2020 was a difficult year—a year like no other in my lifetime. The first stage of 2021 is proving to be even more challenging, with over 80,000 deaths, infections going through the roof and local hospitals in Cheshire and the Warrington area under tremendous pressure; I pay my thanks and gratitude, like everybody else across the House, to our NHS professionals.
We now have the deepest recession in 300 years and the highest death rate in Europe because of Government incompetence. It is not by chance; it is the consequences of delay after delay, dither and mixed messages, and ignoring the expert advice until the very last minute again and again.
The vaccine is the way out. We have three approved vaccines, and the roll-out is happening in parts of my constituency as I speak. Residents in their 80s and 90s have spoken to me about their experience; they have rolled up their sleeves with a smile on their face and have got vaccinated for Britain. But in some parts of my constituency supply is not getting through; that must be fixed—that is my plea to the Minister.
The vaccination programme needs to be 24 hours and rising to 4 million a week as soon as possible, but the current crisis requires a social contract between the state and the citizens: stay at home, stick to the rules and save lives, and the Government will provide vaccinations and support for people and businesses. But that is where the Government are falling short. Rather than focusing solely on the behaviour of walkers with flasks of coffee, Ministers must get their own house in order—provide reasonable levels of sick pay so people can self-isolate, extend the furlough scheme to working parents now that schools are closed, provide support to the 3 million excluded and look after those who lost their jobs and homes through these difficult times.
Finally, in May—in just a matter of weeks—people should have the opportunity to go to the polls. While these elections are about vital local services, they will provide a verdict, a judgment on the Government’s handling of this crisis. Do the Minister and the Government have the confidence to go to the electorate as planned, or will he delay democracy yet again?