Dodds targets Sunak for “stop-start” approach in Covid crisis response

Elliot Chappell

Anneliese Dodds has criticised Rishi Sunak over his mishandling of the government response to the coronavirus pandemic and his “stop-start” approach to providing economic support throughout the public health crisis.

In an online speech to the London School of Economics this afternoon, the Shadow Chancellor discussed the government response to the virus and accused Rishi Sunak of having set up a “false choice” between the economy and public health.

Dodds told those watching today: “At the heart of the Conservative government’s mishandling of this crisis over the last ten months has been an insistence that you can treat the health of a nation and its economy as distinct entities…

“You either ‘choose health’, and lock down the economy completely in a bid to prevent the virus from spreading. Or you ‘choose jobs’, easing restrictions as rapidly as you are able to get people back to work.

“This narrative is not only untrue; it is self-defeating. By setting up a false choice between health and the economy, our government has chosen neither- and rather than choosing jobs, we have seen record redundancies.”

The Shadow Chancellor declared in her virtual address this afternoon that Sunak has “called this crisis wrong time and again” and urged the Chancellor to rethink his approach to “secure the economy, protect the NHS and rebuild Britain”.

Dodds argued his “stop-start” approach to economic support throughout the public health crisis has caused “untold harm” to the UK economy and called for an urgent change of mindset from the Treasury. She demanded the government:

  • Ensure economic support that goes hand in hand with health restrictions;
  • Manage social distancing in a way that protects the NHS and the economy;
  • Provide better communication of the test and trace support payment;
  • Drive up self-isolation rates by ensuring everyone who qualifies knows that they can receive the payment;
  • Ensure councils can properly support the test and trace support payment; and
  • End the “postcode lottery” of different approaches taken across the country with a single, clear set of guidelines and predictable funding for the discretionary payment for local authorities.

Dodds said today: “The Chancellor’s desperation to reopen the economy as quickly as possible, and extricate the Treasury from its various support schemes, has been swept away by successive waves of the pandemic.

“We’ve been forced into a short-lived tier system, another set of nationwide restrictions, the cancellation of Christmas plans and now back into a third lockdown.

“This stop-start approach has done untold harm to jobs and businesses. We’ve seen unanticipated continuation and then repeated tinkering with economic support packages, with the furlough scheme extended a matter of hours before it was due to expire.”

The Shadow Chancellor added: “Employers and employees cannot plan on that basis. This hammers confidence – both in the ability to get a grip on the health crisis, and in the overall state of the economy.”

Dodds criticised Sunak for his “last-minute” U-turn last year as he announced that the furlough scheme would be extended, beyond the end of the national lockdown in place at the time, for businesses forced to close due to the virus.

Highlighting that the announcement represented the fourth change to Sunak’s winter economy plan in six weeks, she warned the Commons at the time that “the Chancellor can change his mind at the last minute, but businesses can’t”.

Labour has repeatedly stressed the need for the government to improve the financial support available for those asked to self-isolate in the Covid crisis to ensure that efforts to safeguard public health are not undermined.

The party last week urged the Chancellor to “fix the gaps” in the furlough scheme and self-employed income support scheme after he gave a parliamentary statement containing no new announcements for businesses or workers.

Labour highlighted that while Sunak had been absent from parliament for 41 days significant Covid restrictions had been put in place, including changes to the Christmas bubble plans and the announcement of a national lockdown in England.

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