Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:52 pm on 27th April 2020.

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Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow 5:52 pm, 27th April 2020

We are humbled daily by the efforts of the NHS workers and all the other key workers in our country. They are making unimaginable sacrifices to treat the sick and care for the vulnerable, and to provide supplies of medicine and food. We owe them everything and it is right that we should continue the pressure to ensure that PPE, testing and equipment is provided, as we continue to enforce the lockdown.

This is a national struggle but it is being fought hardest at the local level in communities. My constituents in Bethnal Green and Bow are resilient people. Some still recall surviving the blitz, and today, there are many who survive a daily struggle of poor housing, low wages, a lack of opportunities and antisocial behaviour, but no matter how resilient and tough they are, they need the Government on their side. They need targeted interventions to help them in these difficult times. They need protection against the vagaries of a global economy, to protect their jobs, incomes and businesses.

The economic projections are chilling. The latest International Monetary Fund analysis suggests that the global recession is going to be far worse than the 2007 global crash. The World Trade Organisation says that global trade could collapse by 31% this year, just as post-Brexit Britain is desperate to strike deals.

A terrible economic storm is coming, and we are just not ready. The UK is ill prepared after a decade of under-investment, imbalances between the nations and regions and the deep scars of inequality and poverty caused by a decade of austerity characterised by stagnant wages and cuts to our public services.

Young people are once again likely to be the lost generation unless our Government take immediate steps to ensure that they have the training and support—virtually, while we are in distancing mode—and other provisions they need to get into the labour market. We need to use the hundreds of thousands of people who volunteered to help the NHS to support young people by mentoring and backing them, as we find a way through this crisis.

This Finance Bill does little to strengthen our economy or make us more resilient. Even before the covid crisis, it was inadequate. It does not deal with the challenges of climate change and the climate emergency, and it does not go far enough to reverse the challenges posed by the deep-seated inequalities in health, education and other spheres over the last decade.

The Office for Budget Responsibility predicts that there will be a 35% reduction in GDP in the second quarter of the year and that unemployment will rise by more than 2 million. Already, the deficit hawks are circling over the Treasury Bench, calling for huge cuts in public spending. Another decade of austerity as the answer to Government debt is absolutely not acceptable. Surely we have learned from the financial crisis in recent weeks that we have to ensure that our public services are resilient and strong in order to face the threats of global pandemics and economic downturns.

We need to ensure that we protect those on the frontline, who have often been the low-paid and have not been treated well—the teachers, nurses, carers, delivery workers and shop workers. They do not run the country, but they make the country run, as we have seen in recent weeks. We need a modern-day Marshall plan, rebuilding and reconstructing our NHS, social care, police, schools and other vital public services, rather than leaving them vulnerable and fragile as we face crises like the current pandemic.

We need to ensure that local authorities on the frontline get the support they need. Tower Hamlets Council in my constituency is having to spend around £25 million and is losing £35 million of income—that is a significant amount of money. I call on the Minister to ensure that local authorities get support. The job retention scheme is welcome, but hundreds of thousands of people in hospitality and other sectors are still being excluded, and they need help urgently.

Finally, I want to highlight the impact in the global south. In countries like Bangladesh, the failure of companies such as Asda, New Look, Edinburgh Woollen Mill, Peacock and Urban Outfitters to pay up for contracted work is leaving millions of people vulnerable to unemployment and starvation. It is important to ensure that our companies are responsible and that people’s lives are protected. We have a duty to work together domestically and internationally.