Monday 24th May The week before Parliament takes a recess is always super busy. This one starts with the care leaver covenant board, which brings together ministers from across different government departments to look at how be better support young people who have grown up in care. These are some of the most vulnerable young people in our country, I have been working on some proposals to help them with accommodation and it is good to get cross government support.
I head off to the House of Commons where I am to answer a “petitions debate”. The discussion is about the petition started by Marcus Rashford about the recommendations from the National Food Strategy. The vast majority of the recommendations have already been set in place, and many of them have been in the Government plans for a long time, for example our Holiday Activities and Food Scheme is going to rolling out all across the country this year, after three years of pilot projects so we could get it right. This will offer free activities and food to children from lower incomes over the longer holidays. It helps keep children more engaged in education. We have also increased the eligibility for free school meals by more than any government for the past half a century.
Tuesday 25th May At the beginning of this term we set up a Mental Health Action Group, bringing together health experts, teacher representatives, mental health charities and many others to look at what more we can do to support schools with mental health and wellbeing. The group has been working extremely hard, we’ve already rolled out a lot of different projects, including starting training for a senior mental health lead in every school. I chair a meeting of the Action Group to agree next steps.
Online, we bring together Head Teachers from a mixture of state and independent, mixed and single sex, day and boarding schools to discuss sexual abuse in schools. It is concerning how many young people are being sent unwanted sexual images or being encouraged to share images of themselves. The heads give helpful suggestions of steps that could be taken to improve safeguarding. I meet with former Children’s Minister, Ed Timpson to discuss his review on children and young people being excluded from school.
Wednesday 26th May Another packed day, meeting the head of Ofsted, the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and join other ministers in the House of Commons Chamber to take questions from MPs on equalities. I answer questions about encouraging more women into science and technology; our skills bootcamps have had huge interest especially those for women to learn coding and computer science. The House is very busy with lots of MPs taking part in a hugely positive debate about the new Environment Bill and others questioning Dominic Cummings in select committee. Meanwhile I respond to another debate about support for Children on Free School Meals, a good opportunity to explain the huge range of support we have put in to help level up for children, including school dinners, breakfasts, transport, extra funding for educational and pastoral support, holiday activities and so much more.
Thursday 27th May Up early and off to the vaccine centre before heading into work. Over 50-year olds are being advised to pull their second vaccination early, so I cancelled my appointment that was scheduled for a few weeks’ time and rebooked. A charming medical student gives me my jab and I am in and out of the centre withing 6 minutes – so easy. I meet with the head of the Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group to discuss Chelmsford GPs. So very many of them are doing superb work, but there has suddenly been a huge surge in demand for appointments, probably because many people have put off visits to the doctor for non -urgent problems during the pandemic. A day of back to back internal meetings including on the reviews of the system for children with special educational needs and disabilities and for children in care. A busy ministerial week finishes with an evening meeting with doctors from across the country who join online to discuss issues affecting children.
Friday 27th May As usual, my Friday starts with the update meeting with the Vaccine Minister, it is so important that people do get a second dose because the first dose does not give nearly as much protection as the double one. I join local MPs being briefed by Essex’s mental health provider EPUT about a review that is being done into tragic deaths that happened in mental health facilities. This was largely before my time as an MP, but it is very important to learn the lessons of the past.
I pop over to the wonderful Back In Time restaurant to meet the management. They are hugely concerned as a new planning application has been registered which would remove this much-loved independent business from Chelmsford.
After a constituency surgery, I speak with the head of Virgin Care about questions that have been raised with me by residents registered with the Sutherland Lodge surgery. The new phone line is still not working as well as they had hoped, and we discuss plans for improvements. The new leader of Essex County Council takes MPs through their plans for the first 100 days of the new council, including a very welcome focus on improving road maintenance.
My working week ends with a joyful visit to the soft play centre, Mace Playce where there are so many children enjoying being able to get out and play with friends again. This wonderful family run business has had such a difficult time during the pandemic but it’s good to hear that the reopening has gone well, and they plan to open a second venue in the centre of Chelmsford shortly.
It is late when we get in the car to join the crowds heading towards the west country for the bank holiday – I’m off to visit my mother whom I have not seen for many months, and the sun is going to shine.