Covid-19 Economic Support Package

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 3:33 pm, 14th October 2020

The Chancellor told us in March that no one would be left behind, but that has now become: Government support is not a universal scheme.

I very much associate myself with Members who have spoken of the excluded: the newly self-employed, many of whom are on zero-hours contracts; freelancers; and artists, including comedians. You would think that the Government would have shown some solidarity with comedians, but, no, they have not. I make a serious point, which was made very well by Ruth Jones about the creative arts. The creative arts sector is very important, particularly in bringing young people into work who do not want to go into a conventional office environment, factory environment or the rest. The creative arts has that place. It is important that the Government reflect on the support that they could give the creative arts, but also on the support that they are going to give, and should give, to those who have not received anything at all since March.

I very much agree with the criticisms of the job recovery scheme and what it means for individuals who are currently being paid the national minimum wage. Now that we are in this crisis, I ask the Government to look at poverty-proofing their policies. I hope that the Minister might want to say something about that. I have a very real concern that the lack of support they are giving will put more people into poverty.

That brings me quite nicely on to universal credit and making the temporary £20 uplift permanent. I am a member of the Work and Pensions Committee, which will be looking at this and we hope that it will be debated in the Chamber in future. I hope the Minister will reflect on this because we are in the middle of a global pandemic that has delivered a severe blow to people’s incomes and livelihoods right across these islands, and vulnerable households are taking a disproportionate economic hit. Far too many people are living under the constant threat of poverty and the coronavirus pandemic crisis is only exacerbating the financial challenges facing those families and the impacts on their health, particularly their mental health.

The findings are that 4 million families could see their support slashed if the Government refuse to make the £20 uplift to universal credit payments permanent. I hope that they will reflect on that. Making the £20 uplift permanent is the bare minimum that we would ask them to do to rebuild social security, with the findings showing that it would undo, at most, two thirds of the benefit cuts made since 2015, let alone those made during the time of the coalition. With mass unemployment on the horizon and other key support schemes being prematurely ended, it is critical that the Government heed the warnings from anti-poverty charities and strengthen that support by extending the £20 uplift. I hope that the Government will also look at sector support, particularly for aviation; I have many constituents employed in that sector.

It is ludicrous that there is not going to be a Budget. That impacts not just on the Scottish Government but on local government, which will have to be in the dark in trying to put its budgets together next year. That is a ludicrous position and I hope that the Government will reflect and think again.