— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) July 18, 2021
.@TrevorPTweets: When the PM talked about 'Freedom Day' did he just mean for him and the chancellor?@RobertJenrick says Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak are taking part in a pilot so they can continue to work, but will not be able to socialise.#Phillips: https://t.co/FOweo3lxzQ pic.twitter.com/VLas70W5hW
— Trevor Phillips on Sunday (@RidgeOnSunday) July 18, 2021
Dr Melody Redman is a clinical genetics registrar, with a background in academic paediatrics.
In March 2020, temporary provisions were introduced to permit women in the first 9 weeks and 6 days of pregnancy to take both medical abortion pills at home. The pills are sent through the post, after a remote consultation with an abortion provider. Prior to this, the administering of the first of the two required pills for medical abortions could only take place in approved hospitals or abortion clinics.
This emergency ‘at-home’ abortion scheme was introduced because of fears about limited in-person access to clinics during the coronavirus pandemic, with the mantra at the time being ‘Stay Home and Protect the NHS’. The UK, Welsh, and Scottish Governments have recently undertaken consultations on whether to end these measures or make them permanent, and the publication of their respective decisions is imminent.
Unsurprisingly, this push to permanently permit ‘at-home’ abortion has been spearheaded by the UK’s two largest abortion providers: MSI Reproductive Choices (formerly Marie Stopes) and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, who are lobbying for the scheme to be made permanent. Given that 59.3% of UK abortion clinics are rated by the Care Quality Commission as ‘Requires Improvement for Safety’, how then can we trust them to ensure the safety of women ‘at-home’?
Last month, I along with over 600 other medics signed an open letter demanding an end to the scheme. Our letter expressed grave concerns over examples of the pills being used beyond the 10-week limit for home medical abortions, and in some cases after the 24-week legal limit for surgical terminations. The letter also highlighted a string of other safety and safeguarding issues related to issuing abortion pills without a face-to-face consultation.
Indeed, ‘at-home’ abortions rely on women accurately remembering the first day of their last period, which only around 50% of us do. This date is then used to estimate how far through the pregnancy the woman is. The Department of Health & Social Care has confirmed that pregnancies beyond the legal limit for ‘at-home’ abortions are being terminated at home, putting women at higher risk of complications.
It appears that data on the effects of ‘at-home’ abortions is being significantly and systemically under-reported. A Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Care Quality Commission revealed that between April and November 2020, 11 women using the scheme, who had a gestational date beyond the legal limit for early medical abortion, required hospital treatment for complications. FOI requests have similarly since shown women suffering from serious issues (including sepsis, haemorrhage, and trauma to pelvic organs) after taking the pills.
Worryingly, an undercover investigation (led by a former director of MSI Reproductive Choices) revealed the lack of basic checks carried out by abortion providers before issuing pills-by-post. The investigation saw volunteer clients being sent abortion pills despite using false identities and gestational dates, including a date that could only have led to an abortion beyond the legal limit for ‘at-home’ abortions.
The removal of a mandatory in-person consultation also hinders clinicians’ abilities to flag up signs of coercion and abuse. An alarming seven per cent of British women have been pressured into an abortion by their partner or husband, a figure that likely increased under lockdown, during which there was a 49% increase in calls to domestic abuse services. This is a serious concern; 87% of GPs are worried about ‘unwanted abortion arising from domestic abuse’ when no in-person consultation is required.
As a doctor, I know that telephone consultations can work well for some things, but there are huge limitations. I cannot control the environment on the other side of the phone, unlike in a safe clinic space. I cannot tell if my patient is next to an intimidating partner. I cannot ‘eyeball’ them to see if they appear frightened, have a black eye, or are heavily pregnant. Abortion consultations are not as simple as phoning your GP for advice on your reflux. They are intimate and challenging discussions, with life-changing physical and psychological ramifications.
Savanta ComRes polling of the general public reveals a high number of serious concerns. We are so often told to simply ‘trust women’ when it comes to liberalising abortion laws. Why then should we ignore the 92% of women who agreed that a woman seeking an abortion should always be seen in person by a qualified doctor?
