Thursday, 24 September 2020

A plan to support our economy this winter

Today, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak set out the next stage of the government's economic response to Coronavirus in the House of Commons. 

When we went into lockdown in March this year, the government announced a number of schemes to help support people's jobs and incomes as we worked to slow the spread of coronavirus. Most businesses had to close as we all stayed at home. 

As the economy has re-opened in recent months, the challenges we face have changed. The virus is still with us, and new restrictions will often mean reduced demand, particularly in the hospitality sector. 

Today, the government has set out a new package of measures to support our economy this winter. This includes: 

Coronavirus Job Support Scheme
The Coronavirus Job Retention (Furlough) Scheme helped to protect people's jobs and incomes during the lockdown, so that workers who couldn't work during the crisis continued to be paid. 

The new Job Support Scheme will support the wages of people who are in work, giving businesses who face reduced demand over the winter the option of keeping employees in a job on shorter hours, rather than making them redundant. 



The scheme aims to support viable jobs for the future, so employees must continue to work at least a third of their normal hours and be paid for that work by their employer. The government will then top-up people's wages, with a third of the pay they have lost from reduced hours being paid for by the government, and the other third being paid for by employees. In total, employees will receive at least 77% of their normal salary. 

The scheme will run from November to April. and all small and medium-sized businesses are eligible. Larger businesses can also apply, but only when their turnover has fallen. Workers employed as of yesterday are eligible, and any business can take part, even if they have not previously used the furlough scheme. 

Support for the self-employed
To support the self-employed throughout the winter, the existing Self-Employed Income Support Grant will be extended on similar terms and conditions to the new Job Support Scheme. 

Pay As You Grow
Earlier this year, the government introduced Bounce Back Loans to provide quick, first-year interest-free loans to businesses. Today, the government is providing greater flexibility on the repayment of these loans by introducing Pay As You Grow. 

This means that loans can be extended from six to ten years, nearly halving the average monthly repayments. Businesses which are struggling can also choose to make interest-only payments, and any businesses in trouble can suspend repayments completely for six months. 

Government-Backed Loan Deadline
The deadline to apply for any of the government-backed loans has been extended until the end of the year, and a new successor loan programme will begin in January. 

VAT deferral scheme
Businesses were given the option to defer their VAT payments earlier this year. These payments are due in one lump sum in March, but businesses will now be given the option to spread their VAT bill over 11 repayments, with no interest to pay. 

Self-assessment tax deferral
Self-assessed income taxpayers can also extend their outstanding tax bill over 12 months from January.

VAT cut extended
Earlier this year the government cut VAT for the hospitality and tourism sectors from 20% to 5%. To help protect jobs throughout the winter, the cut will be extended until 31st March next year. 

These are very welcome measures and will go a long way to help support jobs, incomes and businesses in Northumberland over the coming weeks and months. If you are a constituent and need support, please do not hesitate to get in touch with my office, or visit my Coronavirus website to find out more - guyopperman.co.uk/Coronavirus. 

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

New rules to control Coronavirus this winter

In recent weeks, we have seen the levels of coronavirus infection in Northumberland and across the UK rise significantly. Now is the time to take action, and prevent more significant restrictions that would impact us all. 

Last week, the government implemented new restrictions for our region, meaning you cannot socialise with others you do not live with, and public venues must close by 10pm, and are limited to table service only. 

Today, the Prime Minister has announced new additional restrictions for the whole country. These will apply to Northumberland. This means:

  • Where possible, office workers who can work from home should do so.
  • Hospitality and leisure businesses must close by 10pm. 
  • COVID-Secure guidelines will become legal obligations, and businesses could be fined or closed if they breach these rules. Employers must also not knowingly  require or encourage somebody who is self-isolating to come to work. 
  • From Monday, a maximum of 15 people can attend wedding ceremonies and receptions, but up to 30 can attend funerals, as is currently the case. 
  • The 'Rule of 6' will be extended to cover adult indoor team sports. 
There are also new rules regarding the use of face coverings, and the requirement to wear a face covering has been extended to: 
  • All staff working in retail. 
  • All users of taxis and private hire vehicles. 
  • Staff and customers in indoor hospitality, except when seated at a table. 
  • Guidance that states face coverings and visors should be worn in close contact services will become law. 
  • Businesses must also remind people to wear face coverings where mandated. 
We all need to continue to remember the basics: wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds, cover your face in enclosed spaces where social distancing may be difficult, and stay 2 meters apart from others, or 1 metre with extra precautions. 

