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Over the weekend, I got chatting to a shop assistant. She had a cough, so I asked whether she was able to stay at home until she felt better. She said no, because if she did not come in, her shifts would be cut, and if her shifts were cut, she would not be able to pay her rent. That is happening to working people all over the country and, as we stand on the precipice of a crisis unlike anything that has happened in my life, we needed a Budget that rose to the challenge, one that protected the working class from the worst effects of the coronavirus outbreak.
But the Budget does not do that. It does not even undo the damage of the past 10 years, during which the Conservative party has systematically weakened our defences, run down our public services, pushed down the most vulnerable and cut down the power of working people, leaving millions insecure and on the edge. Now, the NHS is on its knees. Doctors and nurses are already pushed to the limit. The social security system is already broken. As this crisis makes social care more urgent than ever, the Budget ignored it. The elderly, the sick and disabled are being abandoned.
This crisis exposes the worst features of our rotten system: price gougers exploit it to make fortunes at our expense; private hospitals charge the Government millions for the NHS to use their beds; workers face mass layoffs; and insecure jobs force people to work, even when they are ill. Let us be clear: a market approach to the outbreak will condemn working-class people to decimation.
It is not found in this Budget, but there is an alternative, and it can be seen in the example of Denmark, where the Government have negotiated a deal between trade unions and employers to protect wages and prevent lay-offs. That alternative approaches the crisis with solidarity, equality and a belief in collective action. It confronts the challenges that we face together, with a plan that puts people before profit and public health before private property.
This is what we could do: guarantee economic security for everyone; give statutory sick pay to all workers at a decent rate, so that no one has to choose between health and hardship; suspend rent, mortgage and utility payments, so that no one is evicted, has their home repossessed or has their services cut just because they are sick; support local authorities and food banks to distribute food, so that no one goes hungry; equip our NHS to deal with the emergency by bringing hospital cleaners in-house and paying them the real living wage—they are at the frontline and they deserve protection; requisition private hospitals, rent free, because our need is more important than their profits; and repurpose manufacturing plants, because our hospitals need ventilators.
In this crisis, we cannot let the vulnerable suffer the most. We need to prevent a catastrophe in immigration detention by releasing detainees before the virus rips through those inhumane cages; bring abandoned homes into public use to give homeless people a roof over their heads; scrap the universal credit five-week wait, uplift the payment, end the benefits cap and suspend all sanctions; and give social care the same funding promise as the NHS has.
This crisis brings into focus our interdependence. We need each other. The chief executive officer is nothing without the factory worker, the bus driver or the nurse. An injury to one is an injury to all, as the old trade union saying goes, and none of us are safe until all of us are safe. This is an urgent demand to the Government: protect the vulnerable, guarantee support to all workers and make those with the broadest shoulders pay their fair share.