Christopher Chope: Harm from Covid vaccinations. Don’t leave victims behind.

12 May

Christopher Chope is a former Minister, and is MP for Christchurch.

The Government accepted that Covid-19 vaccines might cause serious harm to some people when it decided to bring Covid-19 vaccine damage within the ambit of the existing Vaccine Damage Payment Scheme (the “VDPS”).

But ever since, it has been stalling on addressing those who have claimed. Not a single one of over 1,300 claims has yet been decided, not even those in which a coroner’s verdict has determined that the vaccine was the cause of death. It is intolerable that the Government is failing those people who did the right thing, were vaccinated, but then suffered serious harm or bereavement as a result.

I first raised the issue in Parliament last June, when I presented a Private Members’ Bill. This was briefly debated in September, when I called for an independent review of disablement caused by Covid-19 vaccines and better compensation arrangements for those who have suffered. Since then, I have received hundreds of emails, often with harrowing reports from the families and friends of those who tragically died or continue to suffer severe injury or life-changing consequences.

After a barren year, there is now some positive news to report. The Minister for Vaccines and Public Health, Maggie Throup, has confirmed that external assessors will begin assessing claims next week, on May 16. They are contracted to assess 1,800 claims in the first year. It is worth comparing the scale of this with the situation pre-Covid, when only 80 vaccine claims were being made each year.

Let us hope that the plight of vaccine damage victims will no longer be neglected. The Prime Minister said last summer to the wife of a fit 44 year old software engineer that her husband is “not a statistic and must not be ignored”. The man in question, Jamie Scott, spent 124 days in hospital following severe brain injury caused by the vaccine. The Health Department’s failure to act on the Prime Minister’s words is a political embarrassment.

The assumption must be that the policy of non-engagement on this issue was deliberate. Public health officials are keen to avoid scrutiny about the fact that the vaccines are not 100 per cent safe. The Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has received more than 450,000 suspected adverse reaction reports under its Yellow Card scheme, with the first report dating back to 9 December 2020.

he truth about the vaccines not being absolutely safe is therefore out in the open. My argument to the Government is that being in denial about vaccine damage is undermining the very vaccine confidence which the Government has been trying to promote. The consequence of this is apparent from the declining take up of boosters.

At my meeting with the Minister, I asked her whether the Government agreed that some people had died as a direct result of having received Covid-19 vaccines. Much to my surprise, she could not answer that question, and requested more time in which to do so in writing. She promised such a response within 14 days, but told me this week that she will respond to me “shortly”.

This shows that the Government is really agonising over whether or not to admit that, for some, Covid-19 vaccines have had fatal consequences. This is all the more bizarre when the Yellow Card scheme refers to over 2,000 fatalities, the Office for National Statistics has confirmed a series of fatalities, and even the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine product information leaflet confirms fatal outcomes were observed.

Hopefully, the Government will now change its approach, be open and transparent about the facts and provide the necessary financial help to victims. The level and extent of that help is itself a further problematic issue. Currently, the scheme provides a lump sum of £120,000 for every case where the level of disablement is at least 60 per cent. I have raised with the Government the need to increase that sum (which was last revised in 2007) in line with inflation, reflecting increases to similar schemes. Payments under the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (“IIDB”), for example, have risen by 39 per cent since 2007.

There is also a problem with the arbitrary 60 per cent disablement threshold. The minimum threshold to trigger benefit entitlement under the IIDB is only 14 per cent with the benefit prorated according to the level of disability. Sadly, however, the Government has not yet given any indication of a willingness to revise the VDPS so that it is more sensitive to individual circumstances. While £120,000 will be more than those with less serious injuries require, for young people needing fulltime carers for life, the payments need to be far higher.

Now that we know the Government has no legislative plans on this subject for this Session, I hope that someone who is successful in the ballot for Private Members’ Bills will take up the cause. A new organisation called Vaccine Injured Bereaved UK has recently been formed to campaign for changes to the legislation. I support their call for a bespoke scheme to cover Covid-19 vaccine damage.

This is justified because the Government uniquely has given an indemnity to manufacturers against product liability thereby precluding most civil claims for compensation. Such a bespoke scheme would also be able to address the eligibility criteria, what evidence of causation is necessary, and what specific support the NHS should provide for those who have suffered and continue to do so.

It may be difficult for the Government to deliver a nuanced message about Covid-19 vaccines, especially when the Government put such intense pressure upon people to be vaccinated. Vaccine passports became the order of the day, even briefly becoming a condition of employment. Government messaging was designed to compel those who were vaccine hesitant into compliance.

Now that the truth is gradually emerging, not only about the risks for some from the vaccine, but also about the lack of efficacy, particularly of boosters, the public debate around this issue is becoming more lively. YouTube has suppressed official data and information which I have divulged in Parliament. Recently, the Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Wes Streeting, reportedly called me an “anti-science extremist”. Such insults are fortunately proving to be counterproductive, with ever more demands for the Government to be transparent.

There is now a clear opportunity for the Conservative Party to be on the side of those who have suffered for doing the right thing, even if the Labour Party continues to be in complete denial.