These are difficult times. But if we all stick to the rules, we can stay in control of this virus and save lives. 

Thursday, 17 September 2020

New local restrictions to control Coronavirus


In recent weeks, we have seen the Coronavirus infection rates across the North East increase significantly. 

Last week, local councils asked the government to implement new restrictions now, so that we can get on top of this recent spike and avoid going back to the days of the full lockdown we saw in March and April. 

From midnight tonight, new restrictions on social gatherings, hospitality and more will be introduced. That means:
  • You cannot socialise with others you do not live with, including close friends and family. Exemptions to this rule do apply if you are providing care or assistance to a vulnerable person. If you live alone and are in a support bubble, you can continue to visit your support bubble by staying overnight in each other's houses and visiting public places together. 
  • Pubs and restaurants will be limited to table service only, and leisure and hospitality must close between 10pm and 5am. 
  • Restrictions are being introduced on non-essential visits to care homes.
  • In schools, pupils in Year 7 and above, and staff, must wear face coverings when in corridors and moving around communal areas. 
I understand how difficult these restrictions will be, especially for people living in areas which currently have low levels of coronavirus cases, but it is my hope that by addressing this spike now, we can ensure these restrictions can be in place for as short a period as possible.

In order to assist with the local coronavirus response, new testing facilities are being set up across Northumberland. Please remember to only get tested if you have symptoms, but if you have a new, continuous cough, a temperature, a loss or change of taste or smell, you should go to gov.uk/Coronavirus and book a test.

Whilst these restrictions are in place, we should continue to remember the basics too – continue to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, cover your face in enclosed spaces where social distancing is difficult, and keep 2 meters apart from people you do not live with.

I know this will be a difficult time, but if we all stick to the rules, we will get through this together.

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Introducing the Rule of 6: New measures to control Coronavirus

Since the start of this year, our country has faced many tough challenges as we have fought the coronavirus pandemic. 

The lockdown was a very difficult time for our country, but through our great national effort, virus infections have reduced significantly from the peak, and we have been able to return to a more normal way of life as lockdown as eased. 

However, we have seen that as lockdowns have eased across Europe, case numbers have increased significantly. With cases on the rise in the UK, I wholeheartedly support the government in taking action to suppress the virus. 

We all need to remember the basics: hands, face, space, and if you have symptoms - get a test. 

You should continue to wash your hands often and for at least 20 seconds, wear a face-covering indoors, when social distancing may be difficult, and stay 2 meters apart from others, or 1 meter plus with extra precautions. 

However, with cases on the rise, new rules are required in order to keep the virus under control. 

That's why the government is introducing the Rule of 6. 

From Monday 14th September, you cannot meet with other households socially in groups of more than 6. This applies both indoors and outdoors, including in private homes and gardens. This clarifies and simplifies the rules on social gatherings to make them easier to understand, and for the police to enforce. 

There are a limited number of exemptions to this rule. COVID-Secure venues, such as places of worship, restaurants, and hospitality venues, where the total number of people inside the venue can be more than 6, but people cannot mix in individual groups of more than 6. The rules also do not apply to individual households or support bubbles of more than 6 who will still be able to gather together. Education and work settings are also unaffected, as is organised team sport, and weddings and funerals of up to 30 people. 

From September 18th, it will also become mandatory for hospitality businesses to have a system in place to collect NHS Test and Trace data, which much be kept for 21 days. 

The government is working with local authorities and police forces to respond to breaches of the COVID-19 Secure guidelines, and a register of newly qualified and recently retired Environmental Health Officers will also be established so that local councils can recruit more quickly and fill any gaps. COVID-19 Secure Marshals will also be introduced to help local authorities support social distancing in town and city centres. 

In addition, the government is also taking steps to improve border requirements. The Passenger Locator Form, which is required for traveling into the UK, will be simplified, and measures will be introduced to ensure that passengers have completed their form before departure. Border Force will also step up and target enforcement efforts at the border to ensure arrivals into the UK are complying with the rules. 

In July, the government set out plans to pilot larger audiences in venues this month. These plans will now be reviewed, and pilots will be limited to smaller, safer numbers with strict conditions to ensure social distancing. These plans will be reviewed on October 1st. 

These are difficult measures, but nothing like the national lockdown imposed earlier this year. In order to control the virus, we all need to play our part by washing our hands, covering our faces indoor spaces, and keeping two meters apart from others. We will get through this, but we all need to work together. 

