Covid-19 Economic Support Package

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:07 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Naseem Shah Naseem Shah Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 2:07 pm, 14th October 2020

On 10 May, the Prime Minister announced that the country would be easing out of lockdown, despite analysts highlighting that his calls were coming early, and that without a vaccine and a proper track and trace system we would fail to reduce the rise of the virus. In July, he set out plans for significant normality by Christmas and said that people should start going back to work if they could. He talked about opening sports stadiums and big venues by October. In August, the Chancellor announced his flamboyant flagship policy for people to eat out to help out. At the end of August, the Government launched an entire ad campaign to try to get people back into their offices for work. Three weeks later, the Government’s message changed to say that people in England should work from home if they could and that pubs and restaurants were to be placed under 10 pm curfews to reduce social mixing and slow the spread of the virus. If businesses, employees and this country needed one thing they could have hoped for during this crisis it was some sort of clarity in communication, but the Government and this Prime Minister failed to provide even that.

For those in constituencies such as mine, which have spent the past two and a half months in further local restrictions, the impact on the local economy has been far more drastic. The unemployment rate in my constituency is the highest in Yorkshire and the Humber, and seventh highest in the country, Figures released today by End Child Poverty show that Bradford West has had the highest rate of rising child poverty in Yorkshire and the Humber over the past four years.

The Government were late planning the furlough scheme. The first reported case of the coronavirus confirmed by the chief medical officer in England was on 31 January. The Treasury did not announce plans for significant funding to support businesses and individuals until the Budget on 11 March and it was not clear to the Treasury until the following week that the furlough scheme would even be needed. The furlough scheme had gaps where people who had started their new job after 11 March were not eligible for the scheme and were missed out. The self-employed income support scheme has failed many, especially the new businesses that have started up, as the scheme pays out based on profit made, not on actual business turnover, and most businesses make very little, if any, profit in the first few years, yet they still have expenditure.

Let me share some examples of people in my constituency. We have Art of Acoustics in Clayton. According to Musicians Union research, 87% of musicians will be earning less than £20,000 this year, well below the UK average income of £29,600, while 65% are facing financial hardship right now, 47% have been forced to look for work outside the music industry, and 36% do not have any work at all. John and Lauren, landlords of The New Inn pub in Thornton in my constituency, said today: “It’s the local situation. Our turnover is massively down, the pub’s appeal has changed, people feel uncomfortable coming into the pub.”

The Government need to listen to businesses more and seriously rethink this, as they are currently at risk from a health and safety perspective as well as facing the economic risk. The Image Mill in Thornton, which provides photographers, says: “We have fallen through the gaps as most do not have premises and are not eligible for business grants. With the 15-person wedding restriction, there are less weddings. We have missed the wedding season and we’re waiting until next year.” That has a real domino effect.

Becky from Thornton Furnishings says: “People feel the Tories are the party of business but their catastrophic mishandling of this crisis only proves they are the party of incompetence and one that does not care for small businesses or the health and wellbeing of people. I can say with certainty as a business owner I will not be voting Tory at the next election.” I think Becky really sums it up for the whole of my constituency regarding the failures of this Government.

Bradford West needs more support. I urge the Chancellor to address that. I said this yesterday and I will say it again and again: Bradford West needs some targeted support not just for its businesses but if we are not to fail the next generation.