The Labour Party has said that the fresh policies announced by the Chancellor today to address the impact of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic in the UK “still do not go far enough”.
Rishi Sunak joined the Prime Minister at the latest press conference to reveal a coronavirus rescue package – including government-backed guaranteed loans for businesses totalling £330bn.
But the Chancellor was criticised for failing to unveil policies for employees as well as employers. He did not address the problems faced by those being laid off, the self-employed or renters – though did offer mortgage holidays.
“People are being laid off today and losing their incomes. We are disappointed that this package does not address their concerns,” Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell commented in response to the new measures.
“The further announcements laid out by the Chancellor lack the certainty required amidst growing public anxiety, and still do not go far enough in protecting workers, renters and those who are losing their jobs, or in fully supporting businesses at the scale necessary.
“In particular, the Chancellor’s claim that new forms of employment support will be developed does not appreciate the urgency and gravity of the situation. Workers and businesses need to know now that they will be supported, not in a few days’ time.
“Labour will continue to engage with the government to ensure we have the proper scale of interventions required to secure proper funding of public services at the time of crisis, public control and oversight of those key services, a strong safety net, and the wellbeing of all.”
Unite the Union’s Len McCluskey said his union was “extremely concerned that workers’ and individuals’ own capacity to act on the public health advice will remain seriously compromised because the direct economic support has not yet been provided by government”.
McCluskey added: “This must change and urgently. Providing wage support and covering rents must be a priority. It is welcome that those hit by the virus will have a three month mortgage holiday should they need it, but what about the vast majority of people who rent?”
The GMB raised similar concerns, with general secretary Tim Roache saying: “Support for business is welcome, but we need support for workers too because bills won’t go away while people self isolate.”
The TUC’s Frances O’Grady added: “The Chancellor is right to provide this emergency support for business. But it must be conditional on employers protecting jobs and livelihoods, as is the case in countries like Sweden and Denmark.
“This can’t be just a bailout for boardrooms – it has to be about putting money in workers’ pockets too. Trade unions stand ready to work with the government to deal with this crisis. That is why we are calling for a national task force.”
The Chancellor did promise today to work with trade unions and business groups to develop new forms of employment support. This move was welcomed by UNISON in particular.
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Unions want to work with ministers in the interests of the country at this unprecedented time.
“But making sure that all workers off ill with the virus or isolated at home have enough money to pay their rent and bills is essential. Raising statutory sick pay to minimum wage rates could happen quickly and have an instant effect.”
In response to the announcements by Sunak, leadership race frontrunner Keir Starmer tweeted: “There is no support for millions of renters, no new money for social care or the elderly, there is no clarity on employment support and no new money for already stretched public services.
He added: “The government always seems several steps behind events. Every day another announcement leaves more questions than it answers. The opposition is right to scrutinise and push the government to act much more decisively.”
Fellow contender Lisa Nandy said: “Where is the protection for renters & the low paid? No more delay: statutory sick pay must be massively increased. Cuts to benefits must be reversed, evictions must be banned, we must use systems we already have to get money to people & give them the security they need – fast”.
Labour left candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey released a video earlier this afternoon that set out a 12-point coronavirus plan, from emergency measures on debt and essential payments such as rent to a right to work from home for those with underlying health conditions.