Stump up to support business through new restrictions, Catherine McKinnell tells Government

Newcastle North MP, Catherine McKinnell, has called on the Government to provide financial support to businesses affected by the new lockdown restrictions.

Speaking in a debate in the House of Commons on local lockdown restrictions in the North, Catherine said:

“The Government knew when this virus first hit earlier this year that its public health strategy had to be backed up with an economic support package. The money was there to ensure people could afford to do what it took to get the virus under control – to stay home wherever possible, and isolate where necessary. That support needs to be given again. We’re not all in this together – but we will be if the Government doesn’t step up soon.”

Full text of speech: ***Check Against Delivery***

In the time available it is hard to convey just how frustrating and frightening the current situation is.

We are living through an international health crisis but it’s now translating into local crises, especially in the North of England. Cases in Newcastle remain at an alarming level of 240 per 100,000 people.

What is frustrating is that there is a clear contradiction in the Government’s approach that makes the task of controlling this rise much more challenging. While the Health Secretary focuses on suppressing the virus through local lockdowns, the Chancellor’s blanket approach of winding down financial support measures across the country makes it much more difficult for people to protect themselves and others from the virus, undermining their very purpose.

We already know that mortality rates from coronavirus in the most-deprived areas of England are more than twice as high as in the least-deprived areas. Pre-crisis economic and social conditions have left certain parts of the country particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 which has in turn brought on local lockdowns just as the Government is withdrawing financial support. It is not a sustainable approach in the difficult months ahead.

If we look at the hospitality sector in the North East as one example, the reality of the local lockdown and restrictions on households mixing means that countless jobs in pubs, cafes and restaurants will become unviable, to use the Chancellor’s words, when the furlough scheme ends this month.

The Chancellor says his replacement for the Job Retention Scheme, the Job Support Scheme, will support jobs that are viable in the long-term. Clearly the pandemic will impact on future working and consumption patterns, but are we really to believe – which is the implied logic here – that Geordies will be less interested in going out for food and drink than people elsewhere in the long term?

When we are seeing such high degrees of local variation in Covid cases and in public health response we need properly funded localised economic responses too. If we fail to provide sufficient support in the areas most vulnerable to Covid-19, we risk further exacerbating the country’s already stark economic inequalities.

So I have a few questions.

When are we going to see the financial support that the LA7 Leaders in the North East have asked for?

Only 1 in 8 workers will be eligible for the new self-isolation payment, how are others going to be able to afford to self-isolate without it?

The Government knew when this virus first hit earlier this year that its public health strategy had to be backed up with an economic support package. The money was there to ensure people could afford to do what it took to get the virus under control – to stay home wherever possible, and isolated where necessary. That support needs to be given again. We’re not all in this together – but we will be if the Government doesn’t step up soon.