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Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Archive for April 2020

Celebrating Our Key Workers on International Worker's Memorial Day

Tuesday, 28 April 2020


Today is International Worker’s Memorial Day – a moment to pause and think about those who have died doing their job, wherever they may be in the world. It’s a day that has taken on even more significance since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Across the world, tens of thousands of workers have fallen victim to the virus while many more have either already fallen ill or, through either a sense of duty or sheer necessity, continue to work despite the risks.

Tameside is no different. We’re all familiar with the incredible care that our NHS staff are providing to those most gravely affected by the pandemic, and so many of us have joined in the clapping at 8pm every Thursday evening in their name. But there are many other key workers who are also risking their health, and maybe even their lives, to keep vital services running during these most difficult of time.

Our social care workers are fighting to look after our elderly and vulnerable, often in care homes and in our communities where social distancing is not an option. Day after day, our bin men have helped to protect our public health by going out to collect the rubbish off Tameside’s streets. Huge numbers of our brave armed forces have been mobilised to support the NHS, tackle fake news and assist with construction and transportation.

I also want to take the opportunity to mention some of those key workers who may not have received as much attention, but whose efforts have been no less vital. These include the teachers and support staff that continue working in schools that remain open for the children of key workers and those with special educational needs. It includes many workers in both the public and private sectors who are responsible for the maintenance our critical infrastructure; oil, gas, electricity, water, sewage, roads and railways. It includes those involved in making, delivering or selling the food and other essential products that we still need to supply shops, supermarkets and family homes. Every day they come to work and do their jobs is another victory in the fight against this invisible foe.

It is in their names that we have come together with a number of other organisations, including the British Association of Social Workers, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives and trade unions, to hold a minute’s silence at 11am today. This commemorates those who continue to do vital jobs in the face of great risk, and those who have tragically died or lost loved ones to the pandemic. The flag at Dukinfield Town Hall is also being flown at half-mast in tribute.

To all those who have gone above and beyond to support the vulnerable, to keep critical services running and to preserve the fabric of our society over the past months, you have the undying gratitude of myself and every resident in Tameside. I pledge to do whatever I can to ensure that you get the support you need to do your jobs. Not just during this pandemic, but when the time comes to recover and rebuild as well. 

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Time to Look Again at Universal Credit

Thursday, 23 April 2020


As the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold, so does its impact on the government, the economy and our everyday lives. It’s true that many of the challenges we now face have been caused entirely by the coronavirus itself. However, in some cases, the virus has shined a harsh light on problems that already existed. Nowhere is this clearer than with Universal Credit.

As I’m sure that some of you may remember, Tameside was one of the first areas in the country to trial Universal Credit when it was being introduced by the coalition government. We concluded that while it could, in theory, help to simplify an incredibly complex system of benefits and entitlement the implementation was broken beyond repair. Worse still, its punitive sanctions regime often drove people into severe financial difficulties and away from the jobs market entirely. These findings have been backed up by a number of other local authorities and organisations over the years, including the prestigious Economic and Social Research Council and Parliament’s own Work and Pensions Subcommittee.

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown has meant that more people than ever are relying in Universal Credit as a financial lifeline during these most difficult of times. This includes the one million people on zero-hours contract, who faced uncertainly and low pay even before this crisis began. Many of our 5 million self-employed are also turning to Universal Credit to bridge the gap until the government’s Self-Employed Income Support Scheme comes online in June.

The figures we’re seeing on new claims bear out this grim reality. Since mid-March over 1.4 million people have signed up for Universal Credit. Those that do sign on will have to face the five-week waiting period before their first payment. This means that even those who were able to apply for Universal Credit on Day One of the lockdown will not be receiving any financial support until next week at the earliest.

