Opinion with county councillor Karen Constantine: Heading into the second Covid ‘lockdown’

Cllr Karen Constantine

Councillor Karen Constantine (Labour Party) is one of two Ramsgate representatives at Kent County Council

We finally have a second lockdown. It’s got to be safety first. It’s time now to do whatever you can to stay safe and to heed the public health advice.

Lockdown has been put in place to stop Covid transmission and to prevent sickness and death. Capacity in the NHS must be protected as our hospitals could be overwhelmed. No one wants that. And whilst during the first lockdown we rightly clapped our appreciation for all our frontline workers, nurses, postman, shop workers and carers etc this second lock down is harder on them. They are, like us, tired, stressed and worried. So let’s try and look after to each other as best we can during these difficult times.

Many of us are critical of the Government, saying it’s too little too late. There are certainly many questions to be answered about the delay and the apparent lack of planning.

SAGE offered the Government advice to implement a 2-3 week circuit breaker on September 21. Their expert advice went unheeded. Every slide shown during the latest announcement illustrated the fact that this steep upward trend began at the start of September and was ignored. Doubtless this wilful blindness has ensured the measures now in place are longer and harsher.

Many experts are saying an earlier lockdown to coincide with half term would have been more effective. Many teachers, the teaching unions and parents are concerned about keeping schools open. I am too. Many too have lost confidence in the government which has displayed brazen double standards.

The pre-planned end of the Furlough scheme will have already cost people their jobs and despite the rather Scrooge-like one month’s extension, earlier action could have prevented at least some of this job loss misery. And still, despite promises to address their plight, many self-employed workers are caught in a poverty trap, receiving little or no support. No clarity for the future.

All of this uncertainty is lead to the predicted rise in unemployment. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) is predicting 4 million. Others are expecting an even higher toll.

We saw our Government display shambolic planning. They have consistently contradicted all the scientific advice, ignored the calls for better support for workers and employers, failed to a deliver test and trace service, and haven’t provided anywhere near sufficient support to those in our communities that need it most.

Boris Johnson has finally lost any shred of the already threadbare authority he ever had. Whilst the rest of Europe has calmly set about long-term Covid protections for people and businesses, our PM has spaffed away billions of pounds and with it any hope of effective management of the crisis in the UK.

The consequences of this will be devastating and whilst this crisis was always going to be costly to deal with, these financial pressures have been exacerbated greatly by gross mismanagement and misspending. And we still have Brexit to deal with.

The latest plans are so poor, so hastily assembled that the police and others are gravely concerned.

What we need now is a laser focus on short and medium term planning.

This should include:

No further cuts to Council funding. But an increase across the board so that councils like KCC can concentrate on the BAU, ‘business as usual’ statutory services, such as public health, social and elder care, and keeping libraries and sure start centres etc open.

Immediate measures to protect and rehouse the homeless.

A longer term job furlough scheme, emulating those in France, Germany and Spain which are in place until the end of 2021. At 80%, capped at £2,500 per month.

Adequate support for the self employed. 40% instead of the current 20%. Until the end of 2021.

A ban on benefit sanctions.

Universal Credit payments paid within a week of a claim submitted.

The additional £20 UC ‘boost’ to be extended until the end of 2021.

The mortgage payment holiday to be continued on a no fault basis.

Free School meals for all children complemented in poorer wards with across to others essentials including computers and data packages.

Pregnant women are able to be accompanied by partners for scans and labour.

Additional funding to online and telephone mental health support services.

Ringfenced support paid monthly to food banks to aid effective planning.