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Tory MPs tell government it must do more to help workers facing hardship due to coronavirus epidemic

Tory MPs tell government it must do more to help workers facing hardship due to coronavirus epidemic

Former business secretary Greg Clark led the criticism by Tory MPs (PA Images)

3 min read

Tory MPs have called on the Government to go further in its attempts to help workers facing financial ruin because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Former Business Secretary Greg Clark led the criticism, saying the measures announced so far will not stop thousands of staff being laid off as firms cut costs.

He said the Government should instead agree to pay employees' wages until the crisis is over.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has already announced a stimulus package worth nearly £400bn - inclouding government-backed loans and tax breaks - to help companies facing a dramatic fall in their income as a result of the outbreak.

But Mr Clark told an emergency Commons debate that “businesses have no choice but to lay people off now, they can’t wait for the loan scheme”.

He said the Treasury initiative “provides no reason to keep staff employed”, and as each day goes by “employers are making decisions that will be irreversible”.

“If the Government does not act immediately, large numbers of people will be unemployed," he said.

“Registering them [as unemployed] will put huge pressure on the welfare system, vital skills will be lost, and good businesses will cease trading.”

Mr Clark said that instead of HMRC collecting taxes from firms "that flow should now be reversed, with the nation now paying the wages of people for the next few weeks”.

The former Cabinet minister said that separate plans need to be put in place for the self-employed, but “at a stroke this would save jobs, save businesses and put an immediate end to the risk of contagion and help save the economy”.

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, who as Work and Pensions Secretary designed Universal Credit, called for the welfare budget to be increased and for payments to be speeded up to help those most in need.

Tory backbencher Sir Bernard Jenkin said Mr Sunak's package was "simply not going to be enough”.

He added: "Can I urge the Government to say something today to give people assurance that the help will come?”

Other Conservatives pushed home the point, with Peter Aldous joining the calls for the Government to pay workers’ wages, while Nickie Aiken said ministers should suspend National Insurance contributions.

Treasury minister John Glen repeated Mr Sunak’s claim the Government will do “whatever it takes” to save the economy, and admitted that "the package of measures we have put out… will for some not feel at this point sufficient".

He said that MPs should “be under no doubt that all options are being examined”, including calls for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) for every worker in the country.

He added: “But the issue there is; actually will it help the most affected, most urgently, and that’s something we have to consider.”

Labour’s shadow treasury minister Peter Dowd also called for me to be done, saying: "It must be a requirement of loans given that no business will lay off workers, and the Government should urgently bring forward a plan to underwrite the bulk of the wages of workers at risk of losing their jobs."

"This crisis is too significant, and the impact on people's lives is too serious, for any more delay."

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