Last night in Birmingham and across the country, the nation once again took to their windows and doorsteps to clap for our carers, and to show our great appreciation for the efforts of everyone on the front-line of this crisis.
It is absolutely right that those putting their lives on the line to keep our country going and its people safe are given the recognition they deserve for their tireless and vital work. But more than this, we must also make sure that they are given the PPE, testing and support they so desperately need.
Sadly, we have heard too many stories from staff unable to keep themselves safe or adequately care for their patients. This crisis has laid bare that we can no longer live in a society where care workers are underpaid and undervalued or our NHS is starved of funding. We can’t applaud front line workers every Thursday, and then just go back to business as usual after the crisis.
Urgent action is also required to repatriate British citizens stranded in countries around the world. My team and I are doing all we can to bring back over 50 constituents and their families currently stranded abroad in India, Pakistan and elsewhere in the world.
With some now stuck in areas with strict lockdown measures and travel restrictions in place, like those in the Punjab region, many cannot afford to wait any longer for flights because their health conditions are worsening and their medication fast decreasing. It is vital that those vulnerable individuals and families are put on flights as soon as possible and returned to the UK.
The UK Foreign Office has announced details of further charter return flights from various locations in India including Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bangalore, Delhi, Goa and Mumbai. It is still not enough, but it is a start, and rest assured, I will continue to press for more flights for those stranded abroad - prioritising those who are most vulnerable. For more information and bookings, please visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/india/return-to-the-uk
My office and the offices of MPs across the country are in close contact with FCO officials daily, however, the communication between FCO and MPs requires much improvement. In recent meetings with FCO representatives we have urged for clearer, more accurate and accessible information from embassies, and a better system for raising specific constituent cases with them.
Even when a flight has been secured, constituents have shared their serious concerns over their cost. Some have reported a tripling of costs for flights home, leaving many in financial difficulty through no fault of their own. I would encourage anyone with information of inflated flight costs to email me at email@example.com.
Mental Health support
Coronavirus is not only affecting people’s physical health, but their mental health too. If you are struggling, need support, or simply want someone to talk to, then there are a number of groups and organisations who are on hand to help:
Birmingham Mind and Living Well Consortium
General support line: 0121 262 3555
Key worker line: 0121 663 1217
Kooth gives 11-25 year olds the opportunity to access online counselling from qualified counsellors who are available from midday to 10pm every weekday and 6pm to 10pm at weekends. You can access the service at www.kooth.com
Open Door Counselling
Open Door are continuing to provide counselling sessions for young people, as well as healthcare professionals and other key workers in need of support. You can contact them on 0121 454 1116 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
International Development news
It is clear that the coronavirus outbreak is leading to a health and economic crisis around the world. Although the virus is indiscriminate in its reach, it is the poorest and most vulnerable who will be hit hardest, and this week we learnt that we risk seeing half a billion people pushed into poverty globally as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
That is why in my role as Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, I called for the cancellation of debt repayment for low-income countries on Tuesday ahead of this week's IMF and World Bank Spring meetings.
It is unacceptable that some of the poorest countries are being expected to prioritise debt repayments over the safety of their citizens during the world’s worst health crisis in over 100 years. This is a global emergency and if we can ensure the most vulnerable people are protected overseas, it will help us to quickly tackle this crisis, and in the long run also protect people and front-line services here in the UK.
As ever, please do not hesitate to get in touch if there is anything I can help with, you can find my contact details below. Stay safe and look after one another.
Preet Kaur Gill MP