Henry Smith MP – Westminster Report – September 2020
The new Job Support Scheme announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, will assist companies which have been affected by the pandemic and encourages them to keep staff on at least reduced hours rather than letting them go.
It will work by the company continuing to pay its employee for the time they work, but the burden of hours which are not worked will be shared equally between the employee, the employer and the Government. Employees will need to be working at least 33 per cent of their hours, with this threshold increasing over time.
In addition to support for workers, businesses will be backed through the ‘Pay As You Grow’ scheme, by giving those which took Government loans greater flexibility to repay these over a longer period of time, and in a way to suit their own circumstances.
Grant extensions will be provided for self-employed small businesses who used the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.
I am acutely aware of the salience of ensuring that support reaches where it needs to be. I continue to make representations on behalf of the workers and businesses of the Crawley and Gatwick aviation sector and the wide range of companies right across our town.
Government ministers are right in their approach that ideology and dogma have been put aside in addressing the pandemic.
These are unprecedented times and we are seeing answers which would have seemed unthinkable less than a year ago. The importance of holding Government to account has not changed and this is what I will continue to do in Parliament.
The new NHS COVID-19 app will be an important tool for helping to reduce the spread of the virus.
More than 12 million people have downloaded this new app to help protect themselves and their loved ones.
COVID-19 has affected the aviation industry more than most other sectors. Gatwick Airport is a huge employer in our town and across the wider south east of England, and I make no apology for highlighting the impact of the pandemic on our local area in the context of Britain’s economic recovery.
I reiterated this call during a House of Commons debate on our aviation sector. Please click here for the full video and text of my speech.
On issues such as passenger testing it is clear that we have more work to do. This would help provide confidence for businesses and customers alike. The current situation will not only limit leisure travel, but will hurt our aspirations for a truly global Britain. It is sending out the wrong message at the wrong time. I reiterated this call in Parliament at the start of September and was also interviewed on BBC Radio 4.
An issue which is often raised with me by Crawley residents is Britain’s place in the world and our role in upholding human rights. It is difficult to think of a subject where this is more necessary than the treatment of the Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in Xinjiang in China.
These minorities are being incarcerated ‘en masse’ by the Chinese communist dictatorship. One look at the images to come out of Xinjiang will draw immediate parallels to the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany.
I am a member of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, which scrutinises the work of the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO); we are supporting efforts in Parliament to ensure those responsible for the Chinese Communist Party’s actions in Xinjiang are included in the next designation of Magnitsky-style sanctions.
This month we launched an inquiry on the detention camps in Xinjiang. With evidence of the persecution of over a million people in these so-called re-education camps, our Committee will look into how the UK can use its position in the world when seeking to influence China.
Other areas which the inquiry will focus on include how groups being persecuted can receive support, mechanisms which the UK Government can use to discourage private sector companies from contributing to human rights abuses, and how the FCDO can ensure a strong role for Britain in preventing atrocities.
For more information and to take part in the Committee’s call for evidence, please visit: www.parliament.uk/facom.
Flu jab: In England, the largest ever flu vaccination campaign is being launched, with all those eligible for the jab playing their part in saving lives.
Those able to receive the vaccine will be all primary school children as well as Year 7s for the first time; two- and three-year-olds; the most vulnerable people including adults aged 65 and over, those with long-term health conditions and pregnant women; and household contacts of people on the NHS Shielded Patient List and all health and social care workers who have direct contact with the people they care for.
After uptake has been maximised for the most at-risk groups, invites will extend to 50- to 64-year-olds later in the season, eligible for the first time in recognition of the scale of the healthcare challenges posed by the pandemic.
Kickstart scheme: The Kickstart scheme launches this month to widen job opportunities for young people and I urge employers in Crawley to sign up.
Participating firms will be able to offer young people between 16 and 24 years of age who are claiming Universal Credit a six-month work placement that is fully funded by the Government.
The scheme will see Government pay all of the young persons’ age-relevant National Minimum Wage, National Insurance and pension contributions for 25 hours a week, which the employer can top up if they chose to. Companies will also be paid £1,500 for each young person they take on as part of the initiative, to support training or other associated costs.
Young people are more likely to have been furloughed than the population as a whole, and we cannot allow them to be left behind as a result of the pandemic. Creating jobs and helping young people develop the skills to access them is essential. Interested employers can find out more information via: www.gov.uk/kickstart.
Blood cancer: Each September marks Blood Cancer Awareness Month. While this is always an important moment to raise awareness of the condition, it is difficult to think of a year when such a focus was more needed.
Blood cancer differs from other forms of cancer as it affects the blood cells. There are over 200,000 people in the UK with more than 100 different types of blood cancer, which include leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma. All of these people were asked to shield from COVID-19 from March until July, with an effect on them and their families which cannot be underestimated.
One of the key issues the Group has sought to raise is to highlight the symptoms of blood cancer, and the importance of early diagnosis. A consequence of the pandemic has been people not seeing their GP, potentially ignoring symptoms which may have been those of blood cancer.
