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While Members have expressed a number of concerns about the Budget that I would echo, I wish to focus my remarks on coronavirus and the impact it will have on my constituency.
I spent this morning and early afternoon visiting a number of businesses in my constituency to hear at first hand the impact coronavirus is having on the ground. One organisation raised with me the fact that the loss of income is having a big impact in terms of cancellations of bookings and administration charges associated with refunding tickets for organisations. Another organisation raised the fact that the cancellation is costing in excess of £400,000 a week. In Lambeth, there are more than 30,000 self-employed workers. I continue to receive messages that they are seeing cancellations and a reduction in bookings as a direct result of the virus.
The Chancellor’s response to the self-employed and those not eligible for statutory sick pay is to direct them towards universal credit. Unfortunately, the universal credit system is not fit for purpose. We have seen a sharp increase in food bank use under universal credit, and the five-week wait built into the system means that it is not suitable to deal with millions of temporary new claimants. The Chancellor must go further to ensure that universal credit works and to start that payment from day one so that the system can deal with those who need it due to coronavirus.
Many of my constituents are in insecure work and will also be in the private rented sector. They do not have adequate levels of security in their tenure to deal with the crisis. If we expect people to stay at home, tenants need to have a secure home for the entirety of the crisis. People should not be forced to choose between health and hardship. The support provided to mortgage holders is reassuring, but there seems to be little by way of support for vulnerable tenants who struggle to pay their rent and have been forced to leave their home. How can tenants be assured that they can self-isolate whenever they feel symptoms if they can also be evicted with two months’ notice if they fall behind on their rent?
As the Member of Parliament for Vauxhall, which contains the world-class and famous South Bank area, I represent some of the most visited attractions and businesses in the country. That brings with it busy hospitality and a leisure centre that should be looking forward to a thriving spring and summer, but even now, when relatively new cases of coronavirus seem to be coming, those businesses are already struggling with the impact.
Members of the South Bank Partnership of businesses have told me that they are suffering from reduced footfall and booking numbers, and venues are seeing a drop in group bookings from Asia and mainland Europe. Bars and restaurants are seeing a drop in customers and future bookings, and major hotel chains have seen a 30% drop on per-room revenue compared with last year. This afternoon, the Prime Minister announced that the public should not go to theatres, but the Government are not enforcing mandatory closure, which means that many businesses will not be able to claim the insurance that was put in place to protect them. This is not working, so will the Chancellor work with me, the Mayor of London and these businesses to develop a forward-thinking recovery plan that helps these companies and gives them the reassurances they need?
The Government’s measures to protect small businesses are welcome, but many of the businesses I have spoken to feel fearful about their future, and the Government’s package does not go far enough. Will the Chancellor resolve this crisis by funding local government and giving it guidance on implementing hardship funds, so that we can all continue to support our local businesses?