I draw Members’ attention to my membership of trade unions and to donations from Unite the union, as outlined in my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I welcome this debate on covid-19. Stockport and Greater Manchester have been hard hit by this pandemic. I pay tribute to the leader of Stockport Council, Elise Wilson, and to the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, for all they have done. Stockport Council has much to be proud of in its response to date. The transfer of many council functions to home working has gone well, which is a credit to all the staff involved. Stockport was one of the most effective authorities in Greater Manchester in distributing covid grants to local businesses. Our council workers do a very important job in difficult circumstances, and I speak on behalf of my constituents when I thank them from the bottom of my heart.
I believe that Members on both sides of this House will agree that the hospitality sector has been particularly hard hit in recent times. My trade union Unite has published a hospitality and tourism rescue plan this week. The hospitality and tourism sector is the third-largest employer in the UK and Northern Ireland, creating one in six of all jobs and employing 6 million people, 3.2 million directly. The hospitality industry has lagged behind many other sectors in terms of good working practices, with average pay of just £8.84 per hour and more workers employed on zero-hours contracts than in any other sector. I urge all Members to look up Unite’s hospitality and tourism rescue plan, as it is an important document. The recommendations include extending the sector-specific job retention scheme for six months, adequate sick pay and routine testing for hospitality workers, and a call for the Government to work with Unite’s proposed hospitality commission to retrain workers who lose their jobs.
The Test and Trace system has been a national disgrace. The Labour party’s analysis shows that the Government’s contact tracing is going backwards across England, with just over half of contacts—57.7%— reached last week. In my region of the north-west, more than 26,000 people were not contacted. I urge the Government to give local communities additional resources to carry out door-to-door testing and contact tracing and to check in on people to ensure that they are able to self-isolate in areas such as mine that face additional restrictions.
In the absence of any form of effective test and trace, frontline staff, including all key workers at hospitals, schools and local authorities, must be provided with access to personal protective equipment. I used to work as an industrial organiser for Unison North West and often went into hospitals and care homes to recruit union members. Sadly, care home residents and staff have suffered badly due to the mismanagement by the Department of Health and Social Care. Weekly testing of care home residents and staff is critical to saving lives, yet there have been repeated delays to the rolling out of testing, and care homes have waited days for their results. There are also serious concerns about vacancies in the care sector during the months ahead.
The Government must provide an immediate plan to better support care workers in all settings, including the 9 million unpaid carers across our country. That includes covid-19 test centres, which is why I have recently highlighted concerns that my constituents have raised about the lack of PPE at Tiviot Dale church test centre in my constituency. I have received a letter from a secondary school teacher, who informed me that the only protective measures in place were disposable face masks for staff and visitors, and that the manager had informed them that they did not need them. This is deeply concerning, given that a large number of staff were from an ethnic minority, who, as we know from the first wave of the pandemic, suffered disproportionately. Our test centres should be the first step towards controlling this disease, not hotbeds for its spread. I have written directly to the Health and Social Care Secretary on this issue, but I have yet to receive a response. It is simply not good enough, with Stockport and Greater Manchester facing sharp spikes in infection rates and cases rapidly spiralling out of control.
We are reaching a crisis point with the virus, and we badly need the Test and Trace system fixed and adequate support for all workers and businesses.