You can read Sharon's Echo Column on the Sunderland Echo website or below.
Many of you will be rightly concerned about the outbreak of Covid-19.
First and foremost, my thoughts are with the loved ones of those who have sadly died and with those who have contracted the virus.
As always, the NHS workforce has demonstrated its determination to provide the best possible care at such a difficult time. I pay tribute to all health staff, as well as the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor who have shown exceptional leadership throughout this outbreak.
Public health and safety must be the priority and I believe that the Government are taking necessary steps, based on scientific and medical advice, to contain and delay the spreading of the virus.
As worrying as Covid-19 is, what it has highlighted is the inequalities in our society.
People working in the gig economy, on zero hour contracts or in insecure work, are in a difficult position if they’re told to self-isolate: do they follow the advice, and lose out on the wages they need to make ends meet, or do they ignore the advice and potentially contribute to the spreading of the virus?
No one should have to make the decision between their health and hardship, yet 2 million workers in the UK are ineligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).
The Prime Minister announced that the three-day wait for SSP would be scrapped for patients with Covid-19, but the Government has not yet brought anything forward on this.
Even so, trying to live on £94.25 a week, which is about a quarter of the national minimum wage, or having to wait 5 weeks for Universal Credit, will only exacerbate the existing inequalities, and could vastly compromise the nation’s attempts to contain the virus if people choose to work, instead of self-isolating, due to the need to pay their bills and eat.
The Government’s inaction to improve these inequalities in our society will not only continue to hurt the poorest and most vulnerable; in turn, the rest of society will also suffer.
If this outbreak teaches us anything, it should be to tackle inequalities across our society and bridge the gap between the least and most well-off.
If you or your family are concerned that you have Covid-19, then please do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. Call 111 and speak to someone. NHS 111 also has an online coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and advise you what to do. Use this service if you think you might have coronavirus if; in the last 14 days you’ve been to a country or area with a high risk of coronavirus or you’ve been in close contact with someone with coronavirus.