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Covid-19: Financial Support

Volume 695: debated on Wednesday 19 May 2021

What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on financial support for people in Wales affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (900092)

In the last year, the Government have provided £7.4 billion of additional support through the welfare system for people affected by covid-19, including the £20 a week increase in universal credit. I have regular discussions with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer about financial support for Wales, and I was able to personally congratulate him a few weeks ago on the outstanding Budget that he delivered for Wales and the UK.

But more than a year has now passed since ExcludedUK was first mentioned in this place and still nothing has been done to support the millions of people across the UK who have seen their livelihoods decimated by the pandemic and who have not received a penny of support from this UK Government. The Secretary of State and the Minister mentions that they have met the Chancellor, but what representations have they made to him on behalf of Welsh people who have been excluded from support by his Government?

In addition to the £7.4 billion of additional support through the welfare system, the UK Government provided the Welsh Government with an extra £8.6 billion-worth of support, and the Welsh Government were free to use that in any way they wished. They were free to give it out to local authorities and allow them to make grants to anyone who had been badly affected, so we completely acknowledge that people have suffered as a result of the pandemic. That is why there was £8.6 billion of support for the Welsh Government, why Welsh businesses received £2.75 billion of support and why we supported 466,000 Welsh workers through the furlough scheme.

Families across Wales will have appreciated the recent easing of covid restrictions, made possible, of course, by First Minister Mark Drakeford’s cautious, evidence-driven approach, but rising concerns about new variants of coronavirus remind us that the pandemic has not gone away. The vast majority of people want to play their part to keep us all safe, but the UK Government’s failure to increase statutory sick pay is forcing many on low incomes to choose between going to work to support their families or staying at home to keep us safe. What pressure can the Minister bring to bear on the Chancellor to put that right?

I am sure that the hon. Lady would acknowledge that Mr Drakeford has been able to work very closely with the UK Government because he has been present at all the Cobra meetings and Welsh Government Ministers have been present at all the ministerial implementation group meetings, very much as part of a joint approach towards tackling the pandemic. The Chancellor and Prime Minister have always been clear that people will suffer as a result of the pandemic. We have not been able to help everyone, but we have, as I said, provided an extra £8.6 billion for the Welsh Government, £2.75 billion for Welsh businesses and supported 466,000 Welsh workers on furlough—plus the mortgage holidays, the cuts in VAT and the cuts in business rates. In Wales alone, we have already created 5,000 extra jobs through the kickstart scheme.

On a different matter, without delving into the chaos of this Government’s foreign travel policy, the reality for many airlines is that this summer will be nowhere near a return to normal. The whole aviation sector faces irreparable harm. We have already seen Welsh jobs lost in the sector and Aerospace Wales has warned that thousands more are on the line. What sector-specific financial support will the Government provide to the aviation industry in Wales to get it through yet another difficult summer and ensure that it has a strong future?

I very much welcome the hon. Lady’s support for the airline industry. Her stated view that we should get people back on to planes and flying around as much as possibly is in stark contrast to the extreme environmental view, which some people in her party seem to take, that nobody should ever get on a plane.

I can assure the hon. Lady that we meet the airline industry regularly; I spoke to the aerospace trade body about 10 days ago and met Airbus online a few days ago. We have not taken up sector-specific support, because the UK Government believe that we should be able to go out there and help all businesses that have been affected by the pandemic. That is why we have already put down £2.7 billion for Welsh businesses, which I hope she will welcome.

Research by the Centre for Progressive Policy has shown that UK Government covid emergency support was, on average, £1,000 more generous to London residents than to those in Wales, and that the UK Government spent nearly £7 billion more on London than if each nation and region of the UK had been allocated the same emergency spending per resident. What explanation has the Minister been given by his Cabinet colleagues for that discrepancy?

The fact of the matter is that the money has gone to those in need in all parts of the United Kingdom. I have already mentioned the £8.75 billion extra that went to the Welsh Government, the £2.7 billion for Welsh businesses and the 466,000 Welsh workers who were supported through the furlough scheme—to be honest, I really welcome these questions, because they give me an opportunity to spell out the huge support that the Government have delivered for Wales. UK-wide, the UK Government have spent £280 billion supporting people across the whole United Kingdom. With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not think that an independent Wales would have been able to manage that level of support.