12 May 2020
Boris Johnson’s confusing messages to the nation mean lots of working people will be feeling anxious about what to do right now. The Government hasn’t yet published guidance on how workers will be kept safe.
The latest slogan "Stay Alert" leaves it up to individuals to figure out what they should do and puts the responsibility of safety on individuals as the Government tries to hide from its failures.
A report by the Office of National Statistics on COVID-19 deaths by occupation was released the morning after Boris Johnson's address, encouraging people to go back to work.
It shows that people in the lowest paid jobs are at highest risk of death from COVID-19. These jobs include retail, construction factory/processing plants, cleaners, taxi/bus/coach drivers, security, chefs and, of course, care workers.
Shockingly, there is a significant difference between the risk for social care workers and health care workers, with people working in social care being placed at greatest risk. This highlights the failings to provide adequate support and equipment to care workers. An MP who returned to her job as a carer was fired after speaking out about the supply of PPE.
Other reports by the Office of National Statistics show that Black individuals are 4.2 to 4.3 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than White individuals. The mortality rate of deaths related to COVID-19 in the most deprived areas of England was more than double that of wealthy areas. This is a damning indictment of our unequal society.
The Green Party is pushing for a network of community-based protection schemes, or “community shields”, to be set up. These teams will detect, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact. These “shields”, coordinated by Public Health England’s regional Outbreak Management Teams, would use systems including the NHS 111 phone service, GP surgeries and local authority public health teams to identify those with symptoms, arrange for their testing and then trace all their contacts in order to stamp out outbreaks of the virus in the communities where it’s happening.
To make this happen, investment is needed at a local level as well as a total reversal of the cuts to public health funding over the last ten years. Local councils should have a key role in recruiting and employing skilled people with local insights. Environmental health officers, health visitors, school nurses, and others have suitable skills which could be deployed to a new locally-based, public health workforce of case finders and contact tracers. We need joined-up thinking between the County Council's Public Health Team and the workforce in the District Council. Staff understand they should be mobilised for this.
While extra funding is being made available to community groups across Hertfordshire through Councillors' 'Locality Budget', two questions remain. Is our local Public Health Team doing enough to support the 30,000 people working in care services across Hertfordshire? What measures are the local councils putting in place to deliver contact tracing? Hertfordshire County Council has cancelled all scheduled meetings and has held two meetings a month since April. These can be viewed online via webcast.
Important information for workers to be aware of is Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 which provides employees with the right not to suffer a detriment or be dismissed for refusing to work in circumstances where they believe they would be in serious and imminent danger. Do seek legal advice from a union if this affects you. There is also a handy Guide about Coronavirus and Health and Safety dismissals published by Gus Baker at Outer Temple.
There are ways for organisations to get financial help through this tricky period. You may be eligible for business rate relief, emergency loans and grants for charities and community groups so do check the guidance.
There's a range of different services available for people who need support with mental health and wellbeing.
There are many local groups helping the community. Find these ones nearest to you through COVID Mutual Aid to get help or volunteer if you can, If you know someone who needs help with shopping, personal care or simply a chat with someone, you can also contact HertsHelp which is a network of community organisations in Hertfordshire working together and should be able to put you in touch with the right group or service.
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