My hon. Friend makes a very strong point. Indeed, that has been raised by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary and others on many occasions. It is absurd that we have highly skilled people in our society who are awaiting a letter from the Home Office before they are able to contribute to our society. We are talking care workers, doctors, social workers—all sorts of highly skilled people. They want to contribute to help us out, so I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend and I strongly support the view that he is putting forward to the Home Secretary.
We should also take a moment to say thank you to civil servants in the Department of Health and Social Care and other Departments. They are putting in incredibly long hours. I talk to local government workers in my local authority who are working really hard to try to ensure that the community and society are safe.
We should thank teachers who are having to go into school to ensure that there are some facilities and teaching available for the children of essential care workers, as well as for children who have very special needs. Let us value them and the work they do, and thank the National Education Union and the other teaching unions for the work that they have put in to ensure that that takes place.
Let us also thank those who deliver stuff—delivery workers, delivery riders and delivery companies, and also our postal workers—for what they do. Our postal workers suspended their industrial action—their wholly justified industrial action, I might say—to ensure that essential deliveries can carry on throughout this crisis. We should say thank you to the Communication Workers Union and to those workers for all of that.
“when we emerge from the crisis…there will be a general reassessment of who is important in this country and what a ‘key worker’
Vol. 674, c. 15.]
He is absolutely right. We can all now see that jobs that are never celebrated are absolutely essential to keep our society going. Think of the refuse workers, the supermarket shelf stackers, the delivery drivers, the cleaners—those grades of work are often dismissed as low skilled. I ask the House: who are we least able to do without in a crisis—the refuse collector or the billionaire hedge fund manager? Who is actually doing more for our society at this very moment? Let us value people for the contribution that they make and respect the skill of the cleaner, the refuse worker, the postal delivery worker and all those others. Let us have respect for those who are part of the glue of our society. Right now, they need our help, and I hope that, as we look beyond this crisis, they will continue to get our respect, because people we respect should not be treated in the way they have been treated throughout the past decade of austerity.
Right now, we must guarantee for our NHS staff the personal protective equipment that they are crying out for. There must be no excuses: get it there and deliver it for NHS staff, care staff and all the others. Doctors have said they have had to go along to Screwfix to buy face masks. They need visors, long gloves, surgical gowns and hand sanitisers—and they need them now. It is not as if this crisis happened yesterday; the coronavirus broke out in China some months ago and has spread rapidly across the whole world. One doctor was quoted as saying:
“I feel totally abandoned. We don’t have the protective equipment that we desperately need and our children are being treated like orphans and sent off to care camps.”
NHS staff are putting themselves on the line for the rest of us; we must not let them down for a moment longer. It is a matter of their safety and the safety of their patients. For the same reasons, let us test all our NHS staff for the virus as quickly as possible. It is an absolute requirement to accelerate testing throughout the population—“test, test, test”, as Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organisation, instructed us all to do quite some time ago. I pay tribute to him and the World Health Organisation for their steadfast and calm leadership during this crisis, and for pointing out that a world pandemic is going on and some countries are better able to cope with it than others.
As we look beyond this crisis, our NHS staff should be treated with respect, which means ensuring that the health service in which they work is well funded; bringing down their levels of stress, which are enormous; and ending the threat of the privatisation of their jobs and the outsourcing of services in NHS hospitals. Right now, can we ensure that our social care workers have the very best protective equipment that they need, and can we also have full testing for them? They also need financial security, an issue I raised at Prime Minister’s Question Time four weeks ago. A quarter of social care workers are on zero-hours contracts. Their job is, as we know, to travel from house to house, making contact with those often at the highest risk of death from this virus. They sometimes see 12 or more clients a day, spending time in their homes and potentially passing on the virus from one home to another and another. A lack of testing increases that danger all the time, so it is not just urgent, it is super urgent—like today, it has to be done. They need to be given the security to know that they can afford to stay off work if they have symptoms, yet none of them are included in the Chancellor’s scheme to pay 80% of wages. That must be addressed immediately. I pointed out in Prime Minister’s Question Time the situation for construction workers, and exactly the same applies to care workers.
As we look beyond the crisis, we need to learn the lesson and end the scandal of paying so little to those entrusted with the care of our loved ones. Let us end the disgrace of 1.4 million people being denied the social care that they need. Right now, the Government can give peace of mind to all self-employed and insecure workers with an income protection scheme equivalent to the one devised for employees. The Prime Minister said he would work on this very quickly, and it has to be done very, very quickly indeed; otherwise, we are all put at greater risk and danger.
Freelancers, workers on zero-hours contracts and those with no recourse to public funds still have no support. From cabbies to childminders, actors to plumbers, people are being told to do something absolutely extraordinary: to stop earning a living. Having made that demand, the Government—yes, the Government—have an awesome responsibility to ensure that these people do not fall immediately into hardship and that they are able to do what is necessary for public health.