Public Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:05 pm on 1st December 2020.

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Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire 2:05 pm, 1st December 2020

On bonfire night—normally a superb family occasion—this House locked down our nation for the second time, inflicting great damage on the livelihoods, mental health and wellbeing of our constituents, all in the interests of the greater good. I reluctantly supported that lockdown but made it clear to my Whip that I would not vote for any extension unless it was made clear to me why it would be the least of all evils.

I am afraid that the document that the Government provided yesterday does little to address my concerns, and therefore does not allow me to reassure my constituents. It deals with the here and now but does not provide an analysis of the long-term impact on people’s lives, nor does it explain why South Northamptonshire must be in tier 2. There is no analysis of the counterfactual—what would happen if there were no lockdown and people were given sound advice, rather than forced in law to comply.

This is my fundamental concern. We already know that compliance is a serious issue in some places and sectors. There are lots of jokes circulating about how a person can eat a substantial scotch egg with their pint in the pub but not a bag of pork scratchings, and about how different families meeting inside a restaurant will be rebranding their party as a business gathering. In fact, they are very serious; they graphically illustrate that those with the nous and desire to get around the rules will do so, and that those who are more compliant will suffer the frustration of seeing others flouting the rules that they do not break.

I have many concerns. A constituent told me recently that she finds it unbelievable that a mixed group of tradesmen can work in an enclosed space—one is her own husband—yet she has been unable to see her daughter indoors in their spacious sitting room, even though she would of course take extra special care. How is that fair or logical?

Yesterday, I spoke to primary school headteachers, who raised their grave concern that they are on their knees working to ensure that every child can be in school by are finding other services unavailable to them, such as child psychology assessments and supervision for non-resident parents, which all seem to be available only sporadically and never in person. How is that fair or logical?

Last week, I held a meeting of my South Northants business club and talked to small businesses that are flat out trying to survive and preserve their life’s work. One is a golf and hotel complex that is still unable to provide a service, unlike the big fast food chains, which can out-compete it through takeaways and deliveries. Another is a wedding events organiser with a beautiful stone barn that can seat up to 80, completely socially distanced, but its facility is for weddings and events, rather than a licenced restaurant, so it cannot open. How is that fair or logical?

Then there are the long-term health implications. My great fear is that my constituents are not accessing healthcare as they do not want to bother anyone. I have spoken to GPs in my patch, and they share that fear. What will be the long-term mental health impact of this year’s tsunami of loneliness, in particular for those with memory loss, for whom this isolation has been so disastrous? What about those who have had a baby in lockdown and have been isolated with virtually no face-to-face help?

I was concerned on 5 November, and I remain so today. I have some final questions to the Government. Why are we going back into the tiering system? Did the lockdown work or did it not? What are the merits of the ongoing constraints on my constituents, versus the ongoing visible costs to them? I want to support my Government and my Prime Minister in the Lobby this evening, but I cannot and will not inflict deliberate harm on my constituency unless I can see for myself that to do nothing would be worse.