“The banks were bailed out. We now need a People’s Bailout.”Richard Burgon MP
By the Labour Assembly Against Austerity Team
The announcement of a new lockdown to control the surge in the coronavirus drastically increases pressure on jobs and incomes in a context where poverty and income are already at disgusting levels and increasing.
This includes the fact that more people infected with the virus are forced to rely on sick pay, and that others are placed on reduced furlough wages, or face redundancy as businesses struggle with the impact on their finances.
The financial impact of the lockdown will also be felt elsewhere, as university students told to remain at home after Christmas and study virtually, remain bound to pay rents to halls of residence providers.
The closure of schools – vital to control the transmission of the virus – has also exposed the number of families and children who cannot afford the equipment necessary for online learning.
The announcement of the lockdown without a corresponding series of financial support measures has therefore seen a number of key demands set out from the labour movement and the left, building on a number of campaigns and initiatives, including our Don’t Cut Universal Credit petition and the #PeoplesPlan backed by over 15,000 Labour members.
Unite’s General Secretary Len McCluskey, wrote in Tribune that “the people of the country were told to brace themselves for further months in an economic coma but with no attendant support for incomes and health”.
McCluskey wrote that, this month, the ban on landlords in England evicting their tenants ends, the deadline for applications for the third grant under the self-employed income support scheme passes, and the last day of January brings the deadline for mortgage holidays and the end of the ban on home repossessions.
Furthermore, he added these ‘cliff-edges’ will be followed by the closure of the government-backed ‘bounce back’ loan schemes, withdrawal of the £20 a week Universal Credit uplift – a lifeline for many struggling families – and the April end of the job retention scheme.
Additionally, the TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady demanded more support for working people, including, urgently boosting sick pay so that people can afford to self-isolate and permanently increasing universal credit.
Within Labour’s parliamentary ranks, Richard Burgon MP on social media, reminded activists that, “The banks were bailed out. We now need a People’s Bailout,” and stated that, lockdown must be the start of a plan to drive down the virus and keep it down. But he added we also need furlough for all (non key) workers who can’t work from home, full Sick Pay and hotel rooms for those who can’t self-isolate at home.
Socialist Campaign Group Vice-Chair, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, also backed university students, saying the government should abolish student tuition fees and write off student debt, whilst colleague Zarah Sultana, demanded the government abolish tuition fees, refund rent and cancel student debt for good
Their Socialist Campaign Group comrade Claudia Webbe was another demanding that Sick Pay be raised to a living wage level.
And amongst the growing demands for the government to fund an end to the digital divide which has left children from low income families unable to do school work online from home, Apsana Begum’s demand for broadband and a laptop to every child, vied with Bell Ribeiro-Addy’s and Nadia Whittome’s calls as thousands showed their agreement for the idea.
Challenging Boris Johnson in Parliament today, Jeremy Corbyn raised a number of these demands – including on Statutory Sick Pay, free broadband and Universal Credit, but predictably received a dismissive answer.
After months of campaigning and pressure from trade unions and the party’s grassroots, Labour’s leadership has also started to make some of these demands on the Government in recent weeks. On New Year’s Day, Anneliese Dodds, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, warned of the Chancellor’s ‘covid cliff-edges’ in the first few months of the year, and on this Tuesday morning, Dodds attacked Chancellor Rishi Sunak, stating, “Instead of delivering the support that Britain needed, he’s ploughing on with plans to hit people in their pockets with pay cuts, benefits cuts and tax rises.” Some of these demands were echoed by Keir Starmer today when questioning Boris Johnson on his Coronavirus statement.
What is clear is that in addition to the #PeoplesPlan, there a series of immediate demands from the Left and Labour movement to ensure sufficient financial support to those living through lockdown, including:
- Urgent extra resources for public services – invest in job creation.
- Increase Statutory Sick Pay to a living wage level – available to all.
- No cut to Universal Credit – boost it instead.
- Fix the furlough scheme – no one should receive less than the National Minimum Wage.
- An Increase the National Minimum wage – raise public-service wages.
- Keep the ban on evictions and repossessions – strengthen support and protection for renters.
- An end to university tuition fees – rent refunds for students.
- Internet access for all – everyone who needs to must be able to work and learn.
Our task is to build the biggest possible campaigns and support across society, including within the Labour Party, for real action for jobs and livelihoods.