We can no longer tolerate the inequality & insecurity that has left all of us weaker – Jeremy Corbyn writes to Boris Johnson. #COVID19

“The test for our society is whether we come through this strengthened, with greater solidarity forged in the heat of a crisis; or whether we emerge diminished, having failed to do everything possible to support each other.”

Jeremy Corbyn MP.

Dear Prime Minister,

I hope you are keeping as well as possible in the circumstances and only experiencing mild symptoms. I wish you a speedy recovery.

As you continue to fulfil your role as Prime Minister, I am writing to put questions and concerns that are being raised with us as the Official Opposition, and to propose ways to improve the effectiveness of government interventions to overcome this crisis.

The test for our society is whether we come through this strengthened, with greater solidarity forged in the heat of a crisis; or whether we emerge diminished, having failed to do everything possible to support each other – and especially our brave public service workers on the front line. Only decisive and inclusive government action can ensure that, this time, we really are all in it together.

With that as our starting point, we believe the following priorities must be acted on immediately:

1. Full PPE now for health and social care workers 

The phenomenal public outpouring of support for our NHS workers needs to be matched by government action. Why are so many frontline NHS staff stillwaiting for personal protective equipment? At least three NHS staff have sadly died. These dedicated public servants are risking their lives to save lives. They deserve the best protection possible.

Neither can we tolerate a situation where social care workers – in both residential and domiciliary settings – do not have PPE. Care workers are scandalously poorly paid. Now is the moment to recognise their true value to our society and provide them with the protection they need.

2. Test, test, test

Testing and tracing for coronavirus has to be expanded immediately. The World Health Organisation told us to “test, test, test.” I have seen reports that up to a quarter of NHS staff are having to self-isolate. They must be urgently tested so that those who do not have the virus can return to work. The lack of testing and tracing for social care workers is risking their health and that of those they care for, who are the most vulnerable to the virus. 

At Prime Minister’s Questions on 18 March, you stated that, “We are increasing our tests from 5,000 a day to 10,000 a day.” The latest published government figures show barely 8,000 tests being carried out per day. Germany is testing 80,000 a day – ten times as many people.

3. Expand social care

I am extremely worried about the capacity and resilience of the social care system. Given the staff shortages that existed even before the coronavirus pandemic, it is essential that we encourage former or recently retired care workers to return to the profession.

We have concerns about the resources available for social care and the provisions within the emergency legislation to reduce care standards. Please can you set out what extra resources have been provided to each local council for social care since the coronavirus crisis began?

4. Enforce social distancing and protection

Last week, the government rightly called for all non-essential retail outlets to close. There is no logical reason why this should not be extended to non-essential construction, factories, warehouse facilities and other larges-scale workplaces. It makes no sense for some mass workplaces to be shut down and others to be operating if the work is non-essential.

Trade unions are also reporting many cases of employers failing to implement social distancing. There must be a multi-agency approach to enforce it and close non-essential work. This should involve co-ordinating the Health and Safety Executive, local authority trading standards resources, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority and the police, among others.

It is sensible that strict social distancing measures will be reviewed every three weeks, but it is now clear that the restrictions are highly unlikely to be lifted after the initial three-week period. The government needs to be clear in preparing people for this.

5. Bolster support for workers

Considerable public funds have been made available to businesses, but the behaviour of some employers does not live up to the spirit of solidarity we have the right to expect in return. Many employers have laid off workers and others have put staff on reduced hours rather than furloughing them. The government needs to act decisively to suspend lay-offs and enforce furloughing where necessary.

We acknowledge the hard work done by trade unions, business groups, the government, civil servants, and others to secure the financial protections already announced. But there are substantial gaps that must now be urgently filled. For the self-employed, could you provide clarification on whether ‘dependent contractors’ or ‘limb (b) workers’ are covered, and what provision will be available for those who have become self-employed recently and so did not submit a tax return for 2018/19?

We need a strengthened safety net for workers who have been laid off. Benefits in the UK are low compared to those of other European states. Key benefits should be immediately and substantially increased, including Carer’s Allowance and Child Benefit. Statutory sick pay must be raised without delay, especially given the Health Secretary’s admission that he could not survive on it.

Many renters still face the prospect of huge debts. We need further action on housing benefit, to scrap the bedroom tax and the benefit cap, and to restore the local housing allowance to the 50th percentile.

To ensure those in need get prompt and supportive help, sufficient resources should be transferred to the DWP and HMRC. I attach our proposals ‘Protecting People In and Out of Work’ for consideration by ministers. 

6. Lead a global response

You may be aware of proposals from Gordon Brown (whose paper I attach) to coordinate global efforts to fight this pandemic.

I support his four main proposals and would welcome your commitment to work internationally for them: an early European pledging conference to increase WHO funding; using the World Bank Development Committee in April to announce additional support for developing countries; using the IMF Committee meeting in April to extend macroeconomic support and a moratorium on debt interest payments for countries in difficulty; and establishing a G20 taskforce to coordinate action by finance ministers and central bank governors.

Finally, let me welcome your recent comment that “there really is such a thing as society.” We in the Labour Party have always regarded this as self-evidently true. But the coronavirus crisis is highlighting the extent of our dependence on each other and the many ties of mutual aid that, woven together, make up the fabric of society. We can emerge from this crisis with that fabric strengthened – but it requires a recognition that we can no longer tolerate the inequality and insecurity that has left all of us weaker than we should have been in the face of this pandemic.

Yours sincerely,

Jeremy Corbyn MP

  • Jeremy Corbyn has written today to PM demanding more tests and PPE for NHS workers. We are pleased to reproduce this letter above.

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