Covid-19 Economic Support Package

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:37 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education) 3:37 pm, 14th October 2020

I was really frustrated by the sense, in some of the interventions on my hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor, that the Labour party, in making this extremely serious suggestion, was taking lightly the economic consequences of going into a circuit-breaker arrangement. We should not be starting from here. We have all been saying throughout the course of the past seven months that the approach the Government are taking was not working. They failed on PPE. They were slow into lockdown. The testing and tracing regime has been an expensive fiasco.

We have seen the approach that the Government have taken that has got us to this point and has been failing, and they then turn to us and say, “Don’t you realise there are costs to the economy of trying to get on top of this health crisis?” Of course we know that it is costing the economy: we have been saying that throughout the course of the past seven months. But we have now reached a point where the Government have lost control of coronavirus and only the measures proposed by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, recommended by SAGE, are likely to get us back on top of the virus. So there is no naivety from our perspective about the costs that are attached to this, but we also see the costs that are attached to constantly, inch by inch, surrendering ground to the virus, as we have done over the course of the past seven months.

Many people are confused. They do not know which area they are in. We look at Sky News and it tells us that Derbyshire is in tier 2. In actual fact, only a very small part of Derbyshire is in tier 2. The majority of it is in tier 1. I have people saying, “Well, am I allowed to travel into tier 2 to get a meal? Can someone from tier 2 come into tier 1?” because they have booked a table and want to meet their friends in an area where they are allowed to do that. There is utter confusion about what is actually happening out there.

As I have said to the Chancellor previously, saying that pubs can stay open in tier 2 areas, but you cannot meet anyone there other than your own household is really disingenuous. All the publicans I speak to say that moving to that approach, on top of the other restrictions, simply makes their businesses unviable. In most cases, they would be better off not paying staff and staying closed than they would be opening under those terms, yet the Government say, “You’re allowed to open, so we do not consider we have anything else to do.”

The Chancellor is fond of saying how much he has spent, but how much has he wasted? My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East alluded to a variety of things that are leaving people out in the cold. We all know 3 million self-employed people have been excluded, but what about all the self-employed people who were given money unconditionally when many of them were carrying on working? There was no conditionality on the self-employed scheme which said, “The money is there for you if you are forced to not work, if you are in a business that is unable to carry on,” yet 3 million people are left out in the cold.

The Government have let people down. The strongest sign of that fact is how few Conservative speakers there have been in this debate. Just six Back-Bench Tories wanted to stand up and speak up for the approach the Government are taking. That speaks louder than any speeches we have heard.