Sunday shows: Labour calls for clarity on ‘essential’ work during crisis

Sienna Rodgers

The Andrew Marr Show

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s health spokesperson, appeared on the show this morning. He called on the government to clarify “essential” work and urged employers to let their workers stay at home.

  • On opposition comments: “We’re raising these issues not to undermine Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock, not to secure some political point, but because we all want the national effort to succeed.”
  • On lockdown measures: “There are still many workers… being forced to go into their workplaces and those workplaces are not putting in arrangements where they can observe the two metre distancing rule.”
  • On messaging from the government: “Clarity is everything when you’re dealing with a pandemic, you can’t have mixed messages. When you’re asking people to adjust their behaviour we need clear messages from government.”
  • On people still going into work: “We’re asking the government to provide absolute, clear clarity over which firms are essential, which sort of work is essential and what sort of work isn’t essential.”
  • To employers continuing with non-essential work: “Let your workers stay at home, and let those workers and you as a firm access the various support schemes the government has put in place.”
  • On the long-term implications of the crisis: “When we come through the other end, we do have to ask ourselves some questions around what the rights levels of taxation are to fund well-functioning public services.”
  • Asked if he supports doubling national insurance to better fund the NHS: “Let’s get through the crisis before we start writing the specifics of the next Budget.”


Ridge on Sunday

Deputy leadership candidate Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, a Labour MP who does shifts in her local A&E, talked about her experiences dealing with coronavirus. She raised concerns about the government advice on self-isolation being different from the World Heath Organisation guidance.

  • Asked whether NHS workers have the personal protective equipment that they need: “In the last few days in my hospital, they have started to receive the personal protective equipment.”
  • On self-isolation in the UK: “We have some very senior politicians who have said that they will return to work after seven days… The advice that we are giving is actually not in keeping with what the WHO are saying.”
  • On WHO guidance: “They are saying that you can still be able to spread the virus long after your symptoms have been resolved, and they are actually saying that it is recommended that you stay self-isolated for 14 days.”
  • On UK guidance: “Personally, I believe the government should change their advice… I would like the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to self-isolate for 14 days.”
  • On mass testing: “Let’s roll out mass testing so that we know what we’re working with. It worked in South Korea, it’s done well in Germany. Let’s roll out mass testing.”
  • Asked about testing for NHS workers: “It is absolutely urgent that NHS and care staff are tested and that they have access to testing immediately.”
  • On prioritisation of tests: “I’m not sure it’s entirely fair that senior politicians are having access to testing when frontline NHS staff… can’t get the tests that they need.”

Former Labour leader and Prime Minister Tony Blair talked about the need for a global response to the coronavirus pandemic.

  • On the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis: “I don’t want to be in a position of offering criticism of the government. I think they’ll be working as hard as they possible can, they’re doing everything they can.”
  • On mass testing: “In my view, it is all about getting to mass testing as soon as possible because we have to know who has the disease and who has had the disease to get the lockdown eased and get people back to work.”
  • On the percentage of the population that would need to be tested: “You could be talking about virtually everybody.”
  • On whether it’s feasible to ‘run the country from your living room’: “Well, you can do. We’ve got the technology to be able to link people up… It’s perfectly possible to do that, but it depends how ill he is.”
  • On where the focus of the government should be: “It’s really about how you put the most capable people in charge of those elements of logistics and procurement. And I think the other thing we should be doing right now, by the way, is putting everything we can behind technology and innovation. There will 1,000 things technology can help with… You sometimes find that the best people on this are not to be found in the public sector but in the private sector.”
  • On the need for a global response: “One other thing we shouldn’t forget is this is a global crisis… If any country in the world is not over this disease, then all countries are at risk.”
  • On the ability of poorer countries in Africa to respond: “These are healthcare systems that are already quite weak, government system that aren’t always as effective as they need to be. They’ve got a massive shortage of equipment, ventilators, protective clothing, masks, testing of course. If these countries aren’t helped at this stage, it is going to slow down the ability of the world as a whole to get over this crisis.”
  • He added that “I don’t quite understand” why there is not already more global cooperation being undertaken, particularly to ensure that when there is a vaccine it can be distributed widely and fairly.
  • He added: “I know our priority will be everyone here at home, of course it will be. But we need to realise that if there’s one part of the world that manages to get on top of this and another part of the world that can’t, then in the end we’re all going to have to do deal with it.”

Rebecca Long-Bailey, a leadership candidate and MP for Salford and Eccles, talked about the economic response to the virus

  • On government advice around working from home: “There are workers right across the country this week who’ve been going to construction sites, warehouses, call centres, where their health is being put at significant risk. The government needs to now be very clear about what non-essential and essential work is, and make sure that those workers are at home if they’re not providing an essential function and that they’re financially protected… There’s no excuse for those employers not to furlough staff.”
  • On measures for the self-employed: “Many self-employed people have to wait until June to receive a pay-out from this, and that’s not acceptable. We’ve seen other countries such as New Zealand roll out schemes far quicker.”
  • She added: “There’s also a gap in terms of those self-employed people who aren’t covered by the scheme, and where they’re not they’re told to go and apply for Universal Credit at a rate of statutory sick pay, which is £94 a week. £94 a week is not enough for anyone to live on, and the government have indeed admitted that themselves. We need to have that amount increased… end the five-week Universal Credit wait, and provide a grant rather than a loan to the self-employed people who need to rely on that.”
  • On the balance between halting the virus spread and keeping the economy running: “The most important thing in all of this is protecting human life. Every single decision that is made economically must be centred around that. We will recover. We will need to make sure that we have a huge investment and support package available after this crisis is over to really boost our economy… At this time, the government’s main priority should be ensuring that people are able to stay in the homes and that they’re financially protected enough to do that.”
  • On whether the emergency measures shows Jeremy Corbyn ‘was right all along’: “I think the crisis has highlighted how connected we all are to each other, and it has also highlights the fragility of all of our lives… and it’s also highlighted the dramatic underfunding of our NHS and public services. When we rebuild our economy, it has to be upon foundations that provide all of us with financial security and enough to live on.”
  • Asked whether it’s difficult to compare the December 2019 debates over the economy with the response to the pandemic: “Not at all. What we’ve always been calling for is properly funded public services. And they weren’t properly funded, they’re still not unfortunately.”
  • On whether she would be prepared to join a national unity government if elected Labour leader: “I’ve already been collaborating with the government, and urging them to listen to my advice and the advice of my colleagues in tackling this crisis because we want to be as helpful as possible. We’re not criticising the government when we’re offering our suggestions… we’re trying to help.”
  • On the LabourList exclusive that : “It’s trying to deal with these strange times and have an announcement on the leadership contest that our members and the public can view from their homes, really. It’s logistically quite challenging. We’ve all been asked to do this victory speech… I haven’t done mine yet, by the way.
  • Asked whether it’s going to be awkward to record: “It’s gonna be a bit bizarre, yeah.”

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