POLITICAL conversations up here in the last week have centred around one thing: the local lockdown imposed on the North-East.

Of course, I understand the need for the latest restrictions, but I also understand people’s frustrations: the vast majority of the public have done everything that has been asked of them. This lockdown will again impact businesses, employees, families – and it’s especially difficult when many people were just starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

What I’ve found particularly galling is the way Government ministers have tried to shift the blame onto the public. If there has been confusion over the rules, it’s been sown by the unclear messaging from the Government, with those in positions of authority having to be cajoled into taking measures that would, for instance, help workers stay at home instead of going into workplaces that are not Covid-19 secure.

From the outset, the Government was slow to introduce lockdown measures, slow to provide business support and slow to protect workers.

But there were also the actions of Dominic Cummings, which undoubtedly gave the wrong signals to many, and then a series of measures that encouraged social mixing, without the back up of rigorous track and trace measures and testing.

So, now we are back in lockdown in the North-East. While accepting the need for restrictions, Labour MPs in the region have asked that the Government support the region properly, rather than letting us ‘sink or swim’.

In a letter to the Health Secretary last week, I joined colleagues in asking for a series of reassurances in protecting jobs and businesses, as well as a comprehensive testing system to help us get through this lockdown. We are talking about people’s lives here.

In the context of a global pandemic, someone losing their job or business isn’t just unfortunate, it will be devastating to many people.

As politicians, it is our job to do everything we can to protect our constituents and the nation from these shocks, not sit back and shrug our shoulders.

Once again, though, you could see a familiar theme emerge with the announcement of the North-East lockdown: firstly a lack of detail for us, as representatives, to pass on to worried constituents, then a series of confusing measures with obvious inconsistencies, often not thought through.

What these measures often betray is a lack of understanding of real life. Take, for example the lack of consideration given to childcare. The new restrictions ruled out informal childcare arrangements, even that provided by family members. Anyone who has had that real-life experience, knows how much working people rely on family and friends for childcare, yet here was a Government cutting that lifeline for a whole region.

Yes, they u-turned, but not before causing immense distress for so many.

We will get through this, but politicians – especially those who govern the country – must understand how difficult this pandemic has been for our constituents. There are real, human costs to failing businesses, isolation and joblessness. Pulling together means helping people through those personal crises – and giving them a safety net while this pandemic goes on. The Government should do everything it can for our region, and I’ll keep pushing it to do the right thing.

  • Mary Kelly Foy is the Labour MP for the City of Durham