Ipswich MP: I share frustration at Covid restrictions...but we mustn’t get complacent
PUBLISHED: 07:09 25 September 2020 | UPDATED: 08:47 25 September 2020
Ipswich MP Tom Hunt writes about the latest Covid-19 restrictions in his latest weekly column.
Heading into the return of Parliament after recess, it was clear that there were a number of key issues we had to get right.
Chief among these in the last week has been Covid-19, with the concerning rise in cases nationwide and the warnings of more hospitalisations and deaths if it’s allowed to go unchecked.
The prime minister responded this week with a set of measures to prevent the further spread of the virus. And I appreciate that these decisions taken for the whole country can seem cumbersome.
Ipswich has a relatively low rate of cases compared to other parts of the country. And I think the way the vast majority of people in our town have made sacrifices to follow the rules has played an important part in this.
But we aren’t immune in Ipswich and what happens in the rest of the country will have an impact on what happens locally.
We mustn’t get complacent and risk undoing all the immense sacrifices people have made so far.
I do share the frustration though of many with measures, like the 10pm curfew on hospitality venues that it feels like we’re being punished for the irresponsible behaviour of a small minority of people in other parts of the country - including some protesters flouting the social distancing rules, with little or no repercussions.
On one occasion, there were 1,500 protests across the country in a single day. These national measures are clunky and should be taken locally wherever possible.
On the whole, it’s clear the government is doing its best in difficult circumstances to get the crucial balance right between the ‘three Ls’ - lives, livelihoods and liberties.
All these three things need protecting against this pandemic and there must be an understanding that they are all connected too.
If we see our response as a trade-off between lives, livelihoods and liberties, then all three will suffer.
However, I understand the argument made by some that by taking action now to suppress the virus, we can hopefully protect lives and reduce the chance of stricter measures further down the line, affecting people’s livelihoods and liberties to an even greater extent.
The support for jobs and businesses announced by the chancellor is also an important part of continuing to get this balance right, with the VAT rate cut being continued and grants extended for the self-employed.
When the furlough scheme ends in October, the Job Support Scheme will also kick in - with the government covering up to two-thirds of people’s wages if their hours have been reduced due to Covid-19.
Crucially, the new scheme will prioritise small and medium-sized enterprises.
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This scheme clearly isn’t as generous as the exceptional furlough scheme and it won’t help everyone in the way they might want. And I’ll continue to do everything I can to support those who are concerned about what the end of furlough means for them.
But we aren’t where we were in March. Schools have gone back, businesses have reopened and more people want to get safely back to work. And there is a need to tailor the support to the circumstances we’re in.
This is unfortunately something which has completely passed the Labour Party by.
The shadow chancellor seems to have a new position every week on support for jobs, flip-flopping between saying the furlough scheme shouldn’t go on forever, that it needs to be extended and then that it needs to be replaced.
This has left many completely confused about what the Labour Party’s position actually is.
By contrast, we need to stand up as MPs and hold the government to account so it continues to get the balance right between protecting people’s lives, livelihoods and liberties.
The stakes are incredibly high, particularly when it comes to things like support for the hospitality sector - which has been among the hardest hit by this virus.
The 10pm curfew will be a blow. It was just last month that people were being encouraged to support these businesses through schemes like Eat Out to Help Out.
Any further negative impact on our pubs, restaurants and other businesses in Ipswich must be mitigated. And at this stage, we must be clear that this has to mean allowing them to stay open as much as possible - of course with the necessary precautions and consequences for the small minority that don’t follow the rules.
Those who work in the sector, including a disproportionate number of our town’s young people, also need to be represented and given as much certainty as we can give them that they’ll be able to hold down their job.
We also have to be accountable in getting it right for people’s mental health.
The initial lockdown was crucial to protect people’s physical health but it did take its toll psychologically on many.
During the lockdown, I spoke to many people in Ipswich on the phone who were feeling lonely and isolated. And I’m acutely aware that the implementation of stricter measures will leave many with fresh concerns about whether they can see friends and families and the pressure on their livelihoods.
The stories about a damaging second lockdown didn’t materialise as some had expected and the government has done its best to chart a balanced path forwards between lives, livelihoods and liberties.
But this will be a narrow path to tread and we’ll only get it right if as MP’s we’re ready to take ownership of our responsibility to represent our constituents in finding the way ahead.
I’ll be supporting an amendment to Covid legislation to make sure there’s a debate and vote in parliament before any future national measures are put in place.
The use of the government’s exceptional powers must be informed by what’s going on in the country and I’ll do everything I can to make sure Ipswich has its voice heard.
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