Covid 19 Recovery — Alex Davies-Jones MP argues for the right to flexible working to be enshrined in law as we repair, restart, recover

It has now been more than 18 months since the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in Wales, and it is fair to say that we’re likely to still be living with the effects of the pandemic for some time to come.

For people who have lost loved ones to Covid-19, and for all of the keyworkers who have worked so tirelessly to look after us all through the lockdowns and restrictions, the impact of the pandemic will not fade quickly.

And we can all recognise that many groups of people have faced huge disruption to their everyday routines.

For young people, their education has been particularly badly hit. The isolation of suddenly losing social networks developed at school or through sports clubs and extracurricular activities is unexplainable.

Despite this, our young people across Wales have done themselves very proud as reflected in the recent GCSE and A Level exam results announced earlier this month.

Indeed, even for those of us who were able to work from home and who didn’t lose family or income, the pandemic presented enormous mental health challenges, including loneliness and isolation.

But there is hope.

As we see cases starting to fall again, restrictions cautiously easing, and “life as normal” resuming, it seems a poignant time to reflect on the lessons we have learned as a result of Covid-19.

The impact of a global health emergency on our country and on us as individuals is undeniable but as we continue down the long road to recovery, we have an exciting opportunity to think about Wales’ position in the world both now and in the future.

The Welsh Government’s world beating vaccination programme is giving us the protection we need to continue on in these next steps, and I am hugely grateful to everyone — NHS staff and volunteers — who have worked so hard to make this programme the success that it is.

And on a practical level, for those of us who have been lucky enough to be able to work from home for some of the pandemic, we have seen first-hand the positives (and drawbacks!) of flexible working.

Age-old institutions including UK Parliament have had to change their ways and rapidly modernise to keep up — no bad thing in my view.

From proxy voting to virtual participation in Commons debates, these innovations have meant that all MPs have been able to represent their communities from across the UK even at the height of the pandemic.

Though we’ve certainly had the odd hiccup — especially with the mute button on Zoom — I believe that keeping some of these reforms in place is crucial to ensuring that political representatives truly reflect the diversity of our communities across the UK.

Yet I recognise that working for home isn’t possible for everyone. For people in shared flats or for those with small children I know it has been hugely difficult to balance work and living in small spaces — but everyone should be able to work flexibly if they choose to.

A right to flexible working should be enshrined in law, with opportunities to work compressed hours or balance work around caring responsibilities available to everyone. Labour’s new deal for working people would provide this flexibility for everyone.

The pandemic has also encouraged many people to open-up about their mental health in a way many never have done before.

Prioritising investment in mental health services — as the Labour Government in Wales have committed to doing — is essential to ensuring that this openness is translated into real support for everyone across Wales as we take these gentle moves towards freedom together.

Looking more broadly to the future, I can see a refreshed, ambitious spirit taking over our communities as people return back to their local high streets and new businesses begin to tentatively open up too.

In my own area we have seen several businesses growing and supporting our local community and the fantastic Pontypridd BID team have been central to promoting these exciting new ventures.

From the new bookshop, Storyville, to the relocation of the Transport for Wales headquarters to Pontypridd, communities like mine are being re-energised, not just in spite of the pandemic, but in some cases because of it.

I personally cannot wait to visit the new cocktail bar in Ponty Town centre — and given that it’s a few doors down from my office I’ve no doubt I’ll be a regular before long!

And it is this exciting future for Wales that I want to be the focus as we repair, restart and recover.

We only have to look at the traffic on the M4 in recent weeks to see that people from across the UK are coming to Wales in their thousands to enjoy their summer holidays, and I am extremely proud to call this nation home.

We have some of the most beautiful countryside, beaches, and mountains anywhere in the UK and everywhere you go you find that local people and business owners are welcoming tourists back with open arms.

As we move through the Covid-19 pandemic and build on the success of the vaccination programme I want to see a real focus on improving what we have, not just a simple return to “business as usual”.

Indeed, the sacrifices and losses we have all suffered in the last 18 months demand it.

Alex Davies-Jones is the MP for Pontypridd

The Fabian Society in Wales