Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has compared comedian Chris Rock’s joke about actor Will Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, to school bullying.
Asked about the incident where actor Smith slapped Rock at the Oscars, after the comedian had made a joke about his wife’s alopecia, Mr Zahawi said: “Violence is never the answer to anything. As the Secretary of State for Education, I can tell you that the thing to do, is to communicate you’re upset.”
Speaking on LBC to Andrew Marr, Mr Zahawi added: “I also think it’s worth communicating to the person that you’re angered by that if they are insulting your wife over an ailment, an illness – Will Smith’s wife had alopecia – it is particularly hurtful.
“And actually, I spend a lot of my time thinking about behaviour and discipline in schools – bullying, or being deeply cutting and hurtful to somebody’s wife, partner, love of their life, is wrong.”
Mr Zahawi said that the Department for Education was keeping a “very close eye” on Covid infection rates within schools.
The most recent Government data showed that 2.5% of pupils were absent for Covid-related reasons on March 17, up from 0.7% on March 3.
While the requirement for pupils to test regularly will end on April 1, he said if there was another variant or local outbreak, stockpiles of tests could be used.
He said a new national register for pupils missing from school rolls, announced in the Schools White Paper on Monday, would help to drive up attendance for England’s estimated 100,000 “ghost children” who have fallen off schools’ radar during the pandemic.
Mr Zahawi said he had stopped wearing a mask in public places, and would not resume wearing one, asked about Jenny Harries’ [head of the UK Health Security Agency] comments urging the public to continue wearing face coverings.
He added: “What I have continued to do is not to put a mask on, but I wash my hands regularly – I try and sanitise them, because as you can imagine you shake hands with lots of people during the day.”
“In terms of personal behaviour, I’m not going to wear a mask because I think, I’ve got my booster.”
Mr Zahawi said he had not heard reports from teachers that pupils were coming into school hungry or poorly dressed, but said he was “very conscious” of families struggling with utility bills or paying for weekly shopping.
He said that the Holiday Activities and Food programme, which he helped set up in 2018, would assist families during the Easter break, and denied that the Chancellor’s spring statement – which did not upgrade Universal Credit in line with inflation – had fallen short of what families needed.
Mr Zahawi said Chancellor Rishi Sunak had allocated “£22 billion for one year of support”, which was a “substantial amount of help”.
He added that the reduction in the taper rate for Universal Credit, announced in November 2021, and the rise in National Insurance threshold would “put money in people’s pockets”.
He said the Government was “very cognisant” of the pressures on household budgets, adding: “Of course, we’re not sitting back saying, job done.”
Mr Zahawi said that the issue of parties at Downing Street during lockdown was “very serious”.
“It’s right that people are concerned and want to see the final report after the police investigation.”
He added that “if you step back and think about the big calls” made by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, on vaccines, the booster programme, and on “putting lethal defensive weapons in Ukraine”, he had “led the way”.