Look After Each Other

The first duty of any government is to keep its people safe. In the absence of any leadership from Matt Hancock, Michael Gove or Boris Johnson, the North East’s Covid cases were doubling every week. Our local public health teams identified the transmission hotspots and asked central government to bring in some limited restrictions.

This isn’t a lockdown like it was in March. Pubs and cafes are still open, they just close at 10pm. You can buy things in shops. People can still go to work. If these measures don’t work, central government will impose a stricter lockdown.

Childcare is really expensive, and many families rely on grandparents and other relatives to look after their kids. School pick-ups, in particular are vital. Yet without any consultation, the Conservative government chose to make informal childcare illegal. I’ve written, along with all the local council leaders, insisting that this be reversed.

No wonder people are confused when Dominic Cummings is allowed to drive with his family across the entire country while he’s infected. But it’s now illegal for you to babysit your own family members

What we need is for people to look after themselves and other people. Read the FAQ published online. Wash your hands for 20 seconds. Wear a mask to help others – you don’t know if that person near you has asthma or not. Most importantly, keep 2 metres away from people.

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, ‘What does not kill me makes me stronger’. Well not with Covid. Even if you’re young and healthy, Covid can ruin your life. Patients who’ve caught Covid and recovered can still be left with damage to their heart muscles. The Lancet is reporting kidney and joint damage. Numerous studies are showing Covid causes damage to the cells of the brain and central nervous system. I was talking to a doctor, who reported that an increasing number of cases are dragging on and on, with people not recovering for months. Patients talk of being in a “brain fog” and unable to think clearly. Covid hasn’t been around long enough for us to know for certain how much your lifespan will shorten, even if you recover.

But two key components have been missing for too long. First, testing. Unless we can quickly and reliably tell who’s got the disease, we’re acting blindfolded. The omnishambles that has been the national testing and tracing system prompted a local response. Central government have finally got round to agreeing to give us the resources to run our own testing system. The Lighthouse Lab will be run between our hospitals and Local Authorities, and clear the backlog of tests.

And after I and others have been asking for months, government has finally realised that people who are skint will only self-isolate if they get financial support. Low paid workers will now get £500 to make up for their earnings loss when self-isolating. This should have been introduced back in March.

Health and wealth are interlinked. Dealing with Covid is an immediate problem, but we’ve endured poor health in our region for too long. We have the lowest life expectancy of all English regions, especially for women.

Parents are working, but they can’t afford to put food on the table for their kids. Almost three-quarters of the children in the North East are living in families with no or very little savings. They have no financial cushion to help them through.

That’s why all the jobs we’re creating in the North of Tyne are underpinned by our Good Work Pledge. Jobs need to be secure, pay enough to live on, and give people career progression.

I’m so pleased that the North of Tyne Combined Authority has a zero gender pay gap. On that note, hats off to Sunderland City Council who’ve joined us as an accredited Real Living Wage employer. This will make a massive difference to the lives of thousands of keyworkers in our region, and their families.

Your local authorities don’t have anything like the funding or the powers that central government have. But what they do have, they use wisely, to protect you and your loved ones.

Published Originally in The Journal and Evening Chronicle 21.9.20