‘At-home’ abortions were a hasty, temporary measure, introduced at a time when it was feared women should not attend an abortion clinic. This should not be a permanent solution. When making the difficult decision to pursue an abortion, we must be sure that women get a face-to-face consultation. Let us give women the space, the safety and the specialist assessment they deserve. I therefore implore the Government to bring this temporary policy to an end with immediate effect.
In the last few days, there’s been a lot of discussion about the latest instalment of the The National Food Strategy. Commissioned in 2019 by the Government, and put together by Henry Dimbleby, the co-founder of Leon, it contains radical proposals as to how to tackle the nation’s obesity rates.
Some of its most controversial suggestions are that we need salt and sugar taxes, that the NHS should prescribe vegetables and everyone should eat less meat. Hardly anyone likes the last idea, but libertarians have been vexed by the whole strategy – viewing it as the latest example of the nanny state gone mad.
Having combed through Dimbleby’s report (the second of a two-part strategy – intended to shape legislation in England, but also recommended for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), it seems to me that much of the criticism has been unfair.
For starters, the document is 289 pages in length, so it’s a little ungenerous to write it off in one day. The reactions reminded me of when members of the Left immediately dismissed the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report, which is 258 pages, on the basis of a few passages.
Some of the stereotypes about Dimbleby, too – that he’s a rich bloke, like Jamie Oliver, telling us plebs what to do – don’t add up, especially in the context of the report. Far from being bossy, large parts of it are about nature and ecosystems. And where it makes recommendations about food, it acknowledges the challenges for those on low incomes, whom it advises the Government to support more.
On a more serious note, the report has not come about because rich blokes have run out of hobbies. It’s an attempt to tackle a complex but devastating issue: the UK’s rising obesity rates. It points out that one in three people over 45 in England are now deemed clinically obese. You have to wonder sometimes if we have desensitised to these facts and our situation, despite all the warning signs (as the report points out, “[o]ur obesity problem has been a major factor in the UK’s tragically high death rate” from Covid-19).
There are many other things you could say about this report, but for the sake of one article, I have one question: what is the libertarian answer to obesity rates? Because at the moment it appears to be “do nothing” or sneer at the baddies who want to take away our Kellogg’s Cornflakes. Dimbleby and Oliver may not have the perfect answers, but what is our solution exactly?
I count myself as fairly libertarian, incidentally, but obesity is an area that challenges this philosophy. That’s because scientists have increasingly found that weight has a heritable component, meaning people have differing levels of willpower with diets. As the report spells out: “not all appetites are the same… in an environment where calories are easy to come by, some of us need to work much harder than others to maintain a healthy weight. You have to swim against the powerful current of your appetite.”
This corroborates with findings from Robert Plomin, one of the world’s leading experts in behavioural genetics, and author of the book Blueprint: How DNA makes us who we are. He points out that: “Twin studies estimate heritability of weight as 80 per cent, even though all the genetic data together estimate heritability as 70 per cent.”
In short, people are on different starting points when it comes to how easily they can control their weight (and I say that as someone who has to swim hard against the current), hence why telling someone to use willpower doesn’t always work.
Genes are uncharted territory for libertarians because all of our arguments centre around personal responsibility, free will and individual choice. Of course, these are all important things and many of us reject how much lockdown has taken them away. But there’s a big difference between politicians telling people to wear masks, and how people cope in an environment that encourages overeating, which our society does, especially should they have a predisposition to gain weight. We have to make those distinctions.
Even if we ignore research on genes – some people will say that my argument is fatalistic, wrong and that choice is paramount – it’s here and has already been embedded into public policy. Since 2019, the NHS has sold people genetic tests to spot risk for cancers and dementia. People underestimate how easily these tests can be extended into completely new areas (a test to estimate your risk for obesity), which could then be used to justify preventative measures.
