Government failing to stop outbreaks in poorer areas, says Labour

Andrew Kersley

Jonathan Ashworth has argued that the government needs to “go further” to help the poorest self-isolate as areas that have experienced Covid outbreaks are “defined by low pay, child poverty and overcrowded housing”.

Commenting this afternoon on the announcement that Bolton will face a local lockdown, the Shadow Health Secretary said Covid spikes in less developed areas were inseparably linked to the government’s failure to support residents.

Responding to Matt Hancock’s coronavirus statement to the Commons, Ashworth said: “I warned the Secretary of State earlier that the biggest barrier to quarantine won’t be fatigue but personal finance.”

He added: “The government needs to go much further in helping people who need financial or housing support to self-isolate, or he will never get to terms with outbreaks in areas defined by low pay, child poverty and overcrowded housing.”

The Shadow Health Secretary went on to say that failures to properly test and trace in these ‘left-behind’ regions were another major factor in the rise of these local outbreaks.

Ashworth said: “In Bolton, just 57% of non-complex cases were reached. In Oldham, only 50% of non-complex cases were reached. Blackburn, only 47%. Bradford, only 43%. And nationally only 69.4% of contacts are now reached and told to self-isolate. What is world-beating about that?”

The latest lockdown announcement comes as Blackburn, Bradford and Oldham have all having seen lockdowns of their own in recent weeks. The Office of National Statistics classes these areas as some of the poorest towns in Britain.

Ashworth also asked the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to explain why many people requesting tests on the government website were told to report to centres far away from where they actually lived.

He said: “Last night, it was reported that there were no tests in London. People in Kent were asked to travel to Cardiff. In Denton, they were advised to visit Llandudno. In Leicester, someone was advised to head north to Edinburgh.

“In Devon, helpfully, they only needed to travel 20 miles. Unfortunately, that involved crossing the sea to Swansea. I know the Secretary of State thinks he can walk on water, but many of our constituents can’t.”

Commenting on the reported failures of privatised test and trace contracts. The Shadow Health Secretary added: “Isn’t the core of the problem this: he [Matt Hancock] didn’t listen to the experts.

“They all advised him to invest in public health teams and NHS labs. Instead, he gave contracts to outsourcing firms like Deloitte, Serco, and G4S – firms with no experience in test and trace.”

The comments from Labour’s health spokesperson comes after one of the private contractors that the government hired, Serco, admitted it was only managing to reach around 60% of people who had been in contact with someone with coronavirus.

Private companies Serco and Sitel, two firms contracted to handle the national test and trace programme, are due to receive over £1bn for their work on the scheme.

The Shadow Health Secretary also criticised the government on reports that there have been a number of Covid outbreaks in schools since they restarted last week, including at a school in Castle Rock visited by the Prime Minister just two weeks ago.

Ashworth finished by telling the House: “We must do everything reasonable to suppress this virus. Instead we have muddled messages, failed testing and ineffective contact tracing. Winter is coming, he [Hancock] needs to get a grip.”

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