2 Darren Henry debates involving the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport

Covid-19 and Loneliness

Darren Henry Excerpts
Tuesday 15th June 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts

Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Darren Henry Portrait Darren Henry (Broxtowe) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. First, I thank the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) for calling this debate. At some point in all our lives, we will feel lonely. That may be for an endless number of reasons, but it is worth noting that loneliness is not the same as being alone. We can be surrounded by friends and loved ones and still feel fundamentally lonely.

The covid-19 pandemic has had an undeniable impact on loneliness. A report by the British Red Cross found that almost 40% of UK adults are more concerned about their loneliness now than they were a year ago. A similar number had gone more than a fortnight without having a meaningful conversation. Around 39% of UK adults say that they do not think that their feelings of loneliness will go away after the coronavirus crisis is over, and one third say that they are concerned about being able to connect with people in person in the way they did prior to the pandemic.

Loneliness has long been thought of as an issue that is most likely to affect older people, and indeed older people are hugely affected. Before the pandemic, an estimated 200,000 older people regularly went more than a month without having a conversation with a friend or relative. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) said, loneliness can and does affect people of all ages. Young people aged between 18 and 24 years old consistently report higher levels of loneliness than any other age group, and more than 11% of children are estimated to feel lonely often.

During lockdown, our young people were isolated from their friends at school and university. Their prospects of starting new careers were dashed as a result of many industries limiting staff numbers. In particular, hospitality, which as an industry is the largest employer of young people, was closed throughout lockdown. All the data show an alarming trend such that the pandemic will have a long-lasting impact on the mental health of young people.

I pledge my full support for a connected recovery. When emerging from this pandemic, we must ensure that nobody is excluded from our recovery. The only way in which we will all recover is by connecting, reaching out, and ensuring that no one is left behind.

In April 2020, at the start of the national lockdown, the Government launched a comprehensive plan to try to tackle loneliness. That included categorising loneliness as a priority for the £750-million charity funding package; continuing the “Let’s Talk Loneliness” campaign; and bringing together the new Tackling Loneliness Network, made up of private, public and charity sector organisations that want to make a difference. Following this, the recommendation from the Red Cross that tackling loneliness should be built into all local authority covid-19 recovery plans and integrated care system population health strategies, would ensure that tackling loneliness was at the heart of the recovery.

I thank the Government for recognising the scale of the issue of loneliness and laying out plans to tackle it. I specifically commend them on attempting to tackle, through the “Let’s Talk Loneliness” campaign, the taboo around discussion of loneliness. My belief is that this problem will not begin to be tackled until anyone can, without fear of judgment, reach out and say, “I feel lonely.”

Covid-19 has also demonstrated how vital our digital infrastructure is. When families and friends could not be together in person, they could see one another online and still connect online. That is why I am so glad that the Government have come together with the national lottery for the local connections fund. The funding will help to bring people together in safe and secure ways, recovering the costs of technology and equipment that will help people to feel more connected in their communities. It is my hope that the funding will begin to bridge the digital divide by building skills and confidence online.

I recently held a number of meetings with WaveLength, a charity that uses technology to help those suffering from loneliness. I was delighted when, just this week, WaveLength was able to support multiple organisations in my constituency of Broxtowe.

Once again, I thank the hon. Member for Blaydon for calling this debate during Loneliness Awareness Week. I end by thanking all the charities and organisations that are working tirelessly to help tackle loneliness—Mind, Age UK, Samaritans, Re-engage, Calm and the British Red Cross. All those organisations help those dealing with loneliness. I encourage anyone listening today who is struggling to reach out to one of those groups. It is more important than ever that we connect with each other while emerging from this pandemic and ensure that we have a connected recovery, so that the message from the Government, coming out of this pandemic, is that you are not alone.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We now go to Jim Shannon, for the second time this afternoon.

Covid-19: Support for UK Industries

Darren Henry Excerpts
Thursday 25th June 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Darren Henry Portrait Darren Henry (Broxtowe) (Con)
- Hansard - -

Thank you for the opportunity to make this, my maiden speech, Madam Deputy Speaker.

