It’s been another incredibly busy week for Knowsley – and one that has, yet again, been filled with changes and new announcements in our fight against Covid.
It’s been a real week of emotional highs and lows for many people. It started with the fallout from the decision of central Government not to fund food vouchers to help feed our most vulnerable children. For me, it was an devastating decision. As we live through the impact of a pandemic, with people’s jobs affected and many families struggling to put food on the table, the refusal to provide this help to those most in need feels depressingly heartless. As local representatives, myself and my councillor colleagues felt strongly that this wasn’t something we could let happen in Knowsley.
Of course, we weren’t alone – there was an instant reaction from the community and from local businesses with so many people donating food, offering free meals for children and wanting to give cash or items to the foodbank. For our part, Knowsley Council agreed that we would step in and pick up the shortfall left by the Government vote – so all our families who are means tested to receive free school meals for their children once again received a voucher to cover this. And, because we don’t want families worrying about the next battle on the horizon, we’ve also made it clear that we will also do the same to cover the Christmas holidays. I know this reassurance will make a huge difference to our most vulnerable children, and I hope it is at least one less thing for them to worry about.
Sadly we do still see this pattern of the most disadvantaged people in society being the hardest hit by this virus. Here in Knowsley we find ourselves in the unlucky position of being one of the areas of the country with both the highest rates of deprivation and the highest rates of Covid-19 infection. I’ve always believed that as an elected representative of the people, your moral duty is to protect the most vulnerable and stand up for what’s right. We should not be letting children go hungry.
Of course, we continue to live under Tier 3 restrictions in our region, and rates of infection remain high and we are also seeing an increase in admissions in local hospitals. The Government will review this position again in mid-November (four weeks after they imposed Tier 3 restrictions on 14 October) but please be assured that your local leaders continue to monitor this each and every day. I and my fellow city region leaders have been clear: we agree that tough measures were necessary – getting this virus under control and saving lives has to be our top priority. But there must be fairness in how we do this. At the very simplest level this means people’s livelihoods and incomes must be protected as far as possible, and children must be able to access education. We challenged the Government’s decision to interpret Tier 3 differently in our region – where gyms were forced to close – and in Lancashire – where they were not. On Saturday, we were successful and the gyms re-opened – with Covid-safe measures in place, of course. This is the right decision, not only for health and fitness, but also for the mental wellbeing of many people too. We’ve also taken the decision, as part of the Liverpool City Region, that taxi drivers should also be supported and a £1.5m fund has been established across the Liverpool City Region to support in excess of 15,000 taxi drivers in our region. In many cases, taxi drivers carried out an essential service during lockdown and beyond – but certainly they have also suffered from a dramatic loss of custom.
It’s been a long seven months and we all continue to have to make sacrifices in the fight against Covid. This weekend, many families would have been enjoying Halloween parties or taking the children trick or treating. You may have been looking forward to attending a firework display. Sadly, this year, we’re asking you not to do any of that, and I know it’s tough. My thanks to all of you who are going to do the right thing and keep your celebrations to your own households and support bubbles this year. There are some ideas to help you do that here on Knowsley News.
We’ve also had to make the sad decision that no Remembrance parades or services will take place this year. Again, we’re asking for your cooperation. Our priority remains the safety of our residents and reducing the transmission rates within our communities. Thank you to everyone who will be marking this occasion at home.
I also want to remind anyone who is struggling with the mental impact of this situation to seek help from the very many sources of support that exist. You’ll find lots of information about that here.