My view on this waiting period has not changed from when Tameside trialled Universal Credit more than half a decade ago. Forcing people to go without any support for over a month, for no other reason than the process says it must be so, should never be allowed to happen. In a world of stagnating pay and zero hours contract, the idea that everybody has enough cash on hand to cover the gap is utterly detached from the reality on the ground.  To make matters worse, there is no guarantee that the DWP will have processed their claims by the end of the waiting period. I know for a fact that our frontline Job Centre workers are doing everything they can, but with up to 20% of them across the country self-isolating and literally millions of new claims to process there is only so much that they can be expected to do.

It is for these reasons that I echo the calls made by Jonathan Reynolds, our MP for Stalybridge and Hyde and the new Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, to make fundamental changes to Universal Credit. The five-week waiting period must be scrapped entirely, child benefit must be paid out for all children instead of just the first two, and savings should not be taken into account when deciding payments. In the longer term, I would also like to see Universal Credit replaced entirely with a more trusted and less punitive system that takes into account the best practice in financially supporting people while also helping them into work.

This is not only the morally correct action, it may very well be essential to making sure that we return to normal once the pandemic has been defeated. A number of economists are saying that the economic damage from the coronavirus could match, or even exceed, the Great Financial Crisis of 2008. We cannot make the mistake of condemning Britain to another lost decade of austerity. The government has shown that they can take drastic action to protect citizens and jobs during the pandemic, they must now commit to doing the same to secure a future for the country after the coronavirus.

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Looking After Your Mental Health in Lockdown

Friday, 17 April 2020



 
We are now in the fourth week of the lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus. I’m delighted to say that the majority of our residents have followed the social distancing guidelines throughout the Easter bank holiday weekends, and some have even found more creative ways to support each other and our key workers. To all of you I say, thank you. It may not feel like it at the moment, but every day that we protect ourselves and others is another victory in the fight against this terrible pandemic. 

By now I’m sure that everybody is familiar with the physical symptoms of coronavirus; coughing, fever, muscle pains and, in serious cases, difficulty breathing. We also know that some people need special attention due to being the most at risk from the pandemic, such as the very elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. However, today I want to talk about a different kind of threat posed by the coronavirus; not to our bodies, but to our minds.

It’s estimated that, even in normal times, one in four of us experience a mental health problem in any given year. The past four weeks have been about as far from normal as you can get, and a number of experts are warning that there is a danger that it could lead to a full-blown mental health crisis that will persist long after the coronavirus itself is defeated. It is well known that pandemics can have a significant impact on mental health. To give just one example, after the SARS epidemic, which killed hundreds of people in Asia in the early 2000s, there was a marked increase in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder in the countries affected by the virus.

The lockdown has wrenched all of us out of our usual comfortable routines. Simple things like meeting up with our friends and family, going for an afternoon out, or even commuting to and from work every day are not possible at the moment. Many residents are also facing very real financial worries as a result of being out of work or temporarily furloughed. Furthermore, at the moment we have little idea of how long the current lockdown measures will be required for, which only adds to the uncertainty. Under these conditions even those who have not experienced issues in the past may be vulnerable, and those who already struggling with their mental health could be at risk of deteriorating further. As well as the dangers for mental health in general, there could also be a number of knock-on issues such as increases in domestic violence or drug and alcohol abuse.  
Over the past few weeks we have been working closely with Tameside and Glossop NHS Clinical Commissioning Group and a number of charities and community groups to make sure that we have mental health support there for those who need it during this difficult time. To minimise the need for people to travel to hospitals or GP surgeries, most of these will be provided through text messages, video chat and mobile phone apps. Some of them put users in touch with trained volunteers or emotional support groups, while others provide resources and techniques that can be dipped into as and when you need them. The complete list can be found here, and we will be adding to it as more services become available. Even if you don’t think that you need this kind of help, there are still ways to protect your mental health. Little things like keeping in touch with people who matter to you via phone, e-mail and social media, or creating a new daily routine that prioritises looking after your mind and body, can make all the difference.

