It goes without saying that life today is not as we once knew it. Though it seems like forever, it was just a fortnight ago that it was not unusual to leave the house just to get some air, to go into work on the tube, to meet people in the pub, the gym or at the shops and to have a social life outside of your phone. We are all adjusting as fast as we can to the “new normal”.
I know there has been some soul-searching about what political parties should be doing at the moment, how to divert resources into the COVID-19 response, how to use our contacts and communications to help, how to scrutinise a failing and flailing Tory government in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century.
To begin with, I don’t hesitate to reiterate and reinforce the government’s public health messaging on the Coronavirus. We must do everything we can to persuade people to at stay home, to save lives and protect the NHS. Whether we take this seriously or not is quite literally the difference between life and death. It’s the council’s duty to ensure that we all truly understand the gravity of our current situation.
That is not to say that we should be silent. It is still the job of the opposition to tell the government when they are getting it wrong. Whether on PPE, on the testing of NHS staff and Care workers, or on food security. However, Labour must continue to do this in the most constructive and least divisive way possible, so that we can stand strong together in our communities, as a nation, and globally, united against this pandemic.
Communicating with residents
Haringey Council’s communication with residents about Coronavirus continues daily, online and through social media. The dedicated page on the council website has all the up-to-date information and messages to residents, which you can access here.
The Council’s “Haringey Together” website page also contains a broad range of help and advice for residents.
Earlier this week, I wrote to every household in the borough, offering reassurance during this difficult time, and highlighting the different sources of guidance, assistance and support could offer.
An uneven burden
As social distancing restrictions have been tightened and the number of coronavirus cases has risen, one thing is becoming very clear – there is a real injustice in the way that this crisis is affecting workers.
Those who work in supermarkets and pharmacies, almost all for minimum wage, are under immense strain. They are highly likely to be exposed to the virus and unable to protect themselves. Some are having to self-isolate within their household to protect their families. At the same time, NHS and frontline service workers are working long, incredibly intense shifts, and deserve to be well compensated for risking their lives to keep us all safe and healthy
While I’m ready to acknowledge what the government has done for many workers in the last three weeks that doesn’t mean we should stand by when government policy is having a disproportionate impact upon others. Some people face a deeply unfair burden right now – and for what may be several months – and they deserve better pay and better protection.
There is also injustice where global businesses treat their employees differently – where staff on lower wages are being furloughed or having their pay cut – whilst other employees earning exponentially more, are not. As a society, we really must all be in this together.
As a council, I have raised the issue of food security at London level as well as in a conference call with the Secretary of State.
The government has recognised that the ‘shielded’ group, the 1.5 million at the very highest risk, cannot go out and buy food for themselves and has responded by distributing food parcels to these people.
What it hasn’t recognised is the much wider number of people living in (or on the brink of) poverty, who cannot afford to buy more food than usual to reduce the number of trips they make to the shops. There are people living hand-to-mouth, and people in insecure employment that has, quite simply, disappeared. I have a significant concern that the failure to address food security could lead to social disorder if left unchecked. Food security is everything. Already, food banks are reporting much higher demand and substantially lower stocks. We must take action now, because the reality is that some form of lockdown will cover much of the country for most of the summer.
We need a serious commitment of funds from government to ensure that food is available to everyone who needs it. I will continue lobbying government and making this argument with fellow Council leaders at London Councils, and at the LGA.
Coronavirus – The Public Health message:
The current number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Haringey is 211. Public Health England assert that the actual number is substantially higher than this, and this number is increasing every day.
The public health message is:
• Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a dangerous, highly infectious disease, which – though it may present as a mild infection to some – will cause serious health complaints to many people and will be fatal to a substantial number
• Unchecked, the level of people who will be hospitalised with the disease will simply overwhelm the capacity of our National Health Service to cope
• EVERYBODY has a duty, not only to protect their own health, but also the health of their family, their loved ones, their friends and the wider community
• We simply cannot see who is infected, since people are infectious, BEFORE they exhibit any symptoms of the illness – once you have a fever or start coughing, you are already sick and have been contagious for between 1-14 days
• The only way to stem the spread of this disease is for people to exercise “social distancing”, for people to minimise the chance that they may come in contact with an infected person
• Put simply, if you are not directly involved in delivering the response to the coronavirus outbreak you need to stay at home with your families.
Only go out for:
• Essential shopping and do this only once or twice a week if you can
• To collect medicines or go to essential and urgent medical appointments
• Exercise (no more than once a day)
• To deliver food to vulnerable relatives/friends – this should be left on doorsteps
When you do go out:
• Do not meet with any people outside your household
• Stay 2 metres away from others at all times
Coordinating the community response
The NHS is sending a full list of residents in the high-risk ‘shielded’ group who are being advised to stay home for the next 12 weeks and self-isolate.
We have been made aware of a number of people on that list who are in need of emergency support and food is being delivered to them.
