Monday 13th July Arriving in Westminster it is clear that Members of Parliament are exhausted. Many of us have been working flat out since February. The mixture of online and face to face work is in some ways helpful as it makes it easier to keep up with constituents as well as parliamentary work, but it is also very intense. With two more weeks until the summer recess there is a lot to be done.
I start the week at an online meeting organised by the Children’s Society to discuss mental health and well-being. A recent survey shows that anxiety amongst children and young people has increased during lockdown. Many of the children who have been at school in recent weeks have reported how helpful this has been for them. We are encouraging schools to focus on pastoral support when pupils return in September, providing teachers with more resources and training as well as extra funding for catch-up and increased investment in NHS mental health services.
The survey also shows increased worries over future opportunities. We know that when the economy turns down it is often young people that are most deeply affected and in the 2009 recession over a million 18-25 year olds were left without employment, education or training. Our new “Kick Start” project, trainee and apprentice programs are intended to make sure this is not repeated.
I meet with officials to discuss school food, there are plans to update the School Food Standards especially as there are concerns about how lockdown has impacted on fitness and obesity.
Over at the House of Commons MPs have been discussing Huawei, worrying about the security of our communication networks. A late night vote establishes the Intelligence and Security committee.
Tuesday 14th July Early morning zoom meeting with the heads of London schools and local authorities. The number of vulnerable children attending school in London has been well below that in the rest of the country and we are working to improve this next term.
I join ministers from across Government for the first meeting of the Care Leavers Covenant Board. Care Leavers often face extra isolation, financial insecurity and uncertainty. A group of three young care leavers speak of their experiences and make suggestions for the future. It is uplifting to hear different areas of Government commit to action. I speak to representatives of the organisations that prepare school meals and discuss plans to make sure school kitchens are open in September and strategies to make sure meals will still get to children if there are local lockdowns.
I chair a drop-in surgery for MPs with questions on children’s issues and listen to the government statement on removing Huawei equipment from our networks. I join MPs to vote on the Parliamentary Constituency Bill. This Bill will keep the number of MPs at 650 and sets in train a review of constituencies boundaries so that MPs each represent a similar number of people.
Wednesday 15th July Very helpful meeting with many different organisations representing children with special educational needs and disabilities. These children and families have had a particularly difficult time in lockdown. It is so important that we get special schools reopening for all children so they can get the support they need.
I join Essex MPs for a call with the heads of our local hospitals, hearing about their work to bring back more non-Covid NHS services. Lots of meetings in the Education Department before returning to the House of Commons for more votes.
Thursday 16th July A busy day. The All Party Group for Children hosts an online summit with hundreds of attendees, including children, charities and many MPs. Children and young people from across the country tell of their experiences during the pandemic. I speak about our work to support vulnerable children and answer their questions.
I join the heads of secure children’s homes. They care for some of our most troubled young people and we discuss ways to help them more. I meet with local MPs about a very sad case of a teenager killed due to gangs, we discuss the new safeguarding teams that are being set up across the country and the work happening between police and schools to tackle county lines.
Finish my Westminster week with a long meeting to discuss reforms and support for Early Years providers, including nurseries and preschools.
Friday 17th July Lovely sunny day in Chelmsford. I drop into the canoe club to hear how they have been reopening and getting back on the water. Chelmsford Canoe Club is the top club in the country with a number of the members competing at international level and even some Olympic hopes for the future. I speak with local businesses, join up with Essex MPs on a call with the head of our local Mental Health Trust and have a catch up with the Leader of Essex County Council. I finish the week treating myself at one of our beauty salons that reopened on Monday. It is going to be so important to support local businesses as they find their feet.