Observer column: 30 October 2020
We are still living with the threat of the coronavirus with no end in sight. I believe there are many opportunities that have been missed by this government that may have limited the spread of COVID-19 and am saddened to see the death rate rising across our country. We are reliant on those in positions of power to consider all our interests and to lead in a coherent, consistent way at a time of national crisis
Our best defence remains to maintain social distancing, wear a face covering and wash hands regularly: Space, Face, Hands. Please continue to do this to protect each other and our town.
As more restrictive measures including local lockdowns have been implemented elsewhere, we remain in the lowest alert tier, medium, here. Our hospitality industry - a vital part of our economy - is being affected by the restrictions in other parts of the country meaning that groups of people from higher alert areas can't meet inside here. We mustn't meet inside with friends and families from higher alert areas either.
Remembrance Sunday (8th November) will be marked by the laying of wreaths at the war memorial in Alexandra Park by 30 invited participants (fewer if further restrictions dictate), including the mayor and representatives of the Royal British Legion, serving military personnel, cadet groups, and emergency services. There will be no parade or formal service because of the restrictions and the council is encouraging everyone to 'remember from home.'
Even before the coronavirus hit us child poverty was a big issue in Hastings, with 2018/19 data showing 24.9% of our children living in low income families, much higher than East Sussex (17.6%), the South East (13.5%) and nationally (18.2%).
So as half term approached many of us were very concerned that our most vulnerable children could go hungry following the government's decision not to continue to provide free meals during the school holiday.
Our own MP voted against supporting the poorest children in her constituency, and I have asked her to reconsider her position and to lobby her government to ensure the provision of free school meals continues through school holidays.
And the leader of East Sussex County Council has declined to follow the lead of other county councils (responsible for Children's Services) throughout the country and issue free school meals vouchers to those entitled.
However, the care and kindness that people in our town continue to show towards each other has again become evident in the outpouring of support for those families living in poverty whose children were at risk of being hungry through the school holidays.
Local businesses, many of whom have been battling to keep going and are in financial difficulty themselves, came forward and offered a range of food to our town's children and our local voluntary organisations and charities continue their wonderful support and again stepped up to this challenge.
At the council we are working with the Education Futures Trust to help as well, and emergency food parcels were being collected as soon as we announced the scheme on Monday.
These are our children, our collective responsibility and when the government did not acknowledge their distress, our town came together to support and nourish them. We must continue to work together to eradicate child poverty which affects every aspect of a child's life and their prospects for the future.
At a recent council meeting a motion was passed (with conservative councillors voting against) committing us to work with the Local Strategic Partnership to bring forward an Equalities Charter that is updated and refreshed to account for the issues raised by COVID and the BLM movement. This motion also restated our position as a City of Sanctuary and our commitment to this.
It was with great sadness and shame that we learnt earlier in the week the heart-breaking news of more people, including little children, losing their lives while travelling across the sea to seek refuge in our country. With humanity and compassion we must find a way to protect people who are driven by such desperation that they are willing to risk their lives in this way.
Please let's continue to show kindness and care towards others.
Council Leader's column