The government is providing a larger delivery of basic foodstuffs that will be used to support those who need assistance in the wider shielded group. These food deliveries will run for two weeks and then a national scheme of home food deliveries will kick in.
The shielded group will need three types of support – food deliveries, prescriptions and medical deliveries, and social support – this is now being arranged.
We have been inundated with offers of help from residents and communities across Haringey – thank you so much for your compassion and commitment to our neighbours.
We are co-ordinating our approach borough-wide through Haringey Together: Connected Communities and are instigating a model of local ward co-ordinators to try to make sure all efforts on the ground are aligned and supported.
We continue to receive lots of offers of volunteering support – we want to co-ordinate these offers through the Connected Communities page on our website. There are also a huge number of offers from businesses.
HomesforHaringey, Reach and Connect Community Navigators are in contact with vulnerable residents who don’t qualify for statutory services and they have a combined list of approximately 500 people who they are maintaining contact with and supporting. Public Voice are setting up a telephone befriending scheme.
The mental health group Mind is still offering a service to residents and can be contacted through their website.
A lesson from other lockdowns across the world means that we must recognise Domestic Violence as a key issue and our VAWG (Violence Against Women and Girls) service is continuing. If you are concerned about any resident you can contact them at: VAWG@haringey.gov.uk
There is now a Haringey Giving link so that people can directly donate to and help charities engaged in the emergency relief effort.
Rough Sleepers Initiative Update
Haringey Council addressed the challenge set by Central Government and we successfully accommodated the 53 rough sleepers that we were aware that we had responsibility for in self-contained accommodation by last Friday. However, late last week we were informed that the GLA had been unable to accommodate 30 people who were in nightshelters not commissioned by the borough. They then passed this responsibility on to us, so that now we then needed to accommodate these additional 30 people as well.
Whilst these 30 homeless people were in night shelters and not on the streets, our outreach team are continuing to look for suitable self-contained accommodation in and around the borough and we expect to have concluded this task over the next few days.
We acknowledge that concerns have been expressed about the government’s inconsistent and contradictory advice to builders. The Council has committed to:
• Respect any decision taken by a contractor to temporarily close a site due to coronavirus, as long as the site is closed down in a safe and secure way
• Where a contractor indicates they will be continuing to work, we will actively seek assurance from the contractor that it is possible to proceed while respecting Public Health England guidelines. If we cannot get that assurance, we will ask that the site be made safe/secure and work cease
• For a small number of projects, work continuing and completing is critical to our COVID-19 response. In those exceptional cases we will make sure public health guidance is followed so workers are safe on site
• We will proactively contact developers working on schemes in partnership with the council to inform them that this is our approach and urge them to take the same approach
• The Council will be suspending further building on its own sites, once we have made the sites secure, and weather safe. We will, however, have to maintain a security presence at these locations
In a busy, noisy city, parks are a buttress for our collective wellbeing. They’re a place without brick and concrete, where people – many of whom either don’t have a garden or live in crowded houses – can escape to, and a place where people from every walk of life can come together. In the forthcoming weeks they simply cannot fulfil that role. We need, for now at least, to see parks differently – as places that people go through, rather than as places that people go to.
New guidance was issued last week, recommending that we all take no more than one bit of exercise each day. That can mean a run or cycle through the park. Gathering in the park is sadly something that now must be put on hold. It is essential to our collective ability to slow the spread of this virus, keep people out of hospital beds, keep NHS workers healthy – and save lives as a result. I know that most of us are taking the restrictions seriously, but the Council will be forced to take appropriate action in parks if people continue to behave recklessly.
Support for Haringey’s Businesses
COVID-19 is going to bring us all new challenges. As a council we are acutely aware of the stress being put on businesses and want to help business owners navigate through these unprecedented times. The council will ensure that the voice of Haringey businesses and the self-employed is heard, and every business owner is accessing the support available.
We want to hear from businesses about what they need in the short, medium, and long term so please encourage businesses to complete the Business Impact Survey to let us know how this challenge is affecting the business and their staff.
Further to the recent announcements regarding business rates reliefs, if you will now be entitled to 100% business rate relief and have a Direct Debit payment due on the 1 April 2020 – please cancel your Direct Debit. For further advice contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Small Business Grant Fund and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund:
Local Authorities are responsible for delivering the funding to eligible businesses. Businesses can contact the Council about grants at: COVIDsmallbusinessgrant@haringey.gov.uk
Most businesses will receive grants automatically, but some will need to apply. Guidance and the application form can be found on the council’s website here, under Guidance on Grant Funding Schemes:
Links to guidance
• In most cases queries from partners and the public can be answered by directing them to the latest NHS guidance, which includes a link to common questions.
• This site also has up to date information for returning travellers from affected areas. Other useful links are below:
Please, take heed of the health advice, and I offer best wishes to you and your family.
Cllr Joseph Ejiofor
Leader of Haringey Council