READING EAST MP Matt Rodda this week calls for a government rethink. He writes:

This month marks a year since Covid-19 was first discovered, a virus which has now touched each and every one of our lives. The UK recently surpassed its own record on daily deaths, this represents thousands and thousands of families and is a tragic reminder the fight against this disease is still raging.

But there is hope. It is a scientific miracle that we already have a vaccine available so quickly so soon. Our focus now has to be to vaccinate the entire population so more families are spared the grief of losing a loved one, so that we can go back to our normal lives and can rebuild the country after this awful experience.

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I know our local health services supported by Reading Borough Council, other agencies and volunteers, are working as hard as they can to get as many jabs in as many arms as quickly as possible. I would like to thank everyone who is contributing to this vital work. However, they need more help.

In Parliament last week, Keir Starmer rightly suggested that we should be moving to a 24/7 programme of vaccination and drafting in the army of local pharmacists to help. Pharmacists deliver the flu vaccine each year. They want to help and they should be brought in to support our national effort. They are trusted in our communities; they are local and they stand ready and willing to help.

Ensuring we vaccinate as many people as quickly as is possible, utilising every tool at our disposal is the only way we can get through this.

It is clear that the current lockdown restrictions are likely to remain in place until enough of the population has been vaccinated to a future deadly spike in infections. So we need to dedicate every resource.

Reading Chronicle: A person drives into the Covid-19 testing centre at Newbury Showground (Image from West Berkshire Council)A person drives into the Covid-19 testing centre at Newbury Showground (Image from West Berkshire Council)

Covid testing centre being set up in Newbury, with plans for one to come to Reading soon

While we remain under covid restrictions, too many families are struggling and the Government simply isn’t doing enough to support them both here in Reading and Woodley and across the UK.

Last week, we saw the miserly school meals packages that were being handed out to those families entitled to free school meals. Once again local councils and the voluntary sector, who could have helped out and made sure our kids were properly fed, were spurned in favour of big companies whose priorities were profit rather than nutrition.

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Unfortunately that isn’t the only issue affecting struggling families. There is also increasing concern about how children who are undertaking remote learning are able to access IT equipment. The Sutton Trust has estimated that one in 10 children are ‘digitally excluded’ and not able to access a computer or the internet. The government’s planned roll out of laptops has been cut back meaning schools are having to dip into their already squeezed budgets to ensure their children have the right equipment.

Coupled with the return of evictions, the cutting of Universal Credit, a Government-demanded increase in Council Tax, the lack of support for the self-employed and a pay freeze for key workers, while hope is on the horizon in the form of a vaccine, for too many people the next few months will be very difficult. We are all making daily sacrifices, this lockdown is hard.

Our community and the country as a whole deserves better and I hope the Government will rethink its approach.