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Financial and Social Emergency Support Package

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:11 pm on 25th March 2020.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 5:11 pm, 25th March 2020

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s words. We have asked for a while, not least when we put forward our proposals last Thursday, that there should be a floor of the national minimum wage. If those who are on low pay get 80% of their pay, many of them will be taken below the national minimum wage. It is set at that level because it is a basic survival level, so we urge the Government to act. Again, that is only a small step.

It cannot be beyond the wit of the great minds in the Treasury to find a way to resolve a number of these issues, and that call was reiterated by the Resolution Foundation this morning. A YouGov poll found that one in 10 people surveyed are still in work but with reduced pay or hours. Those people are not protected by this scheme. For businesses to stay afloat, many of them will need part-time workers, and those part-time workers need the support that this scheme should provide.

Zero-hours contract workers and agency workers who are not on PAYE are limb (b) workers, as I explained to the Chancellor and wrote to him about at the beginning of the week. They must be made eligible for the job retention scheme; otherwise, there is the potential that 2 million workers will not be included in the scheme. These are some of the workers who are most at risk of losing work and not being able to put food on the table during this downturn.

Several Members mentioned this, but I urge the Government to give an assurance that non-UK nationals are eligible for this scheme. I also appeal to the Government to ensure that support is provided for non-UK nationals in the coming weeks when travel is so restricted. Let me echo what several Members have said: that must include the suspension of the rules of no recourse to public funds. The rules that have been put in place may be acceptable to some Members, but in this period those rules are brutal and will force people into penury.

Staff who can no longer work because of childcare responsibilities must be protected as well. Why on earth are they not eligible for this scheme? Just think of the single parent who cannot work because they need to stay at home with their child—surely they should be covered as well. On the subject of childcare, can the Minister be clear that childcare providers should not be charging parents for services that they no longer deliver or cannot now deliver? Those childcare providers must be supported in the long term as well, because we will need them.

My concern, which many Members have expressed today, is the gaps in the scheme and the fact that it will not be operational until April. People will not receive funding for weeks, and it certainly will not be taken up at the rate that many of us would hope for, given the indications from a large number of employers. Lay-offs are happening at scale.