New ConservativeHome Event: Ending the pandemic – the role for Global Britain

22 Feb

 

We are proud to present the next ConservativeHome Live online event, hosted in partnership with the ONE Campaign: Ending the pandemic: the role for Global Britain, featuring Vicky Ford MP, Minister for Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean and Dr Dan Poulter MP, Chair of the APPG on Global Health.

This free event will take place at 7pm on Monday 28th February, via Zoom.

Last month marked two years since the WHO officially declared COVID19 a pandemic. This health emergency has impacted both global health and the global economy. Whilst the UK seeks to move on to ‘life after COVID19’, this is not yet the case for billions of people around the world, in particular those in developing countries.

The emergence of Omicron showed us the impact that insufficient action in one region can have on all of us around the world. The UK played a key role in seeking an end to the pandemic by financing and developing the AstraZeneca vaccine, and initially leading the way on the global response to the pandemic, but further global leadership and support are now required to help developing nations and indeed everyone to be able to live with COVID19. The nature of that support ranges from vaccine dose sharing and logistics co-ordination, through to debt relief and financial measures. Against the backdrop of our G7 Presidency, and ahead of President Biden’s key summit on vaccine dose sharing later this year, the UK has an important opportunity to re-establish its global position by leading the response to this renewed challenge.

Ending the pandemic will not only have clear health benefits, but it will also help us to achieve the potential of Global Britain by restarting international travel, reviving local and regional economies, and unlocking trade around the world.

As ever, this event will be free to view, and we’ll be putting your questions to our panel.

Click here to register for your free ticket.

Profile: Kate Bingham, leader of the scientific cavalry who came to the rescue in the pandemic

17 Feb

The scientific cavalry, as Boris Johnson dubbed them, galloped to the rescue at the end of 2020, with Kate Bingham in the vanguard.

In May 2020 the Prime Minister had asked her to lead a taskforce in order to identify, procure and roll out as yet non-existent vaccines in order to combat the pandemic.

From December 2020, the first vaccinations were administered, Britons taking part with pride and joy in a programme developed at such astonishing speed that this country found itself ahead of almost all others.

Even Dominic Cummings could not forbear to cheer. In May 2021, while denouncing the Prime Minister, the Health Secretary and the greater part of Whitehall for limitless incompetence and mendacity, Cummings said of Bingham:

“She built a team of people that actually understood what they were doing, and she had the kind of strength of character not to be pushed around.”

Bingham herself has since said that when asked by Johnson to head the Vaccine Taskforce, “I absolutely fell off the chair.” She told the Prime Minister, “I’m not a vaccines expert.”

She knew about therapeutics, ways of treating diseases rather than averting them, and “started off with a classic imposter syndrome as a woman – my first reaction was that I’m not qualified to do the job.”

Bingham “got told off by my daughter”, recipient in the past of maternal pep talks on the theme of “don’t do yourself down”, and consulted a number of experts in order to satisfy herself that she would in fact be able to do the job well; and then accepted, without pay, a role in which she would find herself working harder than she ever had in her life.

She is by training a biochemist, has 30 years’ experience working for SV Health Investors, a venture capital firm which turns new science into new treatments, and proceeded to put together a taskforce which was capable of commissioning all the different stages of developing a new vaccine simultaneously.

The six most promising out of hundreds of possible vaccines were selected, many millions of doses were ordered before it was known whether these six would work, hundreds of thousands of volunteers were recruited on whom the new vaccines would be tested, and manufacturing capacity in Britain was built.

Throughout the pandemic, the media searched for things the Government was getting wrong: an attitude which helps keep Britain relatively free of corruption.

But was the Vaccine Taskforce getting things wrong? Nobody could at first be sure. Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, and Cummings were confident this was the way to go about things, bypassing the bureaucratic delays which were bound to arise if vaccine procurement were run from within the Department of Health.

Sir Patrick already knew Bingham: in his previous job he had been head of research and development at GlaxoSmithKline, and she was acquainted with everyone of any significance in the pharmaceutical industry, as well as herself sitting on a couple of Government scientific bodies.

He had urged her recruitment to this vital vaccines role because he knew of her high abilities and phenomenal energy. She had been appointed on merit.

Journalists in the Westminster lobby knew nothing about all that. They did, however, know that Bingham was married to Jesse Norman MP, a Treasury minister, Etonian and friend of the Prime Minister.

Bingham herself had been at St Paul’s Girls’ School with the PM’s sister, Rachel Johnson, and at Oxford with both the Johnsons.

She is the daughter of the late Tom Bingham, who served as Master of the Rolls, Lord Chief Justice and Senior Law Lord and was widely regarded as the greatest lawyer of his generation.

So she could accurately be described as a member of the Establishment, which is not, in journalistic terms, a fashionable thing to be.

In every generation, the Establishment faces the question of how to guard against the danger that its sons and daughters will become decadent; will enjoy the privileges without accepting the obligations of their position; will lead lives of selfish and arrogant hedonism, and shun public service.

One traditional way of trying to avoid this was to consign children to boarding schools run on deliberately spartan lines, with cold baths, early morning runs, bad food and barbaric punishments all helping to instil a cheerful disregard for luxury; a sense that life was not about personal comfort, but entailed striving for higher ideals.

