We still find ourselves in very unusual and challenging times. I know that across Chelmsford people have made so many sacrifices in order to maintain social distancing, and by doing so have prevented others from becoming ill. I give my deepest thanks to those who have been at the frontline during this time, those in our hospitals, care homes and key public services and the many people who volunteer and help others. My thoughts and prayers are also with those who have lost people they love to this dreadful disease. Families have been impacted hugely by this emergency and no one has been immune to the personal impact.
Thanks to everyone’s dedication we are seeing the number of cases of COVID coming down, so we can begin to carefully ease some lockdown measures. This must be done in a cautious and phased manner. It is vital that everyone continues to follow social distancing guidelines so that we can control the spread of the virus.
I know the toll that lockdown has taken on families and friends who have been unable to see each other. It is good news that, up to six people can now meet outside, including in gardens and other private outdoor spaces - provided those from different households continue strictly to observe social distancing rules by staying two metres apart. The evidence shows that the risk of transmission is significantly lower outdoors but please try to avoid seeing people from too many households in quick succession.
The past 10 weeks have been particularly challenging for everyone following shielding guidance. They have not been able to leave their homes. They are now advised that they can go outside with members of their household or meet one member of another household if they live alone, but it remains incredibly important that they, and all of us follow social distancing.
Throughout this time, my priority has been to focus on getting assistance to individual residents of Chelmsford who need urgent help. At the beginning of lockdown I helped to set up the Essex Welfare Service to help those most vulnerable during the pandemic. It has so far supported almost 9,000 vulnerable people across the county. Over 3,000 volunteers have helped with shopping, medicine or day to day tasks that has enabled individuals to stay healthy and well whilst shielding at home. The service has now expanded to enable access to a range of organisations that can help those who feel isolated or vulnerable.
Many Chelmsford residents and businesses have accessed the Governments financial support packages. It’s good news that the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme will be extended for three months and that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will continue to support jobs until the end of October.
As Minister for Children, I have also been working to set up networks of support for the most vulnerable children and young people across our country. We know that school is incredibly important for children. I have been in touch with several schools across Chelmsford ahead of the phased re-opening of schools. Many of them have remained open for key workers and vulnerable children during the lock down. For our youngest children, the time they spend at school, pre-school and nursery is vital to help develop the social and communication skills that set them up for life. Hence, the focus is on inviting back younger children first as well as key year groups such as Year 6, 10 and 12. Safety is the top priority. Schools have worked to make the re-opening in as a socially-distanced manner possible, including measures to keep younger children in small groups as we recognise that social distancing is a challenge for them. The Government will see how these new changes are working, and look at the R value and the number of new infections before taking any further steps, so we can ensure anything we do does not risk a second peak that could overwhelm the NHS.
Our local hospitals, Broomfield, Southend and Basildon have been keeping MPs updated with regular briefings. Work is happening to bring back more non-emergency health services and please remember, if you do need urgent care, the NHS is there for you, including our A&E.
Essex Police are still out completing their normal duties and a big welcome to the 80 new police officers who passed out from training this May. Burglary, theft, violent and drug related crime incidents have dropped dramatically, but there has been an increase in fraud, excessive speeding and anti-social behaviour. There are concerns about hidden harms such as domestic abuse and child abuse.
MP have been taking part in debates, questions and votes in the House of Commons both online and in person. We have been working on a number of crucial bills, including the Agriculture Bill which will support our farmers and food producers as well as the environment, the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill which brings in new assistance for victims and the important Trade Bill which will help UK companies benefit from trade opportunities across the world.
Whilst it is possible for me to hold my regular face to face constituency surgeries at this time, I am holding telephone surgeries for those with complex issues. If you do need my assistance please do email me on Vicky.firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you again, and I hope you are staying safe and well.