Public Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:57 pm on 1st December 2020.

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Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood 2:57 pm, 1st December 2020

It seems to me, listening to the debate and to my constituents, that the Government have a problem with being trusted in this field at the moment. Much of that—I am trying to be supportive—comes from the feeling that there is not total transparency. Trust of the kind needed to impose these sorts of measures must come from utter openness and transparency. If the Government were to learn anything from the nature of these debates over the months, that is the lesson they should learn. They must be more open and more transparent.

The Government are repeatedly changing the rules in a confusing way. They seem often to be more interested in managing difficulties from their own Back Benchers than in communicating properly with the public and promoting understanding about why the measures sometimes are necessary.

I will say a little bit about the experience in Liverpool, because we were the first area into tier 3—the old tier 3; we have already got a new one starting tomorrow—where the reality is that infection rates have fallen enormously since then. Local leaders were asking for a full lockdown ahead of the tier 3 arrangements, and they embraced tier 3 happily because of what was happening. We had over 700 infections per 100,000 and our hospitals were precious close to being totally overwhelmed, and the staff in those hospitals have had to work like absolute Trojans. They are still dealing with very high levels of illness.

The reality is that the work done there and the mass testing have helped. We have seen the numbers fall from more than 700 per 100,000 to under 100 per 100,000 in Liverpool, and that is an enormous fall for which we are very grateful. It has relied on solidarity: on people in Liverpool helping each other, doing things they would not necessarily want to do for each other. It is that solidarity around the country between people and communities that has to be promoted, not “We’re all right at the moment, so why should we have to have these issues?” That is what the Government need to focus on. Ensuring routine testing for all high-risk workplaces is important. More testing of the kind we have seen in Liverpool spread out across the country is tremendously important.

More also needs to be done to help to support self-isolation, because that is the real problem. One of the lessons in Liverpool is that people have not downloaded the app and they have not gone to get tested, because they feel that if they get a positive response they cannot comply. That is where we need to focus—on helping people to comply. If someone lives week by week on a wage that is only just enough to keep their head above water and food on their family’s table, they will not want to see whether they are positive unless they have symptoms and absolutely have to do so. People will not go for a test on a routine basis if they are worried sick about what they would be able to do if the answer is yes and they are positive.

We have to focus more effort on the £500 test and trace self-isolation payment. Far too few people are getting it. It is not an entitlement and it should be. People should not have to jump through hoops at a worrying time to get it. Only one in eight are qualifying for it. Many more people are being turned down and local authorities in my area are being told that when the money they have to pay for it runs out, which it nearly has, it will not necessarily be replenished. That is not a way forward if we expect people to comply. People have to be helped to comply when they are worried sick about whether they can put food on the table for their children.