The most common symptoms include unexplained weight loss, unexplained bruising or bleeding, lumps or swellings, drenching night sweats and persistent, recurrent or severe infections. Of course, most people with these symptoms will not have blood cancer. However, if you have any of these symptoms you should book an appointment with your GP.
Government is committed to ensure that 55,000 more people each year will survive their cancer for five years or more, and 75 per cent of people with cancer will be diagnosed at an early stage (stage one or two) by 2028.
This is a good start, however in recognition of the fact that it is difficult, and in some cases, impossible to stage blood cancers, we need to see a commitment to reduce the number of people diagnosed with blood cancer via an emergency to the rate for other common cancers; from 28 per cent to 19 per cent.
Towns Fund: Crawley residents can benefit from a range of regeneration and growth projects thanks to a Government scheme to respond to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The town is one of over 100 places chosen to benefit from the transformative £3.6 billion Towns Fund, with each area receiving support to produce a bespoke, multi-million-pound ‘Town Deal’ to improve their area, for example by upgrading transport and digital infrastructure or improving the high street, driving growth and raising living standards.
This Government was elected on a promise to level up and spread opportunity across the country, and with this funding for Crawley it is delivering on that pledge.
This £1 million will make a real difference to our town and help accelerate economic growth at a critical time, driving our community forward and making it an even more attractive place to live. I will continue to work closely with local leaders and the Government to ensure this money is invested wisely and reflects local priorities, to ensure our community gets the maximum possible benefit.
Support for our armed forces and veterans: I spoke in Parliament in support of the Crawley Armed Forces & Veterans Breakfast Club and welcomed funding for such grassroots organisations which is now available.
Rights of local communities: Reiterated my opposition in Parliament to Homes England proposals to build some 10,000 housing units on green fields to the west of Ifield, which are not in the interests of Crawley residents. In addition to the damage such a development would cause to the environment, the extra pressures the new properties would place on local infrastructure would have an adverse effect. Much of the area is prone to flooding too.
Government backing for self-employed people: 3,600 self-employed people in Crawley have accessed £9.2 million worth of Government grants through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme’s second tranche. These grants do not need to be paid back and will help to cover lost earnings.
Homeless support: Crawley Borough Council has been awarded £296,500 by the Government to continue providing interim accommodation and support to people at risk of homelessness, helping them to get back on their feet as the recovery from coronavirus continues.
This funding will make a real difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our community, helping them to rebuild their lives, away from the streets in safer accommodation.
Start Up Loans: Small businesses in Crawley are the backbone of our local economy, and this Government has long been committed to giving them all the support they need to flourish and thrive.
The Start Up Loans scheme has now provided over £60 million worth of investment and support to thousands of small businesses and entrepreneurs across the south east of England, including for those who may otherwise have struggled to access it, helping to drive investment here and boost our local economy.
The British Business Bank recently issued its 75,000th loan through this programme, marking more than £623 million invested in small businesses across the UK since its launch in 2012.
Illegal English Channel crossings: Questioned the Immigration Compliance Minister over exploitative and illegal English Channel crossings, and I called for early updated immigration and asylum legislation, including barring those who enter the UK illegally from subsequently being able to apply to remain.
Brexit: This month saw a trade agreement reached between the United Kingdom and Japan, as we move ever closer to the end of the Brexit implementation period and the beginning of our place in the wider world.
This deal will secure additional benefits beyond the EU-Japan trade agreement, and will give British companies exporting to Japan a competitive advantage in a number of areas. As well as driving economic growth, the agreement will help create jobs throughout the UK.
It will also lead the way for UK accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); an issue I raised earlier this year in Parliament. I strongly welcome the Government’s action in this area and its efforts in securing trade deals with other nations in the region, and called on the International Trade Secretary to ensure Britain engages with emerging markets such as south east Asia.
We have seen the last few years in the House of Commons dominated by the sight of democratically-elected MPs seeking to overturn a referendum of the British people which took place in June 2016. With Brexit legally enacted in January of this year, the transition/implementation period will end at the conclusion of 2020.
I am acutely aware that the people of Crawley elected me last December on a manifesto commitment to “not extend the implementation period beyond December 2020.” In fulfilling this the Government has my complete support.
Counties: Calling for the Government to provide consistency for our historic counties, including Sussex.
Eat Out to Help Out: More than 86,000 meals were claimed in Crawley under the Government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
In total, more than 100 million meals were claimed across the UK via the programme, which ran throughout the month of August. Some 84,700 establishments signed up, including 68 in Crawley. I’ve certainly enjoyed a number of delicious, good value meals locally as a result.
Eat Out to Help Out was always about far more than just giving people money off their meals – it was about protecting jobs which are reliant on businesses which have really struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic. I have no doubt that there are businesses in Crawley today which, without this brilliant scheme, may not have made it through the summer. I hope local people will continue to support them in the months ahead.
With my best wishes
Member of Parliament for Crawley