The Government have already conceded that fighting the spread of this dangerous covid-SARS virus in our country requires extraordinary levels of state action and support, but now, just as the fight is intensifying, it is clear that they have lost their nerve. We are not only battling this deadly virus; the Prime Minister is fighting his libertarian instincts and the right-wing ideologues in his party. They are opposed to the collective state action that is necessary to save lives and mitigate the damage from the pandemic. The delay that this fight caused in March left us with a double whammy of the highest per-capita death toll in Europe on top of the largest economic hit in the G7, and now, this unforgivable dereliction of duty looks like it is happening again.
As the Prime Minister dithers, the virus spreads. His failure to take timely and firm action will cost more lives and wreak more damage on our economy. As he courts his mutinous Back Benchers and abandons the science to keep them sweet, all the warning signs are flashing red again. He is behind the curve and he knows it, and since the SAGE minutes were published on Monday night, we all know it, too.
The Government have lost the trust that they need to lead the fight against this deadly threat. Their partisan, high-handed behaviour has made it worse, excluding Parliament completely. There are constant briefings to the media, and an obsession with outsourcing and centralisation has caused the failure of Test and Trace and the scandal of PPE supplier contracts to Tory donors. And:
“We will do whatever it takes”— has now turned into the inadequate furlough-lite proposals that the Chancellor has recently come up with. Just as the virus returns, he has packed up the safety net.
For my constituents in Wallasey, who are now in tier 3 and facing a local lockdown, vital support disappears at the end of the month. In Wirral, 31,000 people are still on furlough and it will disappear at the end of the month, just as the virus comes roaring back. What replaces it is completely inadequate, as the Chancellor knows only too well, and those who are losing their jobs or their business do not want a lecture from him about how much he has already spent. Those who are excluded completely from this support in the first place—the freelancers, some of the self-employed—do not want that lecture either. They want a Government who will recognise the hardship that the pandemic has caused and be there to help. The least that the Government could have done was to repurpose the £40 million in unspent support allocated to the Liverpool city region, which is now in tier 3, to support local businesses, but again today the Chancellor has refused even that modest request.
Those forced to self-isolate to stop the spread of the virus need the support to do so and not to have to choose between feeding their family and obeying the rules. Wirral Council, which has been at the forefront of the fight against the virus, has not been reimbursed for what this has cost and, like many other local authorities, it is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.
So what do we need? We need an increase in generosity of the furlough-lite scheme. It has to pay more to those whose jobs are affected. We need wider eligibility; it has to go to businesses that are affected, not only those that close. We need to include the excluded, which means freelancers and the self-employed, and we need to pay adequate sick pay for those forced to isolate. If we do not do that, the virus will roar back, and the economic cost will, in the end, be far greater and the cost in lives will be unbearable.