The rate at which our lives have been changed by the coronavirus pandemic is extraordinary and we all have a duty to respond responsibly, as most local people have, and in line with the national interest, writes Neil Coyle.
Parliament is closed until at least 21st April and could quite possibly stay shut beyond that. I think Westminster needs modernising to allow questions to be tabled in writing even when Parliament is not sitting, after all, we have ministers, civil servants and a government and scrutiny is even more crucial in a national emergency when extraordinary powers are being used to curtail liberty.
For the foreseeable future even more of my work will be done this side of the river here in Southwark, trying to support the most vulnerable in our community who have been hit hardest in this crisis. The food bank I run locally has never been busier sadly, nor have the other local food banks and organisations supporting the less well-off in our community.
As a measure of the global reach of our community, I have also had to try and help local people stranded abroad as other countries have shut their borders. I’ve helped people back to Southwark from Morocco and Peru and am trying to help someone get back from New Zealand. The government has not resourced our embassies sufficiently to manage in this crisis sadly.
I also know from the worried calls and emails I have received that the crisis is having a devastating impact on our economy and local businesses. The government was right help people retain work by paying 80 per cent of their wages if they can no longer work as a result of the virus and to offer some loans to help employers manage this tough period.
Support for self-employed people is delayed but is crucial for the construction and hospitality industry locally. The government must act more swiftly to help and must better define who should not be working now; too many employers are still requiring staff to come in including estate agents, accountants, painters, beauticians and more.
I hope an inquiry later in the year will result in penalties and potentially even custodial sentences. It is simply not right to risk someone else’s life, endanger the wider community and potentially put greater pressure on our NHS.
The crisis has also exposed further the complete failure that is Universal Credit. Too many people have been laid off and half a million applied for Universal Credit which has a minimum waiting time of five weeks before a payment can be received. DWP is letting people down at this most critical time of need and the benefit system must be overhauled when we are through the crisis.
Thankfully, there are some positives shining through in this dark moment. All the people who clapped the NHS last week. All the extra donations to food banks and other local charities helping vulnerable people. Bermondsey Community Kitchen getting hot meals out.
Time and Talents befriending isolated older people. The Leathermarket JMB delivering chickens to local families. Pembroke House setting up a food and medicine distribution hub. Neighbours shopping and delivering for each other.
We live in a truly remarkable community which is, if anything, revealing its strength right now. Adversity can bring the best out in people and we will emerge stronger from this crisis.
If you can help your community, please do, and if you think I can help with anything please contact me by email: email@example.com on 0207 219 7650 and leave a message.
Together, we will get through this. In the meantime, please take care: heed the advice; keep washing your hands; work from home if you can; avoid unnecessary travel; do not stockpile food (leaving other people without); and please keep looking out for neighbours and loved ones!