As you would expect, the Coronavirus epidemic rightly dominated the week in Westminster. We’ve rushed through legislation to ensure that our health, care and other essential public workers have the extra flexibility they now need to do their job. As an example, where previously two Doctors would sign off in certain situations, one will now do. The legislation also allows those who have recently left their roles as medics, nurses, social workers and other essential workers, or those who have almost qualified, to join the front line.
Some may view these new laws as quite draconian. Giving authorities the powers to dispose of bodies within 24 hours or the police to detain those who will not comply with advice is a stark reminder of the position we are in. These powers will only be used if the situation worsens. They only apply for 6 months. Questions arose as to civil liberties and maintaining high standards. The preservation of life is the sole driver behind these powers. No votes were needed because, across the political divide, all MPs are aware of the gravity of the situation and are working together.
Our final piece of legislation allows the state to pump £330 billion into businesses and households who need it. I’ve spent last week arguing, inside Parliament and Government, for more direct help to households. The earlier package to business was helpful but we needed to deliver directly to employees. The 80% wage cover does this. The part still missing, as I write this, is for more income guarantees for the self-employed. Hopefully by the time this is read, more will be done to ensure they do not have to continue to work and put themselves and others at risk.
So many in our local community are doing extraordinary roles under incredible pressure. I am in awe of every single one of them. In the chamber this week, I had a question on what more we can do to protect shop workers and owners from increasing violence. Given the circumstances, I used the opportunity to thank them all for being on the front line to keep us all with food and essential supplies. I also urged people to show them respect and gratitude. The Police Minister replied that they are every bit as important as those in vital public sector roles. Once we are through this, and we will get through it, we will change the way we value some jobs.
Shop workers have not only had to put themselves at risk but have also witnessed the worst in people. There’s a billion pounds more food in the nation’s homes than three weeks ago. People need to start using what they have before buying more. Last week I went to the Bexhill Food Bank. They can’t get hold of some essential items and they now cannot buy more than two of certain products. If you can spare any excess then please get in touch with them.
On the whole, this situation brings out the best in people. Within that, I want to include the small team who work for me. We’re helping people stranded abroad, concerned about their incomes, seeking advice on whether they can open for business and asking for help whilst in isolation. Where needed, these cases are taken up by me with Government and we have seen changes come through to give more financial help and assistance. I’m very proud of the people who work for me. Like many others who have stepped up, they care about their community and want to serve.
I’m working with communities across the constituency who are dropping off leaflets and offering help to those isolated and vulnerable. Nearly every local village and town has a scheme. We are ready to help. Communities, organisations and businesses are adapting and innovating to make sure that the important things you need can still be available. Our teachers are giving lessons to pupils at home online. Father Robert, from St Augustine’s, is recording his service and uploading on the church website so you can still worship on Sunday. Pubs are turning to drive-throughs.
More adaption is needed. We must ensure that our medics have the testing, equipment and emergency infrastructure they need to cope. If this means bringing in extra help from outside, including the military, then this must happen. This morning, I have been on to Government to ensure this is available.
We all need to think how we can adapt to ensure we can still deliver. We also need to consider if our travel and work really is essential and whether we’d be better off staying inside. We will get through this with spirit and optimism but we also need sense and pragmatism.