Financial and Emergency Support Package: Covid-19
The past two weeks have brought out the best in people, but sadly, and as we have read and seen on the television, all too often they have also brought out the worst. We have seen behaviour in supermarkets that I found extraordinary, and I had to put pressure on supermarkets to ensure that they do not cut orders to local foodbanks. I thank supermarkets for addressing that and ensuring that foodbanks will get the support they need.
I also thank foodbank volunteers right across these islands, as well as workers in our national health service and in local and central Government, as they try to assist people through this process.
In my speech, I also took the opportunity to thank my constituency office staff for their continued dedication and support in trying to help the people of Glasgow South West. This week they have been overwhelmed by emails, particularly from constituents but have continued to show unbelievable dedication in their efforts to support those most in need.
During my contribution I took the opportunity to push the Foreign Office on rumours that they are not providing support to individuals who have dual nationality. Glasgow has a thriving Asian community that does great work across the city, and many of those people will have UK as well as Pakistani citizenship. If UK citizens are stuck in Pakistan, we should be doing everything we can to bring them home, and we should not refuse to help them because they happen to have dual nationality. I hope that the Foreign Office will address that urgently.
I also again to took the opportunity to raise issue of many businesses out there that are still open but should not be. They are defying clear public health advice. The advice is clear that, by doing what they are doing, they are putting not just public health, but lives at risk. There is only one way to deal with these people, and that is to issue them with closure orders and heavy fines. They are only operating to make money, so the only way to deal with them is to take money off them.
We cannot have a situation where businesses are threatening staff—including, I am sad to say, those at risk—with their jobs. People with symptoms and those with a health condition that means they are at risk of getting this virus are being ordered into work by too many employers. It really is a disgraceful situation. If the Government do start fining those businesses, I hope they name and shame them publicly in the same way as we do with employers who do not pay the national minimum wage. Once the crisis is over, I think consumers will be entitled to know what businesses defied the public health advice.
In the past two weeks we have also seen some—not all, but some—employers opportunistically try to lay off workers and tell them they will no longer have a job. That was completely unnecessary. The best example I can give is the G1 Group, which notified 200 people in Glasgow on Friday that they were being laid off due to a lack of trade. If it were not for the great Unite hospitality branch we have in Glasgow, which organised a sit-in by workers in one of the G1 premises, those workers would not have had the victory of being told that they are being kept on and that the company will apply for the job retention scheme.
However, it the Government also must do more. This week I had been informed that social distancing measures were not in place in all DWP or HMRC service centres and their was lack of basic health facilities. The Government have a responsibility and a duty to ensure that those workers are protected and hope they will now act to ensure their workers are protected.
I also highlighted that the Government contractors Adecco and Atos have ordered at-risk employees into work. I called on the Government to immediately intervene and have a word with the contractors to ensure that they are applying the appropriate guidance and advice, and are doing so to the letter.
I also took the opportunity to again question the UK Government’s failure to address the problem of construction sites remaining operational and construction workers being ordered into work. I really cannot see the purpose of that. It is clearly against the advice and guidance the Government have given, and it really needs to be sorted out.
Of course, it comes as no surprise that some of the companies trying to order construction workers into work have traditionally operated blacklists..
I went on to join colleagues by again calling out the miserable rate of SSP at only £94.25 a week. This is not enough to live on. The UK Government must act to increase the level of statutory sick pay, certainly to the European average.
Finally, I spoke about what we need to learn from this pandemic. This crisis has shown us, is there can be no return to austerity and that when it is over we must invest in our people and our public services. That will be the people’s bail-out I have called for, and it will require the sort of investment that the banks got in 2008.