KATE OSBORNE: We must continue to hold PM and government to account

Just days into 2021, Boris Johnson and his Conservative government announced a third national lockdown and a return to the March 2020-style restrictions as the infection level shows an alarming increase.

By Kate Osborne
Thursday, 7th January 2021, 12:00 am
Just hours beforehand, the PM said schools were safe and there were no plans to close them, but fast forward a few hours later, in yet another U-turn, all primary schools, secondary schools and colleges were told they must close.
Just hours beforehand, the PM said schools were safe and there were no plans to close them, but fast forward a few hours later, in yet another U-turn, all primary schools, secondary schools and colleges were told they must close.

Enforcing tighter restrictions, of course, is disappointing. However, it was vitally important that action was taken to regain control of infection rates that have been soaring across the country, including in our own region, in recent weeks.

I know this comes as a disappointment to many people across the area who have already sacrificed so much during this pandemic.

Once again, we are being ordered to stay at home except for a handful of permitted reasons and schools have closed to most pupils.

Although the government has said the measures will be reviewed in six weeks time, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said that the measures may remain until March.

Over the Christmas period, the relaxation of restrictions wouldn’t have helped, and certainly would have contributed in the UK recording the highest number of new Covid cases since the crisis began.

However, there is hope on the horizon with the vaccines, and the Prime Minister has said he hopes to deploy a first dose to 12.2 million people by mid-February.

Time will tell if the Prime Minister can deliver on this promise.

Remember in March last year when he told us we would turn the tide in three months?

But perhaps the most dramatic announcement of all from the Prime Minister was the closure of all schools, other than key worker or vulnerable children.

Just hours beforehand, the pm said schools were safe and there were no plans to close them, but fast forward a few hours later, in yet another U-turn, all primary schools, secondary schools and colleges were told they must close.

There are also huge milestones on the footpath we must now follow, and they are coming at people fast.

This Monday, the ban on landlords in England evicting their tenants ends. Later this month, the deadline for applications for the third grant under the self-employed income support scheme passes. And the last day of January brings the deadline for mortgage holidays and the end of the ban on home repossessions.

These imminent cliff-edges are swiftly followed by the closure of the government-backed ‘bounce back’ loan schemes, withdrawal of the £20 a week Universal Credit uplift – a lifeline for many struggling families – and the April end of the job retention scheme.

The Chancellor has just announced £4.6 billion worth of grants for the hospitality, retail and leisure sectors.

However, although this financial support is welcome, it does not go far enough.

The new grants announced are based around business premises, and critics say this means large parts of the economy that don’t work out of offices or shops will also be ineligible. This includes taxi drivers, cleaners, and many self-employed who work from home.

But, for the millions on benefits, the low-paid, the self-employed, and their children, they need clarity to know what the future holds for them or many will be pushed further into poverty.

Fix the furlough scheme for parents and make it clear to employers that they can and should use it. Deliver the long-promised laptops and internet access, and act to increase statutory sick pay to the level of the real living wage and available to all.

The health, well-being and livelihoods of people should be the priority for this Government.

This virus feeds off inequality, targeting the poor and the vulnerable. But this Government is making deliberate choices - badly. Failure to provide adequate sick pay that people can live on and where all workers who need it can receive it is a political choice.

This Government is now commonly referred to as the worst in living memory, riddled with cronyism bordering on corruption and stuffed with incompetents.

We need to continue holding the Prime Minister and his government to account – because they are quite simply unfit for office.