As you can imagine my staff and I are exceptionally busy dealing with a multitude issues that are coming into the office as regards Covid-19, the lockdown and other associated issues. As such I want to publicly thank my team, the best you could ask for, for the sterling work they are doing on your behalf, trying to deal with the tsunami of casework and concern that’s coming our way. If you don’t get a reply, please be patient, we will try to get to you ASAP.
Because of social distancing we have had to quickly adapt how we work, doing so remotely from home.
Each day/week the team and I take part in different conference calls to feed in and listen for updates. My main conference calls are:
– Daily Cabinet Office call-in for MPs
– Constituency team call-in
– Weekly County Council Strategic brief for MPs
– Weekly call with Norfolk Chief Constable
– Regular calls with Norwich City Council
– Labour Shadow Treasury Team & PLP/ Shadow Cabinet online meets
– Other calls include Trade Unions, employers, the LEP, charities and voluntary organisations
Many of the emails we are receiving concern:
– A lack of clarity and guidance for the self-employed;
– lack of PPE equipment in healthcare and other key-worker environments;
– Concerns that jobs or businesses that are non-essential are still active, or that essential workplaces aren’t following social distancing/home working guidance adequately
– Requests from constituents for more pressure on the Govt to increase the levels of testing of professionals and/or those showing symptoms more widely;
– Concern from residents that other people in their local communities are not adhering to the social distancing policies, thus facilitating the spread of the virus;
– Queries/complaints in response to content outlined in the daily televised Government briefings.
– Various concerns from parents with children with Special Educational Needs (SEN)
– Businesses and charities struggling with cash flow and the govt’s support packages
– Food security
Gaps in employment and support protection:
Despite its unprecedented scale and size there are many whom the govt’s various support packages are still failing. We have no specific statistics for Norwich and Norfolk yet. But early evidence suggests 200,000 people working in hospitality have already lost their jobs. It is estimated 50,000 freelancers in the film industry will be out of work because of Coronavirus. Almost 500,000 people have applied for Universal Credit in recent days, with people reporting online queues of over 130,000 people on the claims website.
The main issues are:
– Problems with ‘furloughing’ re eligibility etc
– Low levels of benefit and Stat Sick Pay (SSA)
– Time lag for benefits and self-employment support packages
– Gaps and uncertainties around the self-employment scheme
– Use of Universal Credit (UC) loans not grants
– Rents/utility bills, disconnection, arrears and eviction threats
You can see more details about many of these problems and the Labour Party’s urgent suggested changes, here:
Personal Protective Clothing (PPE):
This issue has been and continues to be both a national and local scandal for which the govt must be held responsible.
– Contact from NHS staff, GP surgeries, care-workers etc who do not have the PPE they require and have been forced to beg, borrow or steal this essential kit.We know they are now being gagged as regards this issue
– We know Norfolk County Council (NCC) cannot find any facemasks that meet Public Health England standards
– There is not sufficient PPE for NCC frontline social workers and care staff to last the current 12-week isolation period (and obviously concern that what there is does not meet all of Public Health England standards)
– We know some PPE received by NCC has been diverted to the NHS
– Norfolk has had to rely on donations of PPE from construction industry – which is terrifying this early in the crisis with relatively few cases in Norfolk that the contingency is so threadbare we are already relying on donations
Banks & Business:
– We know banks are not opening up the credit lines to the extent govt policy has stipulated.
– The banks say they are following the Govt’s rules
– The result is 20% or more of firms will not get the help they need with as many as 800,000 firms nationwide potentially going under.
– My team and I are lobbying govt, advising businesses as best we can and signposting companies where possible as well as working closely with Norwich City Council and the Local Enterprise Partnership
– Labour is also calling for commitment that banks are reversing recent hikes to overdraft interest rates, no credit card withdrawal or late payment fees, clear agreement on interest-free overdraft borrowing, no other overdraft charges, and these rules being set out publicly rather than left to the banks’ discretion
– The issue of employers treating staff unfairly or dangerously is a constant theme
– Numerous examples locally of staff being forced to work in non-essential industries and commerce, thus increasing the risk of Coronavirus spreading.
– Poor PPE and little or no hygiene facilities
– We are urging the Govt for “strict and enforceable closure” of non-essential workplaces until businesses can resume with safe working practices.
– Working with local trade unions to monitor the situation
– We’ve been supporting local companies who have had to face the logistical problems of sourcing laptops, secure networks etc so that employees can work from home
– Contacting employers failing to comply with govt directions or endangering their staff, which will culminate in ‘naming and shaming’ those who refuse to act responsibly (ie Wetherspoons)
– Anyone wanting to report poor or dangerous employers should contact either my office or report anonymously on
– There remains serious concern as regards to govt plans for food security
– We welcome the recent changes big supermarkets have made to ensuring the elderly, vulnerable and key workers have access to food supplies
– We know food banks locally are struggling due to the shortage of supplies and a reduction in donations
– The Govt’s free school dinner voucher replacement scheme was announced without any consultation meaning NCC will have nothing place for some time yet. Local schools involved in local schemes are doing their best to provide meals and packed lunches etc for their pupils
– Many individuals and families struggling before the outbreak as well as those who have seen their income collapse are or are about to become ‘food vulnerable’
– Smaller shops, a lifeline for older and more vulnerable constituents are struggling to get any supplies due to the big supermarkets dominating demand
– Others say they have the suppliers but that haulage companies are prioritising increased demand for non-essential home orders ie Amazon and DIY supplies
– Labour are urging the launch a national public food advertising campaign
– Also that displaced and furloughed drivers and other workers from the catering sector, cafes, restaurants and others to be more easily seconded to supermarkets and distributors
– There are a number of constituents trapped around the world my office is helping with
– There are serious questions to be answered as to why the UK’s response in terms of in-situ support and repatriation has been so poor and slow compared to many other countries
– We’ve helped Brits abroad get home from Spain (Fuerteventura), Australia, New Zealand, Peru, and passengers on the MSC Fantasia (via Portugal).
– There are constituents we are still trying to help in Spain (Fuerteventura), Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Venezuela, India, Indonesia (Bali), The Philippines (El Nido), and passengers on a catamaran in the Red Sea (hoping to dock in Egypt).
– There are no commercial flights out of New Zealand, Peru, and India. There is one more commercial flight from Manila to Heathrow scheduled, but there are no domestic commercial flights or ferries from El Nido to the mainland.
– Keen to see what chartered flights there will be back to the UK, if any, from these countries following the recent announcement from the foreign Sec.
– We have one constituent stuck in New Delhi, India, who has dual citizenship (British and German), and the Germans are flying her back as far as Germany.
– I’ve done various media interviews both nationally and locally. A recent selection are below:
Please rest assured the team and I will do all we can to help constituents in these really challenging circumstances. Despite it all, I’ve experienced first-hand the wonderful solidarity people are showing one another. It’s this spirit that will play such a key part in helping us get through this period. In the coming weeks, once I’ve stopped self-isolating, I’ll be reporting back on much of the voluntary work taking place across the constituency and beyond.
Until then, stay safe.