Monday, 10 August 2020

Eat Out to Help Out!

Today marks the start of another three days of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme - which takes place every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday throughout August. You can get 50% off food and soft drinks at participating restaurants, up to a maximum value of £10 per person. 

Over the last few weeks, I've been visiting so many of our local businesses taking part - from the Redesdale Arms, to the Twice Brewed Inn. They've all done great work to help make everything COVID-Secure, so we can enjoy summer safely. You can watch my video from the Twice Brewed Inn with Steve, the manager above. 

Across Tynedale and Ponteland, dozens of restaurants are taking part, the full list is below:  

ALLENDALE

King's Head

ANICK

Rat Inn

BARDON MILL

The Bowes Hotel

Bardon Mill Village Store and Tea Room

Twice Brewed Inn

BARRASFORD

Barrasford Arms Hotel

BELLINGHAM

The Cheviot

Fountain Cottage Cafe

Riverdale Hall Hotel

Boe Rigg

BLANCHLAND

The Lord Crewe Arms

BLENKINSOPP

Blenkinsopp Castle Inn

CORBRIDGE

Corbridge

Cassia

Spokes Kitchen

Corbridge Larder

Angelfish

The Angel of Corbridge

The Wheatsheaf

EAST WALLHOUSES

The Robin Hood Inn

FALSTONE

The Blackcock Inn

The Pheasant Inn, Stannersburn

Cafe on the Water, Tower Knowe

HALTWHISTLE

The Black Bull

Centre of Britain Hotel and Restaurant

HAYDON BRIDGE

General Havelock Inn

Langley Castle Hotel

HEDDON ON THE WALL

Close House Golf Club

Three Tuns

HEDLEY ON THE HILL

The Feathers Inn

HEXHAM

The Hextol Tans Coffee Shop and Vegetarian Restaurant

The Rising Cafe

Cilantro

Hexham Abbey

Small World Cafe

Bunters Coffee Shop

The Heart Of Northumberland

Danielle's Bistro

Vercelli Restaurant

The Wentworth Cafe

Bouchon Bistrot

The County Hotel

Cafe Enna

The Dipton Mill Inn

HORSLEY

Lion & Lamb

MATFEN

Matfen Village Store and coffee shop

MICKLEY

The Blue Bell Inn

OTTERBURN

Weavers Cafe

OVINGHAM

White Swan

PONTELAND

Yolo Ponteland

Rialtos

Ponteland Tandoori

Fratelli

Chinese Harry

PRUDHOE

Caffe Ginevra Prudhoe

Balls's

Adam and Eve

Miners Lamp Community Cafe and Hub

The Falcon

The Coffee Tree

Bradley Gardens

RIDING MILL

The Station Coffee House

Brocksbushes Tea Room

ROCHESTER

Redesdale Arms

SLALEY

Rose and Crown

Travellers Rest

Hollybush Nursery

WALL

Hadrian Hotel

WARDEN

Boatside Inn, Warden

WEST WOODBURN

Bay Horse Inn

WYLAM

The Ship Inn Wylam

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Face coverings to become mandatory in shops and supermarkets

The Government has announced today that face coverings in shops and supermarkets will become mandatory in England from Friday 24th July.

This announcement comes as growing evidence from Public Heath England and the World Health Organisation suggests that wearing a face covering in enclosed spaces helps protect individuals and those around them from coronavirus.

The new rule will be enforced by the police and those who fail to comply will face a fine of up to £100. 

Shop workers will be encouraged to prompt customers to comply with the new rule. However, they will not have to enforce the rule. 

Children under 11 and people with certain disabilities will be exempt from this new rule. Restaurants, pubs and cafes are also not included in this announcement. 

As with other public heath measures during the pandemic I have every confidence residents will comply with this new rule to help suppressing the spread of the virus, whilst allowing the restarting of the economy and saving lives. 

Thursday, 9 July 2020

Chancellor announces A Plan for Jobs



The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak has presented A Plan for Jobs to the House of Commons. Thanks, to the progress made in suppressing the virus the Government is now slowly allowing people to go back to work in accordance with COVID-secure workplace guidance. That is why it was right for the Chancellor to announce the second phase of economic interventions by the Government to help the economy deal with the negative economic impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic. The Government has already supported workers through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the self-employed with the Self - Employed Income Support Scheme and businesses with grants and loans being made available. 