While Dimbleby mentions genes creating differences in eating habits, it’s interesting that the report doesn’t delve much into medicine’s role in addressing obesity rates. Yes, the NHS could prescribe vegetables. But we have also seen drugs developed to help prevent obesity, and even a contraption that stops people’s mouths opening properly.
While I find the latter a rather horrible prospect, I think drugs and other medical solutions (gastric bands, for instance) will become more common and less controversial in years to come – the more we test the “willpower argument”, sugar tax, and move very little on obesity rates.
Ultimately, I don’t think The National Food Plan will make any substantial difference, as – shock, horror – it’s not radical enough. It’s also overly romantic in places, suggesting that school cooking lessons are part of the answer (as someone who did Home Economics for two years, I can’t remember any of the recipes. Boys messing around, however…).
But the report gets it right about environmental triggers and how these correspond with genes. And it has, at least, drawn attention to the urgent situation we are in. A situation to which the libertarian response cannot continue to be – as it seems currently – “let them eat cake”.
'If I was asked to wear a mask when catching the tram in Wolverhampton and those were the rules, I would certainly wear a mask.'
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick says people need to use their judgment on whether or not to wear a mask in public spaces after July 19. pic.twitter.com/Xw9qm17APz
— GB News (@GBNEWS) July 15, 2021
Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.
President Biden knows, just like his Democratic predecessors, that the immigration problem on the southern border is hard to solve. It almost certainly explains why he put Kamala Harris, the Vice President, in direct charge of the border, with one eye on re-election in 2024 and the possibility that his main Democratic challenger could be Harris herself. It is the most poisoned of chalices.
On before, I have written about whether controlling the influx at the border really matters to this administration. We are about to find out. The southern border is expected to reopen in a phased manner in the coming weeks.
While the thousands of miles that separate the USA and Mexico are often thought of as route to freedom for immigrants, it is also a critical trade artery linking two interconnected economies. The economic need to reopen the border has to be counterbalanced with concerns about security.
White House allies are worried that neither Biden nor Harris are ready for the logistical and humanitarian impact of opening the border. Politically, the real concern is the impact and optics of tens of thousands of migrants surging towards the border and claiming a right to live and work in the United States.
Currently and until restrictions change, the United States is limiting land border crossings from Mexico and Canada to “essential travel”. The of what constitutes “essential” is not short, but what is clear is a shared desire to limit border crossings as much as possible over ongoing Covid concerns.
Restrictions are slated to remain in effect until 23:59 on July 21. Without an extension, legal land crossing for work and recreation will resume. Like night follows day, what will also resume is the attempted illegal border crossings that take place every year.
It is hardly a shock that the Biden administration will take a softer approach to immigration on the southern border compared to Donald Trump. Law and order, immigration control and border enforcement has been a Republican talking point and policy platform for decades. Democrats have tried harder to strike a balance between border control and creating a path to citizenship for children of immigrants.
The Obama administration created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. Since that date, DACA has allowed more than 800,000 immigrant youth who came to the United States as children to temporarily remain in the USA, get an education and pursue gainful employment.
On June 15 this year – “DACA Day” – Biden gave a speech continuing his support for deferred citizenship. The House of Representatives passed the American Dream and Promise Act in March, and a draft U.S. Citizenship Act creates a pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals in the USA, including Dreamers.
Are Democrats walking into a Republican trap?
Democrats want to create a legal pathway to citizenship for child immigrants. The progressive left is especially passionate about this cause and wants Biden and Harris to soften their tone on migrant caravans travelling through central America and arriving at the border.
Republicans wants to solidify the southern border and protect existing communities. Building new and enforcing existing border fencing was a top priority of Trump on the campaign trail and when president. It remains a central issue for the GOP.
With the mid-term elections next year and a presidential election in 2024, Republicans sense White House weakness and a political opportunity.
At this weekend’s Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference, Trump gave a vintage Trump speech. Among a long list of familiar gripes – stolen election, big tech, cancel culture – and some unfamiliar talking points – magnets, steam engines, toothbrushes – were repeated mentions of the “border”. Twenty three of them to be precise.
