Hilary Benn - Member of Parliament for Leeds Central
When I finished writing my column for South Leeds Life at the end of February, I could scarcely have imagined that so much would change so quickly in the following four weeks.
As the coronavirus has spread across the globe with no vaccine yet available – although lots of scientists are working on one – we have come to realise the dangers it presents. Although for most it is a disease that can be managed at home and is recovered from, for a small percentage of people it is life-threatening.
Anyone who thought it was a lot of fuss about a flu, has – like us – been shocked by the pictures of overwhelmed hospitals in Italy and the army carrying away coffins in Spain.
The battle we are all engaged in is against a virus that we cannot see but whose spread we must contain. The rules we are now living under are there for our protection and the safety of others, in particular the old and the vulnerable, and we must follow them even though the consequences for almost every aspect of our national life are enormous.
I have seen that in the many anxious phone calls and emails I and my team have received from people whose jobs and incomes have suddenly disappeared and have no idea how they will pay the bills, family members stranded across the globe, people worried about catching the virus at work and businesses desperate for help to keep afloat.
At a time of crisis it is the job of Government to act decisively. We all welcome the steps that have been taken to provide financial assistance, but it will take time for this to come through and some families will need help until it does. That’s why all the volunteers in local community support networks being set up in south Leeds will be so important. After all, we already know from the growth in the use of local food banks that too many of our fellow citizens face inequality and insecurity each and every day.
This crisis has also brought out the best in our society. The many acts of kindness towards others. The selflessness of all those who have stepped forward to deliver food and care for the lonely and those having to self-isolate across our city. The efforts of council staff, postal and transport workers, cleaners, staff in care homes, and all those who make things and provide services that in times like these we realise just how much we rely on. And the magnificence of our national health service and all the staff who work in it. If we fall ill they will be there for us, doing their job with skill, dedication and the utmost courage.
And for each of us, as we deal with our worries about the present and wonder what the future may hold, let us cherish what really matters – the health and the love of those dearest to us. It is not until something is taken away that we realise just how precious it was.
The next couple of months will be very hard, above all for those who will lose loved ones. We will need to hold and comfort the bereaved. We will need to help those whose lives have been turned upside down by the economic impact. We will need to keep up each others’ morale, including those who will be working long hours to look after us.
We will come through this and when we do, I really hope that as a society we will have learned an important lesson about what it is that we should truly value.
Stay safe and if you need my help, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or ring 0113 244 1097.