The situation we now find ourselves in is incredibly serious. Coronavirus is spreading at an alarming rate across the country, tens of thousands of people are in hospital, and many more have tragically lost loved ones.
This third lockdown will be immensely difficult for families and businesses in Manchester Gorton and across Britain, especially given everything we have already sacrificed in the past 10 months. However, national measures of this scale are now sadly necessary.
There are, however, serious questions for the Government to answer why they did not act sooner, why the testing system still is not working, why families were given so little time to plan for schools closing, and why – once again – businesses and millions of working people have not been given the support they desperately need.
Thanks to the dedication and brilliance of our scientists, there is hope of a way out of this nightmare with the vaccine.
The Government must use this lockdown to establish a massive and immediate vaccination programme across the country.
If we are to succeed in delivering this vaccine, the Government must vaccinate two million people a week in January and double this figure in February, establish vaccination centres in every local community, provide GPs with the resources they need, and recruit an army of volunteers to facilitate the vaccination programme.
Before Christmas, I wrote to the Health Secretary to express my concerns about the low take-up of the vaccine among our Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities as a result of misinformation and poor communication. You can read the letter in full here.
The NHS is ready to vaccinate the country – the Government must now deliver on its promise.
I have always been clear that closing schools must be a last resort. Sadly, the Government’s failure to get a grip of the virus means we have now reached that point.
As we saw last summer, closing schools has devastating consequences for the education and wellbeing of children and young people, in particular those who are already vulnerable and at risk.
The Government must now urgently get ahead of events. Children and young people must be equipped with laptops and internet access to tackle the digital divide and we need to see a plan for all GCSE, A-Level and BTEC assessments to prevent a repeat of last year’s exam fiasco.
I am clear that schools must be the first to reopen when it is possible to do so. The Prime Minister must set out clear plans for every child to return safely to school as soon as possible and be honest with parents about the timetable for this. It is imperative, the Government start to work with schools, headteachers, teachers, support staff, parents, and unions rather than against them.
While children are at home, working parents must be given the support they need to rise to the challenge of balancing work, childcare, and supporting children’s education. Nobody should be forced to choose between their job and supporting their children.
Support for businesses and working people
With this third national lockdown, businesses, employers, employees, and the self-employed face enormous challenges. The Government must ensure any economic package supports working people through this crisis and properly reflects the severity of restrictions.
Unfortunately, the Chancellor’s online announcement via a 90-second video of the additional business support measures for the new lockdown yesterday was severely lacking. He made no mention of the millions of employees, self-employed people, parents and others who will be impacted by the new restrictions and intimated that no new announcements would be made until the Budget in March – yet households and businesses alike face a series of cliff edges throughout the spring as existing support programmes come to an end.
The Chancellor is also pressing ahead with plans to hit workers in their pockets by hiking council tax by 5%, cutting pay for key workers on the frontline and slashing Universal Credit in the middle of the pandemic.
It appears the Chancellor is missing in action. He has not appeared in Parliament since 1 December and he is not scheduled to make a statement during today’s emergency sitting.
The British people have had enough of the last-minute scramble from our absent Chancellor, he must finally set out a long-term plan to protect jobs and livelihoods and put Britain on the path to a better, more secure recovery.