James Murray – 2020 Speech on Covid-19

Below is the text of the speech made by James Murray, the Labour MP for Ealing North, in the House of Commons on 11 May 2020.

It is the first responsibility of Government to keep people safe and during this crisis that responsibility is acute. What the Government say and do each day has profound consequences, whether that is being too slow with lockdown measures and PPE, or creating confusion with ill-considered announcements.

If lockdown measures are to be eased, it is critical that the Government keep the rate of infection as low as possible. In their plan published today, they acknowledge the role that mass testing and contact tracing play in suppressing transmission, but we have been a long way from the comprehensive, effective and, as the Prime Minister put it, world-leading system we need. The plan mentions targets of 100,000 tests a day last month and 200,000 tests a day this month, yet there has not been a single day in May when the number of people tested has been above 70,000. The plan also mentions a role for local authority public health services, but it feels far too much like an afterthought. The Government have focused all their energy on a new national call centre, rather than listening to local authorities, experts, and MPs, who have implored them to put local teams at the heart ​of those efforts. The Government plan also mentions controlling the outbreak in care homes. The importance of that cannot be overstated, as this Government’s failure to protect people who live and work in care homes is fast becoming one of their greatest failings of the covid-19 crisis so far.

Last week, my team and I spoke to care homes across my constituency. One care worker told us how traumatic it had been for their colleagues to lose so many residents. They told us that they would usually expect to suffer around three deaths a year in their home, but that they have lost twice as many people in a single fortnight of this crisis. The people we spoke to were deeply upset with the Government and with the lack of recognition for care, and they felt that they had been in a crisis for far longer than since coronavirus. One worker said to us that their colleagues were tired and upset, but that they had been for years. That is the truth at the heart of this crisis.

This outbreak has laid bare the deep-seated inequalities in our country. It is hitting those people hardest who cannot work from home, such as low-paid care staff, hospital cleaners and bus drivers. It is hitting hardest those who do not have a decent home, such as those living with overcrowding or sofa-surfing and those who are homeless.

Once we get through the immediate crisis, we must not let the Government forget those workers who are risking everything to keep the country safe. We must not forget those receiving care who are paying such a dreadful price, trade unions that are playing a crucial role in protecting people’s jobs, BAME communities, who are suffering more than anyone else, and councils and local volunteers who are getting food delivered to those who need it most. When we begin to emerge from this crisis, making our economy work for people who do the essential jobs in society, building a new generation of council housing, and ending the austerity that has caused so much harm to our public services, will be more important than ever.