Below is the text of the statement made by Penny Mordaunt, the Paymaster General, in the House of Commons on 11 May 2020.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Covid-19.
We gather here today in the midst of a very great darkness that has descended upon our nation, and not just our nation—all nations. It has been by far the biggest challenge we have faced in a generation. We knew it was coming, but not when and not what its clinical characteristics would be. We trained to face it. How we have all responded to it has been a defining moment for us as individuals and as a nation. We have all been involved. We had no choice about dealing with it, but we had a choice about how we did so.
In the past few weeks, the darkness that has engulfed us all has been emotional, economic and extensive, but it has been illuminated by a million points of light: the response from the British people has been immense. People in all our communities have performed selfless, heroic acts—stoic, disciplined, kind—from now Colonel Tom to our health and care workers, our scientific and tech community, businesses, those who came out of retirement, critical workers, volunteers and the public who through their resolve have reduced the rate of infection and sent this virus into decline.
People have faced this crisis with personal courage and often good cheer, and I pay tribute to their resilience with pride. This virus called forth the question of who we are, and that question was answered—for families, for parents, for children, for communities, for the nation. It illuminated our values and our strengths: we chose to prioritise lives; we chose to support businesses and jobs; so many stepped up and volunteered; we pull together in times of crisis; we have seen the validation of a devolved but national health service that is free at the point of use and not linked to employment—our NHS. It has shown what we believe in and how much we value the actions of so many who are taking on a greater share of the risk to protect us all and defeat the virus, including, I am very proud to say, some Members of this House of Commons working in health or as first responders. When united in a national effort, the British people are a powerful force.
The virus has also shown a fragility: the structural and funding complexity of social care; the invisibility of some of those in care settings and mental health, of those with learning or behavioural disabilities, as well as older people; the lack of resilience in supplies of equipment when faced with a crisis of global proportions; the obstacles to providing support to some of our most entrepreneurial people; and the challenges of getting the world working together when nations are also focused at home.
This debate offers us parliamentarians the opportunity not just to scrutinise what has happened and the next steps in our response, but to discuss how we can continue to improve our resilience and adapt to what will be fundamental changes in the way we live
our lives. This is, without doubt, an inflection point for our country and for the world, and we all need to rise to those challenges. We all have a role to play in finding solutions and answers.
This debate affords us the opportunity to remember and mourn all those who have lost their lives to this disease, and to think of those who are grieving without comfort—in some cases, without having said goodbye. The reported death toll stands at 31,855 souls. Our thoughts, too, must be with those who have survived covid but whose health has been impaired as a consequence, and to acknowledge those who have had to put their treatment and therapy for other conditions on hold because the NHS would not have been able to cope unless they did so. The full cost of that sacrifice has yet to be counted.
In particular, it is right that we acknowledge all those working in health and care who have succumbed to the disease. In full knowledge of the risks, they chose to work on the frontline to save lives, give comfort to others and provide care to those in their charge. The metaphor of this pandemic as a war against coronavirus has been used, and the courage and duty demonstrated by all those working with those who are infected is the same as going into battle. Many will have seen their friends fall ill. Some will have seen their colleagues die. And they will have headed back into the danger zone, day after day. I know that there will be disagreements during the course of this debate, but I also know that every Member of this House will want to express their gratitude and humility in the face of such service, and all will agree that, despite the difficulties, we must ensure that all frontline workers in this crisis have the equipment that they need to keep them safe. We are all aware of the challenges and of the efforts being made, but that is irrelevant. We must, and we will, do what is necessary.
I also want to thank the volunteers who have stood up to help care and health services. This includes individuals who are facing the prospect of losing their job, financial hardship or worries about relatives. Instead of devoting themselves to their own needs or those of their families, they have gone into care homes, medical wards and Nightingale hospitals to serve their communities—often having to separate from their own loved ones to do so. Over 3 million additional volunteers stepped up.
We should also thank the critical workers who have carried on so that we could all be fed, protected and provided for: those in the supermarket and the store; the police and fire services; post office workers; public transport workers; cleaners; prison officers; refuse collectors; pharmacists; teachers; nursery workers; public servants, especially those in the resilience forums; and, of course, our armed forces, who have delivered aid to those being shielded, brought testing to communities, and provided planning expertise at every level of this response and in every local resilience forum in the land—all while carrying out their other duties to protect the nation. They have taken risks for all our sakes.
In the past few months we have seen so many people and organisations rally: from the businesses that adapted so swiftly to meet the needs of the nation, expanding services, altering their production lines and generously donating equipment and expertise; to the others who managed to keep their businesses going throughout this ordeal in order that they could provide for our families and support our public services. We must remember that without the wealth they generate, we cannot fund the services that we all rely on.
We have been right to provide an unprecedented level of support to retain jobs and help cash flow, with 25,000 loans, half a million firms furloughing workers, and 600,000 grants. We as a Government and all of us as citizens must do all that we can to get Britain back to work and start the recovery, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has set out.
We have seen charities, faced with their fundraising plans in tatters, lead the local response and, of course, the public have followed the requests of the chief medical officer by staying at home. It has been tough, especially for those in cramped housing with no gardens, but they have done it, and thanks to them R is now below 1. In the next phase of the response, we must all continue to demonstrate that resolve.
In all the steps and all the issues that colleagues will raise in this debate, we will be more successful if we tackle them together, across party lines and across the Administrations of the United Kingdom, as we continue to do, with international co-operation, and across all sectors—public, private and the third sector—no longer deterred by dogma, just pulling together and focusing on what needs to be done.
In that spirit, opening this debate affords me an opportunity to thank all Members of this House who joined the Cabinet Office daily calls at the start of the pandemic. They were cross-party and they were constructive. We helped each other to help our constituents, shared our ideas, cut down workloads and supported each other. The information gathered on personal protective equipment, care homes, businesses and operational matters was incredibly helpful to every Department.
We should continue to work together not only to tackle the challenges but to seize the opportunities to tackle problems that were previously almost impossible. For example, since the start of this crisis, 90% of rough sleepers are now in accommodation. They are safe and secure. There will never be a better opportunity to wrap the services that those individuals need around them while we deal with the crisis, so we must.
These are dark times, but they are also illuminating times. We have reminded ourselves, as a country, what we can do when we are united in a mission. Millions of us chose not to curse the dark but to light a candle. The British people have given us a beacon of hope in the days ahead.