Our wholehearted praise should go to the NHS workers and volunteers across south east London who have worked tirelessly to vaccinate more than 324,000 residents in the four priority groups, before the deadline which fell on Valentine’s Day.
It is a remarkable achievement that everyone in those groups has now been offered their first dose. As the roll-out continues, I would urge all Londoners to get their jabs as soon as they are offered it by the NHS.
Despite this progress, one of the major obstacles remaining in the path of the national programme is vaccine hesitancy. This is an issue which is particularly prevalent amongst Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities for a range of reasons. Cash-strapped local authorities have really stepped up to respond to the pandemic, and have a huge part to play in pushing out multi-lingual and targeted messaging to reassure their communities that the vaccine is safe and effective.
This is why I was disappointed when, alongside 25 other London boroughs, Southwark Council did not receive any funding from the government’s recent COVID-19 Community Champions grant to support this work. We are still waiting for answers from ministers on why this has been the case.
As we emerge from the dark winter months, we will still face challenging times ahead, but there is help available for those who need it. Southwark Wellbeing Hub provides information and support for anyone in the borough experiencing mental health issues. The hub’s services are free and open to anyone who lives in Southwark or is registered with a Southwark GP. You can contact the hub by calling: 0203 751 9684 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking towards the eventual reopening of our capital, it is vital that we boost walking and cycling infrastructure to avoid a car-led recovery. In this vein, TfL are proposing to upgrade more sections of Cycle Superhighway 7. It is one of the most heavily used routes into central London, with the latest figures suggesting that over 8,000 people per day cycle on the section between Oval and Elephant and Castle.
The government has recently extended the evictions ban once again, this time until the end of March. But this constant stop and start approach is just kicking the can down the road and we need a longer-term ban put in place, at least until Ministers find a solution which prevents potentially thousands of Londoners from being kicked out of their homes in the spring.
I am backing the Mayor’s calls for the government to provide grants to support tenants to clear their rent arrears, to finally ban section 21 or ‘no-fault’ evictions and to increase Local Housing Allowance to cover average rents in an area.
With a third of the homes in the borough being privately rented, Southwark Council is now consulting on renewing and expanding its landlord licensing scheme to improve living conditions for its tenants. With renters spending most of their time at home during lockdown, this comes at a crucial time and I would urge local people to make their views on the consultation known via the council’s website.