The new announcements include:

Jobs Retention Bonus - Employers who bring people back from furlough and keep them on until January will receive £1,000 for each staff member. 

Kickstart Scheme - The Kickstart scheme will directly pay employers to create new jobs for any 16-24 year old at risk of long - term unemployment. The scheme will pay wages for 6 months, plus an amount to cover overheads. That means, for a 24 year-old, the grant will be around £6,500.

Traineeships - The Government will pay employers £1000 to take on trainees, which triples the number of paces. This is a proven scheme to get young people ready for the work place. Traineeships consist of work experience placements, training and work preparation for 16-24 year olds. They last from 6 weeks to 6 months depending on need and can lead to apprenticeships, further education and other employment. 

Work coaches - The Government is doubling the amount of work coaches at a cost of nearly £900 million. Work coaches are people's first point of contact for someone who loses their job. They provide invaluable personalised support to help people get back to work.  

Apprentices - For the next six months the Government will pay businesses to hire young apprentices, with payment of £2,000. A new bonus has also been announced for hiring apprentices aged 25 and over, with a payment of £1,500.

Stamp Duty - The Stamp Duty threshold will be raised to 500,000 until 31 March 2021 to take effect immediately. Before, there was no stamp duty on transactions below £125,000 or £300,000 for first-time buyers. Everyone buying a main home under £500,000 will pay no stamp duty at all which means 9/10 of main home buyers will pay no stamp duty at all. 

Green Home Grants - The Government is funding £2bn of Green Home Grants helping to unlock work for thousands of plumbers, builders and tradespeople. Homeowners will receive vouchers to pay for at least two - thirds of green improvements such as loft, wall and floor insulation. Low - income households will be eligible for up to 100% government funding up to £10,000 which could make over 650,000 homes more energy efficient. It could also save households save up to £300 a year on their bills. 

Cut in VAT for hospitality and tourism sectors - VAT will be reduced from 20% to 5% to take effect from Wednesday 15th July 2020. This is a £4bn catalyst benefitting over 150,000 businesses, and consumers everywhere - helping to protect around 2.4 million jobs.

Eat Out to Help Out - For the month of August, the Government will give a 50% reduction, up to £10 per head, on sit down meals and non alcoholic drinks Monday - Wednesday. This scheme will support around 130,000 businesses and help protect the jobs of their 1.8 million employees.

The Chancellor also announced a full Spending Review and Budget will come in the Autumn. You can read the full 'A Plan for Jobs' by clicking here. 

Friday, 3 July 2020

Let's enjoy summer safely - new guidance comes into force tomorrow


More than three months ago, Britain went into lockdown. It has undoubtedly been a long and difficult three months, but people have supported these rules overwhelmingly, and we are now past the peak, reporting regularly fewer than 1,000 new cases each day. Sage also assesses that the R rate (the average number of people each infected person passes the virus onto) - remains below 1. That means the virus is decreasing every day.

Thanks to this progress, the government has been able to slowly ease the national lockdown. Since the start of June, you have been able to meet up with up to 6 others outdoors, and non-essential shops began to re-open throughout June. From tomorrow - July 4th - a number of restrictions that are currently in place will be lifted, meaning more shops and businesses can re-open. This includes:
  • Pubs and restaurants. 
  • Hairdressers. 
  • Hotels, and other accommodation sites - such as camp sites.
  • Some of the arts and cultural sector, as well as some leisure facilities and tourist attractions can also re-open, provided they can do so safely. This includes outdoor gyms, playgrounds, cinemas, museums, galleries, theme parks and arcades, as well as libraries, social clubs, places of worship and community centres.
Unfortunately, there are still some businesses which are unable to re-open. Indoor gyms, nail bars, and swimming pools, and many other businesses, are still closed. However, next week the government will set out a timetable to re-open these businesses safely. 

All of these businesses will need to comply with the COVID-Secure guidelines, as set out by the government. This includes taking customer contact details, which can be passed to NHS Test and Trace in the event of an outbreak.

From tomorrow, you can also meet up with one other household indoors, provided you maintain social distancing with those from outside your household.

This is the biggest step yet on the road to recovery from coronavirus. But it is more important than ever that we do so safely. Where possible, you should continue to remain 2 meters apart from others outside your household. However, where it is not possible to stay two meters apart, guidance now allows people to keep 'one metre plus' distance. That means staying one metre apart, plus mitigations to reduce the risk of transmissions - such as face masks on public transport, or perspex screens in bars and restaurants. 

