“Rehashed old promises” – Labour and TUC react to Johnson’s economic plan

Elliot Chappell

Labour and the TUC have reacted to the economic recovery plan set out by the Prime Minister, declaring that it is “not enough” and represents only “rehashed old promises” from the Tory manifesto.

In response to the speech from the Prime Minister this morning, Labour leader Keir Starmer warned that the announcement was insufficient and said that the plan must match the scale of the crisis.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady slammed the plans put forward. She said that Johnson had simply “rehashed old promises”, pointing out that the spending commitments amount to just 0.2% of GDP.

Commenting on the plan, Starmer said: “The Prime Minister promised a ‘new deal’ – well, there’s not much that’s new and there’s not much of a deal. We’re facing an economic crisis, the biggest we’ve seen in a generation and the recovery needs to match that.

He added: “Look, we’re not going to argue against a recovery plan, but the focus has to be on jobs – people are likely to lose their jobs in huge numbers over the coming months. And we need a laser-like focus on preserving those jobs.

“Building in the future, there’s nothing wrong with that – but if these jobs are lost we are going to have mass unemployment. That’s why what we really need is a Budget in July and the furlough scheme extended where it’s needed to preserve jobs.”

In a speech this morning, the Prime Minister revealed some details on plans to “build back better, build back greener” after the pandemic – describing it as a “Rooseveltian” programme beforehand.

O’Grady said: “The £5bn of spending he announced today was reheated, and his spending commitments are worth just 0.2% of GDP. This is a far cry from Roosevelt’s new deal, which employed millions in public works in the midst of the great depression.

“Today we face the biggest economic crisis in a generation. Without big fast action, millions face the misery of unemployment. Today’s announcements from the prime minister fall far short of what is needed.

“The government needs to create millions of new jobs now. Far greater investment in infrastructure is needed to make those jobs a reality. And every project must be accompanied by a 2012 Olympics-style plan for jobs – prioritising local unemployed people, building skills and setting people up for careers.

“Today’s announcement is a huge disappointment. I hope next week’s emergency budget will see ministers take some real action. If the Prime Minister wants to match the scale of Roosevelt’s ambitions, he needs to deliver at least £150bn by 2024, not the reheated £5bn announced today.

“This crisis has exposed the huge inequalities in our labour market. It is women who are more likely to have volatile pay and hours; Black workers are disproportionately represented in low paid, insecure jobs — and too often have been put at risk during this pandemic.

“If the government is serious about ‘levelling up’ and helping those who have suffered under inequality, it needs to ban zero hours contracts and raise the minimum wage to a real living wage.”

Johnson said his plan “sounds like a prodigious amount of government intervention. It sounds like a New Deal”, adding: “That is how it is meant to sound and to be, because that is what the times demand.”

However, responding to questions from the press afterwards, the Prime Minister was unable to give an estimate as to how many jobs might be created by the economic recovery plan.

Asked about the Tory manifesto commitment not to increase income tax, VAT or national insurance, Johnson refused to confirm the pledge was still in place – saying only that he remains committed to making sure “the tax burden is reasonable”.

The Prime Minister struck an optimistic tone in the speech despite the announcement yesterday of a lockdown in Leicester, which has seen a sharp increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the past two weeks.

Labour has broadly supported the localised measure in the city, but has demanded that Matt Hancock hold a press conference later today in a bid to resolve “outstanding questions” on restrictions.

As the government eases the lockdown measures further, with pubs and restaurants set to open this weekend, Johnson has said that “local lockdowns and local whack-a-mole strategies” will be used to deal with outbreaks.

World Health Organisation head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual briefing on Monday: “We all want this to be over. We all want to get on with our lives. But the hard reality is this is not even close to being over.

“Although many countries have made some progress, globally the pandemic is actually speeding up… The worst is yet to come.”

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