Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has today called on the government to “put families first” during lockdown by scrapping a planned £20-a-week cut in universal credit and giving local councils the money to stop council tax rises.
Sir Keir also called for key workers like teachers, troops and care workers to be given “the pay rise they deserve”.
In his first speech of the year, the Labour leader accused the government of having “the wrong priorities for Britain”
He said that Boris Johnson’s delays in taking tough action to combat the pandemic were costing lives. And he revealed that he has been talking about Covid measures with former Labour prime minister Tony Blair, who is also reported to have been advising health secretary Matt Hancock.
Sir Keir did not propose any new measures to rein in the spread of coronavirus, but suggested that the government may have to “get tougher” in areas like closing nurseries or restricting the range of key workers who can keep sending their children to school.
Hailing the “national solidarity and heroism” shown by ordinary Britons during the pandemic, Sir Keir said: “If only the British people had a government worthy of them…
"The indecision and delays of the prime minister cost lives and they cost people’s jobs. The British people will forgive many things, they know the pandemic is difficult. But they also know serial incompetence when they see it and they know when the prime minster isn’t up to the job.”.
Sir Keir contrasted the straitened economic circumstances of families with the inflation-busting pay rise given to Mr Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings and the multi-million pound coronavirus contracts handed out without competition to private companies, some with links to the Conservative party.
“This is the government that gave Dominic Cummings a £40,000 pay rise but won’t pay our carers a decent wage,” he said. “This is the government that wasted £22 billion of taxpayers’ money on a testing system that doesn’t work but now won’t find the money to support families.
“And this is the government that sprayed money on private contracts that didn’t deliver but won’t give councils the support they need.
“That’s why I’m calling on the government today to put families first during this lockdown.”
Starmer called on chancellor Rishi Sunak to cancel the planned withdrawal of a £20-a-week benefits uplift introduced last year to help families cope with Covid-19, due to end in April at a cost of £1,000 a year to 6 million households.
And he said that government should make around £2 billion available to town halls in England to allow them to avoid council tax rises of up to 5 per cent in the next financial year, which will cost the average band D household £91 a year.
He called for a ban on evictions, currently due to end on 21 February, to be extended for the entire period the UK remains in lockdown.
And he said it was “totally unforgivable” that some self-employed people were still falling through gaps in the government’s support package.
“I know this isn’t everything that’s needed and that after so much suffering, we can’t go back the status quo,” said the Labour leader.
“We cannot return to an economy where over half our care workers earn less than the living wage, where childcare is amongst the most expensive in Europe, where our social care system is a national disgrace and where over 4 million children grow up in poverty.
“But taking these steps now would make a real difference to millions of people across the country and it would put families at the heart of our recovery.”
He said that after the coronavirus pandemic has receded, it will be time to “build a country worthy of the sacrifices of the British people”, just as Labour prime minister Clement Attlee created the NHS and welfare state after the privations of the Second World War.
And he said that he would put families at the heart of a Labour programme to “restore pride and prosperity in every village, every town, every city and every part of our United Kingdom”.
“Family has always been incredibly important to me,” he said. “It meant everything to my parents that I was able to get on to go into law and to lead a public service – the Crown Prosecution Service.
“It meant everything to me that the NHS was there to care for my mum when she desperately needed it and it means everything to me now that I have a loving family of my own.
“When I think of the economy, I think about how it affects families, people worried about paying the bills, covering childcare or coping with insecure work.”
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