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Coronavirus update Thursday 2nd April 2020

The number of coronavirus deaths in Yorkshire passes 100 and confirmed cases rise to 1600. There has also been a reported uptick in motor vehicle use. I implore everyone reading this email to stay at home, only going out for the four approved purposes.

Staff in Offices

I am still hearing about businesses large and small asking staff to come into work unnecessarily. Staff members are telling me that even when work can easily be done from home that they are being asked to come into work. They also report a very loose definition of ‘essential work’ by employers. I repeat my call on the Government to properly define who should and should not have staff still in workplaces. More importantly though, Leeds businesses must understand that it is not acceptable to put people at risk when it is not strictly necessary for them to do so. We will continue to follow up on these workplaces and take action when we find wrongdoing.

Care Homes and Testing

I am quoted in the Guardian this morning regarding my request to the Government that they urgently fund and supply care homes with testing and adequate protection equipment. Care homes in Leeds and across the country need to safeguard their very vulnerable residents against Covid-19 and need urgent support to do so.

Germany are currently testing around 500,000 people per week, whereas we are only scoring around 70,000. This lag is causing front line staff to unnecessarily self-isolate and putting vulnerable people in hospitals and care homes unnecessarily at risk.

Furloughing, self employed, businesses and sick pay

Following on from yesterday’s update, I have written to the Government to ask that the employment start date for eligibility for furloughing is brought forward to ensure that those who were in a new job or moving to a new job at the time of the lockdown do not miss out on the scheme. I have also written to ask that self-employed people can submit early their 2019/20 return and be paid on that basis as 2018-19 returns do not always reflect current circumstances.

Also in the letter is concern for Directors of small businesses, who whilst they are furloughing their own staff, they themselves are disadvantaged as they only pay themselves via dividend and a small wage. They can furlough themselves but at 80% this will be very little.  One constituent has advised he will only receive 80% of £600 per month, and yet his employees are earning twice this amount.

An increasing number of people have been told to self-isolate for a number of weeks only at the rate of Statutory Sick Pay. This is leaving people frustrated that they are not being furloughed and paid 80% of their wages. This shows the need to increase the level of Statutory Sick Pay.

the Government must amend its ‘all-or-nothing’ furloughing scheme, which only allows a worker to be fully furloughed or not furloughed at all? Why can’t the scheme be adjusted  to allow wages to be protected if there is a consistent plan for reduced hours, especially given that various overseas schemes have elements of short-time working?

Shielding

I have been asked by a number of constituents who are expecting shielding letters as to why they have not yet received them. I have written to Leeds Teaching Hospital’s trust to find out more information. In the meantime, please make use of the Leeds City Council hotline for vulnerable people 0113 378 1877. More information on shielding is available here

Repatriation

My office is working every day with the Foreign Office to try and get UK nationals trapped abroad home. Each country has its own very specific circumstances but it is clear that there are many who have very little money left for accommodation or access to medicines. Today I signed a letter to the Foreign Secretary regarding India urging him to

  1. Work with airlines and the Indian authorities to establish enough special charter flights from India to the UK for all British nationals;

  2. Ensure these flights originate from a range of places across the country, particularly given the limits on internal travel within India; and

  3. Agree with the relevant authorities a comprehensive plan to ensure British nationals can travel to the relevant airport to board a flight.

We have heard reports that some flights have begun to be organised, and so we are keen to make sure that they are the beginning of a full and comprehensive plan to help all British nationals who need to return home.

Supporting the world’s poorest citizens.

I was one of 210 signatories on a letter to the Prime Minister asking for support for the world’s poorest citizens. You can read about that here

And finally..

Thank you to Prince Henry’s Grammar School for donating hundreds of pairs of goggles to our local NHS. This is exactly the kind of community spirit that is needed in these tough times. It is a shame that it takes a local school to provide much needed equipment.

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