This matters because of how structurally central Trump is to the Republican Party. Trump comfortably outpolled the field in a straw poll at CPAC, with 70 per cent favouring him to run for the presidency in 2024. Trump’s approval rating amongst CPAC attendees was 98 per cent. Where he goes, others will follow.
Use the 45th president’s CPAC speech to better understand the themes on which Republicans want to fight the midterms and 2024 presidential election:
“With the help of everyone here today, we will defeat the radical left, the socialists, Marxists, and the critical race theorists. Whoever thought would be even using that term. We will secure our borders. We will stop left wing cancel culture. We will restore free speech and fair elections, and we will make America great again. It’s very simple. Very simple.”
Even if this White House take a gradual and phased approach to the border, the thorniest issues will persist. The ultimate dilemma is whether to hold immigrants in detention centres or release them as they await their court proceedings. The former results in a policy that progressives consider unacceptably inhumane and positively Trumpian. The latter can create a backlog which can take years to clear.
The Biden administration would do well to listen to voters, as well as its members
Biden is working hard to keep his Congressmen and Senators on side. With the Senate split 50-50, history dictates that the Democrats will lose their de facto majority in next year’s midterms. With that, the White House will lose the ability to get legislation approved in a simple up-and-down vote. So, keeping the caucus happy matters now more than ever.
A new by the National Republican Senate Committee and the Republican Governors Association showed 53 per cent of voters say they are less likely to support Democrats for Congress because of the increase in migrants at the border.
Can Biden keep his party happy while ensuring he does not gift political mileage on a favourite issue of his likely opponent in 2024, Trump? We will find out soon.
Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.
If there were an Oscar for campaigning I would, without hesitation, give it to the pressure group Us for Them. Set up in the height of the pandemic, by a group of families worried about school closures and the damage to children, these parents – with minimal funding – have fought night and day on behalf of pupils.
Maligned in some left-wing quarters as “right-wing extremists”, “anti-vaxxers” and “Covid deniers” (all untrue), Us for Them has worked tirelessly to get children back into school. Especially when it was unfashionable to do so. Its representatives have taken on the might of the education unions, the sleepy establishment and sections of the Labour Party. They have presented their case cogently and coherently in newspapers and on television. All whilst keeping up a relentless social media presence.
Sadly, as parents, they know first hand of the horrific impact that the “schooldown” has had upon pupils. Falling educational attainment, a mental health epidemic, safeguarding hazards and future loss of lifetime earnings. Us for Them speaks with passion and real emotion because some representatives’ own children have been affected, especially in terms of their mental health. Us for Them puts significant pressure on the Government to get our children back into school and learning again.
You do not have to agree with everything members say, but their fundamentals should be cast in stone: the last year has been a national disaster for our young people. Never again should we shut our schools – except in extreme circumstances. Moreover, everything possible should be done to repair the damage over the coming years and months.
Parents and children have been lucky to have a trade union like Us for Them working hard in their interests. Unlike some of the education unions, Us for Them’s campaign was not about opportunistic politics and challenging the Government, it was just focused on the children. If you listen to one podcast this week, turn on the latest Telegraph Planet Normal. In this episode, Us for Them parents set out why they formed, what they have done and all that they have achieved. I am glad to have met some of these remarkable individuals.
Groups, such as Us for Them, that champion the rights of parents and children are needed more than ever. Last Friday, in my constituency surgery, I met a parent who told me that her child of five, having heard the “wash your hands” mantra, now has a new compulsive obsessive disorder in that she keeps cleaning her hands. So much so that they are sore and bleeding.
My constituent’s other child has also developed significant anxieties. Both had been perfectly healthy and happy children before school closures. I regularly visit schools, and every time I speak to pupils many of them tell me that their mental health suffered significantly during the lockdowns.
