“This virus feeds off inequality, targeting the poor & the vulnerable. But this Government is making deliberate choices – badly. Failure to provide adequate sick pay that people can live on & where all workers who need it can receive it is a political choice.”Kate Osborne MP
By Kate Osborne MP
Just days into 2021, Boris Johnson and his Conservative government announced a third national lockdown and a return to the restrictions we saw in March last year. Enforcing tighter restrictions, of course, is disappointing. However, it was vitally important that action was taken to regain control of infection rates that have been soaring across the country in recent weeks. Although the government has said the measures will be reviewed in six weeks’ time, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said that the measures may remain until at least March.
The indecision over the Christmas period over whether to relax restrictions wouldn’t have helped, and the confused messaging from the government has almost certainly contributed towards the UK recording the highest number of new covid cases since the crisis began.
We have seen that the variations on the lockdown over the past 9-10 months have had limited levels of success. But the fact is we are now back at square one – that is why all non-essential workers who can’t work from home should be furloughed on full pay. It is only through a zero-covid approach and a proper lockdown that we can defeat this virus. We are all tired and the country cannot afford to keep going in and out of half-hearted lockdowns.
It is also quite frankly bizarre that for a government obsessed with border control they are not able to get a grip by testing those arriving in the country. This should have been an obvious priority from the start of the pandemic. As someone rather comically put it on twitter – it was more of a struggle to pass the covid checks to get into a branch of Wagamama’s than it is to get into this country during covid.
I was pleased that the Government announced school closures this week as part of the national lockdown, although the decision should have been made well before this week. It makes the actions of the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, threatening to take legal action against schools who wanted to close for safety fears before Christmas even more shocking. It is largely thanks to the National Education Union for their superb leadership on this and it was encouraging to see that over 400,000 watched the NEU Zoom call to ensure that schools are safe for those who work within them.
The nature of a winter lockdown will make things much harder for people than the previous lockdowns and there are also huge cliff edges coming at people fast – this Monday, the ban on landlords in England evicting their tenants ends. Later this month, 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.
These imminent cliff-edges are swiftly 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. The Chancellor has just announced £4.6 billion worth of grants for the hospitality, retail and leisure sectors. However, although this financial support is welcome, it does not go far enough.
The new grants announced are based around business premises, and critics say this means large parts of the economy that don’t work out of offices or shops will also be ineligible. This includes taxi drivers, cleaners, and many self-employed who work from home.
But, for the millions on benefits, the low-paid, the self-employed, and their children, they need clarity to know what the future holds for them or many will be pushed further into poverty. I believe that the furlough scheme should be utilised for parents who have children at home because of no alternative childcare, and it should be made clear to employers that they can and should use it. Deliver the long-promised laptops and internet access for school children, and act to increase statutory sick pay to the level of the real living wage and available to all.
There is hope on the horizon with the vaccines, and the Prime Minister has said he aims to deploy a first dose to 12.2 million people by mid-February. Time will tell if the Prime Minister can deliver on this promise. Remember in March last year when he told us we would turn the tide in three months? We have been constantly let down time and time again by this government – it is vitally important that the government do not repeat their mistakes of not delivering when the people are sacrificing so much. We saw it with their failure to sort test, track & trace I hope we do not see the same mistakes made with the delivery of the vaccine.
The health, well-being and livelihoods of people should be the priority for this Government. This virus feeds off inequality, targeting the poor and the vulnerable. But this Government is making deliberate choices – badly. Failure to provide adequate sick pay that people can live on and where all workers who need it can receive it is a political choice.
This Government is now commonly referred to as the worst in living memory, riddled with cronyism bordering on corruption and stuffed with incompetents. It is therefore vitally important that we as a Labour movement continue to stand together and hold the Prime Minister and his government to account – because they are quite simply unfit for office and our people deserve so much better.
- Kate Osborne MP is one of five regular Labour Outlook columnists from the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs alongside Jon Trickett, John McDonnell, Richard Burgon and Apsana Begum.