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Coronavirus: Employment Support

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 19th March 2020.

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Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 10:30 am, 19th March 2020

It is now six and a half weeks since the first cases of coronavirus were reported in the UK. For over a month we have known about the substantial risk that coronavirus poses to the economy and to workers, yet the Government have announced no plan to protect jobs and wages—no full plan for employment support. We are all—all of us—inundated with so many questions, and I have just four of those questions to ask.

People are asking us: why, for example, have Denmark, which had its first coronavirus case on 27 February, and New Zealand, which had its first case on 28 February, four weeks after our first case, both announced comprehensive job protection plans, while we have announced nothing to secure people’s jobs and wages? Given that, the second question is: what consideration has been given to the models in Denmark and Austria, which the Economic Secretary referred to, which involve the Government paying the bulk of people’s wages in exchange for job guarantees?

The third question is: why, when the Chancellor announced the loan guarantee on Tuesday, did the Government not tie those loans into an undertaking from business that no one would be laid off? The fourth question: will the Minister accept that freelancers will need additional support if they do not qualify for statutory sick pay? For example, in the culture sector we have as many as 2 million people, hundreds of thousands of whom may be affected.

The country deserves answers to those questions as a matter of urgency. We will continue to ask these questions not as a matter of political point scoring or ideology, but to ensure that we have a Government response that properly protects the public and matches the scale of the crisis affecting us here and now, not just next week.