There will come a day, and hopefully it will be soon, when we will be able to put this pandemic and lockdown behind us. Until then, I ask you once more to please continue to stay at home, stay safe, and protect yourself and others, not just physically but mentally as well. We will successfully do this as we have successfully done everything throughout this crisis, by coming together and trusting in the power of our families, friends and communities to see us through these difficult times.        

Posted by: Executive Leader


Tameside's Communities Leading the Fight against Coronavirus

Thursday, 09 April 2020

Before I begin, I want to take the opportunity to wish the Prime Minister a full and speedy recovery as he continues to battle coronavirus. While I certainly don’t see eye-to-eye with him on the many issues facing our country, I also believe that there are some things that are bigger than politics. My thoughts as well go towards his partner, Carrie Symonds, and unborn child. We should also take this as a harsh reminder that this virus pays no heed to power or position; it can strike anyone and anywhere. It is vital that we continue to take precautions against it at all times.

We are now close to the end of the third week of the lockdown to slow down the spread of the pandemic. At the beginning of this I said that our community spirit would get us through this crisis, and despite the extraordinary difficult circumstances, it is those very same communities that have rallied to help look after our most vulnerable residents. In partnership with Action Together, NHS Tameside and Glossop Clinical Commissioning Group, Tameside Hospital and other partners, we have been able to provide emergency support to those who need it the most.

 

This includes residents whose age or pre-existing conditions have required them to self-isolate for 12 weeks. Many of these people may not have nearby family, friends or neighbours able to support them, so we’ve encouraged them – or somebody they know - to get in touch with us if they need our help. This could be anything from the delivery of essential items such as food or medicine, or even a friendly voice to talk to for an hour or so.

Last week we had already delivered 523 food parcels,  and with the council, community groups, churches and Tameside’s taxi drivers all doing their bit we expect to deliver thousands more over the duration of the lockdown. This has been no easy task to organise, and it would have been outright impossible without the support of members of the public and businesses donating items, and Tameside residents giving up their own time and vehicles to wrap up the parcels and make deliveries. The generosity and dedication of everybody involved has been overwhelming, and we really cannot thank you enough. Our food banks, which have been hard stretched in the current situation, also have a vital role to play in delivering support to those struggling to make ends meet. We’ve launched a major campaign to encourage supermarkets and retailers to donate what they can, and I’m asking everybody reading this to consider putting their hands in their pockets to contribute a few items on their weekly shops.

Another thing that has been so uplifting to see over the past few weeks has been the way that members of the public have shown their support for our key workers. I know for a fact that the medical professionals at Tameside Hospital have left absolutely no stone unturned to help those who have shown up at their door with severe coronavirus symptoms. I also want to highlight our social care teams, who have been working 24 hours a day 7 days a week to make sure that many vital services remain available. This has taken the strain off our hospitals and allowed elderly and vulnerable residents to continue living in dignity and comfort in their own homes. Many of us have taken part in the nationwide clap on Thursday evenings for those on the very front lines of the struggle against coronavirus, the NHS and our key workers. But I’ve always believed that words need to be backed up by action, which is why I’m also delighted to announce that Greater Manchester has agreed to back our NHS and social care workers by offering them free tram and train transport within the whole of the city region until at least 1st June. 

In the face of a global pandemic, our bin men are going above and beyond the call of duty to keep a full collection service running. That’s why we’ve encouraged residents to #wavetoyourbincrew over the past week, and it’s fair to say that we’ve all been blown away by the response. Residents of all ages have joined in – with both children and older people waving from their windows and gardens, and leaving notes and pictures showing their thanks and support. Some streets have gone as far as giving the waste teams a round of applause. I think it’s been a great way to cast the spotlight on our unsung heroes doing a job that, while not often considered glamorous, is nonetheless absolutely essential.

 

The past few weeks have not been easy, and they are likely to get harder still as the struggle against coronavirus goes on. But thanks to the hard work and support of our residents and council workers I am more confident than ever that there is light at the end of the tunnel. We will get there, and we will get there together. For the moment however, please continue to stay at home, stay safe, and protect yourself and others.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


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