It is a great honour and a great responsibility, joyfully accepted, to represent the people of Broxtowe with all the energy, determination and commitment of which I am capable. I say to all my constituents: “I will be your man. I will stand up for you. I will not turn from the challenges you face, but make them my own. While I have the privilege to serve you, you will not be forgotten in this place.”

I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor as the Member for Broxtowe, Anna Soubry. I may not have agreed with all that she said in this place, but I wish to set on record my acknowledgement of the good work she did for Broxtowe and for her constituents. I wish to thank her for her efforts on improving access at Beeston railway station. I admire her strong will and her determination to do what she felt was best for Broxtowe and for this country, and I wish her the best of British.

This week is the 72nd anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush. The people of the Windrush generation came to Britain to help rebuild our great country, and my parents were among them. Dad, Harry, is from Jamaica, and Mum, Gloria, from Trinidad. Like many of that too long ignored generation, they worked hard to make a good life here. Dad worked double shifts, and Mum worked all day in a factory. They saved; they bought a house. They were ambitious, and they prospered. We were a traditional British working-class family: hard working, loyal, fiercely patriotic—and Conservative.

Opposition Members claim Windrush as their own, as if it is obvious that immigrants are somehow obliged morally and practically to be Labour supporters. Well, my family were not, and I am not. I stand here as evidence of what immigrants and their children can achieve in what my parents called the land of opportunity. I am proud to be the first Conservative MP of West Indian heritage—black, British with all my heart, immensely proud of my West Indian heritage and Conservative to my fingertips.

Before coming to this place, I spent 26 years in the Royal Air Force. Like others here, I knew that service to my country was the right and dutiful career for me. On my first day in the RAF, I had a splendid Afro hairstyle, and now, because of weeks of lockdown, I am delighted —my Afro is coming back!

The armed forces are known for getting things done, and that is what I will do for the people of Broxtowe. At Chilwell station, also known as Chetwynd barracks, we have seen service personnel assisting efforts to tackle the covid-19 pandemic as part of Op Rescript. As it is Armed Forces Week and Veterans Day today, I hope that this message is heard loud and clear by my fellow veterans: “If you are driven by public service, as I am, stand up and serve your community again.”

During my election campaign, I pledged to support investment in our local hospitals as part of my six-point plan for Broxtowe. This is a cause that is close to my heart. My wife Caroline spent 25 weeks out of her 34-week pregnancy in hospital. It is to Caroline and the NHS staff at Nottingham City Hospital that I say thank you for the blessing that is my twin children. That is why I am delighted that, after months of lobbying, the Government have provided seed money for the local Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust to develop and rebuild modular buildings and key sites, including a new women’s and children’s unit, which will benefit families in Broxtowe.

Parents do their best for their children. As the father of two children with autism, I recognise that those in Broxtowe who are on the autistic spectrum or suffer with mental health conditions have found it particularly difficult being cooped up during lockdown. In normal times, getting mental health support is a struggle. I am convinced that it does not have to be this way. The Government’s planned reform of the Mental Health Act 1983 must ensure that people subject to the Act receive better care and have a much greater say in that care. I will continue to fight to secure the needs of vulnerable people in Broxtowe. They will not be forgotten.

In today’s debate, we are considering support for UK industries in response to covid-19. In my own constituency of Broxtowe, enterprises as varied as the Boots headquarters, which opened the first non-NHS swab testing site in the country, and independent, family-run firms such as Fred Hallam grocers, who delivered extensively to help people during covid-19, have diversified to ensure that the needs of our community are met. With the HS2 east midlands hub set to be in Toton, and Stapleford soon to be revitalised by the town deal funding, Broxtowe will have a thriving future.

I will work to make that vision a reality for the people of Broxtowe—my constituency; my people. To paraphrase D. H. Lawrence, a local lad made good, I will be still when I have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves me, I will say, and say it hot.