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Budget Resolutions

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:26 pm on 16th March 2020.

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Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 8:26 pm, 16th March 2020

Yes, I agree. My hon. Friend’s point is well made.

There are a number of challenges that the Government now face. I am not the only Member over the past few days who has had constituents contact them to say they have already seen their hours reduced and shifts cancelled. They are being advised by employers that there will be no work for them, as people are being discouraged from going into nightclubs, bars and restaurants. The work in this sector is traditionally low paid and precarious. I hope the Government will now look at the models introduced by Denmark and Norway to address those issues, and sit down with trade unions and business to come up with a financial model that ensures wages are maintained for those who are low paid and in precarious work, including those on zero-hour contracts. In particular, I hope the Government are considering, as Norway has done, issues relating to the self-employed and carers.

On statutory sick pay, I have been contacted by constituents who are alarmed that some employers, including some large multinational employers, do not pay company sick pay from day one. Some pay it on day four and some pay it on day seven, leaving the state to pick up the tab. Because of the different schemes by different employers, some individuals will find themselves receiving only statutory sick pay from day one, which is not topped up by employers and their particular sick schemes. That will lead to a situation where some people—I am sure I am not the only Member to hear this—feel they will have to make a choice between public health and poverty, and their wages. We really need to look at the rate of statutory sick pay. If there was a European league table, the UK would be either in the relegation zone or not too far away from it. The statutory sick pay of other European countries far outstrips what is on offer in the United Kingdom.

On universal credit, we need to move away from an arrears-based system. The five-week wait, which other hon. Members have mentioned, needs to go now. The first payment should be the first payment. The DWP receives £50 million a month in advances returned from claimants. How much does that cost the Department to administrate and how much time are DWP staff taking on that when they could be processing online journals and other claims? I agree with hon. Members that there should be no evictions for rent arrears during this period and that there should be no sanctions.

I want to end by saying that the Treasury will now need to consider, over the next few days and weeks, whether there should be a people’s bailout. The amount of money the state had to spend on the bankers’ bailout will probably be similar to what it may have to spend to alleviate poverty and to get through the current crisis in the weeks ahead.