Many of you have been in touch with me since the new national lockdown was announced.
I am only too aware of how difficult this is going to be for many people and their jobs, businesses and mental health and welfare. Some people are really struggling with reduced incomes as the bills mount up. We must support those who find themselves in this position, and I want to thank everyone in Leeds – from the Council to the voluntary sector – for everything they have been doing to provide practical support and assistance.
However, I think the decision to introduce the lockdown was both inevitable and necessary given the growing number of Covid cases and the increasing pressures on our NHS, including the LGI and Jimmy’s. We all need to play our part in trying to reverse the rise in infections so that we can eventually come out of this, but it will depend on what we do. And while we play our part, the Government has to ensure that all the businesses affected get the support they need. I welcome the extension of the furlough and self-employed schemes which the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on 5th November, but ministers will have to see what further help can be given, particularly to the sectors of the economy which are most badly affected.
Many have you have asked the question about the extent to which certain activities may spread the virus in seeking to find an answer as to why particular businesses or activities have been required to close. The science on all of this is imperfect and I don’t think we will ever get to understand the precise contribution of each activity to the pandemic. But a basic truth holds – namely that the more contacts we have in the course of a day, the greater the risk that the virus will be passed from one person to another and on to those we live with. Therefore, in order to reduce the total number of contacts, society must decide which of these are going to be restricted while allowing certain activities – like children attending school – to continue. To put it bluntly, we have to act because we are currently losing control of the virus.
Some of you have been in touch to ask why a different approach isn’t being taken; for example, shielding the elderly and the vulnerable while everyone else gets on with their lives. The problem with this suggestion is that I have seen no practical proposal as to how this would be done. For example, if a family lives with an elderly parent then either the family or the parent are going to have to move out of their home to go somewhere else to shield. How exactly could this be done? And would it be right anyway to separate out families and members of our society on the basis of their age or medical condition? That is not to say, of course, those of us who are at greater risk shouldn’t take the greatest precautions. That is simply common sense.
Before the vote on the 4th of November, I attended a briefing for MPs. The essential justification, which the Government has accepted, is that unless we take this action to reduce the growth in infections and hopefully turn the curve down again then we will reach a point where the NHS is no longer able to provide services to all of us who need medical care. Back in the spring, a huge amount of ordinary NHS work and elective surgery was stopped in order to provide capacity in our hospitals for Covid patients. Over the summer and the autumn, hospitals have tried very hard to restore these services and they want to be able to keep them going because we all understand that focusing hospital capacity just on Covid patients to save lives may have the consequence of other people losing their lives because they don’t get the treatment or surgery they require.
This is a very difficult decision and the reason why I voted in favour of the lockdown is that I am persuaded that this is an essential step that we must take to protect the NHS and to save lives. You will also have no doubt seen that the same steps are being taken in many other countries where the second spike is well underway. I do recognise, however, that the lockdown does involve a restriction of our liberties and freedoms and each of us will have a view about whether this is justifiable given the current circumstances we face.
Having said all that, like you I look forward to the day when we can see fewer restrictions and a return to a more normal life.
If I can be of any assistance , then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
With best wishes
Hilary Benn MP