Public Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:25 pm on 1st December 2020.

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Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Leader of the Liberal Democrats 2:25 pm, 1st December 2020

Covid is still taking a heavy toll on the lives of our constituents, and with this job crisis and health crisis, we all want to get back to life as normal as soon as possible, so the news of the three vaccines could not be more welcome. The priority now has to be keeping people safe by ensuring that no one is left behind and businesses are supported. The science is clear: restrictions are needed to save lives and protect the NHS from being overwhelmed. That is why Liberal Democrats have backed all the previous lockdowns and the previous tiering system. However, at the same time as supporting those past restrictions, we have consistently called on Ministers to do three crucial things.

The first is to provide clarity. We need transparency and honesty in Government communications, so people understand what the rules actually are and why they must follow them, and are not just left confused and unconvinced. Conservative Members have talked about Scotch eggs and pork scratchings. I asked the Prime Minister about whether he could assure people they could get tests before travelling to see their loved ones at Christmas, and he could not answer that question clearly. It is not surprising that the general public are unclear about what the Government are trying to tell them.

The second issue we have raised is that we need proper financial support for all individuals and all businesses impacted by these restrictions—especially the self-employed, the hospitality sector, the tourism sector and charities—otherwise people are excluded. The third point, which we have made time and again, is the most critical. We need a comprehensive system of test, trace and isolate so that every case of covid is identified fast and the right measures to prevent new infections are taken fast. Sadly, the Government have failed to deliver on each of those things.

Let me focus on isolation, because I do not think this has had the attention it deserves. Back in September, the Prime Minister promised that anyone on a low income who had to self-isolate would get a £500 payment so they could afford to self-isolate. What has the reality been? The money simply has not got through, and isolation rates have become dangerously low. The head of the Resolution Foundation told the Work and Pensions Committee recently that there is “almost no take-up” of this payment. Why? Because people cannot get it if they are told to self-isolate by a local contact tracer instead of a national one, and because they cannot get it if they have to stay at home because their child has been told to self-isolate. So 7,000 people who have applied for their £500 in Yorkshire and the Humber have been turned down, which is 60% of all applicants. In Oldham, it is 50%, and in Liverpool, it is 80%. Is anyone surprised that the Opposition have no confidence in this Government’s ability to handle this pandemic?

I am afraid that, reluctantly, we cannot support the Government today. They have failed to set out the clear criteria for which areas are in each tier, they have failed to engage with local authorities and they have failed to provide clear evidence to this House. The Prime Minister’s proposals are arbitrary, confusing and chaotic, and we will not support them.