Top Lines 31 March 2020
- Our thoughts are with the loved ones of those who have sadly died, and with those who have contracted the virus.
- We are immensely grateful to all our NHS staff and social care workers who are working tirelessly to help us deal with this crisis.
- We need a collective approach to this crisis, the biggest of our lifetimes, and one which sees a step change in how our public services are valued and funded after a decade of savage cuts.
- Public health and safety must come first, and action must be guided by medical and scientific evidence. But with public confidence in the government’s handling of this crisis decreasing, Boris Johnson needs to show the leadership that this outbreak demands. We need total clarity from government messages, and Ministers must channel all their energies into protecting people’s health, wellbeing and livelihoods
- It must be an absolute and urgent priority for the NHS and care staff to access testing and protective equipment. We need urgent clarification from ministers about what their plan is to secure necessary supplies, why action appears to have been taken so late, and why they have not initiated a universal, community-based testing and contact tracing programme, as was put in place in other countries.
- The Prime Minister is right to call for people to stay at home, but members of the public are asking legitimate questions about why we trailed behind other countries on introducing enforced social distancing measures, cancelling mass gatherings, and shutting down non-essential premises.
- There is total confusion among the public about what the government means by essential work. The Prime Minister urgently needs to provide clearer guidance on who should be working and who shouldn’t, and no-one should be asked to work, putting themselves and others at risk, if they are not providing an essential function in this crisis.
- The NHS is under strain after 17,000 bed cuts, funding squeezes, and 100,000 staff shortages. Ministers urgently need to scale up NHS capacity. As we have consistently highlighted, after years of under-resourcing the NHS simply does not have enough ICU beds, ventilators and staff.
- We welcome any move that brings extra capacity in quickly, but many will question why the government isn’t simply requisitioning private facilities rather than paying for them through the NHS’s overstretched budget.
- When supermarket shelves are emptying because of panic-buying, it’s the most vulnerable and key workers who are missing out on the food and supplies they need. We are calling on the government to launch a large scale public advertising campaign, to amplify public health advice, provide information on social distancing, tackle misinformation and provide assurances to people about vital services like food security.
- With the economy necessarily being shut down in an unprecedented way, it is urgent that the government acts to protect jobs and incomes. The support the Chancellor has announced start to do that, but there are gaping holes and a lack of support for those who need it most, and need it now.
- The government has promised a new strategy on repatriations, but for those who have been campaigning on this issue from the outset – especially the hundreds of thousands of Brits stranded abroad and their families back home – what has been announced so far is wholly inadequate.
- More commercial flights are simply not an option for too many British travellers based in too many locations. The Foreign Secretary has given more vague promises about charter flights, but none of the commitment or urgency other countries like Germany have demonstrated.
- We haven’t been given firm answers to any of the specific problems British travellers and their families are raising, from the loss of travel insurance and accommodation to dwindling supplies of medicine and money.
- We need a fresh, comprehensive, and fully-funded strategy to bring our British nationals home, using every option at the government’s disposal, and to give them all the practical support and help they need in the interim. That is not what the government has provided, and it’s not good enough.
- The Chancellor has shifted direction but unfortunately not far or fast enough. The government’s response to protect incomes has been widely criticised, including by Conservative MPs.
- If those who are self-employed cannot get access to the Chancellor’s scheme until June, it will be too late for millions. Asking people to rely on Universal Credit when more than 130,000 people are queuing online simply isn’t good enough, and there is a real risk that, without support until June, the self-employed will feel they have to keep working, putting their and others’ health at risk.
- As we move into the next stage of this crisis, which we are all working so hard to tackle, we have to build into our social protection system the resilience we need to deal with the growing strain on our economy and public services in the coming days.
- We are calling on the government to urgently secure the whole country’s wages, welfare, and wellbeing, by:
- Extending the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to all working on reduced hours
- Making all workers, including low-paid workers, eligible for Statutory Sick Pay
- Increasing the level of Statutory Sick Pay
- Turning Universal Credit advances into grants
- Increasing benefit levels
- Allowing suspension of rent payments
- Not allowing utility disconnections
- Urgently clarifying on those excluded from the Government’s self-employment scheme
- No-one should be expected to wait for the financial support they to self-isolate. Large numbers of people are now facing redundancy, or in the case of the self-employed have seen their income dry up.
- DWP staff are under incredible strain, and the government must ensure that the department has the capacity to deal with the flood of new claims it is facing. There were nearly half a million new claims for Universal Credit between March 16 and 24).
- Millions of self-employed workers, and those not eligible for statutory sick pay or the job retention scheme, are being forced into an already overstretched system. Demand in food banks is increasing, but with older volunteers unable to help and supermarkets lacking in surplus food, many have been forced to close and can no longer offer support where it’s desperately needed.
- We welcome that the government has increased Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits, but there has been no corresponding increase in other benefits for the unemployed, disabled people, or carers. These increases must also be set against a backdrop of the four-year benefits freeze that has been a key driver of poverty and food bank use.
We are calling on the government to:
- End the five- week wait for a first UC payment, by introducing advanced non-repayable grants;
- Increase the Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment Support Allowance and Carer’s Allowance;
- Suspend all sanctions and make a clear commitment not to impose any new sanctions during the current crisis;
- Ensure that DWP has the staffing capacity to cope in the current crisis.
Testing and protective equipment
- We can only protect the health of us all if we protect the health of our carers, and we are currently letting them down. It must be an absolute and urgent priority for the NHS and care staff to access testing and protective equipment.
- While the Prime Minister has been saying for weeks that NHS staff will get the equipment they need, the reality is that doctors and care workers have been forced to use makeshift equipment, and the Health Care Supply Association has been forced to ask DIY shops to donate protective equipment to NHS staff.
- Those on the frontline in the NHS or social care are not being widely tested, even if they have symptoms, which means staff could be unknowingly transmitting the virus or unnecessarily self-isolating for 14 days at a time of immense pressure in the health service.
- Experts continue to call for the UK to significantly ramp up testing. When Germany is testing around 500,000 a week, many are asking why we are still not even hitting 10,000 a day promised on March 11th.
- We called for enforced social distancing, but it’s a blunt tool without a national strategy to test and contact trace. We are calling on ministers to outline why testing is still not being scaled up at sufficient levels and what bottlenecks domestically and globally are hindering this.
- Care services are already incredibly stretched, with huge workforce vacancies even before the Coronavirus crisis took hold. It is essential that we are ensuring all workers can access testing and protective equipment to keep them safe, healthy and able to care for the most vulnerable people in our society.
- Almost half of home care workers are on zero hour contracts, meaning they’re not automatically entitled to sick pay. This needs to be addressed urgently, so they can stay off work if they have symptoms, protecting both themselves and the people they care for.
Social distancing and essential work
- The Prime Minister is right to call for people to stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives.
- This is the right response to the coronavirus pandemic, and one we have been calling for. Labour will be working to ensure everybody has the protection and security they need.
- There now needs to be clear guidance to employers and workers about which workplaces should close – there has been widespread confusion with workplaces like Sports Direct demanding that their staff to come into work.
- The continued failure of the government to guarantee a sufficient income for millions of people in this country, including the 5 million self-employed, agency workers and those on zero-hours contracts, is a huge failure. And even the Health Secretary has admitted Statutory Sick Pay of £94 a week is not enough to live on. We are only as strong as our most vulnerable in society, so the government must provide protection for everyone.