Sheffield MP sees 'significant and sustained' increase in casework due to pandemic
A Sheffield MP says his office has seen a ‘significant increase’ in correspondence since the coronavirus crisis began - with worried constituents contacting him in unprecedented numbers.
Like most of the rest of us, Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts has been on lockdown for the last four weeks, relying on email and Zoom video chats to keep in contact with his small staff.
The workload that team are having to deal with has gone up massively, however, with the crisis adding a raft of new and complex problems to their already burgeoning inbox.
But Mr Betts said they were currently managing to cope, adding that he was indebted to his staff - some of whom had only been in post for a matter of weeks - for keeping things going.
“People write to us on policy issues all the time which are not pressing but get responded to, of course,” he said.
“But now we are getting lots of people saying ‘I am stuck abroad how can you help me?’ I have another two calls to make shortly to people in Pakistan and Bangladesh. They really are desperate and with nowhere to go.
“I have also had people call about going to work and being safe when their employer is not taking the necessary precautions, and people saying they don’t think they are eligible to be furloughed.
“And we still have all the regular issues like school places being announced and repairs not being done so we have seen a significant and sustained increase."
As well as dealing with constituency issues, Mr Betts said he had been in regular contact with officials at both local and national levels.
“Yesterday I had an hour and a half with the council chief executive and the director of public health with the other Sheffield MPs and did three hours on the health select committee as well,” he said.
“Many of the issues that come up with constituents have to be raised at local and national levels so I just need to keep people informed about what is going on - and myself as well.”
Mr Betts said he was currently locked down at his Sheffield home, but was still taking outdoor exercise in moderation on the advice of his doctors.
But he said he was concerned about the effect of the current restrictions on less well off families in his constituency and across Sheffield who don’t have access to either a garden or nearby green spaces.
And once the lockdown is finally over, he said he was also keen to think through the impact of the pandemic issues like homelessness and the private rented sector with his colleagues in Parliament.
He said: “Sheffield Council did a fantastic job of getting people off the streets very quickly but what happens at the end of the lockdown?
“And in the private rented sector, we are going to have lots of people in arrears and lots of landlords saying we want our money - people could be made homeless through no fault of their own.”