The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a serious recession in the United Kingdom and Worldwide. It is the most severe global economic crisis since the US Great Depression of the 1930s. Unemployment in the UK has risen by over 800 000 since the start of the pandemic and is now at 4.9%.
Redundancies in the UK are at record levels, between August and October 2020, 370 000 people have been made redundant. By November 2020, 2.7 million people were claiming Universal Credit, a rise of 1.4 million since March 2020. I’m sure all people, from all political parties, won’t dispute that we are in the middle of a very difficult time economically.
There is light at the end of a dark tunnel here though. Unprecedented global efforts and investment with Covid-19 vaccines have paid extraordinary dividends. Approved for use vaccines are currently being rolled out throughout the UK. Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer says, there is “a reasonable chance things will be a lot better in the spring”.
Currently the UK government have rightly introduced various financial support packages to prop up the UK economy until it’s strong enough to stand up by itself once again. However, some of these financial packages have been weak, half measures. We know from history that when considering National finances, if there is a recession, the best strategy is for government to invest with public spending, as overall this approach costs less, results in a shorter recession, and delivers a quicker return to economic growth.
Recently, there has been a public outcry about food parcels for school children. During the pandemic, food parcels have been sent to children who would normally be eligible for free school meals. In many cases, the parcels have been sub-standard, e.g a one week food parcel containing about £5 of food, if that! And, parcels containing, stale rolls and bad quality fruit and vegetables. The row started when Twitter user @roadsidemum shared a food parcel that the Company involved say was for 1 weeks food, but @roadsidemum said it was meant to be in lieu of two weeks supermarket vouchers.
People were shocked by the picture above and other similar pictures, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer challenged Boris Johnson on online images of the “disgraceful” food parcels during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs). Both the Prime Minister and the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson have been forced to condemn the poor quality food parcels. The excellent campaigner, Marcus Rashford has intervened and said the parcels are “not good enough” and that we “must do better”. The Government have had to quickly relaunch their national voucher scheme from 18.1.21 which provides parents vouchers for supermarkets. Yes, the situation is fast changing, but Government must do better to support children. Why does it take a campaign to make sure children are fed properly?
The Conservatives are under huge pressure to keep the £20 a week rise to Universal Credit and Tax Credits that was introduced in April 2020 and is helping 5.5 Million households. The Tories have said it is a temporary measure and the rise may be removed in April 2021. On the Lorraine Kelly programme, the Labour Party Leader, Sir Keir Starmer said the increase for many families was “the difference between being being able to pay the gas, electricity and internet bill combined”. Many charities, such as the Joseph Rowntree foundation are calling for the increase to remain, saying it will affect 16 Million households who will lose the equivalent of £1040 a year. Surveys say public opinion supports keeping the increase. Labour MP’s and even 65 Conservative MP’s support keeping the rise, yet Tory MP’s are cynically being told by their Party to abstain from today’s influential yet non-binding opposition day vote on the issue. Keir Starmer has also said “I actually think, in their heart of hearts, quite a lot of Tory MPs know that cutting this money to people who desperately need it, in the middle of a pandemic, is the wrong thing to do. They know that.”
The Government should properly support children with decent food and retain the £20 a week Universal Credit rise. Also, let’s provide free broadband and computers to the homes of the estimated 1.78 million children locked out of online lessons, as the Rugby Union player Maro Itoje has called for. In the long term, of course any Government should balance the budget, and not be in debt, but we are in the worst humanitarian and economic crisis since WW2, there are not enough jobs to go around, it’s time for strong investment and support for our society, not half measures. So then, when the Pandemic ends, our children, adults and businesses will be in good health, and ready to make the United Kingdom a great success.
James Bickle 18.1.21
This blog article is the personal view of a member of the Meon Valley Constituency Labour Party (CLP) and may not represent the official policy or views of the Labour Party.