It is an honour to follow Layla Moran. I agree with so many of her points.
In my constituency of Jarrow, people have been living under local restrictions for over a month without any clear support package in place. The Chancellor’s indecisiveness has left workers and businesses across all constituencies, particularly in areas under local restrictions, in complete limbo and often confused by ever-changing rules and regulations. It is no secret that wealthy areas, including the Chancellor’s own seat of Richmond, are avoiding being locked down, despite higher covid-19 rates than in less wealthy areas that are subject to restrictions.
It begs the question: if London and the south of England had been asked to live under the same restrictions as those implemented in the north, would the Government have found new strategies a long time ago? This utterly stinks of classism and serial incompetence at the heart of this Government, and the empty Government Benches tell me how much the Government are not listening.
The Chancellor has made a U-turn of sorts, but people in my constituency have already suffered, and for many this has come far too late. It feels to many like an intentional managed decline. This is not levelling up; it is levelling down.
Let us take the example of Kieran, a bar manager in my constituency who got in touch, heartbroken that his bar has turned from a hiring business to a firing business in the weeks since the local restrictions were introduced. Kieran’s business saw infection rates staying stable for the two months after reopening, so like many of us he is at a loss to understand why the hospitality industry is being made a scapegoat for the rise in cases, when no concrete evidence has been produced by the Government to prove that, despite Members from all parts of the House asking repeatedly for that evidence.
There is nothing new for the self-employed, nothing again for those who have been excluded from the start and nothing for businesses that are not forced to close, but are suffering because of their local restrictions. In fact, some local hospitality businesses and others have told me they would rather be in tier 3 than tier 2 due to the lack of financial support. The Chancellor’s chaotic habit of trying to fix problems of his own making at the last possible minute is costing jobs and causing chaos. The UK is on course for a 1980s-style jobs crisis, and the Chancellor’s name is all over it.
I fully support the proposals by the shadow Front Bench team that would put in place a job recovery scheme that fixes the problems so that many employers can keep more staff on. If the Chancellor’s current plans are not reformed, millions of people will be pushed into unemployment, yet the Government will still be required to offer financial support through many benefits, such as the inadequate universal credit. Households will feel the squeeze and the prospects for recovery will be hampered by a lack of income and low confidence among British households. The legacy from the last period of mass unemployment already casts a shadow over the British economy, particularly in the north, and I can only imagine what the legacy of the Prime Minister and this Government will look like. Nobody is asking for the furlough scheme to go on forever, but workers and jobs must be protected if we are to return to any kind of normality when we finally defeat this virus. The Government should put the correct levels of support in place, make the correct political decisions and save jobs by supporting all businesses, no matter the size or the sector.