this period.

While initially the extension of the eviction notice period only applied to new eviction proceedings, the UK Government gave way to the pressure from the Labour Party and suspended all ongoing eviction proceedings in the courts. This means that cases currently in the courts, or about to enter the court system cannot proceed. This suspension will last for an initial 90 days with an option to extend.

However, this new legislation does not go far enough to ensure that renters who experience financial difficulty as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic do not lose their homes

My colleague in the Welsh Assembly and First Minister, Mark Drakeford together with his ministerial team have since decided to go further, with plans to extend the notice period under section 173 – Landlord’s Notice – for no-fault evictions from 2 months to 6 months, and are extending the restriction of the issuing of this notice from 4 months 6 months after the occupation of a contract currently making its way through the Welsh Assembly.

This all means that such eviction notices cannot be made until 6 months after the beginning of a ‘periodic standard contract’ – the default contract used by private landlords, and court proceedings will not be allowed to begin until 6 months after this, effectively protecting private tenants from eviction for 12 months from the beginning of their contract.

This is designed to allow contract holders to find optimal alternative accommodation in the eventuality of a no-fault eviction, decreasing the likelihood that families will having to leave their communities with children having to change schools.

Furthermore, these changes will, it is expected, encourage landlords to use, where relevant, the breach of contract possession ground. While this only requires a one-month notice period, it allows the tenant(s) to present their case at court. This means that the court could decide not to grant possession to the landlord where there are good reasons for breaches of the contract, for example a delay in benefits caused the rent to be late.  I believe that these measures will provide many renters with peace of mind during these deeply uncertain and worrying times.

Tenants with financial difficulties as a result of Covid-19 should speak in the first instance to their landlord to attempt to reach an agreement, but the additional measures introduced by Welsh Labour are also there to support tenants.

If you have received a notice of eviction which does not comply with this new legislation, or are worried that your landlord or agent is operating unlawfully, you can also contact:

Citizen’s Advice:
https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/wales/about-us/contact-us/contact-us/contact-us/

Advicelink Cymru: 03444 772 020

(phone lines operate between 9am-5pm Monday to Friday and it is usually busiest at the beginning and the end of the day. They are not open on public holidays)

Text relay: 03444 111 445

Shelter Cymru: https://sheltercymru.org.uk/contact-us/

Housing help/advice and expert debt advice: 08000 495 495 (phone lines operate between 9.30am – 4.00pm, Monday to Friday)
A Treasury Select Committee.
Back in 2001 we established the principle that the Government Ministers did not nominate individuals as Select Committee Chairs - now they are trying to overturn that principle by inventing a new post with no proper election. Until now the Liaison Committee made up of all elected Select Committee Chairs have chosen a Chair themselves not had it chosen by Ministers - which raises some questions about the Government's sudden urge to pick the Chair itself.

Who decided it would be a good idea suddenly for the Government to pick its own Chief Scrutineer?

Imagine the fuss if they tried to pick the Head of the Press gallery (and pay them) - this is the person who would lead and direct questioning of the Prime Minister.

How many people were asked to apply for this new position?

How was it decided that the House of Commons should not be allowed to elect this position through the normal procedure of an election of candidates nominated by colleagues in a secret ballot?

The Government originally tried to sneak this proposal through on a motion outside normal standing orders but it was spotted and objected to - why is it still being pursued when Liaison Committee could have been set up as normal had it been dropped?

This is what happened in 2001 when the then Labour Government had to abandon picking Select Committee Chairs like this because the House would no longer tolerate the Executive acting in this way despite the Government having a huge majority.

At this time of crisis holding Govt to account is more important than ever - it is not the time for Government cronyism and patronage to determine who is Parliament's Scrutineer in Chief. Chairs of Select committees and independent government backbenchers should make it clear that they won't tolerate this power grab by Number 10.

Neither should Scottish MPs including the SNP allow the Government to hold the setting up of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee to ransom until it gets its way which has been their tactic so far.

Sensible Ministers who are on the payroll - and therefore afraid to vote against what should be an unwhipped House matter - should tell Jacob Rees-Mogg and number 10 to drop the whole grubby scheme.

The Speaker should ensure that this can't be sneaked through under the cover of novel digital procedures in a virtual House of Commons.
IPSA are completely independent from MPs or parliament.
I just want to reassure people regarding the fake news doing the rounds on social media.

