“Ministers must do more to protect jobs and prevent poverty”Frances O’Grady, TUC.
By the Labour Assembly Against Austerity Team
“We need a People’s Bailout”. That was the response of Richard Burgon following the announcement of new national lockdown measures last night.
Burgon set out a series of core demands for the left to advance, to support those suffering from the financial and social impact of coronavirus restrictions.
The PM’s new shutdown of businesses and a requirement to work from home, announced on the day the ‘job support scheme’ was due to replace the furlough, confirmed the original furlough with the government ensuring payment of 80% of wages, would in fact continue.
However, huge gaps in financial support for those hit by the impact of coronavirus were left unaddressed, with thousands still facing job losses, evictions and growing numbers living in poverty, as Burgon has warned in his statement.
Burgon’s People’s Bailout call included that nobody on furlough be paid less than the minimum wage, boost social security to cover real living costs, proper sick pay for all, suspend utility bills, rent relief, and food parcels for those in need.
Burgon’s demand crystalised the response of the TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, who welcomed the extension of the furlough, but said, “ministers must do more to protect jobs and prevent poverty”. She also set out a number of other demands, including that furlough pay must never fall below the national minimum wage, a boost to Universal Credit, that the government should not abandon the self-employed and that workers should not be asked to self-isolate without decent sick pay.
Each of these demands reflect growing concerns with the government approach to financial support, which have seen left voices speaking out in recent weeks.
The provision of furlough pay at 80% wages has been subject to a major fight by local Labour leaders led by Andy Burnham, as the government imposed strict local lockdown measures.
A coalition of trade unions, Labour Mayors and Labour MPs published a letter last week urging the Government to ensure an extension of the job retention scheme with 80% wage support, action to support incomes, helping people to self-isolate by increasing the level for statutory sick pay on the same day the Labour frontbench tabled a motion in the Commons supporting the 80% rate.
Additionally , on incomes falling below national minimum wage levels, Burgon (see here) had already led a group of Labour MPs making the demand last week, that, “No-one should ever be expected to live on less than the minimum wage.”
In their letter, the MPs identified that under the then proposed ‘job support scheme’ those currently paid the National Minimum Wage would face trying to survive on the equivalent of the National Minimum Wage level last seen 11 years ago. As it stands, on 80% furlough pay, they are still no longer guaranteed the National Minimum Wage and the demand for a ‘minimum wage floor’ is still necessary.
In comparison to the furlough scheme, those who work self-employed are only entitled to 40% of pre-pandemic trading profits.
At the same time, there are other campaigns being waged to support those on low incomes, including that the evictions ban, in place at the start of lockdown for those falling behind with private rents, has not been reinstated. Burgon has now demanded rent relief.
The BFAWU union, the Don’t Leave Organise group, former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and NEC candidate and former Shadow Employment Rights Secretary Laura Pidcock have been amongst those leading a campaign amongst activists for ‘full sick pay now’ as the virus has exposed more and more employees to the inadequate sick pay.
And looking ahead, the Low Pay Commission is due to have made its recommendations to the Government this month for next April’s National Minimum Wage increase. Which many are predicting the recommendation will be to freeze it – rather than increase it to a real living wage – which needs challenging (see petition here.)
Additionally, campaigning policy organisations and left MPs are still challenging the government threat maintain the £20 per week uplift it made to Universal Credit at the start of the pandemic, which is due to expire in April also.
The ‘People’s Bailout’ demands are a number of vital demands for the Labour left to drive forward in their constituency parties and to urge their MPs to adopt, and also reflect the Labour Assembly Against Austerity’s People’s Plan which has seen over 10,000 Labour members sign through the pandemic period. If you support a ‘People’s Bailout’ and the People’s Plan, sign up at A Post-Pandemic Plan for the People – #PeopleBeforeProfit. Add Your Name! | Labour Assembly Against Austerity.