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Bishop's Stortford MP Julie Marson on the mass vaccination programme, mental health, Thames Water and Netflix subtitles

Julie Marson, MP for Hertford and Stortford, writes for the Bishop's Stortford Independent...

We hit a significant milestone in the vaccination programme this week when we began inoculating the next groups of people – those aged 70 and over and those listed as clinically extremely vulnerable.

Locally, early results have been really encouraging. Take-up is above 95% and the Stort Valley and Villages Primary Care Network (PCN) will finish the vaccination programme for mobile over-80s this week. Vaccinations for residents and staff at care homes is well under way and making good progress.

The progress being made in the mass vaccination programme provided good news in the week that includes Blue Monday, said to be 'the most depressing day' of the year. Picture: PA Media
The progress being made in the mass vaccination programme provided good news in the week that includes Blue Monday, said to be 'the most depressing day' of the year. Picture: PA Media

We remain in lockdown for the time being, though, and this week being Blue Monday, it seems fitting to talk about mental health.

Whilst the concept of locking down a country can feel incredibly vast, its impact is often most felt at a personal level. Some people emailing me have talked about the burden that living in lockdown is having on their mental health. It’s hardly surprising, and can be caused by so many different things. For some, the lack of personal interactions with friends is felt most. For others, it is the stress of work in a tricky economic climate.

I understand why many people are feeling low at the moment and know just how important it is to be proactive about recognising the signs and to try to do something about it. I really enjoy walking my cockapoo, Boris, and have come to treasure those opportunities to clear my head and have a chance to think outside the confines of everyday life.

Everyone will have their own way of doing things, but in the spirit of sharing ‘best practice’ ideas, I plan to put up a page on my website devoted to the techniques for staying positive. Please email me at Julie.marson.mp@parliament.uk with your ideas so we can share them with others searching for inspiration.

There is also professional support available to those struggling. It is completely normal, and I would like to highlight some of the help available. In usual times, our Wellbeing Centre in Bishop’s Stortford could offer far more face-to-face support, but ruled by the times we live in, I have provided phone numbers you can use:

  • Anxiety UK – 03444 775 774 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5.30pm).
  • CALM – 0800 58 58 58 (5pm-midnight).
  • Mind – 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm).

A very useful hub is www.hertshelp.net, with local support available in a whole range of areas. I really encourage anyone who is struggling to speak to someone now to stop something bigger emerging later. For urgent casework needs, my office is open so please do email.

Future Living has been at the forefront of support for people in Hertford and Stortford during the pandemic. The charity’s work in domestic abuse has been vital for many people in terrible circumstances over the past year. I was glad to highlight its work in Parliament last week when questioning safeguarding minister Victoria Atkins about support available for victims and those at risk of domestic abuse.

Future Living is running a campaign to recognise children as victims of domestic abuse and, after speaking with the team, I was able to help in my role on the Domestic Abuse Bill Committee. We included an amendment in the Bill to recognise children as potential victims, and by working with colleagues, we passed the amendment, which means children will finally get the recognition they deserve when the Bill becomes law.

I was also able to secure a commitment from the minister to visit the team at Future Living, so I really look forward to the opportunities this could bring for the local community and the charity.

I’ve written before about my efforts to get Thames Water to finally fix the persistent flooding that has been such an issue for people in pockets of Bishop’s Stortford for the past five years and more.

I’m pleased to report that our work has continued over the Christmas period and has now been initially completed. I am just waiting for Thames Water to finally confirm that the problem has been fixed in its entirety. I don’t want to see the difficulties of the past year repeated and so will keep on at Thames Water about this.

The final thing I’d like to discuss in this column is the Turn on the Subtitles campaign that I first wrote about before Christmas. The campaign, started by Bishop’s Stortford resident Henry Warren, is about improving literacy rates among children by automatically including subtitles on children’s programming.

Since first telling Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the idea at PMQs last year and securing his commitment to work with me on the campaign, I have met different ministers at the Departments for Education and Digital, Culture, Media & Sport to continue momentum. Netflix has now moved on this and is piloting the introduction of automatic subtitling on some of its children’s programming, and we are asking other broadcasters to follow suit.

I really recommend to anyone with young children and a Netflix account, leave on the subtitles and watch the difference it can have on your child’s literacy rates.

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