MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK
Today is the first day of Mental Health Awareness Week, which could not be more timely. Lockdown has been hard on many people, especially those who are alone, those whose home is not a happy home, and those who have reason to be especially fearful for their health or their loved ones' health. We should each take a moment this week to consider our own mental health and see if we need to take some steps to improve it by reaching out for help, or using self-help resources. Here is a good place to start: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-for-the-public-on-mental-health-and-wellbeing/guidance-for-the-public-on-the-mental-health-and-wellbeing-aspects-of-coronavirus-covid-19
This year's theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is kindness. So in addition to reviewing your own mental health care, the Mental Health Foundation is asking us all to consider what we are doing to help others cope. We have all read and been touched by stories of kindness from around the country; this crisis has brought us together emotionally as it holds us apart physically. Being kind to someone else lifts up both the giver and the receiver, and we all need that lift right now.
On a policy level, my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I are calling on the Government to ramp up mental health support for the NHS and care staff. They have been tackling the virus head on since March, and are working under enormous emotional strain. The package we are proposing includes:
24/7 access to a dedicated helpline
Guarantees that health and care staff will not be penalised for time off
Additional training and mental health first-aiders in every health and care workforce
Steps to standardise the quality and service of mental health care offered
I have been speaking with local schools last week and today. They are working hard to prepare to receive children in June, thoughtfully making the arrangements they feel are are most suitable and realistic for their own circumstances. I salute them for the role they have played in keeping children safe since the lockdown began, and for the efforts they are making to comply with government instructions.
Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson, herself a teacher, is calling for the Government to publish the scientific data on which they have based the decision to reopen schools. This will reassure schools that the decision to reopen schools was a safe and responsible one. I know that our local schools have many serious questions about the science around children and coronavirus, the answers to which would inform their policies as they open their doors to more children.
LONDON TRANSPORT FUNDING
The government has agreed a £1.6 billion funding and financing package for Transport for London. TfL is working hard to return Tube and bus services to normal levels while many of their staff are themselves ill or self-isolating, and with sharply reduced revenues. Given the requirement to maintain two metres distance between passengers wherever possible, the capacity on the Tube will only be around 13-15 per cent of normal even once services are back to full schedules. The bus service will have similar capacity limits.
This means we need everyone to do everything they can to stay off public transportation. Everyone who can work from home should continue to do so. If you need to travel to work or to seek medical care, public transport should be avoided if at all possible. And if you must travel by bus or train, please plan ahead and travel outside of the busiest times, which are 05:45 to 08:15 and 16:00-17:30.
Please wear a face covering and respect the space of fellow passengers to help maintain this distance. Do not travel if you have any symptoms of the virus. If you are using public transport, you may be asked to wait to enter a station.
Caroline Pidgeon, our Lib Dem London Assembly Member, has sent these details about the terms of the Government's financial package offer to TfL:
The package goes up to the end of September. It is £1.6 billion in total, with £1.095 billion in grants and £505 million in a loan from central government.
There will be a temporary suspension of the Freedom Pass and 60+ card concessions, to off peak hours only.
There will be a re-introduction of fares on buses.
There will be a temporary suspension of free travel for under 18-year olds, although special arrangements may be made to ensure children eligible under national legislation can still travel to school for free.
The Congestion Charge and Ultra Low Emission Zone will be reinstated from today.
The Congestion Charge reimbursement scheme for NHS staff will be extended and will also be open to care home workers.
The Congestion Charge will, from the 22 June, increase to £15. The hours of operation will be extended to 7am to 10pm, seven days a week.
I am concerned that some of these changes may mean that the extra cost of running a full transport network for fewer people will be disproportionately born by pensioners, children and the disabled. On Friday I spoke to Alan Benson, the Chair of Transport for All, who is concerned about how restrictions on Freedom Pass travel will affect disabled people.
Disabled people may be using their pass to get to to work or medical appointments, which they may be unable to get to using active transport. It has taken years to get disabled access on public transport up to the current level, and it would be devastating for people with disabilities to be unable to move around the city. I have written to the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, to ask for clarity on this issue as a matter of urgency.