It’s been a month since Parliament returned from summer recess and the Government’s response to coronavirus rightly continues to dominate, with Ministers regularly required to come to the Commons to answer Urgent Questions or make Statements on their handling of the health crisis and its implications for education, jobs and the economy.
Test, trace and isolate – it isn’t adequate, let alone ‘world-beating’
As you’ll know, infection rates have risen rapidly in recent weeks, with millions of people across the UK facing the imposition of ‘local lockdowns’ and new restrictions imposed across England. Whilst Nottingham has so far escaped additional local restrictions, there has been a worrying increase in cases. I and my Labour colleagues have repeatedly challenged the Government about the failure to provide even an adequate system for test, trace and isolate, never mind the ‘world-beating’ one Johnson promised.
Like most MPs, I was contacted by numerous constituents who have been unable to obtain a home test or book a slot at a drive-in test centre a reasonable distance from home. The chaos in the testing system coincided with the return of schools at the beginning of September, leaving Headteachers and staff feeling that all their hard work to prepare for a safe return had been undermined. We are now seeing the same problems with the return of universities, despite both University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent working with public health and other local partners to put plans in place.
I raised this with the Health Secretary at the Government’s statement on COVID-19 – you can watch my question here.
The health crisis and economic crisis are inextricably linked
Having the right systems in place to control the spread of the virus isn’t just vital for keeping people safe and protecting the NHS, it’s also key to supporting business and protecting jobs. We have already seen a worrying rise in unemployment and I am fearful that things will get worse as we head into winter given the inadequacy of the Chancellor’s latest economic plan.
After months of insisting that the furlough scheme would end in October – despite many businesses still being shutdown or unable to reopen fully – Sunak was finally forced into a U turn. However the new support package fails to meet the challenges business face. It incentivises employers to keep a small number of full- time staff and make others redundant, rather than accessing Government support to keep people in their jobs.
There is also no additional support for those sectors hardest hit such as events, conferences, nightclubs and music venues. There is no additional support for businesses hit by additional local lockdown restrictions. And many self-employed people have still received no support whatsoever – with nothing on offer for the 3 million people who fell through the cracks in the previous Government support schemes.
Brexit – it hasn’t gone away
Johnson and the so-called Red Wall Tories were quite happy to shift the focus away from their handling of coronavirus and back onto Brexit as it gave them an opportunity to run attack ads accusing Labour of siding with the EU. But things didn’t go quite to plan. Johnson was humiliated in the House of Commons debate by Ed Miliband and then a string of former Prime Ministers, Tory peers and backbenchers lined up to object to breaking international law, albeit only “in a specific and limited way”!
The oven-ready deal is still half-baked and hauliers are warning of chaos at the ports on 1 January when the transition period ends. There is still a risk of us leaving the EU with no deal, which creates huge uncertainty for a manufacturing sector that is already struggling.
Financial resilience in Nottingham
Many constituents who have lost their jobs or incomes have now exhausted their savings, if they had any, and many are falling into debt and turning to food banks. The extent of these problems was highlighted at a Nottingham Financial Resilience Partnership conference I attended on Zoom recently. Concerns were expressed about residents turning to loan sharks, about the impact on mental health and that rising rent arrears will lead to a spike in homelessness. Some groups are hit harder than others, with young people, single parents and those in working in the gig economy or on zero-hours contracts most likely to face financial pressures.
Things are set to get worse if the Government withdraws the temporary uplift to Universal Credit and, as I highlighted in a recent question to Ministers in the Department of Work and Pensions, The Trussell Trust (which operates food banks across the UK) campaign to prevent hundreds of thousands being pushed into poverty is one I support. You can watch my question here.
The new Kickstart scheme has to help those who most need support
The Government’s new Kickstart scheme is meant to help young people into work but there are real concerns about whether it will be taken up by employers, whether it will create real sustainable jobs and whether these will be high quality training opportunities. I’m concerned that those who already struggle to find work will be left behind and raised this concern when the Minister was forced to answer questions on the scheme in the House of Commons. You can see my question here.
A break from meetings on Zoom or Teams is always welcome!
I’ve really missed being able to visit community organisations and constituents face to face (although I had a lot of fun meeting children from Mellers Primary School on Zoom last week to hear about their hopes for the future post-Covid!) so I jumped at the opportunity to meet the Canal and River Trust for a socially distanced walk to hear about their plans for improving use of the local canals.
I’ve also been along to see the work on the Serenity Garden at Highfields Park, alongside Richard and Michelle Daniels from local baby loss charity, Forever Stars (you’ll recognise local councillors, Sally Longford, Pavlov Kotsonis and Dave Trimble too).
And last week I joined Councillor Audrey Dinnall and representatives from the local mosque and the ambulance station next door for the opening of the new Lidl store in Beechdale.
The new format for the BBC regional politics programme was a new experience!
Test and trace, support for job seekers and upcoming changes to planning rules were amongst the topics when I appeared on the new BBC East Midlands Sunday politics show – recording the show via Zoom was novel.
Whilst they emailed the video clips for us to watch ahead of the show, they hadn’t sent us the algorithm they refer to in the piece on planning – I was desperately trying to imagine what it looked like!
The show is available on iplayer here.
Keep in touch
As always, if you would like to contact me about anything, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will get back to you as soon as I can.
Lilian Greenwood MP
Member of Parliament for Nottingham South