As we go through another lockdown, which is currently due to last until April, it is vital more support is given to those who have been left to struggle during the pandemic, writes Florence Eshalomi AM…
A £20-a-week increase in Universal Credit was introduced last year to give people an extra helping hand. It’s due to be cut in April, but it’s patently clear it should be extended at least until the end of this pandemic.
We also urgently need to see more support for those on low incomes needing to self-isolate. The current £500 compensation payment scheme is not fit for purpose as the criteria for applications is too narrow and the government have not given councils enough funding to meet the demand for it. Ministers must also boost statutory sick pay in the capital, so it is equivalent to the London living wage.
It has been disappointing to see reports of some GPs ignoring British Medical Association guidance and charging alleged victims of domestic abuse over £150 for letters confirming their injuries. The letters are needed for victims to access legal aid and this help should never come at a price. The Domestic Abuse Bill currently going through Parliament is the opportunity to scrap this unfair fee.
On a related and local note, I was pleased that Southwark Council have appointed its first deputy cabinet member for domestic abuse. Lockdown has seen a rise in reported cases, while isolation has shattered support networks, making it even more difficult for survivors to get help.
I’d also like to highlight the work of the Rhea Project – a partnership between Solace Women’s Aid, Commonweal Housing and Southwark Council. Many women find refuges to be unsuitable for their needs, and this scheme helps to prioritise social housing. With Solace Women’s Aid reporting unprecedented demand, Southwark’s leadership in this area is to be welcomed.
In other important news, it is now possible to book a local and free rapid lateral flow test, without having symptoms of COVID-19. Results are usually available in less than one hour and the borough’s testing centre is open seven days a week from 9am to 7pm, based at the Damilola Taylor Centre in Peckham. More of these local test centres are in the pipeline.
Around one in three people with the virus don’t show symptoms and the council are currently encouraging key workers and those who can’t work from home to get a lateral flow test in order to break the chain of transmission.
Finally, it has been great to see Southwark Council approve funding for 29 projects put forward by local people and organisations to support growth in their neighbourhoods, as part of a £6m investment drive into the borough. The fund will breathe new life into community spaces, including The Walworth Living Room, a neighbourhood hub run by charity Pembroke House, with a social space and community café based in All Saints Hall.
South London institution, Peckhamplex, famed for its £4.99 tickets, has also been awarded £564,423 from the Culture Recovery Fund. It should mean that this well-loved cinema can continue to serve our community safely when lockdown measures ease again.