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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 makes an important point about those charities paying their bills. The point that I was getting to was that they will not be eligible for the job retention scheme because they and their workers will have to continue working—quite rightly, and we will want them. Therefore, alternative arrangements are needed to pay their bills, to which she refers, and their wages, if they are to play their full part in providing the support that we all need them to.

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham has covered universal credit in the technical detail that pretty much only he in this House can, and I thank him for that. Suffice to say that a constituent of mine said that, after three and a half hours on the phone, they were given a phone appointment for next Wednesday. They will then face a five-week wait before getting any money. They need the money now. They have no money; they need to put food on the table. That is typical of the kind of examples that we are all hearing, and it needs to be addressed.

That brings me to the self-employed. The Chancellor has made clear his preference for a targeted scheme—that applies to a number of the schemes that the Government are coming up with—that gives money to those in need. In normal times I would completely agree with that approach, but I am afraid that time is up. We cannot afford to wait any longer, and if a few people who do not need the money are given extra so that the vast majority—a far larger number—who need the money get it, and get it now, when they need it, so be it. That has to be the sensible way forward in this extreme emergency, and it is not without precedent in normal times. The entrepreneur’s relief gives money to very many people who actually do not need it, according to the Government’s analysis of the application of that scheme. If it is good enough for some wealthy entrepreneurs, it is certainly good enough for our constituents who are self-employed and, indeed, for constituents who need sick pay or universal credit now.

Then there is the behaviour of certain businesses—I can mention Virgin, Sports Direct and Wetherspoons. Travelodge, I believe, has already been mentioned for its behaviour in evicting homeless families. This must end. The Government must make it clear right now that any such behaviours that disadvantage people who will be put into difficulty cannot be tolerated. Intervention is needed, not just words from the Dispatch Box or on television.

I will quote the example of Village Hotels, because my hon. Friend Anna McMorrin asked me to do so. She has had a solicitor’s letter from Village Hotels for raising on social media what was sent to her by one of her constituents who is on a zero-hours contract. They have been told by Village Hotels that they will receive no pay and she has been told to take down the post, which is entirely true because she has quoted and shown a copy of the letter. Such behaviour by the company is completely unacceptable, and it should withdraw its letter to my hon. Friend. Her constituent and everybody in that position on a zero-hours contract needs to be the same position as every other member of staff at Village Hotels and everywhere else, so that they can be part of the job retention scheme. I hope that my raising this in the Chamber will enable a change of heart.

I really do not want to say what I am going to say next, but I have now heard from doctors who are saying that they believe, and they have had this confirmed by senior people in the health service, that the time is fast approaching when they will be forced to decide who lives and who dies. We know, I am afraid, that that must be true because of what is going on in other countries. That is why it is so important that we reduce the impact on the national health service and minimise infection. The points I have made and the examples I have given, like those of all hon. and right hon. Members, are designed to do just that. We have to make sure that people are financially secure and have somewhere to live, whether they are self-employed or unemployed; whether or not they have recourse to public funds; and whether they are renters, mortgage holders, homeless or rough sleepers. The “stay at home, stay safe” advice is absolutely right, and we must make it possible for everybody to follow it.