Coronavirus and Universities
Higher education institutions are facing significant pressure from the disruption caused by the pandemic. I know that this is affecting both Newcastle and Northumbria University. I welcomed the Government’s immediate measures to protect students and the higher education sector from the impact of the pandemic. However, I believe the Government have failed to offer security to universities in the longterm.
I want to see the Government go further and urgently produce a plan to safeguard their future. I have therefore written to the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson MP to raise my concerns. I have asked him what measures the Government are bringing forward to help universities in the longterm and what security they are providing for university staff.
Coronavirus and Theatres
I am strongly concerned about the long-term impact of the pandemic on cultural venues. Theatre is not only an asset within our country’s economy, it is an important part of our culture and our national identity. Across the arts industry, Oxford Economics are warning of a potential £74billion loss in annual revenue and possibility for 400,000 job losses. I welcome the Government’s announcement of a £1.57billion support fund for theatres and cultural organisations. However, I would like to see the Government providing further clarity on how this much-needed funding will be broken down. Labour is also urging the Government to extend the furlough scheme for those in the cultural sector who cannot work while these institutions remain closed.
More generally, I have been actively involved in campaigning for theatre and for the arts to be made more accessible to everybody and I am proud to have been part of the Labour Government that oversaw substantial funding increases for the arts. As Regional Minister for the North East I promoted regional arts, including being part of the campaign to get the Sage concert hall developed on the Gateshead quayside.
Coronavirus and NHS Migrant Workers
Around 13% of NHS staff are non-British. This includes people from over 200 different nationalities. Despite the need for more migrant workers in the NHS, the Government continue their programme to extend an already punitive and hostile immigration policy. Labour have been vocal in our opposition to the Government’s NHS health surcharge which would have resulted in migrant NHS staff having to pay £623 to use the services they themselves work for. This would effectively mean that they would pay twice, once through the Immigration Health Surcharge, and again through their taxes. I think this double taxation is particularly unfair given that migrants are less likely to use the NHS, as they are on average younger and healthier than the rest of the population.
I am glad that, under pressure from the Labour Party, the Government has now reversed the decision to charge NHS and care staff. Labour will continue to push for a fairer deal for migrant healthcare workers.