We’ve all been getting used to social distancing over the past couple of weeks. I know how hard it is, especially for those who are on their own, need help to look after themselves, or are cooped up at home with children. Please do take care of your physical and mental health as well as you can during this difficult time. If you know someone who is self-isolating and is vulnerable and needs help, please don’t hesitate to contact Trafford’s community response line on 0300 330 9073. The council has also pulled together all of its coronavirus-related information on its website at https://www.trafford.gov.uk/Engagement/Covid-19/Coronavirus-COVID-19-updates-and-advice.aspx. Trafford Council staff have been doing an amazing job right across the piece, from refuse collection to getting PPE for care workers to taking up complaints about employers forcing employees to work unsafely. We can’t thank them enough.
As far as the government’s approach to managing the crisis is concerned, however, there are definitely some serious questions to be answered. The lack of tests for the virus is very worrying. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has promised 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month. I hope he can deliver on that – we’re currently miles off track.
Getting hold of personal protective equipment is also still a problem for care workers and NHS staff. Deliveries have begun to get through, but it’s clear there have been huge problems with distribution, causing hold-ups in supplying everything that’s needed. Frontline staff are putting themselves right at the head of the queue when it comes to exposure to the virus, and we owe it to them to ensure they’ve got all the protection they need.
The package of support the government has announced for business is also coming in for criticism. The support so far is welcome, but many businesses will be unable to access it, some are now facing major cash flow problems, and some local businesses tell me they won’t be able to survive. That in turn means job losses, and with around 1 million people in the queue for universal credit, that’s a big worry too.
I’m doing all I can to flag every concern with ministers, and raising new issues every day. One good thing to come out of the crisis is that it has finally forced parliament into the 21st century, and we are able to hold meetings and raise concerns using Skype, Zoom and other technologies – I spend virtually the whole day going from one conference call to the next! It’s a strange way of working, but one which many people are getting used to. We’re still in the early days of the crisis, but already we can imagine that the effect on how we do things will be felt far into the future, and we have to make sure those changes are a force for good. So, even as we concentrate on the immediate issues, the challenges of tackling climate change, poverty, homelessness and the care of older people haven’t gone away. With a new Labour leader due to be announced on Saturday, there’s a huge opportunity for us now to ensure the crisis is the catalyst for a fairer, safer, more sustainable world in the future – and that is something to hope and work for in the tough days to come.