Workers Can’t Wait

We have had a number of general parliamentary debates on the Covid-19 crisis, but still the Government is failing to provide the extra financial support people need to self-isolate, writes Claudia Webbe MP.

We are now weeks into the third national ‘lockdown’. My own community of Leicester has been placed in an ongoing lockdown or significant restricted measures since March 2020. Yet the Tories are still failing to take the decisive action needed to enable people to self-isolate as part of halting the alarming spread of the virus.

This has been confirmed both by Rishi Sunak’s recent pronouncement that we should wait until March’s budget for further support to be announced and the lack of solutions offered in the recent Parliamentary debate.

The debate came hot on the heels of an extremely disturbing new report published by the Resolution Foundation, linking the deep and damaging health and financial costs of the Coronavirus crisis.

The findings of this report are a stark illustration both of how the Tories have failed people during this crisis, and how ten years of austerity may have delivered mega-profits for the billionaires, but have damaged living standards and public services while leading to disgraceful levels of poverty and inequality.

In particular, the report shows a third of Britain’s poorest households during the crisis and ‘lockdowns’ have had their incomes squeezed by higher costs of energy, food and other bills.

All the indicators are that when we do recover economically, we will be faced with a deeply unfair and unequal ‘K-shaped’ recovery – meaning an ‘up line’ for the richest in society, and a ‘down line’ for millions of people, including the poorest and the growing numbers of working people in poverty. This shows beyond doubt how despite the rhetoric the Tories have little interest in ‘levelling up’ the economy.

What then can be done?

Immediately needed as a starting point are the measures recently put forward by Unite the Union under the slogan #WorkersCantWait, namely:

  • an increase in Statutory Sick Pay to a living wage level and available to all workers
  • a fix to furlough so no-one receives less than the minimum wage
  • an increase in public service wages and the minimum wage
  • no cut to Universal Credit and instead boost it further
  • urgent extra resources for public services
  • investment in job creation for the future.

These measures will both help address the deepening cost of living and jobs crises and must be accompanied by extra support for self-employed people, who have been neglected repeatedly by the Tories, a fix to help those on No Recourse to Public Funds, undocumented migrants and asylum seekers and a pay rise across the public sector.

Now is also the time to urgently prevent job losses through a set of comprehensive packages of sector support across our economy, rather than the incremental and piecemeal measures announced so far, which even Tory allies in business have said are wholly inadequate.

Beyond these measures to protect jobs and livelihoods, we also need emergency measures to keep a roof over people’s heads. This means a real ban on all evictions and repossessions, and urgent extra support for people in rent arrears. The ‘everyone in’ scheme must return to tackle the shameful homelessness crisis we see on our streets every day.

To help pay for these extra measures of support, a windfall tax should be introduced on those who have made billions out of the crisis.

Linked to this immediate agenda, we must propose alternatives that change fundamental wrongs and inequalities in our economy.

One vital example will be the postponed second reading of the National Minimum Wage Bill, proposed by Paula Barker MP. This vital Bill would close the legal loopholes which allow employers to effectively pay less than the minimum wage by discounting travel time between appointments, as is particularly common in the care sector.

Another is John McDonnell’s Business Standards Bill which I am supporting and would “establish an accreditation scheme for businesses that meet standards regarding the treatment of workers, the payment of taxes and environmental practices; and for connected purposes.” This means we would no longer bail out companies who then make further attacks on workers, their pay and conditions.

As this new wave of the deadly virus devastates so many lives and livelihoods, it is also necessary to again question the government’s whole approach to the issue, and why it has chosen not to follow the example of New Zealand and others who successfully pursued a ‘zero Covid’ strategy. With the vaccination programme likely to take months to roll out to a significant section of the population, changing to this approach now and driving down the levels of coronavirus would save lives and enable the economy to bounce back better.

The crisis has also shown why Labour was right to put transformative policies at the heart of the last two manifestos – from free broadband for all, which would enable working and learning from home for all; to ending outsourcing and privatisation in the NHS, which would help sort the failed track and trace system run by the likes of Serco; to public ownership of essential utilities, which would help keep the bills down and ensure universality of services. The health and economic crises mean a radical socialist agenda is needed more than ever.

We urgently need to build a national movement demanding action to protect people’s jobs and livelihoods – anything else will be a disaster for public health and our economy.

Claudia Webbe is MP for Leicester East.

Image: Claudia Webbe MP. Source: Author: David Woolfall, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

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