Its been a quite incredible week in Politics, and for the whole country. Just over a week ago, the Chancellor had announced a budget with £30 Billion set aside for Coronavirus mitigation measures and Government were still content for 50,000 people to attend the same Football match.
But following an Imperial College report which suggested that a mitigation-based approach could overwhelm our Health services the Government have taken decisive steps in a new direction with a huge clampdown on social interaction and much more substantial support for the economy.
The Government are right now to acknowledge that Coronavirus poses both an existential economic as well as medical threat to our nation, and that failing to support our economy will hamper our ability to delay the spread of this virus and accelerate the death toll.
I support the government’s decision to order pubs, restaurants and cafes to close, but am under no illusion about how difficult it will be for the Hospitality industry. The sector are literally in a fight for their very existence despite the welcome moves to cancel their Business Rate bills for this year and the subsequent support for wages announced on Friday.
Turning to the employment support package, I had been one of those criticising the lack of scope of the support that the Chancellor was offering earlier in the week, and I confess that I was surprised by the breadth and nature of the support package he announced on Friday. It will be a huge relief for businesses, many of whom I know were agonising over redundancy decisions at that time.
However, whilst welcome and apparently clear, it does mean that businesses like supermarkets who appear to be doing very well right now will get the same support as pubs, gyms, cafes and restaurants who have been ordered to close, which seems surprising.
The announcements so far also leave Britain’s army of self employed and people in insecure work or ‘the gig economy’, numbering over 5 million, dangerously exposed. Clearly, for the vast majority of them, from taxi drivers and decorators to musicians, supply teachers and childminders they will currently be expected to survive on a hugely reduced income and I don’t believe it is fair to support employed workers and leave the self employed to suffer from something that they had no way of predicting, and so I will, alongside many others, be taking up the case of the self employed when Parliament returns on Monday.
And similarly, whilst the announcement on a mortgage holiday was welcome for houseowners, there is nothing yet announced for renters who are often living very precariously and, whilst I entirely understand that it is more complicated to help them, there needs to be a scheme to support renters and their landlords.
I am also conscious of other industries who have not yet been favoured but are likely to see a huge downturn in income. House buying completions are highly unlikely, and that will have an impact on housebuilders, estate agents, conveyancers, surveyors and solicitors, yet these businesses haven’t even had the business rate reductions yet. The same could be said of the Recruitment industry. Again, I will be asking the Government to support these sectors.
Alongside the economic announcements, the Government did make some belated but welcome steps to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, with the closure of schools being the latest move. I know how many parents and teachers were anxious that this hadn’t been done earlier. I do understand the need to balance restricting spread with the disruptive effect of key workers being forced away from work to look after their children, but all the evidence I have seen is that every step to restrict
the spread of this virus as early as possible is crucial, and so I think the school closure announcement was, if anything, later than I would have liked.
I am also very conscious of the fears about the lack of testing. It really is crucial that Government takes every step to increase the availability of tests and it is particularly crucial that testing is available for frontline healthcare workers to protect them and their patients.
The Government’s call for more ventilator manufacturing was welcome, but again, many will wonder why this call didn’t go out in January, when the existence of the virus and the shortage of ventilators was known. The evidence from Italy who have twice as many critical care beds as we do, is that lack of ventilator availability will cost thousands of lives. We need many more.
At this moment we are all indebted to our frontline healthcare workers and so ensuring that they are provided with all necessary personal protection equipment and that their children are safe at school is the very least we must offer them. I am pushing Government to ensure that all necessary PPE is provided.
This crisis offers a huge political and organisational test of Government and our health system. It also tests us all as a society. This is the ‘war’ of our generation, and we must all commit to the fight if we are to avoid the catastrophic casualty numbers that the worst forecasts suggest.
That means following the advice that government give us about hygiene and social distancing. But it is also a moment where we must work collectively to support and protect our families, friends and neighbours. Part of that support is to be responsible and proportionate in our actions. I echo the call to avoid unreasonable bulk buying that leaves our shop shelves empty and key workers unable to get access to essential items.
My office staff are all working remotely, but we are helping people with a huge variety of different issues related to Coronavirus as well as our normal work, from making representations about certain industries and employment models to supporting constituents trapped abroad and those who are in a high vulnerability group and need particular support.
We are working hard to respond to a very high caseload, and so would ask people with non-urgent queries to approach me about those when we are further through this crisis. But anyone who does need to get in touch can email me at email@example.com or call on 01246386286