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Financial and Social Emergency Support Package

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:34 pm on 25th March 2020.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party 1:34 pm, 25th March 2020

I thank my right hon. Friend for her intervention and for what she is doing about that. There are people with no recourse to public funds all over the country. Typically, they are people who are seeking asylum, their case is going endlessly through Home Office processes, and they are not getting help or an answer. Many groups are doing their best to help them. I pay tribute to the north London liberal synagogue for its monthly drop-in sessions and the support that it gives those people, and to many others, but it should not be down to charities to do it. We need to ensure that those people and their families are supported throughout this crisis. This is yet another lesson about the dislocation of our society and the way in which we treat people.

Every single person in this country can now see how important public services are, and looking beyond this crisis, they must never again be subjected to the damaging and counterproductive cuts that have taken place over the past 10 years. The hard truth is this: austerity has left us weaker in the face of this pandemic. We should not have gone into it with 94% of our NHS beds already full, with 100,000 NHS job vacancies or with a quarter of the number of ventilators per person that Germany has. Ventilators are our most precious resource in this crisis; we should not have begun with so few. We need more of them urgently, and we need the staff trained to use them urgently as well.

We all have a duty to do what we can for the collective good, to come together and to look out for each other—for our loved ones, our neighbours and our communities. But we also need collective public action to be led by the Government. That is the only power that can protect our people from the devastation that coronavirus could wreak on us.

This crisis demands new economic thinking. We cannot rely on the old ways of doing things. A major crisis we face as a society cannot and will not be solved by the market. Coronavirus, the climate emergency, huge levels of inequality, increasingly insecure patterns of work and the housing crisis can only be solved by people working together, not against each other.

The corporations and giant multinationals that weald so much power in our economy and appear to have the ears of the Prime Minister and presidents worldwide will always put private profit ahead of public good. Just look at the actions of Tim Martin, the chair of Wetherspoon—he told his staff, who are paid very little while he has raked in millions, to go and work in Tesco, instead of standing by them in their hour of need. Look at the attempts of Mike Ashley to keep his shops open, putting his staff at risk. The insatiable greed of those at the top is driving another crisis, one even more dangerous as we look to the future: the climate emergency. Oil companies and fossil fuel extractors continue to damage and destroy our planet, our air and our wildlife, threatening the future of civilisation itself. We need to find the same urgency to deal with that threat as we now see working against coronavirus.

The coronavirus crisis will not be solved by those driven by private profit and share prices. It will be solved by the bravery of national health service workers and those who are on the frontline. It will be solved by communities coming together in all their diversity. It will be solved by the Government and public institutions taking bold action in the interests of the common good. The crisis shows what government can do; it shows what government could have always done. We have found the money to give more support to people in financial hardship. We have found the money to increase investment in our national health service. We have found the money to accommodate the homeless in hotels. If we can do it in a crisis, why could we not have done it in calmer times as well?

We are learning, through this crisis, the extent of the interdependence of each of us with each other. If my neighbour gets sick, I might get sick. If the lowest-paid worker in a company gets sick, it could even make the chief executive sick. If somebody on the other side of the world gets sick, as they did in Wuhan’s province¸ it makes us all sick. Indeed, the virus is now hitting Syria and the besieged Gaza strip. If the healthcare systems of Europe cannot cope, just imagine what it will be like for countries in the global south. Save the Children has warned of the

“perfect storm conditions for a human crisis of unimaginable dimensions.”

This virus knows no national boundaries, and neither should our capacity for compassion and care for our fellow human beings. The internationalism of the doctors from Cuba who have gone to fight the virus in Italy is inspirational, as is the action of the European Union, which has given €20 million to help tackle the crisis in Iran at the present time, despite the sanctions. It is a scandal that sanctions have prevented many Iranians from accessing vital medical supplies, putting each other at risk and, inevitably, putting all of us at risk. The old trade union slogan goes, “An injury to one is an injury to all, united we stand, divided we fall.”

People across our country know that. So many are showing such compassion in the face of adversity, as we see when we look at how people are coming together. Mutual aid groups have been springing up all over the country, with thousands of people organising to protect their communities. It is inspirational to see people who have never spoken to each other before suddenly getting together in this time of crisis and realising that they live in the same street and they need that help and support for each other. It is that spirit which will take us forward. There is no doubt that after this crisis our society and our economy will be, and will have to be, very, very different. We must learn the lessons from the crisis and ensure that our society is defined as a society by solidarity and compassion, rather than insecurity, fear and inequality.