Rachel Reeves to highlight inequalities made worse by coronavirus

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves will tonight question why the Government has used private firms to help tackle the coronavirus crisis.

Ms Reeves, who is speaking tonight at a digital meeting of the Fabians Women’s Network North, will highlight the inequalities which have widened due to the pandemic, and call for more support for those in need.

The Labour frontbencher is expected to say: “For some, work and family life could continue relatively unfettered in lockdown. For those in less secure forms of work, or who live in the confined space of a small flat, or who have a pre-existing medical condition, lockdown has been tortuous.

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“For many women their experiences of recent months of lockdown has been particularly hard. Women working at home are more likely to be interrupted by children even when the father is also at home.

Rachel Reeves. Photo: PARachel Reeves. Photo: PA
Rachel Reeves. Photo: PA

“The Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that on average working fathers at home during lockdown were able to work uninterrupted at work for three hours compared to just one hour for working women.

“Last month the charity Refuge alerted Government that calls to its domestic violence helpline had increased by 66 per cent during lockdown. If anything, that could under-represent the scale of domestic abuse disproportionately affecting women. Lockdown has made it that bit harder for women to have the privacy to call helplines and access advice and support.

“It is extraordinary that the Government has failed to develop a clear and effective plan for Government support for the childcare sector – often crucial to enabling many women to work.”

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She will also hit out at firms Deloitte and Secro devering “essential aspects” of the coronavirus response.

Deloitte has helped set up some of the virus testing centres, and earlier this month Serco won a test-and-trace contract.

Ms Reeves will say: “How did we get to a point where we are relying on Deloitte and Serco to deliver essential aspects of our crisis response, from distributing personal protective equipment and to deliver testing and contact tracing? The over-reliance on outsourcing at the expense of properly funded public services is not healthy.

“How is it that the UK as the world’s sixth large economy is unable to manufacture sufficient personal protective equipment for our frontline workers anymore? When our region’s councils are stepping up to the plate how is it that the government is still dragging its feet in given them the funding they need to cover the costs of the Covid crisis?”

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“These are some of the broader questions which have been highlighted by this crisis and will need to be addressed as a priority to ensure we are better prepared and create a fairer society in the future.”

She will add: “More than 60,000 people have died as a result [of the virus] – the worst death toll in Europe. Each death is a tragedy and it will be a long time before we can process the scale of that collective loss.

“Many families have been kept apart, unable to grieve together. Meanwhile, planes have been grounded and global supply chains disrupted. But, where it has hit hardest, the virus’ effects have exposed pre-existing fragilities and inequalities.

“We were already a society facing a crisis of social isolation, loneliness, and poor mental health. We are already used to annual winter crises in the health service. Our social care sector was already fragmented and underfunded. These existing problems have been exacerbated by the external shock of the virus and the measures taken to contain it.”