Wednesday 20 January 2021 / 10:30 PM Anneliese Dodds

Labour calls on Chancellor to stop pitting the economy against public health as “false choice” leaves UK with the worst of both worlds

In a speech to the London School of Economics and Political Science today (Thursday 21 January), Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds will criticise her opposite number Rishi Sunak for pitting public health against the economy and calling the Covid-19 crisis “wrong time and again.”

She will argue that Sunak and the Conservative Government have set up a “false choice” between health and the economy that has left the UK with the worst of both worlds: the worst recession of any major economy and the worst Covid-19 death toll in Europe.

Citing the Chancellor’s attempts to block public health measures and roll economic support back in the face of scientific advice, she will argue that this stop-start approach since last summer has done “untold harm” to jobs and businesses and damaged public confidence in the economy.

She will also take aim at the failure across Government to put in place a clear framework for economic support and to establish an effective Test, Trace and Isolate system to manage social distancing in a way that protects both the economy and public health over the long term.

Calling for an urgent change of mind-set in the Treasury, Dodds argues urgent action is needed to secure our economy, protect our NHS and rebuild our country. Her demands include:

  • Economic support that goes hand in hand with health restrictions.
    To manage social distancing in a way that protects the NHS and secures our economy.
  • Better communication of the Test and Trace Support Payment.
    To drive up self-isolation rates and save our economy the costs of infection spreading when people don’t self-isolate by ensuring everyone who qualifies knows they can receive the payment.
  • Action to ensure local authorities can properly support the Test and Trace Support Payment.
    To end the postcode lottery that has led to radically different approaches have been taken across the country with a single, clear set of guidelines and predictable funding for the discretionary payment for local authorities.

On the “false choice” between health and the economy, Dodds will say:

“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, to be traded off against one another. 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.”

On the Chancellor’s mistakes, she will say:

“The Chancellor has called this crisis wrong time and again. From a succession of winter economic plans that had to be continually revised because each iteration sought to give the bare minimum in economic support and then was overtaken by events; to disappearing altogether over Christmas only to return earlier this month with almost nothing new to say and precious little clarity for businesses as to what they can expect in the months to come. Much of this seems to stem from a belief that the economy is only well-served by a total lifting of restrictions and a removal of all economic support as soon as possible. But with the virus sadly still with us and continuing to impact on demand, he needs to think again.”

On the need for managed social distancing, Dodds is expected to say:

“There has to be another way. And this is to accept that, while it has obviously been hugely disruptive, managed social distancing has unfortunately been necessary. It has reduced the transmission of the virus and kept it under control – preventing the NHS from being overwhelmed – and avoided the stop-start nature of repeated lockdowns that causes so much economic harm.”

“Managed social distancing requires government intervention to work: a set of rules for everyone to observe, and economic support for affected businesses and workers while those rules are in place. The same is true of self-isolation: people need clarity over when and how to self-isolate, and they must be enabled to do so without falling into debt.”