“Chancellor appears out of ideas”: Dodds slams Sunak over Covid support

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Anneliese Dodds has criticised Rishi Sunak for failing to provide new information that “businesses and workers desperately need” in his statement on the economy this afternoon and declared that “the Chancellor appears out of ideas”.

Responding to Sunak in parliament, Dodds slammed him for giving a “highly partial picture of the state of our economy” today and accused him of having been “nowhere to be seen” when the latest lockdown in England was announced.

Commenting on his contribution in the Commons this afternoon, the Shadow Chancellor told MPs: “The Chancellor appears out of ideas, urging us to look towards the sunny uplands but providing nothing new.

“The purpose of an update, Mr Speaker, is to provide us with new information – not to repeat what we already know. In addition, the Chancellor just now gave a highly partial picture of the state of our economy.

“Talking of a rise in savings but not mentioning that over five million people are estimated to have taken on over £10bn in debt just to get through the last year.

“Talking of corporate cash buffers but not mentioning that city experts have estimated that there will be over £100bn in unsustainable corporate debt by the end of March.

“The Chancellor needs to acknowledge the reality of the crisis we face. A crisis made worse by his government’s irresponsibility with our economy having suffered the worst recession of any major economy and he needs to act accordingly.”

Dodds challenged Sunak on support for the self-employed, to update the furlough scheme to reflect the dates of the current lockdown and asked when he will set out details for a new incentive scheme replacing the jobs retention bonus.

Sunak’s statement today came after Dodds accused him of being “absent” last week and demanded he appear before parliament after he announced, in a short video message, £4.6bn worth of measures including grants for some businesses.

She criticised him today for his silence, telling MPs: “His sole contribution to a set of announcements that had profound implications for our economy was a 90-second video on Twitter, which begged as many questions as it answered.”

Sunak pushed back on the call to amend the furlough scheme and told his Labour Party counterpart that the Budget is the “appropriate place” to consider the other questions put by the Shadow Chancellor “given the scale of the response”.

Commenting on the statement from Sunak, Len McCluskey accused the Chancellor this afternoon of having “misread the public mood” and argued that “workers cannot wait until the spring Budget for financial help”.

The Unite general secretary said: “The bills are dropping now, the pressure on households is now and help must come now. This is a very serious moment for our NHS and our possible road out of this crisis. But we will not recover as we need to, and at the speed required, unless the government steps up.

“Time and again, ministers have been told that unless employers are instructed to use the furlough scheme, too many will demand that workers come to work, therefore undermining an essential public health message.

“And unless the low paid and insecure are paid enough to stay at home then they cannot do so. We are almost one year on from the vivid warnings to this government that sick pay in this country is the sure route to pauperism.

“It cannot be made any clearer: fix this and fix furlough if you are serious about keeping people safe, getting this disease under control and putting the economy back on its feet.”

The Chancellor used his contribution in parliament this afternoon to outline what he described as the government’s “comprehensive economic plan” in response to the pandemic but announced no new support for workers or businesses.

His appearance in the Commons came after Matt Hancock warned on Sunday that the NHS is in a “very, very serious situation” and the chief medical officer said today the next few weeks will be “the worst” of the pandemic for the health service.

The government is facing growing pressure to strengthen the current measures in place to stop the spread of coronavirus. NHS England recorded 489 more Covid hospital deaths today, up from the 376 reported on Monday last week.

Keir Starmer told the public in a televised speech this morning that he thinks “it’s time to hear from the scientists what else can be done” on toughening up Covid rules and that this “probably should be done in the next few hours”.

More from LabourList