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Sun, 29 November 2020

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The continued exclusion of 3 million people from Covid financial support is a national scandal

The continued exclusion of 3 million people from Covid financial support is a national scandal

Still nothing has been done to help the 3 million people who have received zero support, writes Tim Farron MP. | PA Images

4 min read

Gaps in the furlough and self-employment schemes meant not everyone has been able to access financial support. We must call out this injustice

Back in March, with a crisis unfolding of the like we’d never seen before, the government had to think quick on their feet to come up with a financial package of support which would help millions of jobs and businesses make it through the tumultuous months which lay ahead.

Understandably, having to come up with such a comprehensive package at such speed meant that mistakes were made. Gaps in the furlough and self-employment schemes meant not everyone was able to access support.

MPs’ email inboxes were quickly flooded from those who had fallen through these gaps, and so we immediately began to alert the Treasury about where these gaps were.

We thought it wouldn’t take long for the Treasury to start plugging those gaps and getting support out there to all those people who just missed out. How wrong we were.

Fast forward to November and still nothing has been done to help the 3 million people who have received zero support.

The government have had their fingers in their ears for eight months now, but I’m not ready to give up yet

For many of them it’s been eight months without an income. Eight months of not being sure whether they can afford to pay the mortgage or the rent. Eight months of not knowing whether they will be able to put on the table for their kids. Eight months of falling into deeper and deeper debt. Eight months of enormous strain on their mental health.

And to make matters worse, it’s been eight months of seeing the Chancellor make regular announcements about new economic support becoming available – but not for them. Statement after statement met with heartbreak after heartbreak.

When we talk about the excluded, it’s good to remember just who they are. They are the freelancers who make our arts and culture industry the world-leading force it is today. They are the seasonal workers who are the backbone of our tourism and hospitality sector. They are the self-employed driving instructor, hairdresser, wedding photographer, electrician. They are the entrepreneurs, the risk takers – the very people we will need to lead our economic recovery. And yet they’ve been hung out to dry.

The government have had their fingers in their ears for eight months now, but I’m not ready to give up yet.

Over the last week or so we’ve seen the government perform two major U-turns on food standards and free school meals which gives me hope that we can still win this battle.

The lessons we can take away from both of these U-turns is that to force the government’s hand you need two things. The first is overwhelming public support, backed by national public figures – in these instances that was the NFU and Marcus Rashford. It’s been really good to see Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid on Good Morning Britain this week lay into the government over no support  for the excluded– we need to see much, much more of this from high-profile names with big platforms.

And secondly you need pressure from Conservative backbenchers. Many of them we know are very sympathetic to the needs of the excluded and have joined our cross-party group in Parliament on this issue. We need them to be much more vocal in asking the government to help the excluded.

Many of the excluded have spent so much energy, time and emotion on trying to make their voice heard, all while living under hardship and despair. This is a national scandal which should enrage each and every one of us.

Members of Parliament, celebrities, the general public – it’s up to us to fight for friends, neighbours and fellow citizens who have fallen through the cracks.

We must loudly and repeatedly call out this injustice and get the government to support the excluded.

 

Tim Farron is the Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

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