The Papers

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Mary in the News Guardian

About a quarter of MPs from different parties have united to defend people who are falling through the government’s Covid safety net.

A new cross-party group says that 3 million UK taxpayers have been entirely or largely excluded from financial support through no fault of their own.

This includes the newly self-employed, those who are less than 50% self-employed, PAYE freelancers, those denied furlough, and some small limited company directors.

We are talking about beauticians, dog groomers, charity workers, construction workers, nurses, teachers, arts professionals, lawyers, dentists, and more

The suddenness of the crisis means that government support schemes don’t yet interlock and have caused needless disparities.

Many have paid tax for years, sometimes decades, and when they most needed help, the safety net wasn’t there.

Most are now on less than 20% of their pre-Covid income. They feel abandoned, face spiralling debts, and their mental health is suffering.

The impact goes beyond the 3 million excluded to affect their families and, for small business owners, their employees, freelancers, and sub-contractors.

These individuals and businesses can’t just bounce back and the longer-term impacts of exclusion will become more acute for them and for all of us who value their enterprise and services.

These issues have also been addressed by the Treasury Select Committee and ministers must reply in detail and quickly. Solutions should also be backdated.

MPs of all parties are rightly urging justice for three million excluded people. I hope ministers will listen and act.

Mary in the Journal

The coronavirus crisis emerged just months ago though it feels a lot longer with so many short, medium and long-term ramifications.

The initial scramble left some people in the lurch and must be remedied pronto. MPs from all parties have joined forces to protect three million excluded people who are falling through the government’s limited safety net.

Beauticians, builders, nurses, teachers, lawyers, and dentists are missing out on financial support through no fault of their own.

Most are now on about a fifth of their pre-Covid income. They feel abandoned with spiralling debts and deteriorating mental health.

These individuals and businesses won’t just bounce back without urgent aid and solutions should be backdated.

As for the medium term, people are gingerly taking advantage of their new freedoms to drink and dine and get their hair cut.

That means enforcing a national safety standard to reassure nervous people that returning to work and using public transport are safe.

Keir Starmer rightly says that parents are in an impossible position of being encouraged back to work while childcare is limited as are summer learning opportunities.

Building confidence also means boosting community testing and tracing.
We need direct answers about when the government will achieve its daily testing target of 250,000 and recruiting 50,000 people as contact tracers using workable apps and technology.

We need to protect key and essential workers with a national plan to build supply chains that guarantee personal protective equipment and facial coverings for those who need them.

The government should also support people’s livelihoods, jobs, and businesses by introducing targeted support for people and industries facing significant challenges. That includes the wedding sector, which will lose billions as thousands cancel events. Ministers need to say ‘I do’ to a rescue plan.

The easing of restrictions should be planned in co-operation with all our nations, regions, councils, and elected mayors.

Maintaining public confidence and safety requires ministerial clarity that the government would rapidly reintroduce targeted restrictions if the reproductive rate of the virus veers back to further spikes.

We also need a credible national vaccines plan that outlines how the government will ensure the manufacture and distribution of any vaccine.

The summer sun has got its hat on, but winter is round the corner. We need a national plan for the winter flu season because flu vaccines can take up to six months to produce and the flu season could put the NHS under huge strain.

We also all need to start thinking of the long-term. A vaccine could end Covid-19 or we may co-exist with it for years, if not forever. We just cannot know at this stage.

Almost every aspect of our society will change profoundly. There will be fewer people working full-time in offices and we could have large deserts of unoccupied and under-occupied office space. We will have fewer shops as the habit of online delivery takes further hold. Public transport will be used less. The financial base of local government will take a hit as business rate revenues fall.

None of us wanted this to happen, of course, but now it has we may as well take control of the acceleration of socio-economic change and build back better. That means, for instance, more homes, insulation, and other measures that tackle unemployment and climate change.

We cannot rely on the market. Yes, we need to encourage entrepreneurs to rebuild vital services and businesses that go under. The state will have to continue to be a major economic actor and government needs to be smarter and more imaginative in a post-Covid world.

We can do without bumptious boostering from PM Johnson and tricksy public relations that appear to deliver billions of funds that are actually already in train. It’s time for the government to talk to us straight as adults about the many complex short, medium and long-term tasks of national renewal we need.