Even before Coronavirus, there was a significant rise in the number of young people experiencing mental health difficulties. Social media likely played a large part in causing this increase. Unless remedial action is taken, this has the potential to become a national emergency post-Covid. It is good that the Government has ploughed more funds into mental health and guaranteed an extra £17 million for schools.
However, more needs to be done, including a nationwide assessment of children, not just in terms of their lost academic attainment but also the impact on their mental health. That way, the Department for Education would know the true extent of the problem and have the ability to develop policies accordingly. Although there are now more mental health professionals in schools, they need to be placed in every educational establishment to help pupils, parents, teachers and support staff. We cannot afford to sweep these problems under the carpet any longer.
The fallout from school closures has created other problems too. Research from the respected Centre for Social Justice, shows that 93,500 children have not returned to school (or are in school less than 50 per cent of the time) since full reopening in March. I call these pupils “the ghost children” because they are lost to education.
The welcome £3 billion catch-up programme will not help these children. They are not in school to benefit from the investment. The Government needs to look at parental engagement programmes, like that of the Feltham Reach Academy, to try and get these pupils back into school. The Government should also see whether the Troubled Families Programme could expand its reach to cover absent school children.
Meanwhile, in schools, we have Argentinian levels of hyperinflation in terms of lost learning. Last week, 640,000 children were sent home because of Covid-19 rules. This figure sat at 385,000 the week before. Pupils in Year 10 have been missing one in four face-to-face teaching days. If proper examinations are going to take place next year, what is the solution to ensure a level playing field for the hundreds of thousands of students who have missed lessons? Perhaps that is a question for another day. No doubt Us for Them will have some ready answers.
Will Holloway is the Deputy Director of the think tank Onward and a former Special Adviser.
One of the striking lessons of the last 18 months is that a country’s ability to produce goods has proved invaluable. In the early stages of the pandemic, manufacturers retooled production lines across the country to make ventilators and diagnostic kits – boosting the UK’s initial response to Covid-19 and saving lives. Our ability to make things improved our response in a time of national crisis. And the truth is the benefits of manufacturing are much broader in normal times as well.
Onwards’ new research, published today, shows the difference that manufacturing businesses can make in terms of pay packets and output.
Across the UK, manufacturing workers earn £1 an hour more, on average, than comparable workers in other industries. That pay premium is significantly higher in some parts of the country than it is in others. For example, workers employed in manufacturing firms in the North East and North West earn around £2.50 more per hour than people employed in other industries – worth £95 per week to somebody on a full time contract.
Alongside wages, we also found that productivity is higher in some parts of the UK than others. Outside London, output per hour in manufacturing was a fifth higher than the economy as whole. In growing the economies of areas like the North West, West Midlands and Wales, manufacturing is doing much of the leg work. Between 1997 and 2017, manufacturing made up around 40 per cent of overall productivity growth in those areas.
For these reasons, manufacturing is likely to be particularly important for the levelling up agenda. One way the Government could show it is serious is by launching a National Plan for Manufacturing. This could set out tax incentives for capital investment; take action to reduce industrial electricity costs; introduce greater 5G connectivity for smart factories, and include long-term funding for manufacturing R&D institutions.
The UK has a great history as one of the workshops of the world, but the role that manufacturing plays in our society, our national identity and economy has gradually declined. While many richer countries have de-industrialised since the 1970s, almost none has done so as much as the UK. In 1970 the UK had the sixth largest share of manufacturing in the economy in the G20. Today it is second from bottom.
Countries as diverse as South Korea and Ireland have caught up or overtaken our living standards while growing the share of manufacturing in their economy. Rising countries like India and China have grown their share. Yet today manufacturing is less than 10 per cent of GDP in the UK but about 22.5 per cent in Germany.
Even before the onset of the pandemic, most of the world’s developed economies were doing much more to sustain a vibrant and competitive manufacturing base than the UK has historically done.
In 2011, the Indian government published its National Manufacturing Policy that aimed to increase manufacturing to 25 per cent of GDP by 2025 and increase employment by 100 million. In 2012, the United States launched the National Plan for Advanced Manufacturing to accelerate advanced manufacturing investment and research and development spending.
