Covid-19

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:33 pm on 22nd October 2020.

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Photo of Kate Osborne Kate Osborne Labour, Jarrow 4:33 pm, 22nd October 2020

I pay tribute to the health and social care workers, education and childcare workers, those working in the food supply chain, local government, civil servants, utility workers, food bank workers and everyone in my constituency who is fighting in my constituency of Jarrow and across the country day in, day out in the fight against this virus.

I am sorry to say, however, that it seems to me that, on just about every measure, the Government are losing control and, sadly, we are going backwards in this fight. This lack of control has seen the Government resort to treating the north of England as some sort of sick experiment this week. It is beyond belief that now, because London has moved into tier 2, the Chancellor has rejigged his support package and now gone some way in addressing what we in the north have been asking for for weeks. Previously, it fell on deaf ears. Why did it take London going into tier 2 for this to happen when areas like my constituency of Jarrow in the north-east have been in similar restrictions for many weeks? This has come far too late for some and is no consolation for those who have already been made redundant or for businesses that have already closed. Significant economic damage has already been done. The new support will help going forward, but we still need a bold strategy to level up our region to stop covid from further increasing existing inequalities.

Now let us have a look at the money wasted by this Government. We have seen £108 million for a PPE contract going to a firm that is best known for making sweets—it has certainly left a bitter taste in my mouth—and £12 billion for a private track-and-trace system that is now reaching fewer than 60% of close contexts. The only people benefiting are Dido Harding and her Tory mates. With the constant changes in guidelines and restrictions, we are going round in circles. The Government must listen to Labour’s call for a national two to three-week circuit breaker that will give us a chance to fix testing, protect our NHS, and save livelihoods.

Moreover, the Government’s new plans for the job support scheme are still not enough. People on low wages are already struggling, and today’s announcement still leaves many to fall through the cracks. It is still not as generous or as well targeted as others, like the German scheme, and other European countries extended their furlough schemes through to next year months ago, giving certainty and clarity—and those schemes are not dependent on tiers. We must remember that the cost of living in England is much higher than in our European counterparts. We have the highest rents in Europe and pay some of the highest bills for our gas and electricity, so receiving a fraction of what is an already low wage is pushing many further into poverty. Renters who are struggling financially can now, of course, be evicted.

The Government need to stop jumping from one announcement to another. Businesses need to be able to plan in order to survive, and the Government need to stop their haphazard approach. If the Government had had a clear plan from the start, then we would not be where we are now. The Government must change tack, as well as moving to a circuit breaker. They must ditch the proposed job support scheme and extend the 80% minimum furlough scheme across the country. The confusion in the Minister’s eyes says it all. The Government have lost control of the virus and lost control of the message, and they are now completely ignoring the scientific advice from SAGE. My constituents and those across the country deserve better.