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Covid-19: Fiscal Support

Volume 680: debated on Tuesday 15 September 2020

We have provided unprecedented support worth more than £190 billion to protect public health, businesses and jobs, and the Government remain committed to supporting the economy throughout this crisis. In July, we published our plan for jobs, which announced further support for the economy, with initiatives such as eat out to help out, the £2 billion kickstart scheme and the £9 billion job retention bonus, all of which aim to support, create and protect jobs.

I hear what the Chancellor says, but emergency food parcels for children are up 107% this year and the Trussell Trust now expects to distribute 300,000 more than expected in the fourth quarter. Given that there is a hard Tory Brexit on the horizon and the end to the furlough scheme will certainly push more people into poverty, will the Chancellor do the right thing, adhere to his moral duty and make the £20-a-week increase to universal credit permanent?

Throughout this crisis we have endeavoured to make sure that the most vulnerable in our society get the help that they deserve, which is why results published in July showed that our interventions have meant that those on the lowest incomes have received the most support, through the temporary increase to universal credit, the hardship fund delivered through local councils and, indeed, increases to the local housing allowance to help people with their rental payments.

The events and conferences industry was the first to be affected by lockdown and will be the last to see demand return. Many freelancers, such as my constituent Karen Colvin, have not benefited from support in the same way as other workers. Does the Chancellor have anything new to offer to people such as her?

Many self-employed people have received the second of the self-employment income support grants—almost 3 million people have now received support through that scheme—but the hon. and learned Lady is right that the best way to provide support for people in that industry is slowly and safely to reopen those bits of our economy. My colleague the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary of State is engaged with that industry to start piloting the return of business conferences and events. The situation remains under review.

My right hon. Friend has done a tremendous amount to support jobs in our country, but does he agree that many thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, of jobs are going to be viable after covid is dealt with but will not make it unless they are provided with further targeted support after the end of October?

As ever, I am grateful for the advice from my right hon. Friend. He is right that businesses do need support, which is why many of the interventions that we have put in place—for example, the business rates holidays and, indeed, our support for the economy and jobs through initiatives such as our stamp duty cut to catalyse the housing market—last through to next year. I hope he will be reassured that throughout this crisis I have not hesitated to act in creative and effective ways to support jobs and employment, and I will continue to do so.

Many employees, self-employed people and freelancers in sectors such as hospitality, aviation, tourism, showpeople and the arts cannot go back to normal because of the public health measures brought in by the Chancellor’s Government, so will he examine the calls by the Treasury Committee to consider a targeted extension of support for those sectors? If not, why?

The hon. Lady mentions hospitality and tourism, which is an industry disproportionately represented in Scotland. That is why the Government took steps in the summer to support the industry, with a temporary VAT reduction from 20% to 5% and, indeed, the eat out to help out initiative, both of which were targeted at helping to protect the 2 million jobs and 200,000 businesses engaged in the industry.

That is woefully inadequate, as we head into the winter, for many of these industries that have already suffered with a low income. The Chancellor said that he would do “whatever it takes” and that

“if the situation changed”,

he

“would not hesitate to take further action.”

Those excluded from support schemes, the 700,000 made redundant since March and those losing their jobs because of the premature ending of the furlough scheme want to know whether the Chancellor will be true to that commitment or his words are worth nothing.

The hon. Lady claims that it was woefully inadequate; the VAT reduction was the single biggest ask from the UK hospitality industry. Not only was that delivered, but it was delivered with an extra initiative, eat out to help out, which proved to provide an enormous fillip to the reopening of that part of the economy. It is also worth bearing in mind that all the businesses engaged in that industry are not paying any business rates at all until March next year.