This programme has in recent years been pretty much abandoned, but elements of it survived into the 1990s at the Bingham family’s holiday cottage in Wales:

“There was no internal plumbing, no heating, no hot or cold water and no sanitation. Instead of a lavatory, both family and guests made do with the El-San, a chemical loo in a stone privy surrounded by lilacs in the back garden, and for any lesser call of nature the ha-ha, which Tom had dug himself many years before. A Council inspection had concluded that the house was in fact unfit for human habitation on every count. It was still so when Tom was made Master of the Rolls in 1992.”

This is from an account written after his death in 2013 by his son-in-law, Jesse Norman.

Kate, born in 1965, was from her earliest years exceptionally energetic. “She could always bicycle a bit faster than the rest of us,” Rachel Kelly, a childhood friend, recalled during a Radio 4 Profile broadcast last year.

To this day, Bingham engages in vigorous sports including running, riding, mountain biking and bog snorkelling. Rachel Johnson, another friend since school, yesterday told ConHome:

“My children refuse to go on holiday with her. It means carrying your mountain bike up a sheer rock face before cycling down a crevasse. And early-morning music practice from 6.00 a.m.”

Academic life was not neglected. Bingham took a first in biochemistry from Oxford. Terence Kealey, one of her tutors, described her as “startlingly intelligent”, “exuberant”, “full of the joy of living”, and added:

“She was quite extraordinarily frank. If she wanted to react to something you were saying, she just said it.”

This is an unusual characteristic. With many members of the professional classes, one has to guess what they think, because their reactions are hidden, perhaps even from themselves, behind a veil of good manners.

Bingham is in various respects a natural leader. Towards the end of dinner she can get everyone to start singing Guys and Dolls, even if nobody but her feels like doing so; and can so enthuse everyone that even those who have no idea of the words end up enjoying themselves.

Kealey regretted that Bingham did not go on to do pure research. She instead took an MBA at Harvard and set out to turn scientific discoveries into therapeutic drugs, which entails, as she told Nick Robinson, assessing new data “very quickly”, doing “very detailed due diligence”, being “very careful how we spend money”, and refusing to reinforce failure:

“If something’s not going to work we kill it off quickly.”

These were among the skills needed to run the Vaccine Taskforce.

Within a properly functioning Establishment, it is generally known, in any walk of life, who is highly competent and reliable, and who is hopelessly incompetent and unreliable.

It is then pretty obvious who ought to get some important job which really must be done well, and who must at all costs be kept away from such a post.

But unfortunately, it is only obvious to insiders, who are open to the charge that they favour their chums, the people with whom they were at school and university.

Cumbersome selection processes have therefore been devised in order to show that the whole thing is not a stitch-up, and to give candidates from non-traditional backgrounds a fair chance.

Quite often, at the end of these processes, which take up a great deal of time, the people are appointed who were known at the start to be the outstanding candidates.

In the case of the Vaccines Taskforce, there was no time for an appointments process, and Bingham was persuaded to take the job, having satisfied herself that she could in fact do it.

In November, the Sunday Times published a series of stories which suggested that her appointment was a stitch-up, and that she was behaving in various disgraceful ways, including the appointment of some PR advisers at a cost of £670,000.

There was no truth in these allegations of disgraceful conduct, but she could not respond directly: any response had to be approved by No10 and the Business department, and it became evident that there had been briefing against her from within the Government machine.

“I was incredibly cross, I was incredibly frustrated, I was hurt,” she said later. She was doorstepped by camera crews, and Sir Keir Starmer joined in and said the £670,000 “cannot be justified”.

It proved extremely difficult to get across an accurate account of what had happened. Bingham had never approved any expenditure – that was done by ministers and officials – and the so-called PR advisers were in fact promoting the NHS Registry, which by the end of 2020 had recruited 360,000 volunteers who were willing to take part in vaccine and other studies, an immensely valuable short and long-term resource, and one where Britain, thanks to the NHS and our tradition of volunteering, has a decisive advantage.

In December 2020, the vaccine rollout began, and Bingham began to be acclaimed as one of the heroes who had made it all happen. In the summer of 2021 she was awarded a DBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

In her various public appearances she has taken care to pay tribute to the many other people who played key roles, and who in some cases saw what needed to be done, and started doing it, well before she came on board.

She has also said that with hindsight, she could see “we should have done cross-party briefings”. She has refused to be drawn into any kind of political point-scoring.

Oxford asked her to deliver the 2021 Romanes Lecture, an annual event in the Sheldonian Theatre since Gladstone delivered the inaugural address in 1892, and quite often given by distinguished scientists.

ConHome this week published Bingham’s lecture, which is entitled From wartime to peacetime: Lessons from the Vaccine Taskforce.

Paul Goodman will tomorrow examine some of the themes from that lecture. At the beginning, Bingham has to pause for a moment, overcome by tears, as she says that 19 years earlier her father was honoured to give the Romanes Lecture, and had discussed the vulnerability of personal freedom in times of crisis.

Canada. A lesson in what happens when leaders go too far with Covid powers.

15 Feb

Over the last month, it’s fair to say things haven’t been going that well in Canada. Justin Trudeau, its Prime Minister, has been locked in a battle with huge numbers of lorry drivers, who have rejected the government’s requirement that they be vaccinated by January 15 – or else have to quarantine for 14 days after trips.