MPs have not received any pay increase as a result of the Coronavirus.  The budget for office costs is not pay but a completely different budget which can only be used for costs such as rent, rates, utility bills, equipment etc for my constituency office which is normally open to the public. Many of these business costs are fixed whether the office is open or not, and therefore will have to be paid. The office has now had to close under the COVID20 regulations because it is possible, with some assistance, for staff to work from home.

The fake reports doing the rounds on social media actually relate to this allowance for office costs such as equipment, which has been increased by the independent standards authority (IPSA) over whose decisions MPs have no say.  IPSA say they did this so that dedicated constituency staff can have what access to what is required to continue to work from home and deal with urgent casework, such as people stranded abroad, or destitute, as well as processing other correspondence and calls from constituents.

As you might imagine there has been a very significant increase in representations from constituents in need of assistance in the current crisis.  For my hardworking office staff working from home that means they need to be able to deal with calls, emails and correspondence, as well as communicating with Government departments (including overseas) as well as other public and private institutions.  They are not usually home workers. They should not be out of pocket for being required to do their job in another location.

For information, because I am able to run a joint office with my Assembly colleague Mark Drakeford I don't anticipate having to spend more that the existing Office costs budget in the current financial year despite these extra costs.  But other colleagues whose existing budget is fully committed may well have to access the extra budget for reasons outlined above.

Finally, just to be clear none of these funds come to me personally, and neither will I require any expenses personally for home working as my old laptop is still functioning, as you can tell from this.

Best wishes



Kevin

Kevin is pictured with weatherman Derek Brockway at Pedal Power.
When representatives of UK Charities appeared as witnesses before the first ever virtual meeting of the Digital Culture Media and Sport Select Committee this week it wasn't the first time I'd heard the sector's pleas for help in a crisis.

At the time of the great financial crash I was Gordon Brown's Minister for the Third Sector, based back then in the Cabinet Office. It became clear to me at that time that in a severe economic downturn charities face a different dilemma to business. When the economy tanks most businesses are hit by a fall in revenue due to falling consumer demand.

It's true that charities also lose revenue in an economic downturn, as consumers tighten their belts and reduce charitable donations. Charity begins at home when family cash is short, and the Coronavirus crisis is even worse because charity shops cannot trade and fundraising gatherings can't be held. At the select committee Karl Wilding of NCVO told us the sector expected to lose £4bn, or a third of revenue, in the next 3 months.

But unlike many businesses the demand from communities for charities' services actually increases at a time of economic crisis; even more so when it is also a public health crisis hitting the most vulnerable the hardest.

Recognising this back in 2008/9 I worked with charities to devise a £42.5m Third Sector Action Plan called Real Help Now.  The idea was to assist the sector through the crisis not just with a hand out but a hand up, with support for modernisation, resilience, volunteering and social enterprise.  The Government also pledged that the public sector would pay its bills on time to charities which deliver large swathes of public services for national and local government, including the NHS.

But today's task is on a scale much greater than even the great credit crunch, and the Chancellor Rishi Sunak needs to act fast.  Too often charities are an afterthought when they are in fact central to resilience and recovery.

So what is to be done? Here are a few ideas.

Firstly where charities have to furlough staff due to lack of funds an exemption should be made to allow front line workers in the community to continue to volunteer.   This is not an abuse as it might be where a business is trading while the Government is paying much of the wage bill, but rather one way that we can continue to help the most vulnerable while helping charities to survive.

Secondly a significant UK wide ‘Stabilisation Fund’ is needed from the Treasury with charities expecting to lose at least a third of their income in the next 3 months. Perhaps the new National Emergency Trust could be rapidly endowed as a vehicle to distribute relief to charities. At the committee we were told it currently only has £11m in it. This would enable charities to stay afloat and continue operating during the course of the pandemic and beyond.

Thirdly the Chancellor should provide an exemption to the 50% trading activity requirement under the Business Interruption Loan Scheme so that many voluntary organisations can benefit too and have a bridge to the future.

Fourthly  there should be specific additional funding for organisations that are working on the front line and directly contributing to tackle the impact of the coronavirus.

