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COVID-19

We will get through this, together.

I am liaising with all local authorities including Councils, Police and Public Health to understand how well we are organised and the extent of our local capacity to cope with this crisis too.

I am strongly representing the concerns of our community to Government.

Below are some resources around what the advice is, what support is available for you, and what I have been doing to represent your concerns.

Please get in touch with me either by filling out the form below or contacting me directly at matt.western.mp@parliament.uk if you have any further concerns and I will do my best to support.

 

You can see the Government's strategy here. Daily updates to this from the Government can be found here.

Fighting coronavirus is a national effort and I endorse the Prime Minister’s plea to stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives. This lockdown is badly needed to prevent the spread of the virus, even if action should have been taken much earlier.

I am concerned by the Government’s decision to end community testing - against World Health Organisation (WHO) advice who are leading the global response to this pandemic - and its delay in adopting the important social distancing measures which have been mandated earlier in other countries. The WHO has insisted that countries need to ‘Test, test, test’.

Why is it that Germany are testing twenty times as much as we are? I will keep pressing the Government to do more.

We are also severely lacking personal protective equipment for frontline NHS workers who may come into contact with patients who have coronavirus. This is putting our NHS staff at risk and will spread the disease in our hospitals. We also need many more ventilators. I have spoken on these issues in Parliament and will continue to do so.

I believe there is more we can do to prevent the spread of this virus and I have been raising this in Parliament. You can keep up to date with my contributions in the House of Commons here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/search/MemberContributions?house=Commons&memberId=4617

The Government also needs to urgently ensure we are producing enough ventilators and have enough of the proper protective equipment for frontline staff dealing with this crisis in our hospitals and elsewhere. I have raised these issues in the House of Commons already and will continue to do so.


13/05

We are beginning to see the timeline of continued failures from this Government on getting a grip on this crisis.

It began with the general pandemic preparedness operation ‘Cygnus’ in 2016 in which we failed the test to deal with an outbreak effectively – including the need to boost care home capacity. Now we know that the social care sector warned two years ago that we needed more PPE and a better solution to isolate cases and stop the spread.

We now know that these warnings were not acted on and exactly what was predicted has happened. We also know that we have been far too slow at testing residents, meaning many of these deaths will have died from Covid-19, but not reported as such.

These latest devastating figures shows there has been a 76% increase in deaths compared to the five-yearly average for the same period in the West Midlands. It just illustrates the failures in being able to isolate the cases in care homes and the continual failures in providing sufficient protective equipment for the staff treating these residents.

Shockingly, Public Health England’s guidance in March said that care homes were “very unlikely” to see an outbreak of Covid-19. At the same time, the WHO declared a global pandemic and people were already dying in the UK. Locally, Warwickshire County Council were slow to prioritise social care in important Covid-19 response meetings – omitting the issue of social care completely – until I intervened. This shows that the authorities have abandoned care homes from the beginning.

The Government and authorities have been failing to get PPE to the frontline. The Alzheimer’s Society found 43% of care homes are still not confident of their PPE supply. In the region, there are many businesses that I have been liaising with that are able to produce PPE at scale but have been stonewalled by the Government.

The answer is obvious; let’s requisition suitable empty properties (like hotels) and utilise the Birmingham Nightingale Hospital, instead of dismantling it, to treat and isolate Covid-19 cases, so they are away from others and will limit transmission, and ramp up British production of PPE.

I will continue to do all I can to shed light on the authorities’ failings with social care and provide solutions to genuinely save lives.


31/03

I have joined colleagues in asking for Parliamentary scrutiny digitally for the duration of the Coronavirus pandemic. We must be able to question the Government's strategy in dealing with the outbreak.


24/03

I have questioned the Government in Parliament, calling on  them to provide FFP3 masks instead of the less useful surgical masks, in line with what Doctors are telling me all the time.

The Health Sec responded to my saying he will speak to the Chief Medical Officer, Prof Chris Whitty, to see if this would be a possibility.

Later, in the Government’s daily press briefing, Hancock said frontline workers will get all PPE that they need.

If the Health Secretary is serious about giving frontline workers everything they need to be protected whilst fighting this virus, they need more than surgical masks; they deserve the best masks available.

https://www.facebook.com/MattWesternMP/videos/520997088846001/ 

SPECIFIC SUPPORT AND ADVICE

I know many small businesses are deeply concerned about their ability to continue trading, due to the decrease in demand, combined with the fact that many employees will need to take time off over the coming weeks and will need to be paid sick pay.

