British government

Tier 2 in Elmbridge

Monica Harding, Parliamentary Spokesperson for Elmbridge Liberal Democrats, writes on the Tier 2 measures now coming in to force in Elmbridge.

Tier 2 in Elmbridge

The Liberal Democrats welcome acknowledgement by the Government that we have to do much more to halt the spread of this virus – but regret that it has again taken too long to act. The scientists Boris Johnson hid behind in March recommended a second “circuit breaker” lockdown in the third week of September. It is now the middle of October. It seems the Government have learned nothing from their mismanagement of the first wave of the virus.

It’s an extraordinary moment in the covid crisis when the Government decides to ignore SAGE. Even the Chief Medical Officer says the tier system doesn’t go far enough.

Boris Johnson’s timidity in this crisis creates uncertainty and that in turn creates a slow burn to businesses and livelihoods. That’s the problem with tier systems. Hospitality businesses will now lose a huge amount in Tier 2 as their clientele follow the rules on not mixing household groups and stay away. But they will receive no financial support. Parts of the North have been stuck in Tier 2 since July – yet local infection rates have continued to increase rapidly. We are reminded by members of Sage that the restrictions of Tier 2 are not enough to prevent an area going into
Tier 3 . A short circuit break – timed when the schools break for half-term (that’s common sense!) will put the brakes on community transmission and give time for the NHS to steady itself for the winter ahead. Ultimately this will have less cost to lives and livelihoods and jobs than the weak and piecemeal approach of the government. It is the uncertainty and the absence of any long term Government strategy that is having such a devastating effect on communities and lives.

And so I take issue with the Leader of Surrey County Council, Tim Oliver’s line this morning that: ‘This isn’t the Government’s fault’ (BBC Surrey). We all need to work together on halting this virus but our elected representatives must stand up for the communities they represent. There is a litany of mistakes from the Government, they keep happening and they don’t seem to learn. From early inaction to the expensive disaster of track and trace, the failure to predict the pressures from a return to school and university, the tragic failures for care-homes and the complete absence of a strategy. Boris Johnson’s bumblings that the virus would be sent packing (March), over by Christmas (July), even while members of Sage were telling him that the UK will be living with coronavirus for years to come. His failure to sanction Dominic Cummings has undoubtedly led to others paying little attention to the rules and he has no moral authority left to appeal to others to do the same. Messages are conflicting and confusing. We’ve been told to work from home, go to work, you decide, stay at home again, eat out, stay in – it takes some doing to keep up with what’s expected of us.

The people of Elmbridge have shown amazing fortitude in this battle with Covid19. It is wrong of the Government to blame any part of that population for outbreaks when they can’t even put the infrastructure in place and on time to support us. 

The Prime Minister has lost control of this virus – our sacrifices here in Elmbridge have been squandered. The Government needs to explain, and Tim Oliver needs to ask on our behalf, how Tier 2 will stop the spread in Elmbridge, how long it will be in place, what comes next, and how they plan to sort out the test, trace and isolate system so that our community can protect ourselves from this pandemic. The Leader of Surrey County Council needs to speak for us, not the Government. 

Monica Harding

In the absence of decent leadership, here’s a 5 point plan on what we need to do now. 

1. Fix Test, Trace and Isolate

This must be the Government’s top priority. Every possible resource should be thrown at creating a robust, locally-led Test and Trace system which ensures everyone with symptoms can get a test and receive their results within 24-hours. Tracing should be led by local authorities and people should be given support and incentives to isolate, not the threat of a £10,000 fine. Frontline NHS staff should have access to regular testing.

2. Extend furlough & self-employed support to save jobs

It is disgraceful that the Chancellor has written off whole sectors of our economy. It is his job to ensure nobody is left behind. While borrowing costs next to nothing, the Chancellor is choosing to leave workers in the arts, in hospitality and other sectors without a salary. This is a heartless political choice. He must expand furlough support urgently until June 2021.

3. Protect people living and working in care

Vulnerable people living in care were appallingly let down in the first weeks of this crisis. Government must guarantee that as hospital admissions rise, all discharges from hospitals into care homes will take place only following a negative Covid test. Staff and residents must be able to access regular testing, with results within 24 hours, and the same must apply to people being supported to live independently, as well as residents of care homes.

Residents in care homes have now had six months without being able to see their loved ones. To reduce isolation and loneliness, care home residents should be able to nominate at least one loved one who would be given regular testing, in order that they could visit them.

4. Support children and young people

Young people will still face huge disruption to their education this year, whether because of further lockdowns, or because they have to self-isolate. Government must do everything it can to support schools to stay open in a covid-secure way, whilst also ensuring they have the resources and skills to provide online learning. This means getting laptops and internet access to pupils from low income households. They must also extend free school meals and food vouchers to ensure every child in poverty can access them – even when schools are closed. They must provide certainty about how exams will run next year, in all likely scenarios. They must reach a fair deal for first-year university students who are being charged for accommodation they do not want to use, and ensure that everyone who wants to get home to their families between now and Christmas, is able to do so.

5. Establish a public inquiry into the handling of the crisis

Public trust in the Government’s handling of this crisis is woefully low. More and more evidence is emerging that the Government has ignored scientific advice and is still failing to do what is needed. We need an independent, public inquiry, into how this has gone so badly wrong, starting as soon as possible.