Karin Smyth MP on supporting constituents during the Coronavirus pandemic

The COVID-19 crisis is shaking our society to its core. It’s an extremely worrying time for everyone – with so much uncertainty and no real indication of when it might end; but we will get through this together. 

My team and I are working remotely to support constituents through this – listening to concerns, signposting to vital services and helping people to navigate the system, while working with my colleagues in Parliament to raise issues and resolve problems in a bid to ensure the help gets where it’s needed most.   

Here in Bristol South, I’ve heard from lots of people who are – understandably – very concerned about their health, their jobs and their businesses, and myself and my team are doing everything we can to help you through this. I’m helping people across the constituency every day with information and advice and making calls to local authority and government departments to try to get things moving. 

For some people, this is the first time they’ve had to access government support – but for many, it’s not. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is having to process a huge number of new claims with a limited number of staff (remembering that anyone in the high risk category and anyone showing symptoms, or living with someone showing symptoms, must self-isolate at home – this includes DWP staff). The government announced a package of emergency support – such as funding for furlough – but there are many processes that businesses must go through to access this, and it will not help everyone.  

You may have seen my Coronavirus information article on my website, which is regularly updated with the latest guidance and links. It includes the brilliant We Are Bristol Coronavirus hotline – where the council is linking people in need with volunteers and agencies ready to help. We’re adding to this list all the time, so please do keep checking back there if you have any questions. I’ve also been sharing regular posts on my social media channels to help ensure the relevant information reaches the people who need it. And I’m pointing people in the direction of these resources, if appropriate, when they contact me. 

Too many people are struggling to access the support they need. From people in self-isolation unable to get delivery slots with their local supermarket or collect their prescriptions to people on zero hours contracts finding themselves with no income to cover their rent and bills; and families struggling to juggle childcare and work to businesses without the financial means to pay their staff, suppliers, rent and bills. 

As before, a lot of the help on the ground will come from the voluntary sector – as well as from those key workers essential to keeping us safe: NHS staff, emergency services and other health and social care workers. From local charities, community groups and the thousands of people who have signed up as volunteers for the NHS and with Bristol City Council’s COVID-19 response force are all working to get us through this crisis.   

I am in touch with local healthcare providers, the council and local councillors, police, schools and nurseries, small businesses and charity and community organisations across Bristol South to see how I can support them in this huge task. I’m listening to their concerns, finding out what they need and am feeding this back to the relevant government departments.    

I know there are still issues outstanding on furloughing, on access to the self-employment income support scheme, on businesses being able to access government backed loans; as well as a lack of support for the charity and third sector. I, along with my opposition colleagues under the new leadership of Keir Starmer, are raising these with the government. While Parliament is not currently sitting, my Parliamentary colleagues and I are working on ways to govern while complying with the important government guidance around social distancing.  

More issues will arise in the coming weeks and I’m keen to understand these fully and push for action on these. As Keir has said, Labour will be constructive in its response, supportive of the government where it is right to do so but will ask the difficult questions. Our purpose when we do that is to save lives and protect our country.  

I am keen to make sure that you have enough support to get you through the next few weeks and beyond. As your MP, I care deeply about what you’re going through and will do everything I can to help you. If you need my support during this time, please email me: karin.smyth.mp@parliament.uk