Firstly, here are some key resources and contacts if you need specialist support locally and nationally:

Many businesses in the leisure and hospitality sector have been asked to close from Friday 20th March. The full guidance on this can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/business-and-other-venues-subject-to-further-social-distancing-measures/businesses-and-other-venues-subject-to-further-social-distancing-measures

The following emergency support for businesses who are affected by the Coronavirus pandemic is available:

  • A Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme that will see retail banks offer loans of up to £5m to support SMEs. The Government will cover the interest on these loans for the first twelve months.
    • More information is available here.
  • A 'Bounce Back' Loan Scheme which helps small and medium-sized businesses to borrow between £2,000 and up to 25% of their turnover. The maximum loan available is £50,000. The government guarantees 100% of the loan and there won’t be any fees or interest to pay for the first 12 months.
    • More information is available here.
  • A Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is introduced, to prevent the need for job cuts. Any employer can apply for a grant from HMRC, the grant will cover 80% of wages up to a limit of £2500 per month for those employees that are not working but are kept on the payroll. The payments will be backdated to 1st March and is available in full until August. In August, September and October, employers will have to contribute 5%, 10%, and 20% to the furloughed staff wages in the respective months. Employees will be able to come back part-time if required whilst still be furloughed by the Government on the days they are not required from July.
  • The next quarter of VAT will be deferred until the end of June. Businesses will have until the end of the financial year to pay.
  • Scaling up HMRC Time To Pay service, allowing businesses and the self-employed to defer tax payments over an agreed period of time.  The helpline for businesses in distress regarding their tax liabilities can be contacted on 0800 015 9559.
  • Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) costs for businesses with fewer than 250 employees will be met by the Government in full for up to 14 days per employee. The Government will work with employers over the coming months to set up the SSP repayment mechanism for employers as soon as possible.
  • 100% Business Rate holiday for all businesses in the retail, hospitality or leisure sector for one year in 2020-21. Eligible pubs will also be entitled to a business rate discount of £5,000. Any enquiries on eligibility for, or provision of, the reliefs should be directed to our local authority.
  • Cash grants worth:​
  • For large businesses that need £5mn or more, the Bank of England’s Covid-19 Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF) may be of assistance.
    • Applications can be made at applications@bankofengland.co.uk.

Further emergency financial measures will be announced by the Chancellor as necessary. I will be holding the Government to account to ensure they meet the challenge that this virus presents to our local economy.

Let me say simply to all businesses:

  • Do not lay off your workers. Put your employees instead on the job retention scheme and seek the other support available.
  • Apply social distancing measures and provide suitable PPE if you have reopened.

We will all get through this, together.


My representations:

To date, I have spoken to countless businesses directly and through organisations like the FSB and the Chamber of Commerce, where they have informed me of issues such as difficulties accessing much-needed cash. I have written to the Chancellor and the Council several times to ensure that our businesses get the support they need. I have also fed in local cases to the Labour frontbench who are lobbying at the highest levels.

The 'Bounce back' loan scheme and the announced greater flexibility of the furlough scheme is, in part, thanks to the representations of colleagues and myself to get the Government to listen to the concerns of business.

However, more needs to be done and I will continue to advocate for our great local businesses. We need specific sectoral support and ongoing state aid to ensure key industries can recover post lockdown.

FINANCIAL SUPPORT

The Government has announced a Coronavirus Retention Scheme, which will enable HMRC to administer grants to cover 80% of the salaries of workers not working but “furloughed” and kept on the payroll rather than being laid off. The grant will be up to £2,500 per month per worker.

NEW: The scheme has been extended until October, with employers beginning to contribute more to your salary over time.

I welcomed this move, having called in the House of Commons for a similar package to be introduced. However, I do think it’s important to point out who is missing from the package, and ways in which it may not go far or fast enough.

Aside from the ambiguity in who is a qualifying worker, there is no guarantee that employers will top up the salary. The cap of £2,500 a month means many individuals will take a pay cut. There is no guarantee from employers that they’ll keep workers in work.

Please get in contact with your employer if you have any concerns about how this will be calculated for your situation and to ensure they register for the scheme.


RETURNING TO WORK SAFELY (10/05)

As the Government have now announced their plan to reopen the economy, I am concerned that too many employees will be sent to unsafe places of work.

The current guidance for going back to work does not go far enough to enforce social distancing and where appropriate the provision of personal protective equipment. I have called on the Government to tighten these restrictions by carrying out inspections (a broken promise by the Prime Minister) and making PPE and social distancing mandatory (including on public transport if the employee has no other option). I would urge all employees to join a trade union at this time to ensure your right to safety at work is maintained.


NEW STARTER FURLOUGH (04/04)

If you started your job after the the 19th March, you are not eligible for the retention scheme, I believe this is wrong, and have called for the Chancellor to amend this.

I would urge you to ask your previous employer to enroll you on the scheme, as this has been successful elsewhere and is confirmed as allowed by the Treasury.

In the mean time, you can apply for Universal Credit. Go to gov.uk/universal-credit to sign up.