Back in 2009 I said, "The third sector is brilliant at knowing how best to provide real help for people who need it most. We need to make the most of the skills and expertise the sector has to offer - helping people through times of challenge and change, finding new and more equitable ways of doing business through social enterprises, and empowering people to transform their lives and their communities. That's why we are acting to invest in helping the third sector get stronger now and in the future.'

Those words are truer than ever at a time when charities, social enterprises and credit unions are at the front line of the fight of our lives. The government must recognise this and act with urgency.
Coronavirus Bill
23 March 2020
Volume 674

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab)
Like many hon. Members, I have had a huge number of issues raised with me by NHS workers regarding the availability of personal protective equipment to frontline staff and testing. I know the Secretary of State wants to protect NHS staff through the Bill, so will he take the opportunity of Second Reading to update us, perhaps with any information he has from across the UK, about progress on these matters?

Matt Hancock
Yes. If it is okay with you, Mr Speaker, I will answer that intervention and then get on with the point in the Bill. These issues are outwith the Bill, but they are incredibly important and very much part of the topic.

In terms of making sure that NHS staff, social care staff and those who need it clinically get the protective equipment they need—especially but not only the masks— we are undertaking enormous efforts to get that equipment out. The equipment is there; we have it. It is a distribution effort. I was not satisfied with the stories I heard of people running short, so we have brought in the military to help with the logistical effort. I want to hear from every single member of staff in the NHS or in social care who needs that equipment but does not have it, so we have also introduced a hotline and an email address, which is manned. I have had an update on that, and it has had a number of calls, which are all being responded to. In that way, we will find out where the gaps are, so that we can get this distribution out. It is a mammoth effort; we have been working on it for several weeks, but the increase in the use of the protective equipment in the last week has been very sharp, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman and the House will understand. The logistical effort is very significant.

We are expanding the amount of testing. We are buying tests, both ones made abroad and ones made here in the UK, because testing is absolutely vital to getting out of this situation. I want to get to a point where anybody who wants to get tested can get tested. At the moment, we are having to reserve the tests we have for patients, especially in intensive care, so that they can be properly treated according to whether or not they have coronavirus. Very soon, we are getting the tests out to frontline staff so that they can get back to work, where somebody in their household might have the symptoms and they are household-isolating. I understand absolutely the importance of testing. We are working on it incredibly hard. We were working on it all weekend, and we are making some progress.
At the moment I am receiving a large amount of correspondence regarding coronavirus. As a result, I will attempt to address concerns raised in this one post below.

Click on the following headings to take you to the relevant information:

Table of Contents
  1. New updates to advice
  2. Covid-19 Government approach
  3. Local Authority and Public Services
  4. Health advice
  5. Travel Advice
  6. School Closures
  7. Educational and entertainment advice for children and parents
  8. Childcare
  9. Housing: Information for landlords and renters
  10. Support for workers
  11. Support for businesses
  12. Testing
  13. Transport
  14. Supermarket supplies
  15. Religious burials
  16. Updates

New updates to advice

As of the 23rd of March 2020, there is a UK-wide restriction on travel, leisure and social gatherings effective immediately.

These include:
  • Requiring people to stay at home, except for very limited purposes
  • All non-essential shops and community spaces will be closed.
  • Gatherings of more than two people prohibited.
  • All travel other than essential journeys and to and from work (where work absolutely cannot be done from home) is prohibited.
People should only leave their home a maximum of once a day for essential shopping, such as food, medical needs, and for exercise. There are to be no social gatherings of more than two people at any time outside the home, maintaining 2 meters between each person at all times. This does not, however, apply to people who live together in the same household. Breaches of these rules are punishable by a fine, enforced by the police and other relevant authorities. Any non-essential travel is prohibited. Work from home if you can.

Libraries, community centres and youth centres will shut.

Non-essential retail stores, such as clothing stores; electronic stores; hair, beauty and nail salons; and all markets (excluding food markets) will all be closed.

Places of worship will be closed other than for funerals attended only by immediate family.

You can find this information here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others#fnref:1

Here is a list of businesses that are permitted to stay open, and those which must close as of the close of business on the 24th of March 2020:

https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/publications/2020-03/coranivirus-closure-of-businesses-and-premises.pdf

These rules will be in place for an initial three weeks, to be reviewed and renewed if necessary.

