On the 17th December 2021, I wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to call for urgent Government support measures for businesses to protect jobs and livelihoods in the current coronavirus wave.
You can read my letter below in full:
I write to you about the urgent need for support measures for businesses to deal with the impact of the incipient Omicron wave.
There are already clear and severe impacts on a range of businesses in hospitality, events, conferences, and the arts, as a result of people understandably seeking to reduce their risks of contracting the new variant by limiting activities and places where they will come into contact with large numbers of people from other households indoors. For many, this is also forming part of their planning to protect their Christmas plans by doing everything possible to avoid contracting Covid in the preceding days.
I do not believe the Government can plausibly claim that, because these impacts are not the direct result of specific restrictions on household mixing, no financial support for the businesses affected is required. The economic damage will be the same, and urgent action to protect jobs and fundamentally healthy businesses is required now.
As you will know, the additional ‘Covid pass‘ restrictions we rightly approved on Tuesday will have some additional impact on the range of businesses that are affected by them, in terms of added costs and – potentially – a degree of reduced demand from those who cannot, or wish not to, provide the certification required.
The extremely rapid wave of Omicron that is mounting may also lead to a very large amount of staff absence concentrated within a short period of time, possibly in January. As I’m sure you will appreciate, this is in fact an important component of the public health response, as it is essential to slow down transmission and reduce risks to life and to the NHS while the booster programme has its effect. However, it too will have significant impact on businesses and supply chains, which will need to be carefully managed and compensated for.
I believe it is extremely important that you now, finally, act on the calls my Labour colleagues and I have made throughout this crisis and raise statutory sick pay to a level that genuinely protects family incomes. Without such a step, I believe that many in constituencies like mine that have been disproportionately impacted by Covid will avoid taking regular tests in order to avoid having to isolate, even continuing to work with Covid symptoms because they simply cannot afford to take sick leave. This is not only entirely unfair to the workers and families immediately affected, and to constituencies like West Ham which have disproportionate numbers in low paid and insecure jobs. It will also weaken our collective response to the current wave, increasing the height of the peak of infections and significantly increasing the danger to our already stressed NHS.
It is vital not to ignore the cumulative impacts that Covid has had on many families and businesses, who have accumulated debts that are in many cases now coming due, just as the new wave bites hard.
As you will know, a recent survey found that average rent debt owed as a result of the pandemic has increased by 41% since May 2021. Previous research from multiple independent organisations, and the Government’s own published analysis, has concluded that those in the private rented sector have been worst affected by Covid, and are now the most likely to be in financial trouble and potentially at risk of eviction. Private sector rents in Newham were already utterly unaffordable for many even before this crisis began, and it should be a source of shame for the Government that the most recent homelessness estimates published by Shelter found that homelessness in Newham has increased yet again. One in every 22 Newham households is estimated to be homeless.
My constituents are dealing with multiple compounding sources of damage to their finances at this time, many of them directly affected by Government policies. These include the astronomical increase in energy bills and wider inflation, Council tax rises, rail fare increases, and the impact of the recent increase in interest rates. Unemployment and under-employment in Newham caused by the pandemic remain at elevated levels, and, in the absence of strong economic support such as a reopening of a furlough scheme, may well increase again. The cruel withdrawal of £20 from Universal Credit this autumn hit massive numbers of families hard. I believe the Government’s fiscal policies must change to prevent severe damage to the economy and to the wellbeing of my constituents and the country as a whole.
I urge you to immediately announce a package of resumed Covid support measures, and to ensure that the lessons of past waves are fully implemented, with no return to the exclusions that have affected so many in my constituency over the past two years.
I look forward to reading your response. I hope you and your family remain safe and well, and that you are able to have a break over Christmas.
Member of Parliament for West Ham