The government has to go further and work faster if it truly wants to protect jobs during the coronavirus crisis
Every day of delay brings further news of workers being laid off, yet the scheme announced by Rishi Sunak won’t be up and running for weeks
This crisis is unlike anything we have experienced in any of our lifetimes. It is simultaneously a public health crisis, an economic crisis and a social crisis. And those intersecting crises are global.
It affects us all. This isn’t limited to one part of the country or one sector of the economy. We really are all in this together.
In the fight against the coronavirus we need everyone to play their part – and the government has a special duty to work to ensure everyone has the best possible advice and support.
Three weeks ago, I made a statement on the urgent need for an economic plan to support people and businesses, and to engage in the sort of international action plan that Gordon Brown co-ordinated in the wake of the global financial crash.
With the economy necessarily being shut down in an unprecedented way, it is urgent that the government acts to protect jobs and incomes.
Today the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced a scheme that starts to do that, but it will need to go further in the coming weeks.
We had been pushing for a scheme that drew on models already announced in Denmark, New Zealand, and Austria. The UK needs a comprehensive package of measures that protects jobs and incomes on a scale that ensures workers are not used as a buffer to maintain corporate balance sheets.
That is why Labour called for the government to pay 90 per cent of low earners’ wages, 85 per cent of middle earners’ wages, and 80 per cent of high earners’ wages, with the employer paying the remainder of wages and a cap applying on compensation for high earners.
The plan applies to workers in companies facing redundancies or revenue losses. It covers all workers including the self-employed, and carers out of work because they have to look after people usually looked after by facilities that have now been closed.
We also want the businesses receiving government loans and loan guarantees to make undertakings that no one will be laid off. This is not the time for no-strings-attached bailouts.
Other countries that had their first coronavirus cases before us here in the UK have already put schemes in place, which are up and running. Every day of delay brings further news of workers being laid off and redundancies being announced, yet this scheme won’t be up and running for weeks. Workers should not be going into another weekend fearing for their jobs and their livelihoods.
Protection for jobs and incomes needs to be implemented and implemented fast, or we will see more cuts to jobs, pay and hours – leaving more people facing the complexity and state-sanctioned poverty of Universal Credit and Job Seekers’ Allowance.
So that is why in addition to protecting jobs, the government needs to increase the level of benefits in this country. Earlier this week the Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted he would not be able live on the £94 per week that Statutory Sick Pay provides. How on earth would he cope on the £73 per week that we expect the growing ranks of unemployed people, or many disabled people, to survive on?
So after years of benefits being frozen, now must be the time when the government ends the cruelty and gives substantial increases for unemployed people, disabled people and for family carers (who currently get just £66 per week). We cannot protect health if we don’t protect incomes and give people a basic safety net.
Alongside the government’s announcement to protect mortgage holders, they must act equally swiftly to stop all evictions and protect renters by expanding housing benefit. The coalition government cut local housing allowance from 50 per cent to 30 per cent of market rents – and they have frozen it since. The chancellor’s announcement undoes the freeze but not the original cut, leaving many renting families having to find money to top-up rent even as their incomes fall. It is time too to end the bedroom tax, and the benefit cap – or this will lead to more debt and eventual evictions.
As more and more people responsibly self-isolate, it is necessary that disconnection of vital utilities (electricity, gas, water and internet) are suspended for as long as social distancing advice is in place. And as mortgage payments are suspended, so must debt payments and bailiff orders
We will get through this, but we must get through it together. Citizens taking responsible action, and government providing necessary protection. The chancellor has effectively made his third emergency budget statement in 10 days. He will need to make a fourth.