Dodds calls on Sunak to provide “comprehensive plan” for Covid support

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Anneliese Dodds has called on Rishi Sunak to come forward with a “comprehensive plan” to support people and businesses during the newly announced national lockdown set to come into force in England.

Discussing in a Sky News interview today the situation facing people across the country after the Prime Minister declared a third lockdown on Monday, she stressed the need to act to prevent “additional scarring and damage” to the economy.

The Shadow Chancellor told viewers this morning: “I am concerned that, yet again, last night we had our Prime Minister announcing new restrictions but with no mention of the economic support that’s needed to go along with them…

“Our country has had the worst recession of any major economy. We’re in a very difficult economic position and I’m afraid a 90-second video from the Chancellor is simply not enough.”

The Chancellor announced, in a short video message today, £4.6bn worth of measures including business grants for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses of up to £9,000 and £594m for affected firms outside these sectors.

In an interview since his announcement this morning, the Chancellor pushed back on calls to consider extending the furlough scheme if necessary, currently due to end in April, and to increase the level of statutory sick pay.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady has argued: “The lack of decent sick pay is undermining Britain’s public health effort and is forcing workers to choose between doing the right thing and being plunged into hardship.

“Ministers must stop turning a blind eye to this problem and raise sick pay to at least the real living wage of £320 a week. And they must ensure that everyone has access to it.”

Sunak said today: “We’re having a budget early in March and all of our economic support, including the announcement today, runs through to the spring. So I think the budget in early March is an excellent opportunity to take stock.”

The national lockdown measures will be reviewed on February 15th, with Downing Street saying changes could be made from February 22nd, but Michael Gove today told Sky News that the restrictions will remain in place into March.

Dodds argued this morning: “We need to have a comprehensive plan now to get us through this very difficult period and prevent that extreme economic damage that’s being meted on the UK economy…

“There is light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine roll-out, provided it can be done as quickly as possible and of course Labour has been setting out many solutions to speed up that roll-out of the vaccine.

“That means we need to prevent additional scarring and damage. And I’m afraid the Chancellor just seems to be focusing on day-to-day, on some different aspects of the economic challenge, not looking at this in the round.

“And as I said many parents, other small business owners who wouldn’t necessarily qualify for this support, last night they will have been going to bed thinking what on earth will I do about my economic situation?”

The Shadow Chancellor urged Sunak to address “cliff-edges in support”, highlighting that both the ban on evictions and the end of the period for the mortgage holiday scheme are approaching in the next few days.

“We’re not actually talking, a lot of the time, about additional expenditure,” Dodds added. “We’re talking about making schemes more effective. We’ve had many months now to learn about what hasn’t worked and what’s needed.”

Dodds accused Sunak of being “absent” in the crisis and demanded that he make a full statement to parliament on Wednesday to outline a package of economic support. Labour has called for the Chancellor to provide support for:

  • Workers by reopening eligibility for the furlough so those in new jobs started since October 31st can apply, providing clarity on what happens at the end of the scheme and considering whether employer contributions are act as a disincentive to retaining staff;
  • Self-employed workers by immediately confirming that the fourth self-employment income support scheme will be set at 80% of pre-crisis profits and using £2bn returned in business grant support for those excluded from government schemes;
  • Businesses by clarifying how the £594m in discretionary funding for businesses has been calculated and will be allocated;
  • Renters and homeowners by extending the evictions and repossession bans, increasing local housing allowance to cover median market rents and reducing the wait to receive support for mortgage interest payments;
  • Those on low incomes and those out of work by retaining the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, converting UC loans to grants, scrapping the benefit cap and suspending the ‘no recourse to public funds’ visa condition; and
  • Those required to self-isolate by improving communication on eligibility for and extending the scope of the £500 test and trace support payment, ensure councils can use discretionary payments to support residents and address the inadequate level of statutory sick pay.

Boris Johnson held a press conference on Monday evening, during which he told people not to leave home except for a few “limited reasons” such as shopping for essentials, exercising, getting medical treatment and escaping domestic abuse.

Labour leader Keir Starmer welcomed the national lockdown and declared that his party would support the restrictions. He emphasised the seriousness of the situation facing the country and urged people to “pull together”.

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