The last seven months have been extremely difficult for individuals, families and communities across our country, so I want to start by paying tribute to those in my constituency who have kept our economy and our community going. Key workers and community groups have pulled together in an incredibly resourceful and compassionate way to get us through these difficult times, while local businesses have turned their hands to manufacturing PPE at the drop of a hat and showcased an amazing amount of skill and flexibility. It has been an inspiration to witness.
However, many of my constituents have been badly let down by the cracks in Government schemes or by incoherent UK Government communications. For instance, holidays are not seen as a reasonable excuse to leave a lockdown area, yet because the flights are going ahead, some travel companies and insurers are refusing to give refunds or pay out. One constituent of mine lost £1,800 on a trip to Turkey by trying to do the right thing in staying home, and another faced hardship over a trip to Portugal. I would like to hear what the Government are doing to apply pressure on those firms and to compensate customers where a firm has gone bust.
There is still a lack of support for self-employed people during local lockdowns, and many of Aberavon’s pubs and hospitality firms are increasingly concerned that they are not receiving sufficient compensation. The Chancellor needs to recognise those problems and listen to those on the Opposition Front Bench, who have been constructive and consistent throughout this process. Labour has stated clearly that the Government should put in place a job recovery scheme that fixes the problems with the Government’s schemes, so that employers can keep more staff on, rather than having to let people go; that ensures no one on the scheme falls into poverty; and that is open to all businesses impacted by the restrictions.
We need the Government to recognise the large number of holes in their recovery plan and actively strive to fill in those holes, rather than simply ticking the boxes and turning away. That is why Labour is stating clearly that a two to three-week circuit-breaker lockdown should be accompanied by the reopening of the Government’s closed £1.3 billion fund, using the underspend to support businesses in need.
By far the biggest employer in my constituency is the Port Talbot steelworks, yet Tata Steel has fallen through the cracks in Government schemes and is yet to receive a single penny of covid-related support. Steelworkers are key workers. The steel industry continues to operate and serve Britain through the crisis as we look to rebuild our economy. It is the foundation of our entire manufacturing sector. We need our steel, but the industry can only get through this crisis with urgent support from Government.
Make no mistake about it: steel underpins our entire manufacturing sector, from defence to aerospace, automotive and construction. It builds resilience and reliance into our economy. It is also far greener to make steel in the UK than to import it. There are some fantastic projects such as SPECIFIC in my constituency, which is about creating photovoltaic cells with a steel-based film. The Government must offer long-term support to steel in the form of a sector deal, such as the one that aerospace and construction have, but they must first offer immediate short-term support to get us through this crisis. The message is clear: we need our steel. Steel is a 21st-century industry that forms the backbone of our economy, and there can be no post-pandemic recovery without a strong and healthy steel industry.