IN JUST five weeks every aspect of our lives have been turned upside down. York is doing so well; we must keep it up. Marked as one of the best places in the UK for social distancing, residents understand that if we protect one another we will get through this together.

Our health and care staff have simply been amazing. In incredibly difficult circumstances, often wearing uncomfortable PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) they have been truly valued professionals, giving vital clinical care, love and support to the very sickest and frailest in our communities. They have gone to work, to protect us, even when the PPE wasn’t there to protect them.

I want to start out with a colossal thank-you to all York’s workers going out to keep us safe at this critical time. I know we are all tremendously grateful.

No worker should ever face such risks at work, so I have been challenging Government to provide vital protection. Over a month ago, I called for a PPE manufacturing challenge. 3D Printed Visors for Frontline Workers York are a network of volunteers manufacturing visors to provide vital PPE to help keep our workers safe. With your donations of just 50p per visor, they are literally saving lives.

Over the last month, I have worked with many employers across the city to institute safer working practices, but where workers continue to report their bosses flouting the rules, I have reported them. This is so serious and as the law states no-one should put profit ahead of safety.

My office has been working day and night to address the multiple challenges that people are raising. To start with, safe access to food was a major concern as supermarkets were crowded and people ‘sheltering’ had no means to book on-line slots. Others were suddenly thrown into food poverty. Supermarkets must be safe for staff and shoppers. People must keep their distance in shops, purchasing the food they need. York’s independent shops and delivery workers have also risen to the challenge and have ensured that the most in need are supplied.

The voluntary sector, again proving itself to reach deep into the needs of the community, has provided essential support to the most isolated across York. From taking over the distribution of medicines to contacting those most alone or at risk, York’s volunteers have once again reached out to serve. Having taken on the Shadow Ministerial role for the sector, I am noting this experience nationwide. However, with donations down, charities are once again teetering on the brink and need our support more than ever.

The main demand has been for York’s self-employed, businesses and individuals who have found themselves on the edge of financial collapse. I’m raising each of these issues with Government, and urgently discussing them with ministers. While solutions are needed to plug the many gaps in the financial support available, we also need to ensure that the recovery programme will secure our businesses longer term. York has been slow at getting money out to people at their time of need, causing increased stress, and much more strategic support is needed to help organisations that are still falling through the cracks. The banks too, who were bailed out by the nation in 2008, have also failed to bail out people when their need arose.

The crisis has shone a light on the inadequacy of the Statutory Sick Pay arrangements too – the worst in Europe and nowhere near enough to live on. This safety net is no longer fit for purpose and has left families experiencing the challenges of Universal Credit. I continue to argue for an uplift.

Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I have been holding surgeries for people across the city to address their needs. We are following up each case, to ensure that the challenges each of you face are addressed.

Separation has been one of the hardest aspects to deal with: families and friends not able to meet up. And while new tech has facilitated virtual meetings, it doesn’t replace being together. The hardest separation of all has been the loss that some have experienced as loved ones have died. I have read so many moving tributes; and have been moved by the heartache of being denied a funeral to say ‘goodbye’.

Through working with you, I commend Government on taking up your call, and am pleased that the council will now have to hold funerals for you to mark the precious lives of those you have lost.

We will get through this. We just need to keep working together. Stay safe.