The Health and Care Bill took up much of the week in Parliament and there was a fair bit of controversy about some of what it contains. Much of it is sensible but I did abstain on the vote regarding the cap on care fees and whether council support is included in that. I don’t think it is the right detail on funding but the discussion on how we properly support and care for older people, and how we pay for it, is not going to be solved in a day and I will keep looking at better options and speaking to the Government about how we can help those needing care and plan for the future.
In the meantime, I am pushing for better local delivery, in the short term of COVID booster jabs and in the slightly longer term for more NHS dentist appointments to be available here in Somerset as I know these are issues that a lot of local people are concerned about.
Continued focus after the pandemic needs to be on how we catch up with children’s education, not just the curriculum but social development and general wellbeing. Earlier this week I helped set up a meeting with MPs, members of the House of Lords and education professionals with the Children’s Commissioner for England, Rachel de Souza.
As part of her work, Rachel has recently done a massive survey of young people which is especially valuable coming at this time after various school closures and lockdowns. The results were really encouraging, with 80% of children describing themselves as content or happy. She has also been on a tour of the whole country, meeting pupils and talking to them and getting feedback.
One theme that came through very clearly was that children like their teachers. They want to be in school and they want to do well. 70% said that getting a good job was the most important thing although a lot reported anxiety about that and the pressure that comes with it.
The other big message that has come through all this positive research is the importance of outdoor space, sports, and other activities and this is something that the All Party Parliamentary Group has been working on, listening to ideas about building design and incorporating outdoor learning into school on a regular basis. I will relay this to our local councils because the facilities they can offer are hugely helpful, especially where school estates are challenged. The Children’s Commissioner also made a really good point about maximising the facilities and spaces we already have better which I will also take forward.
The other issue I will continue to raise is that children with special educational needs must be helped to catch up after a period where in-person meetings and assessments were so hard. This is by no means a criticism of any of the people involved in the system, but the pandemic has been incredibly challenging for those children and their families, and we have to catch up. The Government already has some strategies and funding in place, but we need to do more.