Covid-19 Economic Support Package

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:12 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice) 3:12 pm, 14th October 2020

It is a pleasure to follow a fellow north-east MP, my hon. Friend Kate Osborne. The UK has one of the highest covid-19 death rates in the world, with thousands of lives lost and families torn from their loved ones far too soon. The UK is also on track to have one of the worst recessions, with millions out of work and people looking for employment in the most hostile conditions imaginable. Yesterday, it was announced that the UK unemployment rate had surged to its highest level for over three years at 4.5%. The disastrous mix of the pandemic and Tory incompetence continues to decimate our jobs market.

While the national picture is devastating, what is happening in the north-east of England is utterly catastrophic. We have among the highest mortality rates for deaths involving covid-19 and our unemployment rate has soared to 6.6%, the worst in the UK. As Niamh Corcoran of the North East England chamber of commerce said yesterday:

“The North East now finds itself with the highest unemployment rate, the lowest employment rate and the lowest average hours worked of all British regions…Although the Government’s amendments to the Jobs Support Scheme offers some support for our region in the event of tighter restrictions, it does not go far enough.”

For thousands of families, their income is precarious, dwindling or has disappeared, and new child poverty statistics released today by the End Child Poverty coalition show that the north-east has seen the biggest rise in child poverty. In my constituency and next door in Stockton South, the proportion of children living in poverty has risen to 34% and 29% respectively, with others in the Tees valley higher still. Those are not empty statistics, but represent thousands of living, breathing children plunged into poverty as a result of poorly paid jobs or no jobs at all for their families.

The Tees valley is haemorrhaging jobs. Some 12,565 have been lost since March, and thousands more are now destined for the scrapheap thanks to the Tory response, yet businesses in tier 2 lockdown, such as those in my constituency, have no safety net whatever. They are not legally mandated to close, yet we know for a fact that many of them will, and many will not open again. They will have few, if any, customers, but they will get no proper support from the Government. Simon Longbottom, CEO of the Stonegate Pub Company, which has 10 pubs in my constituency, said:

“Whilst we are continually working to protect jobs, with every new instruction from Government our delicate business balance fractures further.”

Even businesses that are mandated to close will only get partial support for wages, which can only mean another wave of job losses.

Across the Tees valley and the north-east, we are crying out for serious and sustained economic investment. Our Tory metro Mayor promised job creation for the Tees valley, but he has spent £100,000 on each job he has created in the last three years. Then there is Houchengate. The Tory Mayor proudly donned his hard hat to announce that he was spending £1 million on a new gate to an industrial estate, with few, if any, jobs. That £1 million could have provided 100 vulnerable businesses with a £10,000 lifeline and probably saved many of them from closure. Sadly, it has been spent on a gate. There is no protection scheme for jobs. For every job announced in the last three years, five have been lost in the last six months.

We need a serious vision from the Government—one that is not just about creating a few eye-wateringly expensive new jobs but about protecting the good jobs that already exist. If the Government do not act, not only will we see the poor suffer even more in communities like mine in Stockton North, but many families who have never experienced poverty in their lives will experience it for the first time. That is not a place that we as a country want to go.