As schools go back, it is an appropriate opportunity to reflect on the huge impact covid-19 continues to have on our city’s families and young people.
The pandemic has upturned life for us all and the routines on which many rely to manage family life.
A sudden shift to our working lives, coupled with the reality of keeping children at home for months on end, has been a massive challenge for many.
It’s also clear that the true impact of the pandemic may not yet be fully understood: many families will have had to navigate income loss, illness or bereavement and changes to the support upon which they rely.
Every young person has had to adjust to changes in their education, with national analysis emphasising what we feared most – that covid-19 hits the poorest families the hardest.
While in a recent council survey of our city’s young people, one in five respondents said that covid-19 had affected their mental health.
This is why last month we worked with young people to allocate over £130,000 in youth-led grants to support youth services over the next few months, with a particular focus on mental health and wellbeing.
Schools, educators, social workers and youth workers who support our young people across the city have risen to the challenge, providing support, resources and keeping a close eye.
Schools have been open for children of key workers and I want to take this opportunity again to thank everyone for their incredible commitment during this time.
In a damning indictment of the Conservative government’s approach to school funding, we must also be clear, however, that so much of the hard work by our schools and educators has been done despite hugely squeezed school and mental health budgets.
As schools reopen to all pupils this week, I remain acutely aware that the challenges are far from over.
Schools, colleges, nurseries and childminders across our city have worked hard to ensure effective infection control measures are in place to help reduce the risks posed by covid-19.
But the risks are still with us: and as our city continues to manage the pandemic, guidelines to combat the virus, including hand washing and social distancing, are more vital than ever.
What happens outside school is as important as what takes place inside so we must all double our efforts to prevent infection in the community which will help our whole city to recover.
We stand with parents who are concerned that a return to school is by no means a “risk free” endeavour. An FAQ is available on the council’s website about the return to school.
We want to work with parents and schools to address concerns at what we know is a stressful time – and, as we’ve already said publicly, we do not want to rely on “fines” as an approach.
We’re also clear that the government can and must do much more to support schools in the event of any closure related to covid-19 – and this must include addressing the multiple failures in the test and trace system to enable us to manage any outbreaks.
While the council, schools and families do everything in their power to combat covid-19, government support lags disgracefully behind.
Problems have been exposed in the disastrous decision to hand over management of testing in our community to private, for-profit providers who have repeatedly failed to meet their targets to identify people with the virus.
This is despite the success of local public health teams and local councils in tracing contacts – services that have built up intelligence about local communities over many years.
Yet while companies like Serco take £108 million in profit for an inadequate test and trace system, local councils and public health teams are fighting to combat covid-19 with budgets in tatters after 10 whole years of government cuts.
Coupled with news from parts of the country like Northamptonshire, where laboratory testing for covid-19 is now reported as nearing capacity, the argument for adequate and long-term funding of public health services has never been more compelling.
This is just one of the reasons why locally we are pushing for greater support for our local public health services from ministers and asking that we are given resources to increase the testing capacity in the city.
Local public health teams and schools are focused on combating the virus and have in-depth knowledge of local communities and need testing data. With schools returning and universities reopening, this is an urgent priority.
We welcome our young people back to school this week. But as leader of the council, I would ask all of you to join me as we keep up our vigilance.
We are sadly far from over the pandemic and must continue to take all steps to prevent infection.
Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty is the Green leader of Brighton and Hove City Council.
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