By Cllr Graham Morgan, Leader of Knowsley Council
I started to write these regular updates about 10 months ago now, and it is hard to believe what has happened in all our lives since then. There is not a person in Knowsley who hasn’t been touched by COVID-19 in some way. There are those who are unfortunate enough to have caught the virus, others who have cared for loved ones whilst they were ill, and of course, most sadly, those who have lost someone who they loved as a result of COVID-19.
Last week, the UK reached a devastating milestone when it recorded the 100,000th death from the virus. And, as I write this update, this figure continues to rise. Behind these numbers are real people, devastated families, and futures lost due to this terrible virus. To put it into context, if you filled Anfield and Goodison Park with spectators, you would have almost 100,000 people. It is a phenomenal loss and so incredibly sad.
If someone would have told me this time last year that this was going to happen, it would have been impossible to comprehend. This time last year, we had started to hear about was happening in Wuhan, China – but it was far away from us, and most of us were blissfully unaware of the real danger we faced. Now we know the reality of the virus and the many lives lost as a result.
Here in Knowsley, the latest figures show that we have lost more than 280 residents to COVID-19. Across the Liverpool City Region, we have lost a further 2,900 people. Most of us now know someone who has been impacted by this illness. For many, whilst their physical health may have been unaffected, their lives may still have changed considerably and not for the better.
Sadly, the impact of COVID-19 stretches beyond the tragedy of the lives lost but into the lives of so many people who are struggling as a result of the pandemic. I hear on a daily basis the stories of our residents – those who have lost their jobs, others struggling with the isolation of lockdown, or the hundreds of parents feeling the pressure of trying to home school their children.
As a Governor of a local primary school, I know the pressures and stresses facing our schools and families right now and my heart goes out to everyone who is feeling the strain. The national announcement this week that schools will not return until 8 March 2021 (at the earliest) confirmed what I think most of us already suspected. Certainly, in Knowsley with rates as high as they are, reopening schools and relaxing lockdown isn’t an option right now and I know that is hard for people to hear, whether you are trying to teach children at home whilst balancing work, or just feeling overwhelmed by the home schooling responsibilities. You may be worried about what your children are missing out on in school and also what young people are missing in terms of the social benefits of interacting with their friends. It all adds to the stress and the huge challenge which we continue to face.
Then there are the teachers and teaching assistants consistently putting their health at risk to go into school and yet still feeling like they aren’t able to provide the support and learning which they would usually provide for the children and young people in their care. Whatever the role or the circumstances, the additional pressure on top of living through a pandemic is huge.
Aside from schools and education issues, there are those in our community who had major health conditions before COVID-19, those who might live alone without the support of friends or family, others whose jobs have been lost, and people just struggling to get by day to day. The list is almost endless, and that is before you consider the stress and strain being felt by our key workers and particularly those working in our local hospitals right now. Whiston Hospital in particular is currently under significant pressure due to rising COVID-19 admissions and it will be some time yet before we can realistically hope that this situation will improve.
COVID-19 has challenged us all in so many ways and those challenges are still ever present. This time around, I think many of us are really feeling the pressure and we need to summon up every ounce of positivity to keep going. But we will keep going and the council will continue to be here to help everyone that we possibly can.
This week, our Cabinet Member for Resources has been doing some really important work to highlight a particular challenge facing some of our residents when it comes to self-isolating. Specifically, the difficulty which many families are having financially as a result of following the rules and self-isolating when they are told to. The Government has created a self-isolation payment scheme to help those on low incomes who need to self-isolate. In such cases, people should receive a £500 payment to ease the burden which comes with loss of income and the need to stay home. But, like so many ideas from this Government, scratch beneath the service and this system just isn’t working. This payment comes with all kinds of strict criteria, and if you can’t meet those… you get nothing. You can read more about the issues with self-isolation payments here.
We think this is completely wrong and are pressing Government hard to change it. If you need help – you should get it. If someone is put in a position where they cannot afford to do the right thing, then, in all likelihood, they won’t. And that’s a problem for everyone, because it means that infected people are still out there, spreading the virus. Throughout this pandemic, we should be doing everything we can to help the most vulnerable and the poorest – not putting barriers in the way.
Highlighting the real-life challenges of people here in Knowsley is so important. Throughout this pandemic, it has become clearer than ever that sometimes those making the rules in Westminster really haven’t got a clue what our lives are like or what challenges we face on a daily basis. And, as our rates continue to be the highest in UK, we have to continue in our tireless work to do what is best for our communities.
So, as we reflect on the challenges gone by and those still ever present, I want to take a moment to remind you all how important it is for you to continue to follow the rules of lockdown. Stay home as much as possible and reduce your contact with other people to stop this horrendous virus from spreading even further and damaging even more lives. Do it for your family and your community, and do it to honour all of those whose lives have been lost as a result of this virus.
And finally – for everyone grieving or struggling – our thoughts are with you. If you need help, we are here. There are lots of tools and resources to help with mental health issues on Knowsley News. And, if it’s practical support you need, our Volunteer Hub remains ready to help – call our freephone line on 0800 073 0043 Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm.