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Financial and Social Emergency Support Package

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:37 pm on 25th March 2020.

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Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (International Trade) 4:37 pm, 25th March 2020

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and of course those trains and buses are needed by our health workers to get to hospitals. If they are infected by being in close conditions with people who have the virus and who are going to work—not just in construction sites, as this is true of call centres and a number of other places of employment, because of the behaviour of some employers—we run the risk of spreading the virus right across the country.

Health has to be paramount, but if that is to be the case, rent has to be covered. We cannot have people feeling that they are at risk of being evicted; that has to be taken away completely. I am afraid that the Prime Minister’s assurances earlier went nowhere near far enough in demonstrating that the Government are serious about no evictions because, as has already been mentioned in this debate, evictions are already happening.

People who are desperate will do desperate things. I am afraid that it does not finish with people going out to work to earn money to put food on the table. What will happen in those cases, in a few days’ or weeks’ time, where people simply have nothing left to feed themselves and their families? I do not want to paint a picture of too much disaster, but I am sure we can all imagine what might happen if people took it into their own hands to go and get food just to survive, if they do not have the means of paying for it. “Everything it takes” must mean that we do not get to that situation in the coming days and weeks, and giving people the financial security to ensure that that does not happen must be an absolute priority.

I want to talk about some of the practical steps. The behaviour of the banks, in saying that they will put up interest fees from 9% to typically 39%—is nothing short of usurious and extortionate. The same applies to the credit card companies. Where people cannot pay back their credit card debt, there must now be a case for a delay in the repayment of credit cards and a number of different kinds of loan.

There are still gaps in the job retention scheme; many workers will not qualify. A number of Members have mentioned charities. Charities are going to need to carry on working, and we are going to need them to carry on working because they provide essential services and are an important part of the answer in dealing with the health crisis.