So we are back in lockdown. And I imagine like me, most of you are extremely unhappy about it.
I voted in favour of the new restrictions, because the situation is so grave and quite simply there is no viable alternative to defeat the virus. But I am clear that they are far from ideal.
It isn’t just businesses that will suffer. Even if workers are furloughed, they may only get 80% of their normal wage. Which means much less spending power in the economy.
There are still too many people, perhaps three million, who are ‘excluded’, meaning they fall outside government support schemes. They might have started their job after the cut off date. Or they might fall into a certain category of self employment.
One group excluded are directors of small businesses. They pay themselves a small wage during the year and then a dividend payment at the end once they know how much they have left. It’s a normal practice for small businesses but the government scheme did not take account of this part of the workforce last time.
In the Commons I asked Boris Johnson to remember these people, not just roll over the rules from the last lockdown. He gave the usual reply without any real clarity.
Several weeks ago, Opposition Leader Keir Starmer had suggested a brief two week ‘circuit break’ lockdown over half term but this was rejected as “absurd” by the Prime Minister. Sadly the result is now a longer four week restriction.
The new restrictions are not as tight as last time, but they will also have an effect on people’s mental health. Particularly for people who live alone. And another awful consequence of lockdown is that incidents of domestic violence spike. The police, the council and brilliant charities such as Chester Women’s Aid will be ready to help, but prevention is better than cure.
The terrible reality is that we are still in the midst of a pandemic, people are dying, or staying sick for the long term. Even those that suffer less are still out of action for a couple of weeks. We have to take steps to defeat Covid.
We now have hope of a vaccine, but until then we must follow the rules, wear a face mask if possible, and stay at home to beat the virus. The health crisis we face is so serious. It would also help if we had a working test and trace system, run locally by local councils and our brilliant armed services, rather than one run by a privatised contractor and a crony of the government.