Saturday 21 March 2020 / 7:11 PM Coronavirus / Jeremy Corbyn

Measures to tackle coronavirus impact must provide economic security for all – Jeremy Corbyn

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says the government must go further to provide economic security for everyone affected by the impact of the Coronavirus – including more help for the five million self-employed, protection for workers from losing their jobs, better help for renters, improved social security, and an increase in sick pay which the Health Secretary has admitted is not enough to live on.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition confirms Labour will continue to work constructively with the government, and states that our proposals “seek only to strengthen the government’s response to ensure we all have the safety and security to get through this”.

But he adds: “We continue to have concerns that the plans do not provide the economic security that everyone needs to be able to take precautionary measures in response to the Coronavirus outbreak.”

Labour is requesting an urgent update to confirm that:

  1. The level of Statutory Sick Pay will be raised
  2. Employers will guarantee to keep people in work as part of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (and will guarantee to keep people in work if in receipt over other new loans provided by the Government in response to COVID-19)
  3. The self-employed will be included in the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
  4. The Government will consider further increases to Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, and Carer’s Allowance
  5. The Government will come forward with further announcements to protect renters, and those facing difficulties with utility bills and debt

Full text of the letter:

Dear Prime Minister,

The Government’s Economic Response to the Coronavirus crisis

Following discussions with the Chancellor and Chief Secretary in the past couple of days, I wanted to set out our response to the economic plans that have been proposed to deal with the Coronavirus crisis.

We welcome the direction of the Chancellor’s announcements yesterday. But we continue to have concerns that the plans do not provide the economic security that everyone needs to be able to take precautionary measures in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

We will continue to work in a constructive spirit to press the case for further measures we believe are necessary. As discussed, we have particular concerns about: those in need of sick pay, aspects of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the self-employed, those who will be reliant on social security, renters, and others.

Based on the information we have seen, it appears that Statutory Sick Pay remains at £94.25, which the Health Secretary has acknowledged is not enough to live on.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme may serve to buffer some, not all of those, in need of Statutory Sick Pay for sickness or self-isolation – but we also worry about parts of that Scheme. There is no guarantee that employers will keep people in work or provide the remainder of wages not provided by the Government. The cap means many will face a pay cut.

While we understand the difficulty of devising and implementing a scheme, many businesses may go under before it is up and running, given that the Chancellor has said he hopes the scheme will be operational at the end of April.

The self-employed do not appear to be covered by this Scheme, a major omission given there are five million people self-employed and notwithstanding the separate changes to the minimum income floor.

With many people likely to face a 20% pay cut under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, we are unsure about whether changes to the Housing Benefit will make up the shortfall. We have also reiterated our call for the suspension of the Bedroom Tax and the Benefit Cap, since no one should be penalised for having entered into rental agreements without foreseeing the Coronavirus pandemic.

It appears that there has been no increase to Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, or Carer’s Allowance. Carers and social care are central to the wellbeing of all of us and we are concerned they are being overlooked after being neglected for a decade.

We have spoken out about the difficult position facing renters, and we will keep pressing the case for suspending rents, and further action on utility bills and debt. There are other particularly affected groups that need urgent additional intervention because of their special circumstances, including rough sleepers, people in prison, migrants, and those adversely affected by self-isolation.

In light of the above points, discussed previously, we ask the Government whether it is able to provide an urgent update to confirm that:

  1. The level of Statutory Sick Pay will be raised
  2. Employers will guarantee to keep people in work as part of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (and will guarantee to keep people in work if in receipt over other new loans provided by the Government in response to COVID-19)
  3. The self-employed will be included in the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
  4. The Government will consider further increases to Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, and Carer’s Allowance
  5. The Government will come forward with further announcements to protect renters, and those facing difficulties with utility bills and debt

We welcome the extra capacity announced today with the deal between NHS England and private sector hospitals but many people will question why the government is not requisitioning beds and facilities, as suggested by the Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth, rather than paying for them from already overstretched NHS budgets.

Additionally, we recognise the work done to provide rough sleepers with shelters in empty hotels, initially in London. We would like more clarity on whether the Greater London Authority is being reimbursed for these costs, and whether these shelters will provide the basis for permanent accommodation for rough sleepers.

We acknowledge the scale of what we are all facing, and the hard work that has been put in by the Government, trade unions and others to try to construct an appropriate response.

The proposals above seek to strengthen the Government’s response to ensure we all have the safety and security to get through this.

I look forward very much to hearing from you at the earliest possible opportunity.

Yours sincerely,

Jeremy Corbyn MP
Leader of the Opposition