This advice does not apply to over-70s and vulnerable people who should continue to self-isolate within their homes as far as possible. Those who fall into the high-risk categories (people with immuno-deficiencies, cancers and other conditions which make them susceptible to serious complications from the virus) should remain in their homes for at least the next 12 weeks.

The Welsh Government has also announced that all caravan sites, campsites, tourist hotspots and national parks will be closed to any visitors.

Guidance from Number 10 following the Prime Minister’s statement clarifies that you should go to work, but you should stay at home if it is possible to work from home. If you are completely unable to work from home, you are permitted to go to work but you must follow normal social distancing rules – staying 2 meters away from others at all times.


Approach

These are incredibly worrying times for many families and businesses across the country. The governments of the UK have worked together to produce a joint Coronavirus Action Plan based on scientific and medical evidence, with public health as a top priority.

Using contingency plans previously drawn up for influenza, and having learned lessons from previous outbreaks, the UK Government and the devolved administrations have agreed to follow a strategy of containment, delay, research and mitigation of the disease, setting out an evidence-based structure for decision making. This is guided by the international situation, each of the devolved administration’s Chief Medical Officers, as well as guidance from numerous expert organisations, surveillance and data modelling.

As it is difficult to predict the exact course that the disease will take, it is important that the UK Government will now hold a televised press conference with updated advice and announcements of new measures on a daily basis.

The UK Government recently declared that we have moved into the ‘delay’ phase of the strategy, which entails steps to reduce the rate and extent of the spread of the virus. This is designed to take pressure off public services by pushing the virus into the summer months when the NHS will be better able to cope with the demand for treatment. It could also buy valuable time for testing drugs and developing vaccines.

It is vital, however, that the UK Government learns from the mistakes it has made so far and provides clear and reasoned explanations for its decisions through official channels, rather than leaking to journalists and publishing articles in select newspapers behind a paywall. It should also publish its scientific evidence to provide transparency and allow proper stress-testing.

The Welsh Government Cabinet is now meeting on a weekly basis to discuss COVID-19 and their response to it, and the First Minister and / or Minister for Health and Social Services continue to attend meetings of COBR with UK ministers.


Local Authorities and public services

COVID-19 will impact on public services. There will be fewer people available for an indeterminate period to deliver services that will have seldom if ever been in greater demand – this presents a major challenge.

However, the Welsh Government has been working with colleagues in local government to plan and prepare for COVID-19 and this Government will ensure that our local authorities have the resources they need to continue to deliver much needed public services over the coming weeks and months of this crisis.

They will soon be able to make use of additional, time-limited powers, to be delivered through a four-nation Bill. These powers will help make the response to COVID-19 more effective.
Please see the following link for information from Cardiff Council regarding changes to their services:

https://www.cardiff.gov.uk/ENG/Your-Council/Strategies-plans-and-policies/Emergency-Planning-and-Resilience/coronavirus-information/Pages/default.aspx

Cardiff Council has, as of the 23rd March 2020, shut all its children’s playgrounds in an attempt to enforce social distancing advice.


Health and travel advice

We recently saw significant numbers of people flocking to beaches, parks and national parks around Wales, flagrantly ignoring the advice not to go outside or travel unless it is completely necessary and remain 2 meters apart at all times.

For the sake of public health this cannot be tolerated due to the ease with which the virus spreads. The First Minister has announced that all caravan parks, campsites, national parks and other tourist hotspots will be closed to visitors.

New restrictions now apply across the UK and can be found in the ‘New Updates to Advice’ section of this information pack. They include restrictions on leaving the house more than once a day to do shopping and exercise; not gathering outside of the house with more than one other person who should be 2 meters apart – this includes family members. You can find all these details on this link:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others#fnref:1

Further advice:
https://phw.nhs.wales/topics/latest-information-on-novel-coronavirus-covid-19/guidance-on-social-distancing-for-everyone-in-the-uk-and-protecting-older-people-and-vulnerable-adults/

https://gov.wales/what-do-if-someone-your-household-has-symptoms-coronavirus

https://phw.nhs.wales/topics/latest-information-on-novel-coronavirus-covid-19/

Social distancing guidance is available here:

https://gov.wales/coronavirus-social-distancing-guidance
The UK and Welsh Governments are now asking the roughly 70,000 in Wales who are in the high-risk category to stay in their homes at all times, and not to leave for any purpose, for a duration of 12-16 weeks. Each of these 70,000 people will receive a letter from their GP or consultant with details of what they’re being asked to do, and support will be provided for those who aren’t able to rely on others for supplies such as food and medication.

