At times it has felt like it would not be possible, but over the past few weeks the government’s total inability to control the spread of Covid-19 has become even worse. A failing test and trace system alongside a complete breakdown of effective communications has led to a number of strict rules and restrictions being implemented in the North East, with more on the horizon as the infection rate continues to rise.
I am especially concerned about the infection rate in parts of Ashington and Bedlington, which has now spiralled completely out of control.
These rules and restrictions have a huge effect on a wide range of issues in the North East. Already in the last few weeks the economic toll has proven too much for some local businesses who have temporarily closed their doors, inevitably leading to more people losing their jobs.
The Chancellor’s job support scheme simply does not go far enough in supporting those who find themselves without a job, and is still inadequate in the aid offered to the self-employed. Businesses need to be supported and encouraged to keep employees on and more needs to be done to ensure those who do lose their jobs are protected.
The furlough schemes in other European countries such as Germany and France have been extended until at least the end of winter to ensure widespread financial support to those in struggling industries. It is incredibly disappointing that the government has not followed suit, instead deeming these industries and their workers unviable and obsolete.
Schools continue to struggle both financially and to keep up with an ever-changing situation with little guidance from the government. I spoke with representatives from the National Education Union last week who made it clear that teachers are being worked to their limits, and without more support children’s education will inevitably be further disrupted. I will continue to engage with and support the NEU to ensure all staff are sufficiently supported and treated fairly and empathetically throughout this pandemic.
I am also becoming increasingly concerned about the mental health of many of my constituents as the rules and restrictions tighten. The stress and anxiety of the financial strain and health risks the pandemic brings is compounded by the loneliness and alienation many feel while being under strict restrictions.
It is time the government got their act together and finally took control of the virus. The people of the North East have shown an incredible amount of patience and restraint up until now, but it is time they saw the government hold up their part of the deal. I have pleaded on behalf of the North East in parliament for extra support for the people of our region who have been hit extra hard by this second wave.
This should include the government devolving power and responsibility alongside financial support to local authorities for them to decide local lockdown rules and regulations. Local authorities are better placed to make these decisions and communicate them effectively than central government when It comes to applying restrictions into their local areas.
It is also time the government finally got a hold of their testing system. It beggars belief that this far into the pandemic we still do not have a working test and trace system. At the weekend it was revealed that the government lost records of 16,000 positive tests, leading to a mass underreporting of cases of Covid-19 and thousands not being told they had tested positive, likely spreading the virus even further.
Over six months into the pandemic this is not acceptable. At a tremendous cost to the taxpayer, the government has farmed out the test and trace system to private companies such as Serco, who have proved time and time again they are not up to the task. It is time the government handed back control of test and trace to the NHS and got rid of those responsible for this mess. This should begin with the disastrous Dido Harding, a fine example of what happens when you award jobs based on blind loyalty rather than on merit, something this government does all too often.
As touched on before, reassurances also need to be made to those who are worried about their financial situations. Simply telling thousands of people their jobs are now ‘unviable’ is not good enough. I fear that the government is already well down the road of abandoning the unemployed and the self-employed as the impending long cold winter looms before them.
I am genuinely proud of the response of the public in the North East, and I thank everyone who is continuing to follow the rules and doing their bit to halt the spread of the virus. I share your frustrations and anger at the handling of this crisis and will work my hardest to see us through to the other side as soon as possible.
Ian Lavery MP.