Covid-19: Economy - Motion to Consider

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:31 pm on 4th June 2020.

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Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench 1:31 pm, 4th June 2020

My Lords, I do not believe that the economic lessons to be learned from this distressing time can be separated from wider social and moral issues. The economic health of the country depends significantly on the well-being of society. If people are feeling good about the society they live in, believe it to be fair and are proud to belong to it, this will feed into our economic policies and performance.

The most encouraging feature of this terrible time is the way in which key workers are being properly recognised and valued—first, of course, those in the NHS and in care homes, but also those who work in maintaining transport and other public services. We have experienced the essential nature of their work, but if its value is to be more than a clap once a week, it must take tangible and lasting form. Some in these sectors receive a reasonable reward for their work, but there are others who clearly do not. Care workers, for example, can be paid as little as £7 an hour. We have seen their devotion to duty in recent weeks: many have left their families to live with the residents of the home to cut down the risk of infection. The current national minimum wage is £8.75 an hour. However, the Living Wage Foundation calculates that a real living wage is £9.30 an hour, and £10.75 an hour in London. This is little enough for someone to live on and perhaps support a family. I believe that the Government should at least set a new benchmark of a real living wage, as opposed to simply a minimum wage.

Some inequalities in society are inevitable and may even be justified. What had eroded public confidence before the epidemic were the gross and growing inequalities, with some people receiving vast bonuses even when their companies were clearly failing. This undermines social solidarity. The well-being of a country depends significantly on people feeling confident that it is, in a rough and ready way, a fair one. We have heard that “we are all in it together” in combatting the virus. Let us have a future in which this is expressed in economic terms.