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DCMS Committee: Questioning the Chief Executive of Ofcom

I was deeply angered by the brutal murder of George Floyd in the USA, adding yet another victim in a long list of black men who have needlessly died at the hands of the police. Protests all over the world including in Cardiff have highlighted the desperate anger and utter exhaustion of BAME people after decades of activism has been met with woefully insufficient action.  It is sad for me to reflect, as someone who joined the Anti-Apartheid Movement, Anti-Nazi League and marched with the Rock Against Racism campaign as a 15 year old schoolboy in the 70s, that racism is still a feature of society. It is shocking that a campaign called Black Lives Matter should be so essential in 2020. I also recognise that as someone with a significant platform I must amplify their voices and stand in solidarity with them.

I will continue to participate in the strong tradition in the Labour Party of fighting against both overt racism and the less visible racism which exists within the structure of our society, disproportionately resulting in BAME people having less job security, lower wages, inferior access to higher education, housing and jobs in large parts of the economy, and less safety in their day-to-day lives.

I was proud to see people of all ages and backgrounds in Cardiff join together spontaneously and peacefully in the city centre in condemnation of years of inaction. As you know regulations have been put into place by the Welsh Government to stop the spread of the spread of Covid-19 and save lives which includes a ban on mass gatherings, including protests  but it is commendable that organisers cooperated fully with the police in arranging last Sunday’s demonstration in the city centre, and that social distancing was maintained throughout. In the interest of preventing further spread of the virus, I would encourage people to refrain from meeting physically for now, and to follow social distancing guidance, particularly given that we are fighting a virus which kills BAME people at four times the rate it kills white people. We must use this time, in the eloquent words of Killer Mike, to plan and organise until it is safe to come together physically once again.

Our Labour Shadow Secretary for International Trade, Emily Thornberry MP, has written to the Secretary for International Trade, Elizabeth Truss MP, asking for exports of British-made riot control equipment being used to attack unarmed protesters and journalists to be immediately stopped. You can find her letter here in full:

I have added my voice to these demands, and have written a letter to the Secretary of State for International Trade regarding the suspension of export licences for the sale of these products being used brutally and indiscriminately by police in the US during the ongoing protests. The UK Government has a duty to condemn police brutality across the world, and ensure than it does not grant licences for exports of products which might sustain and support the violent suppression of peaceful protest.

I have written to the Foreign Secretary asking him to lobby his US counterparts to stop what appear to be violent, targeted attacks on peaceful protesters and journalists covering those protests. Progress can never be achieved if the basic rights of our democracies, such as the right to a free press and the right to free speech and protest, are eroded.

I have also written to the Welsh Government's Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams AM, to ensure that the curriculum in Welsh schools thoroughly and critically addresses BAME histories in Wales and the UK, and integrates the stories of positive BAME people’s contributions throughout our history.

As a member of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in the House of Commons, I also feel it is my duty to hold large social media companies to account in tackling fake news and removing poisonous and racist content from their platforms.

Lastly, a number of people have written asking me to urge the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock MP, to publish the Public Health England report into the effect of Covid-19 on BAME people. Following pressure from the Labour frontbench team, the UK Government decided to publish its report, which showed that:

“…being black and minority ethnic is a major risk factor. This racial disparity effect holds after accounting for the effect of age, deprivation, region and sex.”

The Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary, Marsha de Cordova MP, and Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth MP, have both expressed their deep disappointment, however, that the report fails to address structural inequalities or put forward any recommendations. They have called for a risk-assessment to be complied for businesses to ensure that they do everything to protect their workers, similar to the risk assessment tool published by the Welsh Government which you can find here: https://gov.wales/written-statement-all-wales-covid-19-workforce-risk-assessment-tool.
Rest assured that I am here to represent and amplify your voices as my constituents in the battle against racism in all its forms.

Kevin Brennan MP
Cardiff West
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

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.