The government has once again lost control of the virus, it is spreading at an exponential rate and record numbers of people are being admitted to hospital. I welcome that the government has listened to Labour’s calls and has now introduced a third national lockdown. While this wasn’t inevitable, it is now necessary, and I was in the House of Commons last Wednesday to vote in favour of the regulations. I encourage everyone to follow the rules by staying at home to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed.
The difference with the previous two lockdowns is that we now have a clear route out of the pandemic given that multiple vaccines have now been approved for use. It is essential that the government uses this national lockdown to vaccinate as many vulnerable people as possible. Labour is calling on the government to vaccinate at the very least two million people a week, with the aim of doubling that figure by February.
Impact on Schools
I believe it is crucial that children’s education is disrupted as little as possible. Pupils studying at home is simply not viable for many families. Labour have been clear that keeping schools open must be a national priority. I am disappointed that, due to the Government’s continuing mishandling of the pandemic, schools have now again moved to remote learning, except for vulnerable children and those of critical workers.
It is essential that families get the support they need through this period. I support Labour’s calls for every child who needs one to have access to a suitable device and the internet. This must include removing data charges by “zero-rating” educational websites and where possible ensuring school digital delivery is exempt from mobile and other data packages. This will help stop mobile data charges from pricing disadvantaged families out of education. I would also like to see the government redeploy officials to help identify and meet technical support needs and work with schools and pupils to deliver a guaranteed minimum contact time with teachers.
Support for Further Mental Health Provision
While I welcome the Government’s announcement of an extra £500 million for NHS mental health services in the latest Spending Review, I am worried that this does not go far enough to keep up with the ever-increasing problem. Mental health disorders account for nearly a quarter of total ill-health in Britain. The Coronavirus pandemic is only increasing strain on already severely underfunded services. I remain concerned that young people and those from a disadvantaged background are disproportionately suffering. According to the Centre for Mental Health, Children from the poorest 20% of households are four times as likely to have serious mental health difficulties by the age of 11 as those from the wealthiest 20%. I strongly believe it is important that mental ill-health is tackled as early as possible.
Therefore, last year, I met with the Tyne and Wear Citizens group to help launch their Schools based Counselling campaign. At the event I announced my support for the campaign in wanting to see more counselling services available in schools. I am due to meet the group again soon.