The Welsh government has launched a ‘Safe Help’ website which details how people can help, and how people who need help can seek it. You can find this website here: https://gov.wales/safe-help.
For updated advice see the following information:

https://gov.wales/coronavirus

https://llyw.cymru/coronafeirws

https://phw.nhs.wales/topics/latest-information-on-novel-coronavirus-covid-19/what-to-do-if-you-have-symptoms-of-coronavirus/

If you need to self-isolate and have questions about breastfeeding, or living with a vulnerable individual or with children, and a host of other questions, visit the following link:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance/stay-at-home-guidance-for-households-with-possible-coronavirus-covid-19-infection

If you are a returning traveller, follow the advice on this link:

https://gov.wales/travel-advice-coronavirus-covid-19


Travel

The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, has announced updated travel advice, which warns against all non-essential international travel to any countries for a period of 30 days. You can find this advice, and country-specific advice here:

https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

Be advised that, as confirmed by the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, UK residents who are currently abroad and intend to stay there risk not being covered by their travel insurance if they become unwell and require treatment. This is because travel insurance requires them to follow the current the current advice from the UK Government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office to return to the UK. Please check your insurance policy and contact your provider if you have any questions about it.

There is also specific advice available on cruise travel. See here:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/cruise-ship-travel

I am aware that there are many UK residents and citizens stuck abroad, including some of my constituents, due to restrictive immigration rules and a low supply and high demand for international flights. I have raised this in the House of Commons, asking the Leader of the House to arrange for the Foreign Secretary to make a further statement, having previously ruled out repatriation, to look again at the possibilities of international cooperation in order to bring these people home. My caseworker will also maintain contact with the Foreign Office to discuss individual cases and gather the latest information and advice.

We understand that many countries have implemented travel restrictions and have suspended flights. Current advice from the Foreign Office tends to be that people should make their way home to the UK by any means possible, even if it means travelling to a different country where flights to the UK are available.

It is vital that these people make contact with their own MPs office for advice, and so that they are able to alert the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the individual’s case.

Anyone from Cardiff West stuck abroad, unable to return to the UK can contact my constituency office on 02920223207, or email kevin.brennan.mp@parliament.uk.


School Closures

As of the 20th March 2020 schools are closed for normal education provision across Wales.

From Monday 23rd March 2020 they will reopen to provide support for those children who cannot safely be looked after at home and for children of parents who are defined as critical workers.

See below a further statement on GCSE and A-level examinations:
"We are in an unprecedented period, one that is changing hour-by-hour, and governments around the world are having to make quick decisions. We recognise the worry and anxiety that the uncertainty around the summer exam series was causing. Today I met with Qualifications Wales and WJEC to consider options that are in the best interests of our learners. We recognise that there are no easy choices but we have agreed that the best way forward is not to proceed with summer exam series. Learners due to sit their GCSEs and A levels this summer will be awarded a fair grade to recognise their work, drawing on the range of information that is available. We will be working with the sector to announce further details shortly but wanted to give this early certainty. We also won’t be using the results to publish performance measure outcomes in 2020."
Kirsty Williams AM, Minister for Education
See further information on schools here:

https://gov.wales/school-closures-20-march-2020-faqs

Please also see the following advice from the Welsh Government:
  • If it is at all possible for children to be at home, they should be
  • If a child needs specialist support, is vulnerable or has a parent who is critical to the Covid-19 response, then provision in an educational or childcare setting should be available for them
  • Parents should not rely anyone who has been advised to be following social distancing guidance, such as grandparents, friends, or family members with underlying conditions, for childcare.
  • Parents should do everything they can to ensure children are not mixing socially in ways, which could contribute to spreading coronavirus.  Children should observe the same social distancing guidance as adults.
  • Residential special schools and special settings should continue to care for children wherever possible.We will be continuing to provide food for children who receive free school meals. Further advice and guidance will be available on 21/03/20.

Educational and entertainment advice for children and parents

The children’s Commissioner for Wales, Sally Holland, has produced, and will continue to produce advice and content for children and families about how to stay safe, where to get information, how to speak to your children about coronavirus and what to do while you’re at home.

