Public Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:05 pm on 1st December 2020.

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Photo of Dan Carden Dan Carden Labour, Liverpool, Walton 3:05 pm, 1st December 2020

I will focus my remarks on these health regulations in relation to my constituency. Liverpool, Walton is the most deprived constituency in England. It has the highest youth unemployment in the country, and child poverty is at 40%. The effect of the pandemic and these restrictions, coming on top of 10 years of austerity and cuts, has been to push many more families over the edge and into poverty. We have had big policy announcements from the Government, but the reality for too many people has been little or no help from the Government and little hope for the future. Jobs have been lost, businesses have folded and communities have gone under.

Liverpool will move into tier 2 tomorrow if these regulations are passed. It is the first place to move into a lower tier than it was in before the lockdown. Its mass testing pilot has been impressively delivered by our local public health teams, the council and Mayor Joe Anderson, with the support of armed forces personnel. About 1,000 asymptomatic cases have been detected, and we await the scientific community’s evaluation.

It was a pilot scheme, so there are lessons to learn from it. The first lesson that this House should learn is that a system delivered by local public health experts, as opposed to profiteers led by central Government, is the most effective way to deal with the virus. In the most deprived parts of the city, only 4% of people came forward at first to be tested. I have spent time listening to people locally and hearing about their experiences and what they are facing during this pandemic. They are all too aware that testing positive means losing income if they have to self-isolate. They know that the Government’s eligibility criteria for the £500 payment is far too strict, and they are right: in Liverpool, about 80% who applied were rejected. The discretionary payments, which the local council has more control over, are capped and the funding is set to run out before Christmas.

Statutory sick pay is £95.85 a week—among the lowest rates in the whole of Europe. Put simply, it is not enough to live on. If that was not bad enough, millions are not even entitled to it. Nobody should be forced to choose between protecting public health and their own financial security, but that is the choice that the Government are forcing on the poorest in society.

The Government know they are failing. They know from their own polling that only 11% of people asked to self-isolate are doing so, and it is time that they asked why. Test and trace will work only if everyone is properly supported to isolate. Does it not tell us everything we need to know that, whether it is for the self-isolation grant, the personal independence payment or universal credit, the poorest people, the disabled and the vulnerable have had to jump through humiliating, dehumanising hoops created by Tory Ministers over years to get the meagre levels of support that they are entitled to, while corporate cronies and Tory donors get to jump the queue and are put in the fast lane for covid contracts for literally billions of pounds of public money without transparency, competition or any accountability?