On Thursday 30th July, the Government announced new coronavirus restrictions for parts of the North, including all of Greater Manchester. This was a result of new data showing rising infection levels in 9 of the 10 boroughs, and high levels of infection in the remaining 1 borough where rates were falling.
Although the Government got its communication on the new restrictions badly wrong, I support the measures themselves. It’s important to prevent the further spread of the virus, save lives and reduce the risk of needing to go back into a full lockdown.
However, the new local restrictions shine a light on the wider existing problems with how the Government have dealt with the pandemic. Urgent change is needed to avoid worse effects further down the line, including a possible second wave.
These measures have had to be put in place in some of the poorest areas across the north. In many of these communities, there are high levels of people in low-paid, insecure jobs who would struggle to afford to self-isolate if required to do so by the test-and-trace system.
Statutory sick pay remains at just £94.25 a week – the second-lowest level in Europe – and the TUC estimates that around two million people in the country are ineligible for it. And despite recent changes to Universal Credit, it still only covers half of the average person’s income – or less than a third, for single people.
Many people will think they can’t afford the financial risk of self-isolating until the Government provides a safety net that adequately supports them.
These new measures also emphasise the urgent need for a more flexible, targeted approach to support for businesses. Since last Thursday’s announcements, we’ve heard that local businesses across the hospitality sector have been inundated with cancellations because people can no longer meet up with households outside of their bubble, or simply don’t want to take the risk of going out.
This comes at the same time as the Government is taking a one-size-fits-all approach to winding down furlough support, with many employers still struggling to restart business – but now also having to contribute to their furloughed employees’ wages.
Labour is calling on the Government to end their damaging blanket approach to ending furlough, and to target support at the hardest hit sectors – including those which are affected by local restrictions or lockdowns like the hospitality industry.