I’ve written to the Chancellor to outline the case for providing support to both individuals and businesses as we enter Plan B restrictions to fight the omicron variant of Covid-19 and protect the NHS.
Public health must come first and I support both national measures to restrict the spread of the virus, and the sensible additional limits many people are placing on their activities, but the Government must provide financial support for this to succeed, as we did at earlier stages of the pandemic.
While no strict social distancing measures have been announced, the prospect of the omicron variant has caused many of us to behave differently, which has a knock-on effect on the economy and people working in many sectors.
I told the Chancellor that I am particularly concerned about hospitality venues, which need to be supported through Plan B restrictions. The reintroduction of guidance to work from home will have an impact on footfall in city centres and areas of high-density office space, corresponding to less custom particularly in food venues. I urged him to put in place financial support for those businesses, to ensure that they continue to survive this latest stage of the pandemic.
I’ve also heard from local employers who have decided to cancel Christmas parties and other social events as a public health precaution, which will also particularly impact businesses in the hospitality and food and drink sector, which have been repeatedly buffeted throughout various waves of Covid-19.
Additionally, to protect public health we have to protect people’s income. It’s vital that sick pay is bolstered, so that it is available to all workers, including those on precarious contracts.
I reminded the Chancellor that the UK has the least generous statutory sick pay in Europe at £96.35 a week, and it is only available to employees earning £120 a week or more – this is insufficient to stop the spread of Covid-19 as those who are financially vulnerable may feel they have to keep working and not isolate even if they test positive.
Research from the TUC shows that two million workers aren’t eligible for sick pay and a third of those on zero hours contracts don’t qualify for sick pay. Seven in 10 are women. I urged the Chancellor to outline his plans to address this situation and reduce both health inequalities and economic inequalities by ensuring sufficient sick pay is available for all.