Two big subjects have dominated parliament this week – coronavirus and the budget. Of course, they are connected. I was pleased that the chancellor announced an initial £5 billion funding pot for the NHS and social care, to help deal with the crisis. He also announced a number of measures on statutory sick pay, and to support small firms who may be affected by staff absences, or if the virus means a downturn in business. There is also extra money to enable local authorities to give emergency assistance to struggling residents. But, as I pointed out in the second day of the debate on the budget on Thursday (the debate lasts till next Tuesday), local authorities will face a lot of pressures, they too will be affected by staff absences, they’ll have to give more support to local charities and voluntary groups who’ll be doing more to meet the needs of vulnerable residents during the crisis (including more demand on foodbanks), and I’m very disappointed that we still have no details about local authority public health budgets which will be essential to enable them to do their job of protecting the public. You can watch my speech in the budget debate at https://www.facebook.com/kate.green.773/videos/206471494001291/.
One of the surprising things about the budget was the sheer scale of public spending that’s planned by the government, to be funded by significant levels of government borrowing. Of course, Labour has long pointed out that borrowing for investment in our infrastructure makes sense when interest rates are so low. But despite a massive risk in planned public spending, the government’s plans for tackling the climate emergency, for investing in education, skills and the early years, and for supporting families with rising living costs remain remarkably thin when you look for the detail.
And it is also quite difficult to get detailed answers to all the questions people have about the coronavirus, although I do understand the challenge of managing this fast-moving and worsening situation, and I agree that the government must follow the medical and scientific advice that it receives from its experts. Current advice is that if you have a cough or persistent fever, you should self-isolate for 7 days, that the tests for the virus aren’t effective unless symptoms are present (which is why testing everyone getting off a plane for example wouldn’t be effective), and that, thankfully, children seem much less vulnerable to the virus. The NHS is posting advice for the public at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/. Meanwhile, on Wednesday night, the health secretary made a statement to MPs, in which a whole range of issues were discussed, from whether the NHS would be able to source all the specialist equipment it will need, to plans to re-register retired health workers to boost the workforce, to why the government hasn’t advised schools to close or that public events should be cancelled. You can read the discussion at https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-03-11/debates/E9C77FF3-6EB8-4A29-8877-33359AB8C414/Coronavirus. I’ll be updating my constituents as more information becomes available. Please keep an eye on my facebook page and website for the latest updates https://www.kategreen.org/covid-19/.
We also had an announcement from the government this week about buildings and fire safety, including a very welcome commitment of funding to meet the costs of replacing dangerous cladding in all residential blocks of over 18 metres. This will be particularly important for leaseholders who have bought their flats if the freeholder won’t pay for this vital safety work to be completed. I also took the opportunity to repeat the need to address significant weaknesses in the buildings standards system that have meant homebuyers in my constituency have found themselves in new-build homes facing a number of serious safety defects, which they’ve struggled to get rectified. You can watch my question to the secretary of state at https://www.facebook.com/kate.green.773/videos/2758744487536559/.
Finally, I was very pleased to join the Association of Convenience Stores, shopworkers’ union USDAW, the Coop, and NFRN at an event in parliament to highlight the shocking levels of violence and abuse that shop staff face in their workplace. 400 shopworkers are assaulted daily in the UK while they’re at work, and that’s utterly unacceptable. Noone should suffer violence and abuse at work, it’s not part of the job, and I’m glad to be supporting a bill in parliament next week calling for the government to take action.