There is no doubting the magnitude of the economic challenge that we face as a country. The north-east too often gets the worst deal when trouble hits, with lost jobs, declining investment and public sector cuts. Our region went into this crisis with the highest level of unemployment in the country, and I can only see things getting worse. The northern TUC estimates that almost a third of jobs in our region are currently supported by Government schemes, so there are a huge number of jobs at risk. With 71% of children living in families with little or no savings, the impact could be devastating.
Today, I was hoping for reassurance that things could be different. There are certainly measures to welcome. The kick-start scheme, like Labour’s future jobs fund, should hopefully help young people starting out in their careers. The green jobs drive should help to deliver skilled, well-paid, sustainable jobs. However, I fear that the Government’s ambition simply does not meet the scale of the challenge. Just as they were too slow to act on public health in the early days of this crisis, leading to many more devastating deaths than we should ever have seen, I am concerned that this is just not enough now to ensure that we can grow out of this crisis.
It is the poorest households that have seen the greatest loss of income already. The jobs that are most at risk are in the sectors with lower pay where young people and women make up most of the workforce. We cannot let this crisis entrench regional, intergenerational and gender inequalities even further. It is crucial that the Government do more. We need short-term support for businesses that will continue to struggle. A one-size-fits-all approach is leaving too many people falling through the gaps. The package for the creative sector is welcome, but we also need a longer-term strategy as venues remain shut and capacities limited.
Transport investment will be vital to unlocking the potential of the north. A commitment to get Northern Powerhouse Rail, High Speed 2 and upgrades to the east coast main line shovel-ready and started in the north would unlock thousands of good-quality jobs. The kick-start scheme for young people is welcome, but we need to see reskilling opportunities for older workers and action to address poverty and income inequalities, including a real living wage and reforming social security. The long-promised review of business rates and online taxation is desperately needed for our high streets and town centres, because their long-term transformation has been accelerated by this crisis. I want to put in a special plea for business rates relief for our regional airports. It is a major fixed cost that is simply not reflected in the current passenger numbers or the projected numbers for quite some time.
I also want to touch on support for new parents. I know that it is not hard-hat and shovel-ready stuff, but frankly, thousands of new mums have been left completely overlooked during this crisis. Their maternity leave period has seen isolation, with a lack of health visitor, mental health and medical support and peer group and family help at this vital time. If not addressed, that could impact them and their children for years to come. They are now having to go back to work—many without access to childcare—and they risk being targeted for redundancy. That is no way to treat new parents or the children they are bringing up in this world. I implore the Chancellor to look seriously at the Petitions Committee report on these issues and at the reasonable request for the additional support that new parents now desperately need.
The cost of doing nothing now will be far greater than that of providing the right support. People have made huge sacrifices to get us through this health crisis. The north-east is now looking for the Government to deliver on their promises in return.