In 2013, Ireland launched “Making it in Ireland”, which set out an ambition to have 43,000 more people directly employed in manufacturing by 2020. While in 2019, the South Korean government published I-KOREA 4.0, aiming to boost advanced manufacturing and automation.
The Government has already taken steps to support UK manufacturing, through the Made Smarter programme, the High Value Manufacturing catapult and the Super Deduction. But it needs to go much further. If ministers can marshal policies that would promote manufacturing further – as our international competitors are doing – it would pay political dividends.
On average, seats the Conservatives won in 2019 have a much larger share of manufacturing jobs than Labour seats. Just over 12 per cent of workers in newly gained seats by Conservative candidates at the last general election are employed in manufacturing, up from nine per cent of workers in incumbent seats and almost eight per cent in Labour held constituencies.
In an emblematic trend of the broader re-alignment of British politics, there are almost the same number of Conservative seats with 15 per cent or more of the local labour market employed in manufacturing than Labour seats with five per cent or less.
This both presents an opportunity for the Conservatives and a threat. If the Government can boost investment in manufacturing it is likely to disproportionately benefit voters in the party’s new electoral alliance. But if the Conservatives cannot halt the decline of manufacturing in recent decades, workers in Red Wall seats will more likely be at risk.
Recent weeks have seen great successes. From investments in Sunderland to Ellesmere Port to Derby to the banks of the Humber, thousands of manufacturing jobs have been secured and created. The Government should build on these decisions – creating a manufacturing renaissance – and reverse the historic decline in manufacturing in the UK. Doing so would increase earnings and productivity in some of the areas that need it the most, turbo charge levelling-up and maintain public support in the process.
Huw Merriman is Chair of the Transport Select Committee and MP for Bexhill and Battle. Simon Clarke is MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.
During this pandemic, there have been no easy choices. The country has faced something we hope we will never have to experience again. And while our brilliant vaccine success has provided us with our way out, we will still face tough decisions in order to rebuild back to where we were before.
This could not be truer of our public finances. At a time of unprecedented economic hardship, people from Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland to Bexhill and Battle, have been protected by the Chancellor’s support, receiving grants, loans and tax cuts, furlough and help for the self-employed to keep their businesses afloat and put food on the table.
They also know how much damage has been done to our economy and how we need to start the repair job in order to ensure that we can step in, if there is a next time.
This is the responsible thing to do and, as Conservatives, we have a clear duty to manage the economy sensibly so we do not leave impossible choices to the next generation. We owe it to the young people of this country, who have sacrificed so much in the last 18 months, not to saddle their country with debt which they will then have to repay.
In order for us to do this – to stabilise the economy, allow for it to grow, and pay for the public services we rely on – savings must be made. We accept this to be so and – while this is a difficult choice for us both – we believe this compromise on foreign aid strikes the right balance and is the responsible thing to do for the country.
These tests are fair, they will be arbitrated by the independent OBR and, crucially, they reflect what should be general good practice in managing taxpayers’ money.
Before Covid struck, we stood on a manifesto that committed to several things. One was to maintain our overseas aid commitment. Another was to keep our public finances in shape and ensure government debt is falling. No one predicted a few months later that we would be spending over £400 billion of taxpayers’ money to get us through a pandemic.
But we believe with this compromise, we can stick to both of those commitments if not by letter, at least in spirit. Aid will go back up to 0.7 per cent of GNI – one of the most generous levels of foreign aid in the world – when the economic circumstances allow. But we need a firm fiscal foundation first. Debt falling, and not relying on borrowing for day-to-day spending, will ensure we can build that foundation.
We are Conservatives who believe in the power of British aid. The UK is a moral and humanitarian leader by spending money on causes on top of our ODA budget: defence, diplomacy, trade, peacekeeping, and providing the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to billions of the world’s poorest people, without profit. And when managed well, the billions of pounds in aid that we provide to developing countries do real good for the most vulnerable, supports stability, and helps curb population displacement. Our contribution has done so much for so many, and it will continue to do so.
