As I predicted last week, my week in Westminster was again dominated by covid, exams, and school and universities reopening. I began the week asking questions I the chamber of education ministers – challenging them about why they’d failed to act on warnings about the algorithm that downgraded 40% of A level awards, and about the lack of childcare at the start and end of the school day that’s making it impossible for parents returning to work. On Wednesday, I opened a debate about the exams fiasco, supported by a host of angry Labour MPs. By Friday, it was clear that schools were already having to send hundreds of children home again if a pupil or staff member tested positive or had covid symptoms – and with tests either unavailable or people being told to travel the length of the country to get one, it was impossible for anyone to know if students and staff were covid-free and could safely return to school.
This shambolic government talks big (now we’re promised 10 million tests next year), but utterly fails to deliver. The next challenge will be the return of university students over the next couple of weeks. The government finally got round to issuing some guidance about this last Wednesday, but – as with its guidance to schools – it’s late and insufficient. Labour is calling for mass testing of students when they return to university, to help keep campuses safe, and to reassure the local community. We’ve had no response to our call for action from ministers.
Meanwhile, a number of constituents have been in contact with me about residents in care settings who’ve been unable to have family visits for months. Everyone understands that we don’t want another surge of covid cases in care homes, but the lack of contact with loved ones is seriously impairing residents’ wellbeing and mental health. I’ve raised this concern with Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham and in Westminster – it’s a very serious issue. With covid cases alarmingly on the rise, I’m really concerned that elderly and profoundly disabled people will be the forgotten victims of the crisis, effectively imprisoned and isolated in their homes. We have to do better than that.