Jonathan Ashworth has described the news on Tuesday that the UK has recorded over 100,000 deaths in the Covid crisis as a “horrendous loss of life” and said that he does not “accept the government did everything they could”.
In a Sky News interview this morning, the Shadow Health Secretary reflected on the tragic milestone reached by the country and highlighted some of the mistakes made by the government in its response to the virus.
Ashworth said: “It’s 12 months ago roughly since our first case in this country – to think that 100,000 people have died in the last 12 months is just horrendous. Behind every statistic is a shattered family of friends, loved ones grieving.
“So many in our care homes have died. I mean, when your mother, your grandmother goes into a care home you expect them to be looked after and yet so many died in our care homes.
“We’ve had over 880 frontline NHS and care staff have died because they’ve been caring for people with Covid and then got it themselves.
“I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry because I don’t want to make it look like I’m sort of knocking the government just for the sake of it. But I just don’t accept the government did everything they could during the pandemic.”
The Shadow Health Secretary highlighted that other countries have handled their response to coronavirus better, stressing in particular the consequences of poor sick pay and isolation support on transmission in the UK.
He argued: “I totally accept that this was a virus that spread across the world with speed, with severity. But other countries have had a better response. Our response compares so poorly to that of other countries.
“Other countries were quicker to go into lockdown when they saw it was necessary, we delayed – not once, but three times on the lockdowns. Other countries have paid proper financial support for sick people to isolate themselves…
“We don’t pay people decent sick pay and isolation support. Ministers effectively expect people to go hungry in return for not spreading the infection. And one of the things I’m really saying to the government is fix sick pay and isolation support.
“You could do it, you could do it now. You’re spending billions on things like test and trace, why not spend some of that money fixing sick pay, for example.”
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth says 'I just don't accept the government did everything they could' during the pandemic.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) January 27, 2021
Ashworth expanded on his comments on Times Radio earlier today. He told listeners that the approach pursued by the government on isolation support is “effectively asking people to go hungry in return for not spreading infection”.
The Shadow Health Secretary argued this morning: “One of the mistakes that we’ve made, and we still haven’t resolved it, is the issue of sick pay and financial support for people to isolate themselves.
“We are in a lockdown, but for millions of people it’s not locked down because they still have to go to work. And many of them are in low paid jobs, many of them are more exposed to social interaction, therefore, more were at risk.
“And we still don’t offer people in low paid occupations or low paid zero hours contracts, temporary work, those sorts of jobs, proper decent sick pay to isolate. So you are effectively asking people to go hungry in return for not spreading infection…
“This is one of the big weaknesses in our response, that you cannot get people to quarantine and isolate themselves if they’re not paid properly to do it. And the government still haven’t fixed it.
“They briefed the newspapers at the end of last week, including The Times I think, that they were going to do it. Then we heard that the Chancellor was livid with Matt Hancock for briefing it and they are not going to do it.”
The comments from Ashworth followed those of Keir Starmer, who responded yesterday to reports of Covid deaths exceeding 100,000 to describe it as a “national tragedy and a terrible reminder of all that we have lost as a country”.
The Labour leader said: “We must never become numb to these numbers or treat them as just statistics. Every death is a loved one, a friend, a neighbour, a partner or a colleague. It is an empty chair at the dinner table.
“To all those that are mourning, we must promise to learn the lessons of what went wrong and build a more resilient country. That day will come and we will get there together.
“But for now we must remember those that we have lost and be vigilant in the national effort to stay at home, protect our NHS and vaccinate Britain.”
Public Health England figures recorded 50,000 coronavirus-related deaths on November 11th last year. That number has doubled in just 76 days as a further 1,631 deaths were recorded by officials in the daily Covid report on Tuesday.
The Prime Minister told those tuning into a televised Covid briefing on Tuesday evening that he took “full responsibility” for the government’s actions during the pandemic, but told the public that “we truly did everything we could”.
The Office for National Statistics said the UK passed the 100,000 mark on January 7th, based on death certificates. Johnson refused to answer questions on how the UK has recorded the worst death toll in Europe and the fifth worst in the world.