We also need to continue to remember the basics, such as washing your hands with soap and water more often and for at least 20 seconds, and if you have any symptoms of coronavirus (a new and continuous cough, a temperature, a loss of taste or smell), you should immediately self-isolate and get a test. You can apply for a test by clicking here. 

Whilst these relaxations will allow us to enjoy a much more normal way of life, it is vital that we all safely by following the guidelines and keeping your distance from others so we can keep the coronavirus under control.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Sadly, just over a week ago we lost our twin boys.
Teddy came and went from this world quickly and quietly. He passed peacefully. Our younger twin, Rafe, was not born until Tuesday 23, but died later that day in NeoNatal ICU. Baby loss, and coping with grief, is very hard. Nothing we could do. Just a horrible tragedy. We emerged from hospital a week ago shell shocked. We have taken some time out to recover. I am back at work part time, but bear with me. We will come through this, but will always miss our boys. Cards are fine, but pls no flowers.
The loss of our younger twin Rafe was particularly acute. He lived and died within a long day. But we treasure our time with him in Neonatal ICU. We were able to tell him of all our hopes and dreams for him, and our family; but he could not make it and died in Flora’s arms. 
We are grateful to the NHS doctors + nurses who tried to save our boys. We are engaging with Sands, who help families coping with the grief of baby loss. We will try and establish a small fund to support research that will prevent other families experiencing the same pain.

The Wave quote is a good description of this awful process, and an acceptance of life passing. You never regret trying to have children. Sometimes baby loss happens. We will never forget our boys. They will be with us always. Just sadly only in their spirit and their memory. 

Flora and I have now set up a donation fund for research that will hopefully assist the prevention of other families experiencing the same pain from #pprom and #babyloss that we went through with Teddy & Rafe. You can make a donation by clicking here.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Food standards and future trade deals

Many constituents have written to me in support of our farmers to ensure high food standards in the UK. The Secretary of State for Agriculture and the Trade Secretary have jointly addressed this issue in the letter below: 



In addition, you can find my detailed thoughts on the Agriculture Bill and the Ministers' full remarks addressing many issues here.

Friday, 12 June 2020

Changes to the lockdown restrictions over the coming days


It is now almost three months since the lockdown was first implemented. People have supported these rules overwhelmingly, and we are past the peak of this awful virus. This has been a very difficult time for our country, and many thousands of people have very sadly lost their lives.

As your local MP, I am here to help in any way I can. In March, I launched a Coronavirus website to provide up to date advice and support to individuals, businesses and employers. The site contains a huge amount of information, from the financial support available, to explaining how to apply for a test, and Frequently Asked Questions on what you can and can't do.

The government has already taken careful steps to start to ease the lockdown. You can now go for as much exercise as you like and drive to other places, visit a garden centre or outdoor market, and meet with up to six other people from another household outdoors - provided you maintain social distancing. Over the next few days, there will be further changes which I have set out below:


From tomorrow, Saturday 13th June: 

Adults living alone, or single parents with children under 18 can form a support bubble with one other household.

Everyone in the support bubble can act as if they live in the same household - meaning they can spend time together inside each other's homes and do not need to stay 2 meters apart. These support bubbles must be exclusive, meaning you should not switch the household you are in a bubble with, or connect with multiple households.


From Monday 15th June

From Monday, non-essential retail and department stores - including many businesses on Hexham's High Streets - can reopen. This includes book shops, electronic retailers, tailors, auction houses, photography studios, indoor markers and shops selling clothes, shoes and toys.

Businesses will need to make sure it has undertaken a COVID-19 risk assessment and shared the results with employees, make sure that regular handwashing and cleaning takes place, and maintain a 2m distance where possible. I know that Northumberland County Council are working with businesses and shops to give them the support they need to re-open safely.

Zoos and safari parks, and outdoor attractions such as drive-in cinemas can also re-open, as well as places of worship for individual prayer - in line with social distancing guidelines.

From Monday, it will also be mandatory to wear a face-covering on public transport, including the train. This is not the same as a surgical mask or respirator used by healthcare workers as part of PPE, but rather a cloth face covering. You can find out how to make one by clicking here. 


From July 4th

From early July, the government aims to re-open at least some of the remaining business premises that have been required to close. This will include hairdressers and beauty salons, restaurants, pubs, hotels and cinemas. These businesses - like retail - will need to follow COVID-19 Secure Guidelines.

