Anneliese Dodds has accused Conservative government ministers of having a “lack of basic understanding of people’s lives right now” and argued that this is undermining efforts to stop the spread of the virus.
Commenting after today’s Treasury questions in the House of Commons, the Shadow Chancellor suggested that Rishi Sunak was out of touch with the concerns of the average person in the pandemic.
Dodds told reporters that she was “pretty concerned” about the Chancellor’s response when she raised the low rate of statutory sick pay (SSP) in the parliamentary debate this afternoon.
On the benefit, she said: “We saw over the weekend, the scientific advisory group for emergencies committee gave evidence that the value of SSP does appear to be having a negative impact on peoples ability to self isolate.
Dodds added: “There does seem to be a lack of basic understanding of peoples lives right now. And that’s problematic because it’s hampering the effectiveness of test, trace and isolate at the very time when we need it to be working.”
Asked whether the level of sick pay would be enough for the Chancellor to live on, Sunak said only that the government is “trialling incentive payments in local lockdown areas”.
The UK currently has one of the lowest sick pay rates in Europe, with workers only receiving £95.85 a week. Nearly two million people also miss out on sick pay support because they earn less than the ‘lower earnings limit’ of £120 a week.
Labour warned earlier in the year that leaving so many workers in the country ineligible for statutory sick pay would undermine the UK government’s test and trace programme and the efforts to prevent a second wave of the virus.
The government announced in August that those who contract the virus and need to self-isolate would receive £132 for a 10-day self-isolation period, while others who have come into contact with them will receive £182 for 14 days of isolation.
The benefit is only payable to those already on Universal Credit or in receipt of working tax credits. Critics have pointed out that there are lots of low earners in low-income households not on UC – large numbers of young, single people for example.
Sunak also failed to rule out announcing tax rises for the rest of the year when grilled by the Shadow Chancellor during the Treasury session this afternoon, refusing to answer a ‘yes/no’ question put forward by Dodds on the issue.
Commenting on Sunak’s evasion after the debate, the Shadow Chancellor said: “It only fuels speculation that he wants to hike taxes now just so he can cut them before the next election. He’s playing politics with people’s jobs and livelihoods.”
She added: “The Chancellor should be focused relentlessly on protecting jobs, not floating a tax and cuts agenda that could choke off our national recovery just when the economy is at its weakest.”
Dodds used the session today to reiterate her call for Sunak to abandon the government’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to withdrawing all support under the job retention scheme by the end of October.