Barbara Keeley – 2020 Speech on Covid-19

Below is the text of the speech made by Barbara Keeley, the Labour MP for Worsley and Eccles South, in the House of Commons on 12 May 2020.

I speak as an MP for one of the areas outside London that has been hit hardest by covid-19. Tragically, we know that 246 people in Salford died due to the disease in the first two months—a death rate of 95 per 100,000 of our residents. Our thoughts are with their families, and the families of everyone who has died due to the pandemic.

At the start of this crisis the Government said that they would do whatever it takes to defeat covid-19. Local authorities such as Salford City Council took them at their word, and have done a fantastic job in supporting vulnerable people, our care system, and local businesses. The Government now seem to be backtracking and expecting councils to foot the bill for the crisis response. Across Greater Manchester, Government support for local authorities is already £400 million lower than the costs our councils have incurred, with Salford Council spending £33 million extra in the first six months of the year.

Can the Minister confirm that Government Ministers meant what they said and that all additional costs incurred by councils will be covered by Government funding? Will the Government look carefully at the suggestion from our Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham about English regional representation at Cobra meetings?

On the sustainability of local businesses, I have heard from businesses across my constituency that are not eligible for the funding support that they need—from private limited companies to veterinary businesses, from dentists through to the Veterans Garage, which operates in a shared space to provide vital support for veterans.

Given that none of the businesses that I have highlighted are eligible for any support apart from loans, what reassurances can the Minister give them about their situation? Ministers also need to look again at the need for support for self-employed people in the creative industries. I have been contacted by many constituents working at MediaCityUK in Salford quays, who are not eligible for support.

The Prime Minister’s announcement on Sunday, and the guidance published since, have led to confusion about what is and is not allowed. Many of my constituents now fear that they will be forced back to work before it is safe for them. I have heard from one constituent whose son has been told to report back for work this week, despite the fact that he lives with his mother and she has been told to shield. The son has been on furlough but was asked to go back to work yesterday, even before the covid-19 secure guidance had been published.

Will the Minister confirm that businesses will be required to put the necessary protections in place and that no staff will be expected to go back to work until they can be sure it is safe to do so? Will the advice on shielding cover the issue of how that can work when another family member has to go out to work, increasing the risk?

Finally, I want to talk about family support. The Prime Minister set out a plan for getting people back to work, but the only concession for family contact was ​allowing one person to meet one member of another household outside, while maintaining social distancing. I was contacted after the Prime Minister’s speech by a new mother who had given birth to her baby during lockdown. None of her family or friends has been able to meet her baby or support her, and she is now feeling exceptionally isolated.

My constituents are being directed back to work, where social distancing is advised but is not even guaranteed. Why is it acceptable for someone to meet large numbers of people at work, but not get the support they need with a new baby from family members? Can the Minister clarify when we will see updated guidance for that new mother and when she will be allowed to meet family members to get the support that she needs with her baby?