29/03

I have repeatedly called for businesses to enforce social distancing practices, and have signed a letter to the Government to make guidance much clearer. Where not possible and not essential to our effort in beating the virus, they should seize operations. If they remain open, employers should provide protective equipment to employees wherever possible. If you are concerned about your own situation, please email in.

 

After representations from myself and colleagues, the Chancellor has announced that self-employed people will be eligible for a grant of 80% of 3 months' average earnings, capped at £2,500 a month, based on your average profit over the past three years.

NEW: The scheme has been extended to cover an additional 3 months' loss of income, this time at 70%. Details to follow.

I welcome this move, but there are gaps in the provision, including those who have just become self-employed, those who operate within a limited company, and those who earn just over £51,000.

You can read about the scheme here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-a-grant-through-the-coronavirus-covid-19-self-employment-income-support-scheme

The government is also providing the following additional help for the self-employed:

  • Deferral of Self-Assessment income tax payments due in July 2020 now due in January 2021
  • Grants for businesses that pay little or no business rates
  • The Government have opened up Universal Credit to more self-employed people -  go to gov.uk/universal-credit to sign up.
  • Business Interruption Loan scheme and the Bounce Back Loan Scheme. More information is here.
  • If you are a freelancer/owner-director of your own limited company, if you’re paid even in part through PAYE you may be able to get support using the Job Retention Scheme. More information is here.

MY REPRESENTATIONS

Self-employed support came after myself and colleagues pushed for it, which is hugely needed for so many families.

I firmly believe that the only way to ensure no one is left behind, the Government should introduce an emergency basic income support payment for everybody. I have made representations to this regard and will continue to urge the Government to do so.

I have urged the Government to close the gaps in support for self-employed people, including by feeding in local cases to the Labour frontbench, and will continue to do so.

The Government has now announced that schools, colleges and early years settings (such as nurseries) will remain shut for an indefinite period. However, a skeleton service will remain in place for the children of key workers and vulnerable children.

I support this action to protect children, staff and the wider public.

Assessments and exams will not be going ahead this year. I know pupils and parents will be concerned by the implications of this and I will seek clarity from the Government on this as these issues are considered in Parliament.

Parents will also need support to be able to look after their children, as they may withdraw from employment. I am urging the Government to clarify how they see this working.


SCHOOLS SET TO REOPEN IN JUNE (13/05)

The Government have announced its plans to reopen schools for pupils in years 1-6. I support the National Education Union's 5 tests campaign, which calls for all five key safety measures to be met before schools should reopen.

I have wrote to Warwickshire County Council, urging them to only open schools when it is safe to do so.

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The Government has urged up to 1.5 million people in England identified by the NHS as being at higher risk of severe illness if they contract coronavirus should stay at home to protect themselves.

They will receive communication shortly with detailed advice on behalf of their GP practice or specialist on how best to protect themselves.

Here is the advice from Age UK for how to best support older people.

If you or someone you know is extremely vulnerable, you can request assistance from the Government here.

I support all measures to protect those most vulnerable to this virus.

With other colleagues, I will be raising this urgently with Government to ensure that provisions are being put in place to support all members of our community.

 


01/06

Those who are shielding are now able to meet up with one other person as long as social distancing is observed.

I pay tribute to all key workers like the health staff working in our NHS who worked tirelessly to help deal with the virus.  They need to be protected and have priority testing and sufficient PPE.

I have spoken with our main local healthcare providers to ensure I can represent their concerns to the Government.

We must celebrate the heroism and bravery of our key workers. They deserve a fair pay rise.


07/05

I've recorded a tribute to health and care workers doing so much for us all despite their tough circumstances and lack of testing and PEE

https://www.facebook.com/MattWesternMP/posts/1508531752648946


04/04

Too many key workers are not getting personal protective equipment - from those in hospitals, care homes, to supermarket workers and bus drivers.  I am still calling on the Government to give everyone who has a public facing role protective equipment.

 

The Government have changed the law to extend an eviction notice to 3 months.

The Chancellor has also announced an increase to the Local Housing Allowance to support private renters with paying their rents.

I am calling, alongside the Labour Party, for the Government to act swiftly to stop all evictions and protect renters by ending the bedroom tax and the benefit cap.


27/03 

The Government have listened to concerns from me and others about renter evictions. They have changed its approach and is now introducing a FULL ban on evictions, giving much-needed protection for renters at this critical time. Shocking that people were being threatened with evictions during this lockdown.


25/03

I have had constituents get in contact with me to tell me they have received notices to leave their house just before the new legislation was adopted. This is simply shameful and heartless. If you are facing eviction during this crisis, please get in touch by using the form at the bottom of this page.

https://www.facebook.com/MattWesternMP/videos/639821209896788/

The Government have announced that Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) will now be available for eligible individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 or those who are unable to work because they are self-isolating in line with Government advice. This is in addition to the change announced by the Prime Minister that SSP will be payable from day 1 instead of day 4 for affected individuals.

