Here’s my latest report, providing an update on some of the work I’ve been doing both in Parliament and locally to support constituents and raise your concerns during these unprecedented times.
I didn’t agree with the decision to adjourn Parliament early and was in the Chamber on the final day, challenging the Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg on the importance of ensuring MPs can still scrutinise Government even when Parliament isn’t sitting. Together with Chi Onwurah, Shadow Digital Minister, we have written to the Clerk asking for urgent action to develop remote working, and I am pleased that the Speaker has signalled his support for remote working arrangements when Parliament returns after Easter.
Before adjournment, I questioned the Government on their lack of support for citizens stranded abroad, ongoing problems with food supplies particularly for vulnerable people and the urgent need to recruit more social care workers to support people in their homes. You can see all my questions and the responses I received here.
I’m concerned at the lack of Covid-19 testing, particularly for frontline NHS workers. I’ve written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock to ask when the goal of 25,000 tests a day will be reached, when all NHS workers will be able to receive the test and what’s happening with the antibody test that could be so crucial in the fight against Covid-19.
I’ve also highlighted the need for Care staff to have access to testing, and I know many constituents are concerned about the spread of Covid-19 in care homes. It is becoming increasingly clear that our care homes are the new front-line in the battle against Covid-19, and reports and data from the weekend are seriously concerning. I’ve written to the Health Secretary to make urgent enquires into what steps the government are taking to protect care residents and staff. Care homes need to be safe places, and the government needs to do far more to protect the most vulnerable.
Indefinite Leave to remain for NHS migrant workers
I’ve co-signed a letter to the Home Secretary Priti Patel, calling for indefinite leave to remain to be awarded to all the foreign nationals working in our NHS, who’re putting themselves in harm’s way to ensure we get the care we need. It would be a small but symbolic way to recognise and celebrate the enormous contributions that people from all over the world make to our NHS – and to our society, our economy and our communities more broadly.
Support for the self-employed
I’ve been contacted by hundreds of self-employed people who fall through the gaps of the Government’s support package, whether that’s because they’re freelancers working on a number of short-term contracts, newly self-employed or sole employees of limited companies. I’ve written to the Chancellorto urge more action to help those who need it. I’ve also urged the Chancellor to amend the furlough arrangements to cover those who started work in March, if the new employers can prove their employment was secured before the furlough arrangements were announced.
Support for the Charity & Voluntary Sector
I’ve joined with colleagues to write to the Chancellor asking for urgent action to be taken to support charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. They’re performing a crucial rolesupporting people suffering from the economic and social impact of the pandemic, alleviating pressure on our NHS and social care services and helping with everything from mental health to supporting vulnerable families. But the NCVO predicts that there will be a loss in the sector of £4.3bn in income over the coming 12 weeks and the figure could be far higher. In our letter, amongst other things, we’ve called for:
- Immediate emergency funding for frontline charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises supporting the response to the coronavirus/COVID-19 crisis, especially where they are alleviating pressure on the health service or providing support to people suffering from the economic and social impact of COVID-19
- A ‘stabilisation fund’ for all charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises to help them stay afloat and continue operating during the course of the pandemic.
- An emergency grant fund – NCVO have recommended that the mechanism most effective for this would be the National Emergencies Trust (NET) – which has established links with Community Foundations.
I’ve written to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to highlight the real and urgent need for the government to increase support for domestic violence victims at this challenging time. Research from China suggests that domestic violence incidents increase threefold during their Covid-19 lockdown, and the government must do more to provide safety for all who are fleeing abusive relationships.
Councils across the country are at the forefront of the battle against Covid-19 and are providing vital services to ensure the most vulnerable aren’t cut off from support. Despite their heroic work, many Councils face severe financial pressures and have no certainty about the future financial support they will receive from the government. I have written to the Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick to urge him to do far more to ensure Councils have the financial safety to continue supporting those who need it.
Shadow Sports Minister
In my previous role as Shadow Sports Minister, I spoke to The Telegraph about my concerns over the influence of the gambling lobby following the Government’s decision to press ahead with the Cheltenham Festival last month.
I used interviews with The Times and The Telegraph to call for the Premier League to lead by example and welcomed their ongoing support for the professional game and its flexibility during the coronavirus outbreak. The money to the EFL and the National League will be a vital part in helping keep clubs afloat while the season remains suspended. More still needs to be done to support clubs and their staff throughout the game, and while individual clubs are setting a good example in protecting their lowest paid staff, the government needs to be proactive in ensuring no clubs leave their staff behind during this crisis.
I’ve also written to the Sports Minister to demand that any government support is made conditional on clubs paying all their staff the Living Wage and becoming Accredited employers and have urged him to explore ways to rebalance the financial riches in the game. I have also demanded that any discussions surrounding support for Rugby League teams includes the GMB Union who represent players.
Our immediate focus has to be getting through this, protecting our NHS and saving lives. Keir Starmer is correct to say that Labour’s opposition must be constructive and focused on asking the difficult questions that take us towards that goal. At the same time we mustn’t shy away from the more strategic questions this crisis has exposed. The chronic underfunding of our NHS, the undervaluing of social care, the many millions of workers in low-paid and insecure employment with precious little in reserves, the true essential workers in this country who have been undervalued and under paid for far too long. I also have questions I want to ask about the role of our British Embassies abroad and the impact cuts to diplomatic services have had on the service provided to British nationals when they most need it.
In the community:
In the last two weeks I’ve helped well over 150 local residents with individual problems related to Covid-19 as well as many hundreds of self-employed people concerned about the financial impact. The problems people are contacting me about are varied, but there are some general themes. Some people have been struggling to access essential supplies, others have been affected by ongoing construction work, having difficulties applying for Universal Credit or concerned that essential post isn’t being delivered (a particular problem in N8 and N4). I’ve twice raised this matter with Royal Mail and have now raised with Government Ministers.
Access to green space
Lots of local residents have express concern that allotments and parks might be forced to close. I remain extremely keen that our green spaces remain open. In a borough where so many residents don’t have outside space, they’re crucial for mental and physical well-being.
Citizens stranded abroad
I’ve been working to assist 43 people who were stranded abroad or a friend/family member of someone who was. That has included a family with a sick small baby and another stranded in Pakistan whose medication is due to run out in the coming weeks. As well as seeking to immediately assist I’ve also been in contact with Dominic Raab and the FCO to call for other things such as 1) more charter flights to be arranged where people are struggling to fly home due to commercial flights being too expensive or regularly cancelled 2) more resources for British Embassies and High Commissions so that they can offer the support and assistance needed during a crisis like this 3) all British Embassies and High Commissions to work with local governments to extend British nationals visas if they are about to run out, and to waive visa overstay payments (this has been done in some countries but not in others).
Supporting our local community
I am in regular contact with Haringey Council, our hospitals, police, schools, faith and community groups. I’ve written to all our GPs and schools and made contact with all our sheltered housing schemes and care home to ask if they require any assistance or are struggling to access PPE. I’ve also written to our local Traders Associations at what is an incredibly difficult time for small businesses.
In discussion with Cllr Ejiofor, I’ve written to Ministers to raise a number of serious issues of concern for Haringey Council, from the distribution of food to the most vulnerable to the need for the Government to increase resources for domestic violence services.
Here to help:
My team and I can’t be at Westminster, but we are here to support anyone who needs my help. You can contact me on [email protected] or on 020 7219 6141, follow me on Twitter or Facebook and I’m keeping my website at www.catherinewest.org.uk regularly updated with useful sources of information and advice.