Firstly, a big thank you to all the council staff, voluntary organisations and volunteers who have been doing so much over the last month to help others.
The theatre company Slung Low has been delivering meals to people in Holbeck and Beeston supported by the Real Junk Food Project. Holbeck Together, Belle Isle Senior Action, Middleton Elderly Aid, South Leeds Live at Home and Trinity Network have all been providing meals and support for the elderly and vulnerable people with whom they work. Volunteers from the Hunslet Club have been distributing food. And I am sure we all welcome the new campaign to express thanks to all involved – key workers and volunteers alike – called the Leeds Big Thank You.
I’d also like to thank South Leeds Life which is an essential source of information about what’s happening in our community. SSL’s website and newspaper are a wonderful example of the importance of independent news organisations, but like everyone else they are struggling. That’s why I have signed a letter to the Culture Secretary urging him to spend some of the money the Government is putting into coronavirus advertisements with local news outlets like South Leeds Life. They are trusted, widely read and like many other organisations at the moment, they could do with a helping hand.
All of this community effort shows how much need there is out there in these really difficult times. The Council has seen an increase in calls from people requesting food parcels, in some cases because they are waiting for universal credit payments to come through. Others are falling through the cracks of the much-needed income support schemes – a problem I have raised with ministers – and have absolutely no idea how they going to pay their bills. And owners of some businesses don’t know whether they will still be here as and when restrictions start to be lifted.
Everyone is now wondering about what will happen next, but getting out of this will not be easy. It’s clear that until a vaccine comes along – and that seems to be a year or more away – there will be no protection against this virus. In the meantime, trials are taking place to see whether any existing drugs can help reduce the severity of the illness of those being treated in hospital.
It is what we have all done to stay at home and socially distance that has started to reduce the rate of infections. At the right time the economy will need to get going again, but what none of us want to see is a second big spike in cases. And so those who are shielding will need to go on doing so.
The number of people dying every day – in hospitals and in care homes – is shocking, and in each case there is a family devastated by the loss of a loved one. What makes it even more difficult is that for many of them they were not able to be at the hospital bedside or the care home when the end came.
The emotional and mental health consequences of this will be considerable, as it is for hospital staff who are working so hard to save lives but who cannot always succeed because of the nature of this virus.
And that’s why we stand on our doorsteps every Thursday to applaud them. We know how hard it is. We know the risks they can run. We know that they would give us the same expert care if we fell ill. And we know that scientists in Britain and across the globe are working round the clock to develop a vaccine.
So as we stand there next week looking up and down the street alongside our neighbours clapping and cheering and banging pots, we will be reminded that it is by supporting one another and working together that we will get through this.
Stay safe, take care and keep getting in touch if you think I can help.