Nick Brown MP MP for Newcastle upon Tyne East
Coronavirus and Schools
As further lockdown restrictions are lifted, the Government has asked schools to reopen in a phased return from 1 June, starting with Reception, Year One, and Year Six. I believe children returning to school should be a priority to ensure that the attainment gap and education inequalities that exist in our society do not widen further. However, this should only happen when it is safe to do so. I understand that the feasibility of social distancing measures is questionable, especially for children of such young ages who might not all be able to comprehend why they cannot have close contact with their friends. These concerns have also been raised by teachers, trade unions, local councils, and parents.
Professor Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at Public Health England has said it should be for schools to decide whether it is safe for them to re-open. I believe that the Government should be working collaboratively with representatives of local authorities, schools, and trade unions to work towards a system for schools to risk assess whether it is safe for children to return through practical safety tests. I support the five tests set out by the National Education Union, which include whole school testing and a national plan for social distancing. It is now clear that the bulk of school children will not return until September.
When pupils do return, it is vital that the Department of Education ensures every school has the resources to offer academic and pastoral support to pupils, especially those who were already disadvantaged going into the lockdown. Such support packages could include enhanced pupil premium funding and a national programme of well-being support to all students, as well as appropriate modifications to next year’s exams.
Coronavirus and The Economy
In the short term it is crucial that the government acts to protect jobs and incomes. The Labour Party’s immediate economic focus has been on urging the government to keep people in work, speed up the process for getting cash to struggling businesses and preventing additional poverty through changes to social security.
Labour supported the lockdown and has always argued that restrictions need to be eased gradually and in a safe way. As we look beyond the first peak of the pandemic, the government must provide further details on an exit strategy and on the wider rebuilding of the economy.
Following a decade of Tory austerity, our public services have already been cut to the bone. The financial costs of the coronavirus economic downturn must not be paid back by those who have the least or by cutting public services further. I want to see the government kickstart a green industrial revolution that will create high quality skilled jobs in areas like the North East whilst tackling the climate emergency.
Coronavirus and Renters
I am concerned about the financial situation renters could find themselves in during this difficult period. This is an area that the Labour Party have been vocal on from the outset of the pandemic. Labour’s own research shows that out of the eight and a half million renting households, six million do not have savings, meaning bold action from government is required to ensure renters are financially secured. I am glad that the Government have listened to Labour and committed to a ban on evictions, which has recently been extended for a further two months. I would like to see the Government go further and extend this to a six-month ban, or longer if necessary
Coronavirus and Care Workers
Coronavirus has exacerbated the difficulties care workers face. The Government’s legacy of under-funding, outsourcing and fragmenting social care services means care workers now make up a significant portion of our growing precarious workforce. I welcome the recent additional funding for social care announced by the Government. However, care providers and local authorities have told us this is not enough to deal with the increased costs of delivering care. The Government must go further to ensure that the sector has the funding it needs. Social care staff are vital key workers that should benefit from the same recognition as NHS staff. I support the proposal for a comprehensive National Care Service for England, paying our carers fairly and treating them with the respect they deserve.
I was also concerned about the delay in the reporting of coronavirus-related deaths in care homes. Accurate reporting of coronavirus deaths is essential to fully understanding the pandemic and to formulating an appropriate response, as well as ensuring public trust. I welcome the Government’s decision to now include deaths in care homes in the daily death figures.
Coronavirus and Charities
Charities are not only at the core of supporting our communities with everything from sport to museums, they also fill the holes in our neglected public sector in areas like health and social care.
Without the possibility for fundraising activity such as charity shops and events coupled with extra demand for services, many charities have suffered financially. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) has estimated a loss of £4.2 billion in potential income over the coming months. I welcome the Government announcement of a £750 million support package for charities, £360 million of which is to be directed towards charities assisting with the vulnerable and involved in healthcare. Considering the sector’s role in combating the virus, the Labour Party is asking what further resources and support can be made available to charities.