“This isn’t a game. This is about people’s lives” – Ashworth’s response to Hancock

Jon Ashworth
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Below is the full speech delivered by Jonathan Ashworth tonight in response to Matt Hancock’s House of Commons statement.

Tonight, people across Manchester, Bury, Bolton, Leigh, Stockport, Trafford will be watching the news worried asking why if it was right to cover 80% of wages in March, then why now – in the run up to Christmas – is the government covering just two thirds of their wages in October?

What happened to that Chancellor who plastered social media with soft focus selfies boasting he would support jobs and support incomes and “do whatever it takes”?

Instead tonight we have a Chancellor forcing people on the national minimum wage to live on just £5.76 an hour. From whatever it takes to taking from the lowest paid.

How does he expect families to the pay the bills, to pay the rent, to put food on the table and pay for school lunches, when a third of their income has been snatched away literally over night?

And where is the Chancellor? He should be here to defend the consequences of decisions that will mean a winter of hardship across the North.

I grew up in Greater Manchester, my dad worked in casinos, my mum worked in bars. I know people will want to do the right thing but they can’t have their income stripped away.

The leaders of Greater Manchester were prepared to compromise. They offered to settle for £65m to support jobs and livelihoods.

The government insisted on £60m. But rather than finding £5m extra, this Prime Minister pulled the plug on negotiations and then took £38m off the table. What a petty, vindictive, callous response in a national crisis.

The Prime Minister may think he’s punishing the politicians. In fact, he’s punishing the people of Greater Manchester.

And yet this is a Prime Minister who has blown; £150m on facemasks that weren’t suitable for frontline NHS staff, £130m on testing kits that turned out to be unsafe, and is spending £7,000 a day on consultants as part of the failing £12bn Test and Trace.

Given Test and Trace is broken and the virus is out of control, I accept that greater containment measures are needed. But for measures to be effective they need the consent of the people impacted.

Yet this is a set of restrictions that the Chief Medical Officer has told us won’t be enough. A set of restrictions, the Prime Minister admitted last week gives us only “a chance” to bring the R down.

How will the sacrifices the Prime Minister is forcing upon people in the North bring down infection rates in the South? Because he knows that to bring R below 1, further measures will be needed. He knows more areas are likely to go into Tier 3.

This is about so much more than Greater Manchester, because if a government is prepared to inflict this level of harm on its own people in the middle of a pandemic in one part of the country, then it will be prepared to do it to people in all parts of the country as well. The result will be hardship for millions of people this winter.

This isn’t a game. This is about people’s lives. People need financial support. This is a national crisis. And we won’t defeat this virus on the cheap.

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