In the midst of this most critical situation, I start by paying huge tribute to NHS and care staff from Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, those organising the vaccines and all keyworkers out there in Newport East on the frontline, in the most stressful and challenging of circumstances.
In Wales, 3,997 people to date have tragically lost their lives. Our thoughts are with their families and friends for their loss and pain. It has never been more important to heed the calls to stay at home and keep each other safe. I have some points to raise with Ministers in the limited time I have.
As a Welsh Member, I pay tribute to Welsh Government Ministers and their strong leadership. So often, the pattern has been that the Welsh Government have made the difficult decisions first, only to see others follow later, but I remind Ministers that the Treasury is the Treasury for the whole UK, not just England.
In autumn, when Wales went into a firebreak first, the Tory Government would not extend the job retention scheme, yet when England went into its second lockdown the Treasury U-turned and ensured that support was in place. The Welsh Government took the difficult but justified decision to move Wales to level 4 in December because of the new strain—there was some opposition from the Government Benches to that—but it was not until England locked down last week that additional funding was mentioned. Then it emerged that the money announced for Wales was not new money at all, but money already announced last year. We have seen that pattern repeated throughout the pandemic. We should not forget that we ended 2020 in the UK with one of the worst death tolls in Europe and the deepest recession of any major economy. That was not inevitable; it was a consequence of the Prime Minister’s repeated delay in choices.
I urge Ministers to do more to help the 3 million people in the UK who have been excluded from UK Government support schemes. Many will soon be a year without support, including constituents of mine such as the woman whose employer chose not to take part in the furlough scheme, the newly self-employed beautician and the company director of the small business who is paid via dividends. There was some speculation last week that there may be some movement on this, but our constituents need help as soon as possible, including new starters, those who have been on parental leave and others.
We must see more action for those who rely on the social security system. We are in the worst recession for 300 years, and family incomes are under huge strain. Why are the Government looking to cut universal credit by £1,000 for 6 million families? In Newport East, 8,812 families will take a hit if the cut goes ahead in April. Ministers must rule that out now, end the five-week wait, provide a £20 uplift to legacy benefits and change advances for loans. Action is needed quickly.
Finally, this is a critical time for the steel industry. It would be really helpful if Ministers could update us on talks with Tata about short-term support in this crisis, on Tata’s changes and on the long-term strategy for our steel industry.