A significant indicator that life is far from normal was evidenced this weekend with the limited Remembrance Sunday gatherings. I attended the Ramsgate service at St George’s Church and then laid wreaths at Broadstairs and Sandwich. We are fighting our own war this year, with significant losses, against an enemy that we cannot obviously see, but we continue to remember the sacrifices made by our brave armed services across the many conflicts that enabled liberty, freedom and democracy to return and flourish. Lest we forget.
We re-enter a semi-lockdown once more. I raised my concerns forcefully on the floor of the Commons last week. I have doubts about the quality and accuracy of forecasts; what will ‘good enough’ look like in terms of infection rate and hospitalisations by 2nd December to enable an easing for the festive month, and the obvious anomalies across Church services (banned) while big retailers operate as normal.
The ‘Wilkinsons’ Conundrum’ looms large whereby such large stores selling essential and non-essential goods can sell the brushes, pots and pans but the independent store next door, despite investing in Covid secure measures and in any event, at the best of times, having low footfall but just selling the brushes, pots and pans is forced to close. Across a number of reasons, not least issues of freedom and the lack of data on other health effects and the economy I voted against the government.
I have no doubt about the rise in hospitalisations and the pressure upon the NHS and staff this brings but there is a broader mix to consider. From local reports that I am getting, and first-hand narrative from my brother-in-law who is an A&E Consultant, I am sorry to say that limited face-to-face consultations by some GPs is not assisting what should be a team effort with patients understandably choosing A&E for support out of desperation. This adds to the perception by hospital administrators that services are overwhelmed and feeds in to the Department for Health as it recommends costly lock-downs.
Child hunger during this pandemic is, rightly, a topical theme. I won’t rehearse why I voted against Labour’s purely political and opportunistic opposition day debate motion, save to say that this is the nature of the, at times, specious gameplaying at Parliament. I have long had my doubts about a blank ‘voucher’ system based simply on a historic benefits status – it is too much of a blunderbuss approach.
I am therefore pleased that the government is implementing a new £170m Covid Winter Grant Scheme on top of previous grants providing funding to local councils, and most importantly those local groups providing holiday activities and food clubs which are well placed to deliver real support to families that they know. This is a game-changing move that I welcome.
Despite an extension to the full furlough scheme, the numbers of unemployed in East Kent are rising and many will, perhaps for the first time in their lives, need to access the benefits system. There are a huge number of support schemes and training opportunities being made available and my office, working with the local Jobcentre Plus, with whom I am in regular contact, can help signpost you towards the help and opportunities that are out there.
Finally the US Presidential elections. If you ever thought that our system had its issues it now looks positively golden. Differing approaches and voting rules across each State, law suits and rowdiness. I was never a cheerleader for President Trump but as the right of centre choice I’d have voted for the slate of Republican candidates last week.
The tide turns back to the Democrats for the Presidency and for the Republicans in the Senate, which is never a good start for decisive government but that’s the mad system that the founding fathers of the US Constitution constructed. I wish President Elect Joe Biden well – I hope to meet with him during his term of office. There is much that unites the UK and the US, I’m sure that will continue.