Covid-19 Economic Support Package

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:23 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Opposition Whip (Commons) 3:23 pm, 14th October 2020

Never has a relationship between the health of a nation and the wealth of a nation been laid quite so bare as it has over these past six months. We were promised “world-beating” by this Prime Minister and his Health Secretary, and we got it—the UK has seen not only the worst rate per 100,000, but the worst economic impact among G20 nations. In response to calls from Labour and the TUC, the Government wisely introduced the furlough scheme, and the initial financial support from the Government was a lifeline to many of my constituents. Some 16,000 people in Warwick and Leamington were furloughed. Business grants and loans kept our local economy going, and the district council was superb in how it did that. Why then, as we head into a second wave, are the Government hellbent on pulling the plug on that support? On 11 March, the Chancellor promised to do “whatever it takes”, but the job support scheme incentivises keeping on one employee instead of two. People working for businesses that have closed under local lockdowns will receive no more than two thirds of their salaries, even on a minimum wage—imagine that, the minimum wage is no longer a minimum. The winter economy plan offers no additional support for those businesses that are required to close. There is no support for those viable businesses severely hampered by the ongoing situation. There is still no answer to the calls of the 3 million taxpayers who have been largely excluded from financial support since the beginning of this crisis, and the offer to self-employed people at 20% of average monthly profits is miserly.

The chart and data published by the OECD, an independent international body, shows how the UK was the hardest hit of any major economy from April to June. Growth is slowing and the economy is still 9% smaller than before the pandemic struck. Our unemployment rate has hit the highest level in more than three years. Our young people have been hardest hit, but across our communities we know that there are many more job losses to come. The number of claimants in my constituency is already up 135% since the start of the pandemic. Whole sectors have been flattened. Automotive manufacturing, which is so important to my constituency and to many others, was brought to a standstill. It has had its worst September sales this century, and this is resulting in the UK industry facing massive financial pressure.

Across the economy, from our assembly workers to our energy engineers, our brewers to our baristas, our dancers to our designers, all too many fear losing their jobs, but it did not need to be this way. If we look at the countries that have the strongest economies now, they are those that took clear early action to suppress and eradicate the virus. China, Taiwan and other Asia-Pacific economies are on course to grow in 2020. They took early action to suppress covid-19 to extremely low levels and put in place highly performing track and trace systems. The only consistency from this Government was their inconsistency. Barbers could work, but beauticians could not. We could spend four hours alongside 300 people on an aeroplane, but not with 50 people on a coach or bus.

The Government had the whole summer to produce a plan for schools, a plan for universities, a plan for care homes and, most importantly, to fix test and trace, instead of which they spent their time telling us to eat out to help up and they blew their budget. We could have eradicated the virus with a proper strategy, but the Government dithered and delayed. They ignored the approaches from personal protective equipment manufacturers in my constituency—businesses such as Staeger Clear Packaging in Coventry and Tecman more locally to me. These businesses could have helped us through, but they were ignored.

The Labour party has called for the Government to follow the science and immediately implement a circuit breaker to regain control over the virus and implement a proper strategy to protect public health and therefore the economy. I just hope that they listen.