All of these plans are dependent on the COVID-19 Alert Level and progress continuing to be made to reduce infection rates. We have made so much progress over the last few months, and we don't want to throw it away.

For more information on the specific support available, you can visit the links on my website below:

FAQ: What you can and can't do

Test and Trace 

Getting tested

Support for individuals

Support for businesses

Support for the self-employed

Support for farmers

As ever, please get in touch if you have any issues or concerns. My office is still physically closed - in line with government guidelines - but my small staff team are working from home. Email correspondence will be replied to in the usual way, post is being redirected and phone messages will be responded to.

The killing of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, Policing, Protests, Statues, Public Health Report, and Amnesty International

Before I was an MP, I spent 15 years as a barrister in hundreds of criminal trials; some of the time, I acted as a legal aid lawyer on behalf of the defendant. Most of the time I was prosecuting on behalf of the state, whether that was the Crown Prosecution Service generally, or the specialist Drugs and Fraud Prosecutors. I dealt repeatedly with the police and serious crime.

I have no doubt that the killing of George Floyd was unlawful. The footage of what happened in the lead up to his death in police-custody was horrific and distressing, and his dying words have awakened anger across the world. I understand that the police officer involved has now been charged with murder, and there will be a federal review. I will be monitoring the case closely in the following weeks and months. It will be for a jury to decide the officer’s guilt and a Judge to sentence him, but I welcome the enhanced prosecution of all officers involved.

Since then, much has happened, and I will try and address as many of the issues raised as are possible in this blog. I want to start by making one thing clear. Black lives matter. Racism is abhorrent and has no place in our society, and I will always support efforts made to end it. We celebrate the diversity of this wonderful country.

Many constituents who have contacted me have called for the publication of the Public Health England report on the impact of COVID-19 on BAME communities. This was published last week; it is very detailed and runs to over 80 pages. You can read it here. The report was subsequently debated in Parliament in detail.

The statement of the Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch, the MP for Saffron Walden, and her answers to questions from Members of Parliament across the House of Commons can be read here.

We all have a part to play in tackling racism in the UK, and I have been heartened by the solidarity shown across the country. Whilst this awful killing took place in the United States, under another jurisdiction, it is incumbent on us all to use this moment to look with renewed vigour at how Black people are treated here in the UK. That is a point the Minister, Kemi Badenoch, strongly made to parliament and I agree: the key words from her opening statement representing the government are:

“As a Black woman, and the Equalities Minister, it would be odd if I did not comment on the recent events in the US and protests in London yesterday. Like all right-minded people, regardless of their race, I was profoundly disturbed by the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police. During these moments of heightened racial tension, we must not pander to anyone who seeks to inflame those tensions. Instead, we must work together to improve the lives of people from Black and minority ethnic communities. It is in that spirit that we approach the assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on ethnic minorities. If we want to resolve the disparities identified in the PHE report, it is critical that we accurately understand the causes, based on empirical analysis of the facts and not preconceived positions.

On Tuesday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care confirmed to the House that Public Health England has now completed its review of disparities in the risks and outcomes of COVID-19. The review confirms that COVID-19 has replicated, and in some cases increased, existing health inequalities related to risk factors including age, gender, ethnicity and geography, with higher diagnosis rates in deprived, densely populated urban areas. The review also confirmed that being Black or from a minority ethnic background is a risk factor. That racial disparity has been shown to hold even after accounting for the effect of age, deprivation, region and sex.

I thank Public Health England for undertaking this important work so quickly. I know that its findings will be a cause for concern across the House, as they are for individuals and families across the country. The Government share that concern, which is why they are now reviewing the impact and effectiveness of their actions to lessen disparities in infection and death rates of COVID-19, and to determine what further measures are necessary.

It is also clear that more needs to be done to understand the key drivers of those disparities and the relationships between different risk factors. The Government will commission further data research and analytical work by the Equalities Hub to clarify the reasons for the gaps in evidence highlighted by the report. Taking action without taking the necessary time and effort to understand the root causes of those disparities only risks worsening the situation. That is why I am taking this work forward with the Race Disparity Unit in the Cabinet Office, and the Department of Health and Social Care, and I will keep the House updated.”


