It’s a New Year and there are finally reasons to be cheerful. There are now not one, but three Covid-19 vaccines which have been approved for use in the UK. The Pfizer vaccine and the Oxford/AZ vaccine have already reached Cornwall and the first 2 vulnerable groups are being vaccinated. My 86 year old neighbour has had hers and Cornwall’s health and social care workers are receiving theirs.
The vaccine rollout has begun and we could be in a very different world in time for the start of the holiday season. The government has promised that our first 4 vulnerable groups will be vaccinated by mid-February. But…(there always seems to be a ‘but’ doesn’t there) the introduction of the vaccine has not been smooth. It is centrally run from London, so in Cornwall we have no idea how many jabs have been given or where or when the next batch of vaccines will arrive. Our closest mass vaccination centre currently looks like being Bristol - not exactly within the 45 minute target, so we will be mainly relying on our local GPs. It would also make more sense if the government used our community pharmacists.
While we wait for the vaccine, we are in Lockdown 3. The rules are slightly different from Lockdown 1, but not much. The constant changes between tiers and lockdowns and unclear messaging have confused people, but it’s basically ‘Stay at Home’ again.
Locally, up to 5 times as many children appear to be in school this time as there were in the first lockdown. Parents need more support. Trying to juggle working and teaching at short notice has been incredibly difficult. Keir Starmer suggests that parents should be able to request paid flexible furlough. Although schools are in fact still open, the fewer people we have together in one place, the better. Psychologists tell us that people will follow the rules if they are clear and do not cause them financial hardship. So, the government needs to look again at the imminent Universal Credit cut, ending the ban on evictions and the freeze on pay for public sector workers. Our care workers, police and school staff have borne much of the brunt of the frontline of this pandemic. They should not suffer financially as well.
The dire financial situation for working families has been compounded by the announcement that Johnson and Sunak are forcing councils to impose 5% council tax rises in April. For the last 4 years the Tory government has been asking council taxpayers to plug the gap in social care funding by imposing extra council tax increases. And that’s the case again. 3% of the rise is to fund social care for the elderly and vulnerable. Johnson promised to tackle the social care funding crisis within 100 days of the 2019 election. He broke that promise. We have a rapidly ageing population in Cornwall and a low paid workforce. We simply cannot manage high and rising social care costs out of council tax returns and it is incredibly unfair for people struggling with the pandemic to ask this of them. Sunak and Johnson MUST cancel this rise.
So, as we enter 2021, we need to work together to get through this terrible time. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but to get there, the government must support the public and we must stick to the guidelines.