The truckers, many of whom have referred to themselves as the “Freedom Convoy”, have protested across different parts of Canada, including the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Michigan and Ontario, and the areas around parliament, causing enormous disruption, with some local businesses being forced to close.

The protests have been divisive to say the least. Watching media footage, it’s impossible to get a sense of who everyone involved is. Clearly a sizeable portion are hard working people, who simply reject the philosophical principle of vaccine mandates and want to make their feelings known.

But there have also been problematic elements, with reports of far-right groups infiltrating the protest. Police also recently detained 11 people involved, who had weapons including guns, ammunition and body armour. So the Canadian authorities understandably have concerns about where this will lead.

Trudeau’s management of the situation, however, has not helped things in the least. For one, he tends to lump protesters together and has implied everyone involved is a bigot in tweets. He has given no indication to listening to any worries people have about mandates, and his ability to diffuse the growing tensions appears non-existent.

Far from it, Trudeau has gone where no Canadian Prime Minister has gone before, and yesterday invoked the country’s Emergencies Act in order to show Canadians who’s boss. First passed in 1988, it means the authorities can take radical action to stop the protests, such as freezing bank accounts and vehicle insurance for anyone linked to them, without a court order. The police will also have more tools to tackle those involved.

Although Trudeau reassured the public that the measures would be “time-limited” and “reasonable and proportionate”, and that the military would not be called for, you wouldn’t bet on the latter, given how chaotic his strategy has been to date.

It’s not only the reaction of the protesters that could be an issue for the prime minister. Trudeau may have difficulty trying to enact the Emergencies Act, as  it can only be used for specific issues, such as counter espionage or sabotage and foreign-influenced activities, among other things. Will disgruntled truckers really fit into this category? Trudeau will have to consult the premiers of those in impact provinces before putting it to parliament, and if they do not see its point here, the act has to be revoked. What will this do to his premiership?

That the Canadian government is threatening its citizens with financial punishment will shock many, given that it is often regarded as one of the world’s most progressive places to live. But it’s interesting that another democracy, previously considered as a liberal haven, is having similar difficulties. That is, New Zealand, where politicians are trying to contain protesters who also object to vaccine mandates.

Recently authorities tried to disperse protesters outside the country’s parliament by playing “annoying” music, such as songs written by James Blunt and the children’s anthem “Baby Shark”. Although you could say this was quite a “funny” way of getting back of them, there’s something sinister about a government, literally, infantilising its people.

What can you make of Canada and New Zealand? Surely the biggest conclusion is that governments can go too far in pushing for Covid legislation. Through the pandemic, it’s been countries like Sweden – and the UK at the beginning of the crisis – have been criticised for being lax over restrictions. Yet we have seen in the likes of Australia, where large protests erupted as people got sick of strict measures, that governments can be too extreme in the opposite direction – pushing people to breaking point. 

Trudeau’s best tactic at this point is surely to retract all mandate threats, but he is clearly too far down the rabbit hole to see sense. Events are, at the very least, a reminder that, for all the accusations that the UK should have had stronger measures, there’s sometimes a worrying price to pay.

Ryan Bourne: A government that wants to Build Back Better must address supply-side constraints on the economy

26 Jan

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

Well, so long, “Plan B.” In jettisoning some of the most intrusive remaining Covid-19 restrictions, England (with the home nations to follow) could soon rival parts of the U.S. in being the most “normalised” policy environments in the developed world. Yes, mandatory self-isolation for those testing positive will remain, for now. But as with the vaccine rollout, Britain appears now to be leading the world into the new approach of “learning to live with the virus.”

This will bring with it an economic fillip, albeit disrupted in near-term statistics by Omicron. We have certainly been in need of one. Though headline GDP figures across countries can be misleading about the impact of the pandemic given measurement differences, an analysis by The Economist combining five indicators – GDP, household income per person, share prices, investment, and public debt – found that through September last year Britain had been the second most adversely affected major economy from the pandemic, behind only Spain.

In its ranking of 23 OECD countries, Britain was deemed third worst for the fall in household income (behind Austria and Spain), third worst for the decline in share prices (behind Chile and Spain), worst for the fall in investment, and second worst (behind Spain) for the public debt surge. With Covid-19 deaths per capita here relatively high – above all other major European or G7 economies except for the U.S., Belgium and Italy – we suffered a pandemic double-whammy of both poor health outcomes and a big economic hit.

Does analysing the change in these variables mislead about how the UK shapes up internationally after Covid? Perhaps. It’s not as if the public health crisis was the only thing happening during this time. And it’s important to remember that looking at changes to economic variables in the pandemic can hide that Britain entered it with significant structural strengths too.

In mid-2019, The FT’s Chris Giles was able to write that incoming Chancellor Sajid Javid enjoyed unemployment at its lowest rate since 1974, with the share of 16- to 64-year-olds in work at close to record levels, inflation bang on target, average earnings growing at their highest rate for 11 years, and public borrowing modest. The biggest ongoing economic weakness then was clearly productivity – with GDP per hour worked around 15 per cent lower than seen in France or the U.S., after a decade of weak economic growth.

