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Statutory Sick Pay and Protection for Workers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:15 pm on 18th March 2020.

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Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (International Trade) 2:15 pm, 18th March 2020

We have heard some powerful speeches from hon. Members of three parties. I commend my right hon. and hon. Friends for what they have said.

It is a challenge to follow my hon. Friend Wes Streeting, because he spoke so powerfully. He started with his experience of growing up in the grip of the completely inadequate welfare system that we had then. The point he made that touched me was how dangerous it will be if we do not respond to the crisis by putting in place the necessary economic measures right now, because we run the risk of subjecting millions of our fellow citizens to long-term hardship. That is why the situation is so urgent and requires so much action from the Government. As my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves said, only the Government can take that action.

We in this country face a situation where the number of fatalities had doubled in two days to 69 when I looked yesterday. If that is the growth rate of the number of fatalities, we will be where Italy is today by next Friday. That is the reality of what is happening, if those figures are right. That brings home to me, and I am sure to everybody, the need for the fastest possible action on health and on the economy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North mentioned the need to support health workers. That applies across the public sector. The No. 1 priority is to get them protection so that they can do their jobs and to make sure that the testing regime is there as quickly as possible. It will not wait any longer.

That priority is very closely followed by the economic response that is needed. If we are to reassure people across the country to take the actions recommended by the Government, and rightly spelled out by the Minister, we must also give them the financial assurance that they can do so. That has to happen straightaway. The SNP spokesman was right in saying that it should happen in the next few hours. Yesterday’s measures were only a start. I accept that the Chancellor rightly acknowledged that they were only part of a number of steps. As a result of this debate, Ministers are hearing further reinforcement of why it is important to get action for individuals today—not next week.

I will give some case studies. The bus driver in London who believes that he has coronavirus symptoms is still going to work, because sick pay would not be enough money to put food on the table, let alone cover the £1,200 in rent that he pays every month. He cannot afford not to work. The reflexologist who works in a care home now cannot go to work because she is a visitor. The dog kennel owner is not going to get any dogs to look after. Their income is gone. The tutor has lost all of her income.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West talked about renters. They are often also the most at risk from income loss, because of the nature of the work they are involved in. The Government need to support landlords as well as tenants in the private rented sector, as well as supporting social housing landlords at the same time. We have heard reports about rough sleepers being on the tube in London and on public transport elsewhere. They are clearly in great distress. The support for people outside the system is essential straight away. At this stage, as far as I can see, it is not in place.