Government must support the excluded so they can help us all rebuild from the pandemic
Calling for support for the excluded may sound like a broken record, but Britain is what will end up broken if the government doesn’t start to listen.
This week, with his trademark reckless abandon, the Prime Minister announced plans for “Freedom Day” were to press ahead and to hell with the pesky data. He has returned to his comfort zone of doing nothing, in the hope it will be a more successful policy than all those other confusing messages.
The soaring cases can sort themselves out, people can decide for themselves whether or not they breathe on others, and the economy will whir along again as if nothing had happened.
This is a simple strategy, which I dearly wish were sensible as we are all heartily fed up with restrictions, but the self-service approach is deeply worrying at a time when clarity, consistency and support are urgently required to get things properly on the road to recovery.
The excluded are not going anywhere, and nor will the economy if their plight is not finally recognised
Perhaps the government is thinking the millions of people who suddenly lost their livelihoods and had little or no income over the last 12 to 15 months will no longer be his government’s responsibility. The pleas for justice and parity which repeatedly fell on deaf ears can now be brushed off as yesterday’s news.
The reality, as is so often the case with this government, is very different. The excluded are not going anywhere, and nor will the economy if their plight is not finally recognised.
Ten per cent of the workforce cannot very easily be written off as collateral damage, especially when these are grafters and innovators who make things happen. This crisis is far from over and those working in previously successful businesses that have been brought to their knees have to be given the support to see them through what could be the hardest time of all, facing mountains of unaffordable debt.
The excluded are in no fit shape to play their part in the recovery right now but if they are finally given justice, they could be part of the well-oiled engine we will need to get the economy running again.
One of the key sectors which was amongst the hardest hit is the events industry, the people behind what was a truly world-beating, year-round programme of cultural activities: music, theatre, arts and outdoor festivals, as well as conferences, ceremonies and shows. Their success not only gives the economy success, it boosts our collective spirits, making a difference in ways that cannot be measured.
The nature of the industry means it relies on the efforts of a diverse and highly skilled supply chain from amongst the 4.4 million or so self-employed, numbers which have dramatically dropped from over 5 million last January, after incomes have been so badly decimated. Freelancers are not all match-fit and prepared to come back to such uncertain careers, where events like Tough Mudder in Midlothian can be called off at a moment’s notice and with great wasted effort and expense.
The Chancellor started this crisis well, with welcome support schemes for many and a warm promise that no-one would be left behind. Yet for over a year the government has allowed over 3 million people to flounder without a lifejacket, ignoring their calls while boasting about those who were lucky enough to receive the support they needed.
Sector specific pots like the Cultural Recovery Fund were a welcome boost for those able to access them, but in reality, this barely touched the sides for most in an 80-billion-dollar industry that ground to a halt.
And as with most of the government's moves to plug the gaps, it has been only a partial fix, with only 3 per cent of its first round of funding going to the supply chain businesses who have been consistently overlooked.
Proposals to plug the gaps in support have been presented to the Treasury over and over, yet remain sitting on the table. The onus is on the government now to finally develop workable solutions for the months ahead.
It’s time to turn back the lifeboat and collect those thousands of workers that were abandoned to debt and despair, so they can help us all rebuild. Calling for support for the excluded may sound like a broken record, but Britain is what will end up broken if the government doesn’t start to listen.
Owen Thompson is the Scottish National Party MP for Midlothian.
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