So the UK entered the crisis with many macroeconomic variables healthy. Even the shock of the pandemic has therefore left the country’s headline statistics looking largely unremarkable in comparison with other economies.

UK unemployment is still low by international standards, for example. At 4.1 per cent for September through December 2021, the UK’s rate was similar to the U.S., and bettered only by Japan (2.8 per cent) and Germany (3.2 per cent) within the G7. The employment rate for 16-64 year olds of 75.5 per cent, although still 1.1 percentage points below its pre-crisis peak, is similarly only exceeded by the Scandinavian countries, Germany, and the Netherlands within Europe and then Japan too in the G7.

Pandemic-induced disruption and rising energy prices (on the supply-side) and huge macroeconomic stimulus (on the demand-side) has left us worried about inflation and a cost-of-living crisis. But, again, this is not an affliction unique to Britain, belying the idea it is mainly caused by Brexit. At 5.4 per cent in the 12 months to December, consumer price index inflation was almost identical to EU-wide inflation (5.3 per cent), and lower than some countries within it, such as Germany. Compared to G7 countries, the UK was decisively average too, with only Japan and France with significantly lower rates.

On GDP, it’s true that – putting measurement differences aside – the UK had one of the biggest headline falls in output during the pandemic. GDP in Q3 2021 was still 1.5 per cent below the pre-crisis peak, with only Japan having suffered a worse performance among G7 countries. But the OECD expects faster UK growth going forwards. And as economist Julian Jessop has noted, it’s highly likely that the UK will be doing better than the eurozone in terms of GDP relative to its pre-crisis peak through 2022, although still lagging far behind the U.S.

What about the public finances? Well, up to September 2021, the IMF had calculated that the UK had the third biggest total Covid-19 fiscal support package, amounting to a massive 19.3 per cent of GDP, and so behind only New Zealand and the United States. It’s therefore no surprise that public net debt has surged to new highs in peacetime. And yet, within the G7, the only country with a gross debt-to-GDP level lower than the UK is Germany and the UK is slap bang in the middle of the seven for its projected primary budget deficit this year.

The after-shocks associated with Covid-19 might be felt for years to come, through disruption to demand patterns, experiments with more home working, a spatial reallocation of activity and lingering effects on attitudes to risk. But the UK’s broad macroeconomic situation is not dissimilar to that of many other comparable countries. And that should make us ponder a few lessons from elsewhere as we tackle the immediate challenges we face.

In particular, the country that has stood out in suffering a worse inflation problem than the UK is the U.S. – where households were showered with cash such that the government effectively delivered a money drop to households. So why the guys at the Social Market Foundation appear to be urging the Chancellor to introduce a £500 “Rishi Cost of Living Allowance” as if that’s a cure to inflation here is beyond me.

Unemployment spiked very high and then plummeted in the U.S. below all G7 countries bar Germany and Japan – showing the long-term virtues of flexible labour markets. If Britain wants to regain its full, robust employment performance of 2019, it should beware new policies prioritising worker “security” over continuing a liberal hiring and firing environment as things normalise.

But, most of all, the UK’s key economic challenge – weak growth – remains and becomes even more pertinent given Covid-19-induced constraints. The pandemic has tested to destruction the idea that macroeconomic problems can be solved by throwing more and more stimulus and “demand” at things. If the Government is serious about “Building Back Better”, it needs to do the hard yards in thinking about the supply-side constraints on the economy and how to turn more demand into real growth, rather than rising prices.

George Young: The Government must amend its Health and Care Bill to protect young carers

18 Jan

Lord Young of Cookham is a former Chief Whip and Leader of the House of Commons.

The challenges of the past two years have highlighted the incredible caring spirit of our country. Covid-19 continues to be the single greatest public health emergency in the history of the NHS. But thanks to the remarkable success of the vaccination programme, we can cautiously hope for 2022 to be a better year than 2021.

This success would not have been possible without the tens of thousands of people who have volunteered their time to perform tasks such as registering patients, managing queues and giving jabs at vaccine sites across the country.

But there is another caring spirit which often remains hidden from society and that is children who look after their adult relatives. According to research, there are more than 800,000 young carers in the UK and recent figures show that 180,000 children in England who care for an ill or disabled relative are missing out on support, because they are not known to their local authority.

That’s why it’s so important that young carers are identified before adults are sent home from hospital.

However, Government proposals in the Health and Care Bill, currently being debated in the Lords, could have the unintended consequences of weakening protections for these children. The Government’s health reforms have the commendable aim of creating a new integrated system that joins up health and social care – now we need to ensure this works for our most vulnerable children and young people.

Evidence from children’s charity Barnardo’s shows adults are being discharged from hospital into the care of children, without first making sure these children are aware of their new responsibilities and are being offered support by their local authority, and I fear this is only set to get worse unless the Bill is amended.

Hospital staff are in a vital position as professionals to ask questions and identify young carers. Children are often reluctant to identify as young carers as they don’t want to get their parents into trouble. If the responsibility sits with hospital professionals to ask patients who will be their primary carer on discharge from hospital it will stop children feeling responsible for involving services in family life.

