I’ve been contacted by a large number of people in Sheffield Hallam who, like me, are alarmed at the rising numbers of deaths and hospitalisations we’ve seen from coronavirus. This second peak is especially worrying to all those who have friends, family or are themselves vulnerable.
I’m also concerned about the effect it’s having on the health service. ICU capacity is already stretched and with a shortage of nurses, there’s a danger our NHS will be overwhelmed. We are reaching a critical point. Containing covid-19 and preventing further fatalities should be our number one priority.
That’s why I support the public health measures announced on Saturday. However, we should be clear that the reason we’re in this situation is because the government acted far too late on the scientific advice it was given. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) told the Prime Minister that we’d need a shorter “circuit breaker” lockdown weeks ago, but the government failed to listen. Now we’re paying the price for that delay.
I know that the new public health measures will cause a great deal of anxiety to people across Sheffield Hallam – many will be worrying about the future of their business, or whether they can survive for another month on only 80% of their income.
There are also those who are rightly angry. In Sheffield Hallam, unemployment has increased by 158%, with young workers being most affected – 16-24 years-old faced a shocking 300% increase in unemployment between March and September of this year.
Had we known sooner about the extension of furlough, job losses could have been avoided. There are also millions who have slipped through the widening cracks in the support schemes. For them, a second lockdown means 4 more weeks of uncertainty after having already suffered months of unemployment or a greatly reduced income.
That’s why it’s vital the government provides an economic package to maintain incomes, support businesses, and ensure that no one is left behind. That means increasing Statutory Sick Pay to a living wage; converting the Universal Credit loan into a grant, ending the five week wait, scrapping the benefit cap, the two-child limit and the savings limit, and suspending benefit claimant sanctions; renewing evictions and repossessions bans, reducing waiting times for Support for Mortgage Interest, and increasing the Local Housing Allowance to average rents; restarting the “Everybody In” scheme to look after rough sleepers ahead of the winter; and ensuring that the floor of the furlough scheme is 100% of minimum wage. It must also include closing the gaps in the existing support schemes.
We also need to see continued support for any areas that remain under restrictions after 4 weeks. All regions of the UK should be treated equally. Only 2 weeks ago, the Chancellor claimed that people in Sheffield under Tier 3 restrictions could survive on 67% of their income. Now that the lockdown applies to the whole country, it’s back to 80%. It’s a welcome change, but why was 80% too high when it applied only to my constituents and other constituencies in the North?
We cannot afford for rolling lockdowns to continue into 2021, so it’s crucial that the government uses this 4-week pause to establish a functioning track and trace system. The evidence is clear – it’s not large private outsourcing firms that can deliver the system we need, but local public health teams who know their communities best. I’ve repeatedly spoken out against Serco’s failure to get a grip on the situation (see here, here and here). Instead, we should give local authorities the resources they need to implement track and trace.
Over the next few days, I’ll be pressing the government hard to ensure that people are provided with the support they need and that they follow the scientific advice to ensure this second lockdown halts the spread of the virus. Please do contact my office if you’re experiencing difficulties and see below for more information, support and guidance.
The following resources offer practical help and support for those of us affected by the pandemic.
- Business Sheffield offers lots of useful information. You can find them here.
- Nationally the Government’s gov.uk website has lots of information about support for businesses and individuals including the self-employed. Find their support pages here.
- Help and advice in Sheffield can be accessed through the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. Find them here.
- Sheffield Mental Health Guide provide an excellent website that has collated Mental Health Support services available in Sheffield.
- Mind are also a charity that offer support and advice mental health. You can find more information here.