I now want to talk about Policing in the US and UK, and our rights as protesters. We police by consent in this country, and I am proud of that approach. It is very different from the police in the USA. We are not the United States, where “force” is the prevailing word in policing. Our officers are unarmed. I have worked with our UK police as a lawyer, community activist and campaigner, Councillor, Member of Parliament, in the Home Office as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Counter Terrorism, Security and Immigration Minister, and as a Pensions Minister. I do not pretend that every policeman or woman is perfect – I have seen enough as a lawyer, in particular, to know this. But I remain very proud of the UK police and I fully support the police officers of our Northumbria Police and the other officers of the country. However, I am grateful that the Chief Constables from our forces, and the Police representatives countrywide, have set out their thoughts as follows:

We “stand alongside all those across the globe who are appalled and horrified by the way George Floyd lost his life. Justice and accountability should follow.” They go in say: “In the UK we have a long-established tradition of policing by consent, working in communities to prevent crime and solve problems. Officers are trained to use force proportionately, lawfully and only when absolutely necessary. We strive to continuously learn and improve. We will tackle bias, racism or discrimination wherever we find it.”

Other UK public institutions from the Army downwards have taken a similar approach, in light of what has happened - and I welcome that. I will be liaising with the Commanding Officer of our local barracks at Albemarle to ensure that we are addressing this locally. I don’t do a running commentary on social media of events, not least as I have been grappling with COVID-19 and its impacts on our community, businesses, health and so much more, but I remain particularly moved by the words of African American soldier, General Brown, whose are the best I have seen, and which I supported when I had the chance to listen to him. 

The UK has a proud tradition of peaceful protest and it is a right of all our citizens, subject to certain conditions agreed by successive parliaments. The police would have been quite within their rights to stop the protest last Saturday from happening at all. However, in this country, we police by consent.

I understand why so many people feel such a clear desire to make their voices heard – particularly after the death of George Floyd. However, it is important that – during the current pandemic – those who do protest observe social distancing, and do so peacefully and lawfully. The vast majority of the protesters around the world did this, and with due respect to COVID 19, its potential impact on BAME communities, and the officers who have to police any demonstration. 

Sadly, however, there is simply no justification for the violence we have seen towards the police, as well as the damage to memorials such as the Cenotaph from a small number of protesters. It is not acceptable. Add to this the defacing of Churchill’s statue on the anniversary of D-Day, together with the defacing of a statue of American President, Abraham Lincoln — the hero who emancipated American slaves — and I am at a loss with bewilderment at the insensitivity and ignorance. Such acts have nothing to do with the brutal act that took place in Wisconsin, USA. These were deliberately destructive acts of mindless violence.

I am not from Bristol and had never heard of Edward Colston before last Sunday. However, I am astonished there was a statue to such a man and can see why there was an overwhelming case for it to be removed. However, I do not agree with the approach taken. Where people want to see statues removed, we should have an open, democratic conversation about our past, and then take legally based democratic decisions. 

Criminality – no matter the justness of the cause – is wrong. In all cases, the process for change is democracy, and the legal system. I do not believe that a group of individuals pulling down statues is the right way forward. I am aware that there is now a movement to remove a variety of statues in this country. I have not studied this in detail, but my views have been asked. I do not want to see the statues of Churchill, or the statue of Gandhi, Nelsons Column in Trafalgar Square, or Grey's Monument in Newcastle taken down; nor, for the avoidance of doubt, do I want to see the statue of Marx in London taken down. I consider it a very sad situation that today the Cenotaph – the memorial for our war dead - is having to be boarded up to protect it from damage. 

Several dozen constituents have also raised an Amnesty International campaign on a number of issues arising from these events, and much of what I have written above addresses this, but I will try and answer some of the specific questions here, albeit some of these issues I am still awaiting replies to Ministers on. 

On education: If we are to learn from our past, we need to know the good and bad – we cannot erase it. It is vital for young people to learn about Black history, and I am therefore pleased that all schools have the freedom to teach it from primary school age onwards, as part of the history curriculum. Schools, and individual headteachers, have flexibility over how they teach this subject, and which resources to use from a range of organisations and sources, including the Black Curriculum if they choose. The Department for Education guidance on the national curriculum covers a number of elements of Black history including significant public figures and also the slave trade. However, I have written to the Secretary of State for Education to see what more can be done. Individual constituents can also raise this directly with their local schools, headteachers and governors.