You can find all this at the following link:

https://www.childcomwales.org.uk/coronavirus/


Childcare

Childcare settings are not required to close in Wales. If they are forced to close on medical advice or as a result of a lack of sufficient attendance by staff and children due to Covid-19, then funding will still be made available.

Welsh Ministers also expect local authorities to maintain payments for childcare provided under Flying Start and for the provision of early education.

The Childcare Offer for Wales provides 30 hours a week of government-funded early education (FPN) and childcare for eligible working parents of 3 to 4 year olds, for up to 48 weeks of the year, available throughout Wales.

See the following statement for further details:

https://gov.wales/childcare-offer-wales-payments-will-continue-even-if-children-do-not-attend-due-coronavirus

Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others#fnref:1

You can find more details about the childcare provision in Wales here:

https://gov.wales/coronavirus-and-childcare-provision


Housing: Information for landlords and renters

The Welsh Government has agreed that measures being developed by the UK Government, to suspend evictions from social or private rented accommodation will apply to Welsh tenants.

New protection under the emergency bill will include:
  • Landlords will be unable to start possession proceedings to evict tenants for at least a three-month period during the crisis.
  • The three-month mortgage payment holiday will be extended to Buy to Let mortgages to protect landlords.
This statement can be found here:

https://gov.wales/greater-protection-tenants-and-landlords-affected-coronavirus-wales

https://gov.wales/guidance-social-landlords-about-covid-19

https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/mortgage-payment-holidays

https://gov.wales/housing-minister-confirms-help-buy-wales-loan-interest-repayment-holiday

https://www.ukfinance.org.uk/press/press-releases/uk-finance-responds-statement-chancellor-regarding-support-mortgage-customers#summary


Support for workers

Statutory sick pay
The UK Government announced in its budget that, along with a support package for businesses, all employees with valid contracts would get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from day 1 if they are required to self-isolate. Even the UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has acknowledged that, at £94.25 per week, SSP falls well short of what is required for people to be able to live on.

Self-employed and freelance workers
Self-employed and freelance workers are still advised to seek Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance where they are unable to continue to maintain a stable income from their usual work. I have repeatedly emphasised to various cabinet ministers in the Chamber of the House of Commons that this is simply not enough.

I will continue to advocate for more support, perhaps through a temporary ‘universal basic income’ payment. To this end I have also proposed EDM 302 which has gained cross-party support. I have also received confirmation that the Government is considering all options, including this one, but they must act more quickly to address this critically urgent matter for around 5 million people in the UK.

The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, has written to the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer calling for more support for individuals and businesses, particularly self-employed people and smaller businesses, in order to provide short-term financial security during these deeply uncertain times.

The Government has confirmed that a support package for the self-employed is being drafted.

Job losses due to Covid-19
For those who are being laid off by their employer as a result of coronavirus, my caseworker has received clarification (below) from the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions on the financial support that is available to them at the moment:
“… I can confirm that individuals who are laid off as a result of the impact of coronavirus on their employment can make a claim for [Universal Credit] or New Style [Employment Support Allowance], but this will be subject to the normal conditions of entitlement. This means that if they claim new style [Job Seekers’ Allowance] they will have to have paid sufficient national insurance contributions in the relevant tax years to qualify. In the case of UC, this would mean that entitlement would be established based upon all income coming into the household – that is to say, that of the claimant and their partner, if they have one.”
Universal Credit will not pay your mortgage – only after nine months can you request mortgage payments, but this would be for the interest only and would need to be paid back.

It has been suggested that mortgage companies consider payment holidays. However, a constituent of mine was advised that they could go to an interest only mortgage for the time being – but each mortgage provider might treat each customer differently.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on the 20th of March that the UK Government will provide protection through their Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme by covering 80% of the wages of workers’ wages, up to a cap of £2,500 per month, for those employees that would otherwise have been laid off during this crisis. All businesses in the UK are eligible, but they must apply for the scheme and follow specific steps to qualify. You can find the details of this scheme here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses#support-for-businesses-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

However, this is a voluntary scheme in which companies are not obliged to participate, and neither are they compelled to cover the remaining 20%, though they are free to do so if they wish. Neither does it guarantee workers that their jobs will be kept by their employers.

At the same time, people will still have to pay 100% of their bills and rents, with many now with income below the national minimum wage.