People who are advised to self-isolate for COVID-19 will be able to obtain an alternative to the fit note to cover this by contacting NHS 111, rather than visiting a doctor. This can be used by employees where their employers require evidence.

Those who are not eligible for SSP, for example the self-employed or people earning below the Lower Earnings Limit of £118 per week, can now more easily make a claim for Universal Credit or Contributory Employment and Support Allowance:

Self-employed people will be able to claim a Statutory Sick Pay equivalent through Universal Credit.

People will be able to claim Universal Credit and access advance payments upfront without the current requirement to attend a jobcentre if they are advised to self-isolate

Contributory Employment and Support Allowance will be payable, at a rate of £73.10 a week if you are over 25, for eligible people affected by COVID-19 or self-isolating in line with advice from Day 1 of sickness, rather than Day 8.

While I welcome these steps taken by the Government, there unfortunately appear to be major problems, with nothing for those without a contract of employment, and no suggestion that sick pay levels will be increased.

Together with the rest of the Labour Party, I am calling on the government to:

  • Raise statutory sick pay in line with amounts in other European countries
  • Introduce rent payment deferment options and ban any evictions of tenants affected by the outbreak, which has since been announced by the Government
  • Reduce the wait time for first payment of Universal Credit down from five weeks
  • Support local authorities working with food banks in the purchase and distribution of food stocks

The Government advises British people against all non-essential travel worldwide. This advice took effect immediately on 17 March and applies initially for 30 days.

British people travelling abroad are also advised to return to the UK now, if commercial flights are still available. International travel is becoming very limited as air routes close, land borders close and new restrictions are put in place that prevent flights from leaving.

If you, or someone you know, is stranded abroad then please get in touch with my office and we will try to follow up with the Government to get you home.

Many residents will want to receive compensation for travel which has already been planned. The current guidance is to contact your airline, travel company, cruise line or other transport and accommodation providers and get in touch with your insurance provider.

I will press the Government to provide assurances that everyone will be fairly compensated for the change in travel advice.

Further information on travel guidance can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus


03/04

The Labour Party have been lobbying the Government on your behalf to raise the issues that are most pressing for Britons stranded abroad. You can see the letter our Shadow Foreign Secretary sent to Dominic Raab here: https://www.facebook.com/EmilyThornberryLabour/posts/3149030668480292


30/03

The Government has today announced that they will be flying back more Britons. Where commercial flights are no longer available, the Government will be putting on chartered flights with select airlines to bring those home. This is welcomed news and comes after lobbying by myself and others to get to this position. If this intervention is still not enough, I will be pressing the Government to begin requisitioning flights.

The Governemnt have said:

Special charter flights for countries with no commercial routes will be prioritised according to the number of stranded British travellers and their vulnerability, including an assessment of the local health provision. In some places, access for flights to land and the ability to move around within the country to assemble for return flights will also be decisive factors.

Charter flights are already up and running to Ghana and Tunisia. We will add more countries this week with the aim of bringing people back from countries such as India and South Africa where large numbers of British travellers are stuck and commercial routes are completely suspended. We are negotiating intensely with countries around the world to secure permissions for return flights where airspace has been closed.

If there are no commercial options, they should visit the travel advice pages and sign up to alerts for their location and follow embassy social media and email updates. When special return flights become available, these will be advertised by the embassy and British nationals on Travel Advice Pages and Embassy social media and those who have registered for updates will be contacted via email. British nationals will be asked to register their interest through our booking agents CTM.

Where people are in real need, our consular teams will work with them to consider their options. As a last resort, the Foreign Office will offer an emergency loan."

More information can be found here.


25/03

After repeated lobbying to the Foreign Office, I have now received this further update for those stranded in India:

The British High Commission in New Delhi has moved into crisis mode and has setup a dedicated email address for British nationals who wish to return urgently to the UK.

Email Conqry.Newdelhi@fco.gov.uk with your full name (and names of any family members), Date of Birth, passport number, visa status, date of arrival in India and you contact details.

The FCO also advises all British people in India to:

  • Check the latest FCO travel advice for India
  • Follow @FCOTravel and @UKinIndia on twitter, and UK in India on Facebook, if possible
  • Refer to the latest guidance for UK citizens travelling overseas during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
  • Stay up to date with and follow the latest restrictions by local authorities, including lockdown.

24/03

The Govt should repatriate all Britons abroad by requisitioning airlines.

Here's my question to the Foreign Secretary where I highlighted 2 residents' cases. I will continue to do all I can.

https://www.facebook.com/MattWesternMP/videos/662306424528777/

Contact Matt about your COVID-19 concern