Barnardo’s has long been calling for hospital staff to ensure that when someone is discharged from their care, the question of who will support the adult at home is routinely asked. This should be recorded and shared with other agencies, so that young carers are identified, supported and are not slipping through the net.

Caring for those closest to them is something that many young carers are incredibly proud to do – as I know from my time with Andover Young Carers, as MP for North West Hampshire – but children must never be expected to shoulder the burden of care for family members on their own.

Research published by Barnardo’s found young carers can spend more than 30 hours or more each week looking after their relatives – almost the equivalent of a full-time job.

This can involve cooking, housework, shopping, or attending medical appointments as well as helping to look after their siblings, leaving little or no time to enjoy their childhood.

The impact the responsibility of children and young people caring for their family members can be profound and long-lasting, and outcomes are significantly lower than their peers. Research shows they have significantly lower educational attainment at GCSE level, many struggle to achieve qualifications they are capable of, and young adult carers aged 16-18 are twice as likely as their peers to not be in education, employment or training.

Barnardo’s does an invaluable job of supporting many young carers through its excellent services, but as a society we must protect children from taking on too much responsibility at a young age, and from sacrificing their education, or physical and mental health.

Parliament must take the opportunity of the Health and Social Care Bill, to recognise the needs of children and ensure young carers are identified by healthcare professionals, so that local authorities can provide them with the support they need.

To help improve support and outcomes for this vulnerable group of young people, I urge the Government to support my cross-party amendment that would introduce a requirement on NHS bodies to identify if a young carer will be the primary carer. And if so, to inform local authorities of any new or existing young carers in their area to make sure they can access the help they need.

Young people caring for their relatives are making a vital contribution to their family and their wider society. We cannot allow these remarkable children and young people to be overlooked by this legislation.

How do you persuade the unvaccinated to get jabbed? Gently does it.

8 Jan

“There are still almost nine million people eligible who haven’t had their booster”, were the words of Boris Johnson at Tuesday’s press conference. Although the UK has had a tremendous vaccination programme, with 90 per cent of people over the age of 12 having had a single jab, and 80 per cent their second, the Government still wants to drive home, as much as possible, the need for boosters.

It is no wonder the Government is being pushy. The unvaccinated, and those whose with waning immunity from previous doses of the vaccine, particularly older age groups, are at risk of hospitalisation and death from the virus – at a time when Coronavirus has become more transmissible, due to the Omicron variant. They also put a strain on the NHS – with one London doctor recently warning that 80 to 90 per cent of the patients in intensive care were unvaccinated – making it more likely that the Government would have to consider lockdown(s) again.

Analyses show who the Government has in its sights, as it tries to Get Boosters Done. There are, for starters, regional disparities. London is a big “problem area” as far jabs are concerned, where only 39 per cent had had their booster and 69 per cent have had their first dose of the vaccine. This is in stark contrast to the South West of the UK, where the statistics stand at 62 per cent and 86 per cent, respectively.

Then there’s more specific demographic data. An analysis of 20 million NHS records by OpenSAFELY group, run by Oxford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, shows that take up is lower among ethnic minorities.

Polls have also shown previously that young people, and women, were more likely to be hesitant about getting the jab. According to the Office of National Statistics, the most common reasons people are avoiding their booster are: thinking it will not offer extra protection (45 per cent of respondents); “thinking the first and second vaccine will be enough to keep safe” (33 per cent); “being worried about having a bad reaction to the booster vaccine” (29 per cent) and “being worried about long-term effects on health” (17 per cent).

With that in mind, is the Government’s approach to the unjabbed the correct one? While it is not as extreme as France, where Emmanuel Macron has said he wants to ““p*ss off” the unvaccinated, or Austria, which is to have a lockdown for the same group, its strategy is still fairly hardline.

Its most stringent measure is vaccine passports, meaning that people will be prohibited for spaces, such as large events and nightclubs, should they be unable to provide a negative Covid result and not have had two jabs. Already there are signs that these measures will escalate, with boosters becoming a requirement for vaccine passports and travel. Johnson even warned that there could even be a “national debate” on mandatory jabs, in perhaps his least libertarian move ever.

Listening to the Prime Minister on Tuesday, it struck me that the current tactics will not persuade those most reluctant. The fact is that passports appeal to those who are content with a strong state. But one reason others aren’t getting a jab is precisely because they are wary of it, and thus will not respond well to threats to their freedoms.

In general, there have been some very counterproductive efforts to Get Britain Jabbed. The Archbishop of Canterbury, for instance, recently declared that Jesus would have got a jab and, around the same time, Tony Blair said that anyone who is eligible and refused the vaccine is an “idiot”. Rather like how militant Remainers shouted insults at Brexiteers, the result is to alienate those whom one wants to persuade.

It’s worth saying that behind the scenes the Government has taken more of a “soft” approach to encouraging jab uptake. Last year it hired MMC, a specialist agency for diverse communities, to boost take up among minority groups. There have also been gentle campaigns, one involving TV adverts with the message “every vaccination gives us hope”, targeted at over-50s who are hesitant.