If there are constituents who wish to contact me for advice regarding their specific case for extra assistance, please call 02920223207, or email kevin.brennan.mp@parliament.uk.

For more information on your eligibility for claiming benefits and how to do so, including Statutory Sick Pay, Universal Credit and Employment Support Allowance, follow this link:

https://www.understandinguniversalcredit.gov.uk/coronavirus/

General guidance for employees can be found at the following links:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-guidance-for-employees

https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus


Information for Businesses

This is a list of businesses that are permitted to stay open, and a list of those which must close as of the 24th March 2020:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/874732/230320_-_Revised_guidance_note_-_finalVF.pdf

The Welsh Economy Minister, Ken Skates, has announced support for businesses affected by coronavirus and will speak to companies about what else they need. The development Bank of Wales will offer its businesses a three-month capital repayment holiday. See following information:

https://gov.wales/businesses-offered-capital-repayment-holidays-help-manage-coronavirus-impact

The Welsh Finance Minister has announced new rates relief for businesses hit by coronavirus. See more information here:

https://gov.wales/emergency-support-businesses-hit-coronavirus

Any business affected should contact the Business Wales telephone helpline on 03000 603000.  They can help with practical advice - from staffing to financial planning as well as supply chain support.

You can also find details of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, where 80% of the wage of employees can be covered, including the necessary steps to take in order to qualify, here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses#support-for-businesses-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

Further to this, the First Minister, Mark Drakeford, has written to the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer calling for more support for individuals and businesses, particularly self-employed people and smaller businesses, in order to provide short-term financial security during these deeply uncertain times.

According to UK Government advice, businesses and workplaces should encourage their employees to work at home, wherever possible. Further, employees from defined vulnerable groups should be strongly advised and supported to stay at home and work from there if possible.

This advice, along with more general guidance for employers can be found at the following links:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/guidance-for-employers-and-businesses-on-covid-19#returning-from-travel-overseas-to-affected-areas

*not all information on this page applies in Wales, particularly around business rate relief

https://businesswales.gov.wales/coronavirus-advice

https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus

https://wcva.cymru/emergency-fast-track-loans/


Testing

The World Health Organisation has made clear the importance of testing and contact tracing.

The Prime Minister has confirmed that testing rates will increase in the coming weeks to 25,000 per day.

The Welsh Government has announced that it is rolling out coronavirus testing to healthcare workers involved in frontline patient-facing clinical care. A negative result would allow them to return to work.


Transport

Transport for Wales (TfW) has taken the decision to reduce weekday passenger services during the coronavirus outbreak from Monday 23rd March 2020.

This is in order to match the number of services with their reduced workforce, allowing key workers to continue to be able to get to work over the coming months. It will also mean that freight trains will continue to keep power stations running and replenish supermarket stocks. It will further ensure a reduction in their carbon footprint while demand has fallen.

Anybody who has to travel should check the time of their train before setting off at https://tfwrail.wales. Full details of the changes will be online from midday Sunday 22nd March. They encourage people to approach their travel planning with flexibility in mind.

You can find services added to the timetable here:

https://tfwrail.wales/changes-train-times


Supermarket supplies

The Welsh Government has deployed new measures to relax supermarket delivery hours to help maintain the supply of food stuffs and other goods; including those goods which are currently in particularly high demand.


Religious burials

Though initially the new Coronavirus Bill removed the need for a second confirmatory medical certificate to authorise cremation to reduce the burden on medical practitioners, the bill has now been amended to allow for people from Jewish and Muslim backgrounds to have their religious rules and beliefs taken into account. The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, confirmed in the chamber of the House of Commons on the 23rd March 2020 that work had taken place to change the bill to respect those religious beliefs when it came to the death of loved ones.


Updates

In order to keep people informed and provide transparency, statements from Public Health Wales will be updated on a daily basis at 11am with all the necessary information and statistics.  You can find this here:

https://covid19-phwstatement.nhs.wales/

The Welsh Government will be holding a daily media briefing at 9.30am about coronavirus. These are on-the-record and on-camera. They are live-streamed on the @welshgovernment Twitter channel.

The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, has released a new bilingual video message about coronavirus, which is available on his @fmwales Twitter feed.

I hope this is helpful. If you have any further questions, do not hesitate to get back in touch.

Kind regards





Kevin Brennan MP

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