The global pandemic continues to dominate all our lives and activities, writes Neil Coyle…
The response here in Southwark has been truly amazing with people donating so much time and money to helping others worse affected in this crisis. We are very fortunate to have a community committed to helping one another and to have a council that has acted so fast to help vulnerable local people, employers and charities supporting people through this difficult time.
Westminster is also back and is now offering ‘virtual’ access to the House of Commons for MPs for the first time ever. Last week I took part in a virtual meeting of the Work and Pensions Select Committee from my dining table at home off the Old Kent Road!
The pandemic is straining our social security system. 1.5 million people applied for Universal Credit in just a few weeks and many fear far higher unemployment levels when the lockdown ends. DWP says Universal Credit is ‘new’ but it has now been operating for seven years. Ministers have failed to fix its fundamental flaws: the five week delay before anyone gets a penny; loans which cripple people longer term; limits and penalties imposed, often erroneously; and insufficient funds leaving many people reliant on food banks. These all harm local people and I will continue pressing DWP to fix the problems which risk damaging lives if unaddressed.
As someone who listened to voters and recognised Corbyn would not win elections, it has been a relief and massively refreshing to see Keir Starmer become Labour leader. It surprises me to see the contrast in responses from political parties to crises. In 2008 when the global financial crisis caused huge damage to economies right around the world, the Tories tried to blame the international problem on the UK Labour government. Ministers still try to blame Labour for political gain but I don’t think most people are foolish enough to fall for it anymore.
Labour’s new leader has taken a very different approach to the coronavirus crisis: constructive engagement; support for difficult measures to tackle the problem, including the lockdown; but also flagging up government mistakes, like acting late, not ensuring enough protective kit or tests have been available, and still failing to test people landing at Heathrow from New York for example.
My own schedule has changed dramatically due to the crisis. Most meetings are on the phone or by video now, including with the police commander, council leader, community organisations and others trying to help. My food bank has had to expand as demand has grown rapidly.
I had the virus myself and was knocked out for a few weeks but am now getting fit again by making deliveries to those in need on my bike.
The virus has changed how we all have to behave. It will continue to do so for some time. Please stay patient. Please stay home as much as possible. Please stay safe.
Please keep being brilliant in your support for each other, for our NHS, and for all our frontline workers and charities doing so much to help so many in this unique and difficult time.