A number of constituents have contacted me about their concerns over exports. The government takes this incredibly seriously and successive governments since the Blair administration have operated one of the world’s most robust and transparent export control regimes. Each export licence application is considered on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. The Consolidated Criteria provide a thorough risk assessment framework, requiring the Government to think very carefully about the possible impact of providing equipment and its capabilities. My understanding is that the Government will not grant an export licence if doing so would be inconsistent with the criteria. I have ensured Ministers are aware of the points you make about these exports. Again, the assertion is made that British exports were used against US protesters. I have again written to the Minister in charge to try and find out if this is true and what can be done to address this issue. Again I will update you when I know more. 

Many people have also raised the tragic death of Belly Mujinga. It is clearly a heartbreaking loss of a mother, wife and key worker, and I am trying to find out if there is anything more the police can do to investigate this incident further. I understand that the original investigating authority, the British Transport Police, have said that they have “done everything to provide answers to the family of Mrs. Mujinga; but, I have joined with other colleagues across the House of Commons to see if any more can be done to either reopen or reappraise that investigation.

Many correspondents want the government to do more to tackle all forms of racism. Clearly, governments all around the world are looking at what they have done in the past and what more they can do going forward. The UK has made so much progress in tackling racism over recent decades, and I am proud to be a member of the most diverse government in the history of this country. At the same time, successive governments have brought forward the Race Disparity Audit to tackle racism. You can read more about this here. However, we must acknowledge there is more to do to tackle prejudice and create opportunity. Racism is abhorrent, it has no place in our communities and we all have to play our part in tackling it, so we can celebrate the wealth of diversity across our country.

On a practical level, there are some genuinely world-leading examples of local and national initiatives to tackle racially motivated discrimination, improving policing, and stamping out racist bullying. These follow the Hate Crime Action Plan, which you can read more about here. 

I want to finish by making these points: I believe and support equality for all, and I abhor discrimination. I remain committed to all efforts to end all racism. Today, I have joined my colleagues in pledging my support to the Conservatives Against Racism for Equality cause.

I will update this response when I know more from Ministers.

Saturday, 6 June 2020

76th Anniversary of the D-Day landings





Today marks the 76th anniversary of the D-Day landings - when 23,000 British and Allied troops landed on the coast of France, who fought and died so we can be free from the evils of fascism.

Clearly, official commemorations have been cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic, but today, let us remember them. We should always be grateful for their courage and remember their sacrifice.




Saturday, 30 May 2020

Supporting jobs and incomes through Coronavirus


As we slowly start to emerge from this Coronavirus lockdown, I am delighted to see the Chancellor Rishi Sunak announce an extension to the massive economic support package made available by the government. 

This will provide flexibility, with gradual, tapered contributions to help firms restart cautiously and protect jobs, incomes, and the health of our nation. 

Self-Employed Income Support

I know lots of people have been waiting for news on the future of the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme - so it is brilliant news that the scheme will be extended. 

Applications will open in August for a second final grant, paid out in a single monthly installment covering three months' worth of average monthly profits. To maintain fairness alongside the changes to the job retention scheme, the final grant will be 70%, up to a total of £6,570. 

If you are eligible and haven't done so already, you can continue to apply for the first taxable grant until 13th July. There are full details of the scheme and links to an eligibility calculator on my website, which you can see by clicking here. 


Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

The Chancellor also made key decisions on the future of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to support our economic recovery. The scheme has supported more than 8 million jobs from over a million businesses across the UK. Crucially - throughout the remainder of the scheme, individuals will continue to receive 80% of salary covering the time they are unable to work.

In July - a month earlier than planned - employers can start to use Flexible Furlough. This means you can bring employees back to work for any amount of time, and any shift pattern. Whilst at work, employees should be paid their normal wage, but employers can still claim grants for time spent furloughed. 

In the final three months of the scheme - employers will be asked to start making gradual tapered contributions. 
  • In August, the taxpayer contribution to people's wages will stay at 80%, with employers only being asked to cover National Insurance and employer pension contributions. For the average claim, that accounts for just 5% of employment costs. 
  • In September, employers will be asked to start contributing 10% towards people's salaries - taxpayers will contribute the remaining 70%.
  • And in October, taxpayers will pay 60%, and employers will contribute 20%. 
Then, at the end of October - after eight months of this massive economic intervention of the government stepping in to pay wages - the scheme will close. In order to introduce the new flexible furlough scheme, the old scheme will close to new entrants on July 1st. Employers wanting to place new employees on the scheme will need to do so by June 10th to allow time to complete the minimum furlough period before then. 

Full details of all the support available is available on my Coronavirus website - guyopperman.co.uk/Coronavirus, and as always, if you can't find the answer you need, please do not hesitate to get in touch.