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Convid-19 - Putting a spin on the Science

March 26, 2020 2:00 AM
Originally published by East Suffolk Liberal Democrats

Protect our NHS and Social Care staff and back the self employed Now.. Coronovirus Update Spelthorne Liberal Democrats (Image by Vektor Kunst from Pixabay)

Since the end of December 2019 we have seen the Coronavirus spread from the far east to Europe and the US with devastating speed. World news and social media has tracked the virus, country by country as this disease defies borders, barriers and lock-downs and leaves families bereaved and in fear. This virus, for which we have no immediate solution barring isolation and medical care has brought large sections of the world to a standstill within the short space of 10-12 weeks. For the most part, nations have correctly turned to their scientists, researchers and clinicians to not only expedite a vaccine but to model effective responses to protect the lives of their citizens from what is a now the greatest health challenge we have faced for a century.

The UK has correctly followed the science and unlike its big neighbour across the pond largely stayed on message.The statistics are horrifying as the UK death toll approaches 500 and our fellow Europeans in Italy and Spain, lose thousands of their citizens and we watch their not so dissimilar health services being overwhelmed. Few here in the UK can see how we will 'turn a corner in 12 weeks' and many watch in disbelief as the US President predicts a speedy end and a return to work by Easter as the death toll in New York soars.

So as we begin what is likely to be a long period of lock-down, increasing emotional and financial stress and putting individuals and families under added enormous strain though lack of money, separation, reduced activity, inadequate living spaces, cultural activity and a growing dependency on the state, what must be the immediate priorities for the Government?

Supporting the front line.

It is clear that the planning to procure sufficient Personal Protective Equipment PPE has been slow given the UK had an early warning from the far east at the beginning of the year. We have been repeatedly told by Public Health (England) and Ministers that the problem has been logistics. The stock was there in storage it was just a matter of getting it to the hospitals and then later that the army would be mobilised to distribute it. Amazingly we even had the Secretary of State for Health pictured unloading lorries to seemingly prove it. After another week passes and we still have news of hospital staff and ambulance paramedics purchasing their own PPE, making DIY protection from black bin bags, nurses having to share PPE, some rationed to two face masks and community nurses and social care staff still without going into homes without full protection. If we really did have all that kit in a warehouse why have we just got around to ordering millions face masks?

Against this we learn that we could have joined with other EU countries to acquire bulk PPE. Britain was invited to participate as it is still in the Brexit transition period and so is still being treated like a member state but refused.

The first order placed by the EU, which will go to 25 of the 27 member states, covers "masks type 2 and 3, gloves, goggles, face-shields, surgical masks and overalls" - all of which are needed in the UK.

Ed Davey, the acting leader of the Liberal Democrats reportedly told The Independent: "Reports that the UK were offered the opportunity to take part in this scheme and refused are deeply disturbing.

"The Coronavirus knows no borders. It is a pandemic. International solidarity is crucial to protecting the UK. If working with the EU means we can get access to more protective equipment any sensible government would jump at the chance"."The PM must not let Brexit ideology dictate his approach to Coronavirus. People's lives must come first."

When the virus was in its early days, the WHO urged countries to embark on a testing and contact tracing programme. At first it seemed that testing for the virus was taken up in the UK albeit for the comparatively small number hospitalised admissions. Health workers called for tests for the virus to be extended to them to clear staff tested negative to return to work from self isolation. Eight days ago, the PM announced that PH England would increase the number of tests from 5k to 10k and to 25k per day. Where are we today? After an initial increase to around 8k last week, the numbers fell to 5522 and currently it is 6491 someway short of 25,000 per day and still health staff face their unenviable daily task without the sort of back up from testing they rightly deserve.

We have repeatedly heard of the 'game changing' antibody tests and again the Government announces the purchase of over 3 million kits. The media is full of reports of large scale publicly available tests within days and yet such reports must come with the Government Health warning that no one is yet able to confirm that they will work.

Self Employed and Freelance workers need supporting too

Just nine days ago we highlighted some serious omissions in the Chancellors mostly welcome financial package. Since that time millions of self employed people and free-lance workers estimated at around 15% of the UK labour force have been left to take critical decisions about continuing to work, many seeing their income evaporate overnight.

Today the Chancellor is reportedly preparing to offer this group of around 5 million people some financial support after claiming that the matter was highly complex highlighting a lack of up to date data about earnings and that some self employed people would not need financial support.. Whatever support the Chancellor offers it will come too late for many as the lead time to make claims are likely to run into several weeks especially if any part of the offer involves applying for Universal Credit. The self employed will be joining an every growing queue of hundreds of thousands to just get registered for UC.

Self-employed workers don't have access to statutory sick pay. The Government has promised that if you are sick or if you have been advised to self-isolate, you will be able to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) from day one instead of day eight.The weekly payment for ESA is typically £73.10 or £57.90 for people under the age of 25.The Chancellor is raising the payments for Universal Credit so that the self-employed receive the same amount as someone on statutory sick pay, or £94.25 a week.

According to National poverty charity Turn2us. If self-employed households have to stop working due to coronavirus, 82 per cent would be better off if their income was guaranteed in the same way as employees,

It estimates that each household will see their take home pay reduced by an average of £781 per month if they have to claim Universal Credit, compared to the 80 per cent wage guarantee set out by the Chancellor for people in full-time employment.

The charity also announced that it saw a 1,800 per cent weekly increase in self-employed people using its benefits calculator on Friday after the Chancellor said that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme does not include support for self-employed workers.

Reported by the Ziata Rodionova for the i , David Samson, Welfare Benefits Specialist, said the exclusion from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme creates a "huge disparity" between salaried workers and the self-employed.

He added: "We urge the government to put in place measures to ensure self-employed workers are protected from the economic repercussions of coronavirus on an equal footing with employees. At this critical time our society needs to stand together and provide security for everyone"

All this after members of his own Party urged the Chancellor to go for a simple universal benefits for the self employed (which could be clawed back under the tax system), the German Government apparently unfazed by the complexity of self employment, approved a package for self-employed people or companies with up to five employees who will be able to seek payments of up to 9,000 euros ($10,000) each over three months. The figure will rise to up to 15,000 euros for companies with up to 10 employees.

The country has listened to the advice from the scientists and medical experts and taken it on board. We all want to see our country and fellow nations overcome this invisible enemy, save lives and return to whatever the future has in store. Our Government rightly implores us to protect our NHS by staying indoors and following the advice. That requires the NHS and social care staff to be afforded the full protection of the state with full protection from PPE and testing for the Convid -19 virus now.

Stay Home Save Lives NHS