Public Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:42 pm on 1st December 2020.

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Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South 5:42 pm, 1st December 2020

It is a pleasure to follow Jackie Doyle-Price. I agree with many of the points she raised. We are on the cusp of vaccine roll-out, but the Government’s response must not underestimate the continued threat of the virus. We know that the previous three-tier system did not work, and we ended up in a national lockdown. Nobody wants a repeat of that. The Government should have learned from those mistakes, but it does not seem that they have.

Not only have the Government failed to fix test and trace during the lockdown, but they are recklessly ploughing on with the tiered system and the insufficient economic support package. The £20-a-head business support grant is only a one-off payment, and businesses are in the dark about the future of the furlough scheme. Furthermore, tier 1 areas receive the same support package for just 28 days of national lockdown as areas now facing many months in tier 3. The Federation of Small Businesses said that the spending review was

“a missed opportunity to help small business owners—not least those who have been excluded from support measures”.

I, too, am very concerned about the impact of these regulations on the pub and hospitality industry. The situation in the Office for Budget Responsibility’s alarming employment forecasts has been accelerated by the Government’s approach to the sector, which expects to have lost nearly 600,000 jobs by February 2021. That is in the space of a year. UKHospitality states that 98% of the hospitality trade will be in either tier 2 or tier 3 and will see a 70% drop in trade for the whole of December, representing £7.8 billion lost. The sector needs increased support to help it through the crisis.

The decision to allow pubs to open only if they sell food will devastate the industry across the country, and I have heard first-hand from pubs in Luton South about how the lockdown restrictions have damaged their business, but also about how wet-led pubs have implemented covid-secure measures to keep their customers safe, taking contact details, using table service and doing regular cleaning. I hope that the Government will publish the scientific evidence for closing the wet-led pubs, so that we can understand how the risk posed is any different from pubs that serve food or, indeed, going to the supermarket.

I fully support the Campaign for Real Ale’s call for fair treatment of all pubs, which includes publishing the scientific evidence, sector-specific support and parity between wet-led pubs and those that sell food. The Government have not learned from their mistakes, have not listened to SAGE on lockdown and have not introduced sufficient measures to protect public health or the economy.