But perhaps the Government can go further with these methods. Professor Andrew Pollard, Chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation, and whom I wrote about yesterday, said that the solution to the unvaccinated lies in “a conversation with community leaders, or trusted person, such as a GP.” Surely the Government’s success in cutting that nine million figure relies on building trust, alleviating fears and connecting with communities.

The Government also needs to make more of a case to young people as to why they should keep getting jabbed when they are low risk on aggregate. If the answer is “civil duty” – so as to cut transmission in the population – maybe it is better to spell this out, as many will think they don’t personally need it. The default at the moment is to treat youngsters as if they have done great wrong if they haven’t had a booster, despite the enormous sacrifices they made at other points in the pandemic. All in all, “gently does it”, might be the best advice to persuading all the unjabbed.

Professor Pollard’s warning about unsustainable vaccine boosters should actually give us hope

6 Jan

With the success and speed of the Government’s vaccine booster programme, it’s easy to think that this is the future now; that going forward, the nation will be jabbed at monthly intervals, so as to keep Coronavirus under control.

However, over the last week, Professor Pollard, Chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation, as well as Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, cast doubt on this plan. In a newspaper interview, he warned that vaccinating the planet every six months was not affordable or sustainable, and that there still isn’t “full certainty” on the benefits of a fourth booster, even though Israel has gone ahead with it for members of the population aged over 60.

What does this mean for the Government’s strategy going forward? Although Pollard doesn’t make any decisions on its policies – due to his involvement making vaccines – he’s still one of the most important advisers in the country, and his words offer clues about what ministers’ next moves and thinking may be.

For one, Pollard suggested that it’s “not unreasonable” to think a future Covid vaccine scheme could be like the flu programme, albeit the latter has a more seasonal pattern. The comparison between the two diseases has been made before, but it’s become much easier to argue for in recent times, due to the Omicron variant – symbolising that we may have milder variants to come  – and immunity building in the population, either naturally or through the vaccine. It would mean that far from giving everyone multiple vaccines, we become more selective, with only the vulnerable contacted and inoculated.

Pollard also said that we need to vaccinate the whole planet “not just our little corner of it”. This is not the first time he has offered such a warning. In July, writing for The Times, he urged the public to think of its “responsibility to humanity”, flagging the fact that without even, widespread distribution, new variants can emerge. He concluded by saying “It is difficult to justify getting third doses ourselves, especially if not clearly needed, ahead of zero-dose people whose lives remain at risk.”

This argument has been one that hasn’t gained much traction over the last few years. Although the UK takes part in the COVAX scheme, which has provided huge numbers of vaccines (100 million doses by June 2022), there hasn’t been palpable public support for letting other nations “catch up” before moving onto boosters.

One imagines attitudes might have changed here, however, though. Gordon Brown recently became one of the most vocal supporters of better worldwide distribution, calling the current situation a “stain on our soul”, and, in general, there’s more awareness that current jabs could be rendered ineffective if variants grow elsewhere. In 2022, we can expect an even greater drive from governments and the World Health Organization, to get the world jabbed.

Overall, even though Pollard’s words appeared to surprise many – sparking a lot of dramatic headlines – there was quite a positive message underneath them, with him saying that the worst of the pandemic is “behind us”.

Given that more than 90 per cent of over 12s having had their first vaccine in Britain, and 80 per cent having had two doses of it, we have every reason to be hopeful moving forward. In an encouraging sign that we can expect less lockdowns, Pollard said that society has to open up at some point – and that there’s no point in trying to stop all infections.

Sometimes it’s hard to forget, too, that there are plenty of unknown variables that will shape our future battle(s) with Covid, just as the vaccine was a game changer. Scientists continue to work on even better inoculations, so that they’re better tailored to new variants. 

Moreover, they are being developed into different forms, which, in turn, should make them easier to distribute around the world. One company, for instance, is developing a dry-powder formulation of a Covid vaccine for a single-user inhaler; another, a pill, targets mucosal cells in the intestine; and researchers in Lancaster are looking into nasal spray, and that’s just the start of it.

All in all, while it’s could be taken as a bad sign that boosters aren’t “sustainable”, Pollard’s interview indicates a “new normal” to which we can all aspire.

Daniel Hannan: Distracted and passive, the Government has yet to grasp the full advantages of Brexit

5 Jan

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere is a Conservative peer, writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

Brexit, on its own, does not add or subtract a farthing from our national wealth. All it does is remove constraints, allowing us to make different choices. Those choices will determine our success. We can opt for the formula that always guarantees growth – lighter regulation, freer trade, lower, flatter and simpler taxes – or we can go the other way, rewarding politically-connected industries and giving into demands for higher spending.

A year has passed since the EU’s transition period came to an end, giving us the freedom to make these choices. Now seems as useful a time as any to assess which way we are going.

We should first note that 2021 was a worse year than almost anyone expected when it began. Remember the relief with which we greeted the end of 2020. After nine months of intermittent lockdowns, we finally had vaccines and with them, it seemed, a clear way out of the crisis. But a new lockdown was decreed on January 4 – supposedly until mid-February although, in the event, parts of it were left in place until July. So we should not infer too much from an atypical year. None the less, we can make a tentative early reckoning.

