Today I want to focus on the forgotten—those who have been forgotten by this Government in my constituency and right across the country. There are 3 million people who are excluded, not to mention the 4 million who are now reliant on the flawed universal credit system.
In Oxford West and Abingdon, the claimant rate has increased by 255% since March, and what scares me is that here we are again. They all suffered when we went into lockdown. We had meeting after meeting to raise these issues with the Government, and we were told that if we come together and clap for our frontline workers every Thursday, we will get through it, yet here we are with a three-tier system that will inevitably lead to another lockdown.
We are hearing that the Government have begun to abandon listening to the scientists and are instead following a strange balancing act, which they are trying to present as Goldilocks—the best of both worlds—when, in fact, we have some of the highest case numbers per capita in Europe and some of the poorest performing economic metrics. It is the worst of all possible worlds, not the best.
In my constituency, like many others, there are some horrific stories. The director of a small gym in my constituency pays himself via PAYE and dividends, and he is petrified of what he sees happening in the north, with the closing of gyms. He is wondering what is going to happen. Will there continue to be no safety net? He is worried about going out of business altogether.
These are the 99% of businesses in this country that form the backbone of our economy, and once they close, as the Minister and the Chancellor well know, it will be difficult for them to start up again. I have a constituent who is working two jobs, because neither pays enough to cover the cost of living. She gets nothing now, because 47% of her income is from self-employment, and the most striking thing in her correspondence with me, and in the correspondence of my constituent Christopher who works in the creative arts industry, is the real sense of fear and deteriorating mental health.
Reading the emails from the beginning of March to now, they are tetchy. They apologise to me for the tone of their emails, but it is not they who should be apologising. It is the Chancellor, the Minister and this Government who should be apologising to them for the stress they are under. Christopher has not earned a penny since March, and he makes the point that he has spent his whole life paying his taxes and that he has a contract with this country, and I totally agree.
We need to improve furlough. We need sector-by-sector bail-outs where needed, but Christopher has received absolutely nothing. He is supporting his wife and two children, and he has paid taxes his whole life, and he feels completely abandoned. He is now talking about feeling depressed and anxious. The long-term effect of the lack of Government support on people’s mental health is one consequence of this pandemic that we are not taking seriously enough, so I hope those constituents and others across the country who are hearing the speeches from the Opposition know at least they are not forgotten—even if they might be excluded by this Government. All I would like to say is a plea on their behalf. Please, this is not dealt with. Yes, there are support packages for others, but it has not reached them.