Covid-19

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:12 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Jon Trickett Jon Trickett Labour, Hemsworth 5:12 pm, 18th November 2020

It is interesting to follow Mark Eastwood; we share the same hospital trust and I was struck by the fact that he appears to think the diminution of staffing there somehow just happened by accident, when in fact his Government have been in power for 10 years. Throughout those years, there were cuts in our area: in the trust covering West Yorkshire, which the hon. Gentleman shares with me, there are 2,000 fewer beds in the health and care sector than there were when Labour left office.

It is probably no surprise that the chief executive has told both of us what is happening in that hospital trust: there are now 240 cases of covid in the hospitals we share, whereas there were only 170 at the height of the pandemic. The chief executive also told both of us that the trusts are now closing operating theatres, putting off operations and not allowing relatives of patients to visit. Of course covid is a problem—of course it was unexpected —but the truth is that the cuts went too deep and the NHS was left without adequate resources even in a normal year, never mind in the face of a pandemic.

The point I want to make, however, is this. I represent some of the poorest communities in our country, as many Opposition Members do. As my hon. Friend Alex Norris said, we know that this disease affects different parts of the population in different ways. In the former mining villages that I represent, the number of people infected has increased almost threefold in the last three and a half weeks because covid attacks deprivation—that is what it does.

It is no use avoiding the central issue of the character of society that the Tories have built over the last 10 years —the cuts, the austerity, the hunger, the poverty, the polluted air that we breathe, the poor housing and so on. Here are some facts for the House to consider. The covid mortality rate among the most deprived communities is 128 per 100,000 people infected. In the least deprived communities, it is 58. This disease is attacking poverty—poverty that the Tories created, in a system subjected to the cuts that they imposed.

They cannot say that they were not aware of this. Sir Michael Marmot, a leading physiologist, wrote a report in February this year, before covid had begun to really affect us. In that report, he said to the Government that the more deprived an area, the shorter the life expectancy. What a scandal that that should be the case in Britain in 2020. He went on to say that the social gradient, which is the gradient of mortality related to poverty, “has become steeper” in the last decade—the Tory decade. He also said that there are “marked regional differences”. Of course there are, because poverty is not only stratified in socioeconomic terms; it is also geographically organised. The north, in particular, has huge areas of real deprivation.

The Government were aware—they knew what they were doing. They knew that poverty, ill health and early death were connected. Covid has revealed that in terrifying ways. The cuts, the austerity and the poverty that has been inflicted reduced not only human resilience in physiological terms; it also reduced the resilience of communities to fight this battle.

How can Conservative Members vote to deny children food during the school holidays? Is it not quite apparent that a hungry child is more likely to be susceptible to infection than a child who has been well fed? Is that not clear to everybody on both sides of the House? Yet, during the half-term, that is exactly what happened, except for one thing: communities came together in every village across this land—I saw it the most in the poorest village—and looked after each other because the Government had abandoned those children. What a disgrace! If our society has the ingenuity to find a solution to a vaccine in such a short period and a way of tracking this disease, and if our society can mobilise the resources to distribute PPE and source the ventilators we need, surely we have the capacity to tackle the underlying problems of our society that they, to their shame, have created.