At the start of this crisis, the Government promised to do “whatever it takes” to get our country and our economy through covid. They have broken that promise. My constituents, who have been subject to the tier 2 restrictions for weeks now—before the term was coined—are being left behind. We are in the frankly perverse situation where many pubs and hospitality venues would see more support to close that they would to stay open. This cannot continue. We need a financial package for tier 2 local authority areas and businesses to protect jobs as a matter of urgency.
Many sectors need additional targeted support, but the Government have so far been unwilling to stump up anything like the amount of investment required. Sector-specific support for aviation has not been forthcoming for my constituents who work at Liverpool and Manchester airports and in our local supply chain. Equally, sectors with large employment multipliers that are ready to create the kind of highly paid skilled jobs our country is crying out for are being stymied by Government inaction. The nuclear sector is perhaps the most egregious example of this. It directly employs almost 4,500 people in Warrington North alone, a growth of 700 on last year. It wants to grow further, but the Government’s tardiness in publishing the energy White Paper and making the necessary commitments to the next generation of new nuclear, including Sizewell C, is holding it back. If decisions are not made soon, we could lose those jobs forever, and at the worst possible time for our economy and the environment.
Just as whole sectors of our economy are being let down by this Government, so too are the lowest paid in our communities, from the new starters and newly self-employed who have been excluded from support to those expected to live on 67% of the national minimum wage. Do the Government not understand what “minimum” means? It is a rate independently set as the least that a person could get by on. I know that I could not get by on £5.84 an hour, and I do not know why anyone in this House thinks that a single one of their constituents should have to do so. For those not on the full rate of the national minimum wage, 67% of their salary could be as low as £3.04, which is less than the full rate of the minimum wage when Labour introduced it in 1998. If the Government will not commit to supporting all those on the job support scheme with a package at least as generous as furlough, the very least they can do is ensure that no one is being asked to live on less than the minimum wage.
The response to covid has been the worst of all worlds. The lockdown that was announced too late, that was too lax and that finished too early, ostensibly to protect the economy, and the social distancing purgatory that is failing to stamp out domestic transmission have hurt our economy far more than a national lockdown ever could. We could have modelled our response on New Zealand. It adopted a zero-covid strategy that meant short-term pain and enforced quarantine for all visitors, but its economy is now back open and people are allowed to hug their friends and families again. That should be our aspiration, too.