Keir Starmer has revealed 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”.
The Labour leader delivered a speech today on “securing the economy for families during lockdown”, in which he called for further support and stressed the importance of the vaccination programme in leaving lockdown.
He also urged the government, which is aiming to give a first dose to 14 million by mid-February, to set a new vaccination target and prepare to deliver four million doses a week next month rather than two million a week.
“The government says it can deliver two million doses a week by the end of the month. I hope they do. Let’s hold them to that. And let’s help them with that,” he said. “But then we must deliver even more – and double that target in February.”
Starmer noted that the coronavirus pandemic “taken at least 80,000 lives” in the UK, plus it has “cost the NHS £1bn a week, the UK economy £5.3bn a week and it’s seen jobs losses running at 23,000 a week”.
Asked about whether tighter measures are needed to reduce the spread of Covid, he said: “We need to see the evidence behind nurseries, but I think a lot of people will be quite surprised that primary schools are closed and nurseries are open.”
“There are other examples that I think would surprise people, and to give you one small example, it is still possible at the moment – as I understand it – to go and view houses if you’re going to buy a house, and that wasn’t allowed last March.”
He added: “We’re in this extraordinary situation where, having got to an at-least-as-serious if not a more serious position that in March of last year, we’ve got lesser restrictions in place and we need those in place as quickly as possible.”
Observing that “the vast majority of the public are complying with the rules”, Starmer concluded: “I do think it’s time to hear from the scientists what else can be done and that probably should be done in the next few hours.”
While answering questions from journalists after his speech today, Starmer also pointed out that it is possible to view properties for purchase. The housing market in England has been kept fully open during this lockdown.
On the level of national debt, which has grown during the pandemic, he said: “Of course there is a borrowing issue for the longer term. But we have to secure and protect families and businesses in this time.”
But, pressed on the issue again, the opposition leader later added: “The level of debt is much higher than it’s ever been before, and there are going to have to be long-term answers as to how we repay that.”
Some have pointed out that a large proportion of UK government debt is owed to the UK government itself and the UK government can currently borrow at the cheapest interest rates in its history.
The Labour leader argued today that the government should scrap the planned increase in council tax, stop the planned cut in Universal Credit, give key workers a pay rise and extend the ban on evictions and repossessions during lockdown.
Momentum co-chair Andrew Scattergood said: “These demands are a step in the right direction, and we welcome the Labour Party leadership recognising the struggles that millions of people across the country face.
“But rather than just treating the symptoms, we need to go further and address the root causes behind the government’s profound failure to respond effectively to Covid-19 and defend our standard of living.
“Evictions must be banned until the end of the pandemic with all Covid rent debt forgiven, wage rises should be for all workers through a radically increased minimum wage, and welfare support should be immediately increased and expanded.”