But we are Conservatives who also believe in safeguarding our economy. With this agreement we will be able to look after people at home, paying for our schools, our hospitals and rebuilding our economy, as well as looking out to the world to help those who need us most.
They say to govern is to choose. We have chosen that this is the right thing to do – and we hope our colleagues do too.
Mark Jenkinson is the Conservative MP for Workington. This is a sponsored post by the Betting and Gaming Council.
This time next week, the UK is going to look very different. As Boris Johnson has confirmed, July 19 will be “Freedom Day”, when the remaining Covid-19 restrictions will finally be lifted.
After 18 months in which the Government has exerted unprecedented control over our day-to-day lives, we will finally be free to meet as many people as we want to indoors, attend mass gatherings and even use public transport without wearing a face mask, if we so choose.
Of course, with the virus still circulating – and cases are continuing to rise – we will still be expected to act sensibly and cautiously, which is as it should be. We Conservatives firmly believe in personal responsibility, after all. But thanks to the UK’s tremendous vaccination programme, the link between case numbers, hospitalisations and deaths appears to have been broken. It’s impossible to remove all risk from every facet of our lives, so now it’s time for us all to learn to live with the virus, not live in fear of it.
Having our freedoms restricted by politicians – even ones we voted for – is not a long-term solution to any problem. Put simply, I firmly believe people should be trusted to get on with their lives and act in a sensible way that does no harm to themselves or pose a danger to others.
That is why I have grave concerns about calls by some anti-gambling campaigners that limits should be placed on how much individuals should be allowed to bet. As the MP for Workington, I know for a fact that working class voters do not like being told what to do by Westminster. This was borne out by recent YouGov polling, which found that a majority of British voters believe politicians should not set arbitrary limits on how much they are able to bet.
Furthermore, focus groups mainly carried out in Red Wall seats like mine found that voters are wary of post-Covid mission creep, with the threat of the state seeking to impose more control on people’s lives. They thought things like so-called “affordability checks” on betting were part of a culture war on their way of life, with having the occasional flutter viewed as a normal leisure pastime. I consider myself an irregular, responsible gambler – with many of my constituents the same, whether it’s the football, racing or the dogs.
If you think that such opinions are over-the-top, just consider the fact that the Government is ploughing ahead with plans to ban TV junk food adverts before 9pm. To my mind, this is an example of the nanny state gone mad. Reports suggest that advisors are recommending the introduction of a “salt tax”, and environmental campaigners are looking for a “meat tax” – I fear that civil servants are listening to them.
As a father of young children, I of course don’t want them to be eating a non-stop diet of unhealthy food. But it should be my responsibility as a parent to ensure that they enjoy a varied and healthy diet – it shouldn’t require Government intervention to make sure they eat well. People have looked to the state for permission for everything for the last 16 months, and that is going to be difficult enough for Conservatives to roll back, if we put ourselves in loco parentis by default it will only end badly.
I fully support the Gambling Review currently being carried out by the Government. It’s 16 years since the passing of the 2005 Gambling Act, so a fresh look at how the regulated betting and gaming industry has evolved since then is long overdue.
However, it’s vital that ministers get the balance right between protecting the vulnerable while ensuring that the millions who enjoy a flutter safely and responsibly are able to do so without being forced into the hands of the unregulated and unsafe black market, which has none of the safer gambling measures found in the regulated industry.
As the country finally emerges from the pandemic, and the Treasury sets about repairing the financial damage done by Covid, it’s also vitally important the economic contribution made by the regulated betting and gaming should not be put at risk. According to a report by Ernst and Young, in 2019 that amounted to supporting 119,000 jobs, generating £4.5 billion in tax and contributing £7.7 billion in gross value added.
The post-pandemic world will, in many ways, look very different to what we knew before. But the importance of politicians giving people the freedom to behave as they see fit, within the parameters of the law – and doing nothing to stifle economic growth – should remain.