Some of the positives were listed by Boris Johnson last week:

“We’ve replaced free movement with a points-based immigration system. We’ve secured the fastest vaccine rollout anywhere in Europe last year by avoiding sluggish EU processes. And from Singapore to Switzerland, we’ve negotiated ambitious free trade deals to boost jobs and investment here at home. But that’s not all. From simplifying the EU’s mind-bogglingly complex beer and wine duties to proudly restoring the crown stamp on to the side of pint glasses, we’re cutting back on EU red tape and bureaucracy and restoring common sense to our rulebook.”

He’s plainly right about the vaccination programme. Had we still been in the EU, we would never have opted out of the cumbersome collective purchasing scheme which, let’s remember, almost every British Europhile clamoured to join.

As for trade, there have been gains, but they have so far been stunted. A combination of bureaucratic inertia, rent-seeking and general protectionism has limited our ambition – even with as close an ally as Australia. The resistance to free movement of labour, for example, was wholly on the British side, as was the foot-dragging on cheaper food.

Free-trade is counter-intuitive, running up against our hunter-gatherer instinct for self-sufficiency. Even so, ministers have so far not been radical enough. We need to think like New Zealanders, eliminating barriers regardless of lobbying by vested interests. We need to understand that unrestricted imports make our industries more efficient. We need to remember that “cheap” is not a dirty word: giving our consumers more spending power is what drives our economy.

The PM gets all this, at least in theory. Two years ago, in Greenwich, he offered the strongest and most eloquent defence of free trade yet put forward by a head of government. Invoking Adam Smith and David Ricardo and Richard Cobden, he went on to diagnose where the world was going wrong:

“The mercantilists are everywhere, the protectionists are gaining ground. From Brussels to China to Washington tariffs are being waved around like cudgels even in debates on foreign policy where frankly they have no place; and there is an ever-growing proliferation of non-tariff barriers and the resulting tensions are letting the air out of the tyres of the world economy.”

What was the solution? Why, for Britain to resume her historic role:

“There lies the port, the vessel puffs her sail, the wind sits in the mast. We are embarked now on a great voyage, a project that no one thought in the international community that this country would have the guts to undertake. But we commit to the logic of our mission: open, outward-looking, generous, welcoming, championing global free trade now when global free trade needs a global champion.”

Good stuff, no? Yet, in the very first test case – whether to retain the steel tariffs that the EU had imposed in retaliation against Donald Trump – Downing Street overruled the Trade Remedies Authority and kept the levies in place, largely so that a handful Conservative MPs could boast about standing up for local producers. We have thus sent a message to every politically-connected industry: if you want special favours at the expense of the general population, the door of Number 10 is open.

When it comes to deregulation, too, the rhetoric has been ahead of the reality. The Government was very warm in its language when, in June, Iain Duncan Smith, Theresa Villiers and George Freeman produced a well thought-out and serious plan to remove some of the more needless and expensive EU rules. And, to be fair, it has made some positive changes beyond those listed by the PM: restoring pint bottles of champagne, scrapping the tampon tax and so on.

But the most burdensome EU regulations have so far been left in place: the Clinical Trials Directive, the Ports Services Regulation, the Temporary Workers’ Directive, the End of Life Vehicles Directive, the droit de suite rules, the Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive, MiFID II, the bonus cap.

Repeal is always difficult once an industry has had to assimilate compliance costs. Established actors don’t want new entrants avoiding those costs, and so become advocates for measures they originally opposed. For example, 15 years ago, the entire chemical sector was opposed to the EU’s REACH Directive, which replaced a risk-based approach to importing chemicals with a pricey and prescriptive list system.

Now, having gone through the hassle of implementing it, the industry wants to keep it. It is difficult, in such circumstances, for a minister to say, “I understand your position, but I have a responsibility to start-ups, innovators and, above all, consumers”. And so, again and again, we have taken the line of least resistance and left things as they are – or worse, as in the case of REACH, expensively recreated our own version of the EU’s regime.

For all these reasons, it is often easier to let regulations wither on the vine than to hack them back. Over time, many regulations cease to be relevant. Who cares, these days, what the rules are for fax machines or word processors? Britain could, in theory, acquire a cumulative competitive advantage simply by not adopting the new regulations that the EU does.

Again, though, this requires a conscious effort. If, for example, we decree unusually cumbersome carbon taxes, we shall fall behind more pragmatic countries.

Brexit could mean cheaper energy: we could cut prices by disapplying some EU rules or, if that is too much, by regulating more lightly in future. But we are choosing to do the opposite.

Brexit could mean cheaper food. Outside the Common Agricultural Policy, we could remove tariffs, quotas and other barriers. But we seem reluctant to do so.

Inflation is taking off, but we are not pulling any of the levers that might mitigate it. Instead of cutting taxes, and so giving people more disposable income, we are raising National Insurance, squeezing household budgets further.

Yes, a lot of this has to do with the epidemic – not just in the immediate sense that we are half a trillion pounds worse off, but in the wider sense that the crisis has made voters more illiberal and statist.

Has Covid-19 killed our appetite for reform entirely? We’ll know soon enough. The Government seems to have decided to try to keep things open rather than paying people to stay at home. The PM’s could now make some of the reforms arrested by the pandemic. If he doesn’t, we must conclude that he never will.