“We can’t defeat this virus on the cheap” – Ashworth on South Yorkshire restrictions

Jon Ashworth
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Below is the full text of Jonathan Ashworth’s House of Commons response to the South Yorkshire coronavirus restrictions.

So another great swathe of the North is put into lockdown. Sheffield went into Tier 2 last Wednesday, so did ministers make the wrong judgement a week ago, or has new evidence come to light that was not apparent last Wednesday?

How many other areas in Tier 2 today are facing the same fate as Sheffield? Nottinghamshire? North East Derbyshire? The Secretary of State couldn’t answer yesterday how long Greater Manchester will be in lockdown for, or what the criteria would be for leaving lockdown.

So he can tell us how long will South Yorkshire be in lockdown? Does the nationwide R need to fall below 1, as the Prime Minister suggested, or just the regional R?

If an area like Doncaster gets it R number down below 1, will they be able to leave lockdown? What level do hospital admissions have to come down to for an area to exit lockdown?

As I said yesterday, my dad worked in casinos, my mum worked in bars. I know people want to do the right thing and will understand that further measures are needed to contain the spread of the virus. But families shouldn’t face financial ruin.

He wants congratulations for the package allocated to South Yorkshire. But why is contact tracing funding subject to these negotiations and deals?

The virus is out of control because of the failures of the national £12bn Test and Trace scheme. If local areas had been given resources months ago to put in place effective contact tracing, we would not be in this situation now. And that failure on contact tracing impacts directly on people’s lives.

This afternoon, families who work in hospitality in South Yorkshire, across Penistone, Don Valley, Rother Valley, will be asking why, if 80% of wages were covered in March, why they should now be expected to get by on just two thirds in the run-up to Christmas.

And this matters to families everywhere because we know further restrictions will be needed. Indeed according to sources briefing Times Radio, plans are being developed for a three-week lockdown more widely next month. Perhaps he could confirm his officials are working up such plans?

Mr Speaker, the Communities Secretary said this morning there was now a national formula for areas under local lockdown. But ministers also say they want a targeted local approach because circumstances vary.

Yet when an area says our circumstances are different – like Greater Manchester who have been under restrictions since July, the Prime Minister says ‘tough, hard luck you can’t be treated differently’.

And vindictively refuses Greater Manchester just £5m extra to agree a deal. This is playing politics with people jobs, people’s livelihoods.

We can’t defeat this virus on the cheap. And nor should it be broken on the backs of the lowest paid. Public health restrictions must go hand in hand with economic support.

As night follows day, falls in employment levels lead to rises in chronic illness. The Chancellor must pay out, to help out and put in place a fair deal to support jobs and livelihoods under lockdown.

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