I know many people are worried about the impact of Coronavirus on their life, from their ability to work and earn an income, to family and friends who may be forced to self-isolate.
Like many, I have been in awe of our NHS staff, who are working tirelessly to provide the best possible care at such a difficult time.
All politicians have a responsibility to ensure our response to this crisis is as effective as possible. In the days ahead, Labour MPs will be working constructively with the government to ensure any emergency legislation protects everyone in our society – not just those at risk of poor health, but anyone who finds themselves in hardship.
The Chancellor announced yesterday that businesses will be able to access cash to meet their expenses. However, given the exceptionally challenging circumstances businesses face, there is no guarantee that this will trickle down to keep workers’ incomes secure.
Workers should not be forced to make the choice between putting their health at risk and not being able to make ends meet by self-isolating. Statutory Sick Pay must also be increased and extended to give workers the reassurance they need during the pandemic, and provisions must be made to protect the self-employed too.
This outbreak has also put a spotlight on the significant challenges we face in our long-neglected health and social care services. In Sunderland alone, GP numbers have fallen by 20% since 2015, and I worry about the additional strain that Coronavirus will place on them.
We must also protect health and social care workers, and ensure that all staff are provided with protective equipment so that they do not put themselves at increased risk of infection.
The government must do all they can to help low-income families by taking steps such as an increase in child benefit for the duration of the pandemic, and temporarily uplift the Universal Credit standard allowance.
In the meantime, where we are able, we must do what we can to support the most vulnerable in our communities.
We can help our elderly friends and family by delivering shopping to them, but I would urge anyone wanting to help to stay up-to-date with official health guidelines, so they know how to protect their own wellbeing. It’s important that we all do what’s asked of us, especially around social distancing.
By showing kindness and compassion to each other, we can come through this crisis and emerge as a stronger community.
Bridget’s article was first published in the Sunderland Echo.