Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:52 pm on 12th January 2021.

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Photo of Claudia Webbe Claudia Webbe Labour, Leicester East 5:52 pm, 12th January 2021

We now have the bare minimum of a national lockdown that should have happened weeks ago. The evidence was clear. The continuous delay and failure to follow the science and to take a zero-covid approach means that we now have more people with covid-19 in hospitals than at the peak in April 2020. Tragically, recent figures put us at well over 1,000 daily deaths due to coronavirus in the UK. In comparison, South Korea has recorded fewer deaths from coronavirus throughout this entire pandemic. Indeed, in one day the UK has recorded more deaths than the total covid-19 fatalities in all of Taiwan, New Zealand, Thailand and Australia, despite those countries having a combined population of nearly twice that of the UK’s.

This was not inevitable, but a devastating political and ideological choice. My city of Leicester has been under lockdown or enhanced restrictions for longer than any other area in the UK. No household has been allowed to visit another household since March 2020. That means no hugs. There are individuals and businesses in my constituency of Leicester East that have had no financial support since March 2020. They are on their knees. The Government must stop blaming the public and urgently look at the gaps and provide adequate support for everyone in our community, which they have so far repeatedly failed to do. The numbers are not going down in parts of my constituency because factories are open for non-essential garment manufacturing. Close the factories. Give people the means to stay safe.

At every stage of the crisis, there has been dithering and delay. Any common-sense actions by our Government have come far too late. Tragically, that will have cost an unimaginable number of lives over the past year. It is so infuriating to see the Government and, indeed, much of the media blame the public for the spike in cases. It was not the public who introduced a failed and confusing tier system. It was not the public who just weeks ago threatened schools with legal action for taking steps to protect their pupils and staff. It was not the public who promised a five-day Christmas free-for-all.

Unlike with previous lockdowns, this time the Government cannot waste the sacrifices of people in Leicester and across the UK. They must ensure that everyone has the means to isolate. Statutory sick pay must be increased to a living wage level and made available to all workers. Furlough must be fixed, so that no one receives less than the minimum wage. NHS and public service wages must be increased. The notion of cutting universal credit must be abandoned and, instead, it must be increased permanently.

The mortgage holiday, the eviction ban and support for renters must be further extended and strengthened. The 3 million excluded and left behind must be supported and given access to the business grant. The hospitality sector, including the wedding industry, must be properly supported. Undocumented migrants must be given status now. Student rents must be returned, and university tuition fees and debts cancelled.

The disastrous costly reliance on the private sector must be abandoned. The Government should not facilitate profit making from free school meals. It is wrong to profit from childhood hunger.