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This Week in Westminster - 15 December 2021

Kerri Prince, Public and Political Affairs Lead, provides the last Westminster update of 2021

The UK Parliament has finally gone into recess for Christmas, and anyone who watches the activities in the House like a hawk can finally take a big breath. 

The purpose of these updates on what is happening in the UK Parliament is to update members about developments that they may find helpful to stay informed about – but it would be impossible to give an accurate report from Westminster without talking about the biggest story of the week – and one of the biggest of the year.

Over the past week, the press has been drip-feeding stories about breaches of lockdown rules by the people who run the country. Campaign parties during lockdown last year, in-person quizzes in Downing Street, parties in the official residence of the Prime Minister. The public is right to be angry. Social media is filled with people’s own stories about what they were doing while 10 Downing Street staff were partying. Attending funerals of loved ones, and regrets of not being able to say goodbye to people. Health and social care workers have been working tirelessly over the past 2 years to respond to the virus, manage infection risk, and still carry out their jobs on the frontline. They have isolated from their households to prevent infection and spreading, and now they are trying to deal with the demand that COVID-19 has placed on their workloads. Finding out that senior Government officials were partying while frontline workers were dying is an insult to their sacrifices, and the Prime Minister has a lot of questions to answer.

Despite much of the media attention being on breaches of lockdown rules, there have been important votes in the UK Parliament. The Nationality and Borders Bill had its remaining stages in the House of Commons last week, and this will now go to the House of Lords for further scrutiny. The Health and Care Bill has also passed the Commons and is now in the House of Lords ready for its Committee Stage to start in January. Already in the House of Lords is the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Amendments were put down to address particular clauses that would further discriminate against the Gypsy and Traveller communities, but the vote resulted in a tie which means the Government won the vote. The remaining stages of the Bill continue, and if there are changes to the Bill then it will go back to the Commons for more debating.

On Tuesday, both Houses considered statutory instruments relating to COVID-19 restrictions. A major Conservative backbench rebellion took place over ‘COVID passports’ which would require full vaccination status, proof of exemption, or a negative lateral flow test in the previous 48 hours to enter a venue with a lot of people. Despite the rebellion, the measures passed, as did the statutory instrument to make vaccination compulsory for frontline health and social care staff.

Social workers will be all too aware of the horrifying murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson. Child safeguarding and Arthur’s death were discussed in the UK Parliament last week, with several MPs raising the issue that in order to work towards such cases never happening again, social work must be properly resourced and funded, and social workers must be supported and equipped to carry out their roles. 

Elsewhere, the review of the Human Rights Act has kicked off, with a public consultation open for three months.

Although Parliament will break for Christmas, it returns on 4th January and BASW will keep making sure that the voice of social work is heard.