As we enter November, it is incredible to think that this time twelve months ago, “Coronavirus” and “Covid 19” had not entered our vocabulary. Daily news changes too fast for a monthly column –such is the whirlwind we find ourselves in- but three consistent truths continue to emerge for me. First, we must protect and prioritise mental as well as physical health. Second, we must give local areas more control over the response. And third, the Government must spend money more wisely.
Firstly, 2020 has been a resilience rollercoaster. However robust you usually are, the ongoing changes, reduced human contact, periods of isolation, income insecurity, upheaval in workplaces, and for some, illness and grief, presents a cocktail of challenges to our wellbeing. Anxiety and depression are even more prevalent. It is okay -and indeed normal- not to be okay. If you’re not feeling so good, please reach out to a friend or family member. Whatever your situation, several great local services are highlighted on the Tameside Council website (give your GP a call if you’re not online). It’s imperative we make time to check in on friends and family who might be struggling, too. November will have its particular challenges; I know that marking Remembrance Day on our doorsteps or online instead of as a physical community will feel tough. Make self-care a priority -from fresh air, to decent sleep, to identifying sources of stress and doing what you can to minimise them – and pick up the phone and connect.
Secondly, I strongly believe it is time for the Government to devolve greater control for supporting businesses, managing infection rates and getting a grip on testing to local leaders. We know our communities better. The national tracing system reaches just six out of every ten contacts, while local authorities are reaching 97%. The showdown between Andy Burnham and Conservative ministers in Westminster over the economic package for Greater Manchester as we entered Tier 3 typified my frustrations. The Government simply weren’t listening to struggling businesses, households or elected local representatives. The swiftness with which support was forthcoming when London entered Tier 2, three months after Greater Manchester faced similar rules without a scooby of support, said it all. I hesitate to use the phrase, but it’s fitting: we need to take back control.
Lastly, we need to spend the state’s money more wisely. £12 billion -yes billion- on an embarrassingly flawed test and trace system, most of it on botched contracts, is a national outrage, especially when small businesses are crying out for help. See also: £130 million shelled out for testing kits that were unsafe; £150 million for facemasks that couldn’t be used by NHS staff. The UK ranks among the highest excess deaths and most troubling economic outlooks in Europe. We desperately need to support our people. We just have to do it astutely.