Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:39 pm on 27th April 2020.

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Photo of Tonia Antoniazzi Tonia Antoniazzi Labour, Gower 6:39 pm, 27th April 2020

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the shadow Chancellor, my hon. Friend Anneliese Dodds, on taking her place on the Front Bench.

I highlight my hon. Friend’s striking words that this Finance Bill is really a Finance Bill for a different age, because so much has happened and our economic backdrop is now frighteningly challenging. We have therefore reached a point where the public want to know and understand the proposed exit strategy. There are a number of reasons for that. People do not like to feel helpless. They want to see and plan their future during this covid-19 crisis and pandemic. For many of my constituents, that is about protecting the long-term future of their businesses and their employees. There must be a mechanism of support for businesses, many of which may not currently be in profit but which are crucial to the future of our economy in Gower, including those in the hospitality business. For many who rely on seasonal trade to stay open, debt is really not a solution. I have been contacted by a number of iconic and well respected family businesses such as Castellemare in Mumbles and the King’s Head in Llangennith, all with grave concerns about their future viability. Will this Bill and this Government provide large seasonal businesses with the certainty and flexibility to continue to employ locally and provide a warm welcome to the community and to tourists all year round?

UK business organisations and the UK Government would do well to look at the decision-making powers we have in the Welsh Government, as quite a few of the gaps in the different grants and loans that we are calling on the UK Government to fill have been filled in Wales; additional grants to businesses are available to fill in the gaps in the programmes of Her Majesty’s Treasury. There are obviously limits to what we can do with the block grants, but many companies in Wales will have a safety net that is not available elsewhere.

I thank the Government for the support they are providing to furloughed workers, and commend the unselfish dedication of all our key workers at this time of national crisis. However, there are many people working on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus who should not be there because of the severe danger that the virus causes to them and their families. I am talking about key workers who are deemed clinically extremely vulnerable or those who have family members who have been put in the same category by the Government. These people should be shielded and furloughed right now, but many cannot be because the Government’s guidelines on furloughing do not give them that right.

The Government have placed our key workers in a financial and public health trap. Many are finding themselves in an agonising situation where they have no choice but to work through the dangers caused by the coronavirus so that they and their families are not faced with financial ruin. For example, I have a constituent who works in a care home who had his spleen removed just before the outbreak. Working from home or maintaining social distancing at all times is not possible, but his employer will not furlough him because that has not been mandated. That leaves my constituent with two choices: to take unpaid leave or to take statutory sick pay, placing a heavy income penalty on him and leaving him not protected at all.

We are seeing that where employers are not compelled to act, they are not acting. We therefore need the Government to clarify the guidelines on furloughing key workers who are clinically extremely vulnerable or who are carers to family members who are in that category. How is it right that the Government expect these key workers to choose to stay in work at immense personal risk, potentially putting themselves and their families in jeopardy? We needed clarification to be written into the Government’s furlough scheme. We know that key workers’ hourly wages are 8% lower, on average, than those of other employees. If vulnerable key workers cannot be furloughed, the Government have a duty to increase the level of statutory sick pay to ensure that no key worker is left behind as a result of this Bill. I would hope that the Bill can be amended to provide such support to our key workers.