Bridget Phillipson Labour Member of Parliament for Houghton and Sunderland South
As we all grapple with the impact of COVID-19 on our daily lives, it’s vital that politicians work together as far as possible to ensure the best possible outcome for families and communities across the country.
Throughout the crisis, Labour has made clear that we’ll press the government where things could be better.
Together with businesses and trade unions, we called for the introduction of the furlough scheme, but we also urged the government to extend it and make it more flexible.
It’s welcome the government has now decided to extend the scheme to October, and help employees to go back to work part-time from August.
Working shorter hours will not only mean firms can adapt and keep going in challenging circumstances, but it will also reduce traffic and help workers with childcare responsibilities. However, I believe this flexibility could be introduced sooner than August – it would represent a real boost to businesses and workers alike.
Nevertheless, we know that life will not swiftly return to normal: the length of the immediate crisis rests upon the spread of the disease.
That’s why government needs to be clearer in its approach to adapting furlough in the long term.
We need to know when employers will be asked to start making contributions to the scheme and how much will be expected. Without information that gives businesses time to prepare, there is a risk we will see mass redundancies.
It’s also an opportunity to ensure that businesses receiving support under the revised scheme don’t use it for dividend payments or share buybacks.
I’m worried that the statement from the Prime Minister on Sunday and what came after has sown confusion.
If the government wants to encourage a return to work, it must show greater leadership and make clear what the standards are for a workplace to be ‘Covid-safe’ to all employers.
Many people in our community can’t work from home. If they are expected to return to work, they must have confidence that it is safe to do so, and know when to report any problems that arise so action can be taken. The vast majority of companies are responsible and want to do the right thing, which is why it’s so important that they have access to necessary protective equipment.
Above all, our country will need an ambitious plan that will not only protect jobs but create new ones, to help get our economy moving again, and to start planning for a better tomorrow.
Bridget’s article was first published in the Sunderland Echo.