The measures announced by the Chancellor in his so called Winter Economy Plan leave much to be desired.
As the virus surges across the country, especially here in the North East, the economy finds itself entering another perilous period. As anxiety builds for families facing a bleak winter now was the time for bold policies. Instead what we are offered is half-hearted and disappointing.
The wage subsidy scheme that has replaced furlough does not go far enough in protecting jobs. Those fortunate enough to qualify for it will still lose out on a large chunk of their earnings, and business with already strained demand issues will find themselves struggling to retain staff with the contributions they are being asked to make.
Those that do not qualify for the new scheme, potentially hundreds of thousands, will most likely find themselves unemployed in the coming days and weeks. With this is mind, the government should have committed to an increase in Universal Credit, and investment in skills training so those losing their jobs can find good quality work easier when it is safe to do so.
The continued lack of support for the self-employed is also particularly concerning. The government has done little in response to the issues raised by those who are self-employed and been hit hard by the lockdown, and it is the people in constituencies like Wansbeck who will be the hardest hit.
Hire and re-hire practises were also not addressed. Companies have taken advantage of the pandemic to fire and then re-hire vulnerable and desperate workers onto contracts with less pay and benefits. The Chancellor had the opportunity to announce a ban on these practises yet chose not to do so.
On top of this there was no increase in Statutory sick pay (SSP) which will leave those who do not qualify for a self isolation payment. SSP is currently three times lower than the real living wage at only £95 a week. With more people than ever being forced to stay of work due to forced isolation, it is time we saw a significant rise in SSP to a level that is viable for workers with families to support to live on.
Businesses and workers are under unprecedented pressure with falling demand and greater costs associated with covid safety. This announcement was an opportunity for the government to show the people that it cared and was committed to supporting them
through what will be a long tough road ahead. Unfortunately, they have not taken this opportunity, offering the bare minimum to a nation feeling an unprecedented feeling of collective anxiety.
More needs to be done, and I will continue to stand up for the most vulnerable in society to get a fair deal to see them through the pandemic.