During an Opposition Day Debate in the House of Commons I called on the UK Government to support businesses and individuals in Aberavon by extending and reforming the furlough scheme so that it lasts for as long as restrictions are in place and while demand is significantly reduced, extending the temporary 5% reduced rate of VAT for the hospitality, tourism and culture sectors, and plugging the gaps in the schemes schemes.
Here’s my speech:
In the past few days, Governments across the UK have outlined the first tentative steps out of lockdown and towards the reopening of our economy, but this will clearly not happen overnight, so the Government must avoid cliff edges and must also help businesses and individuals to get back on their feet. That is why Labour’s British recovery bond proposal is so crucial.
The hospitality sector has been particularly hard hit by this crisis. Speaking to pubs and restaurants in my Aberavon constituency, they tell me that the uncertainty over future economic support packages is making a difficult situation intolerable. They do not know whether they will have the money to pay bills and they cannot give their employees assurances over whether they will be furloughed because they are waiting for the UK Government to decide. The UK Government need to provide businesses and employees with clarity by extending and reforming the furlough scheme so that it lasts for as long as restrictions are in place and while demand is significantly reduced. Pubs and restaurants have not been able to take advantage of the reduced VAT rate, as for large parts of the year they have been shut, and when they have been able to operate, it has been at reduced capacity. Decisive action by the UK Government is therefore needed. Extending the temporary 5% reduced rate of VAT for the hospitality, tourism and culture sectors would allow businesses to plan for survival and invest in safeguarding jobs.
The UK Government also desperately need to address the gaps in support schemes. It is a travesty that after almost a year the Government continue to ignore the plight of so many who have been excluded from the support schemes and have not received support they desperately need. My Aberavon constituency is a hotbed of creative talent, following in the footsteps of Anthony Hopkins, Michael Sheen and Richard Burton. For many in the creative arts industry, it has been horrendous: their industry is closed down, their work has dried up, their income has fallen off a cliff and because of the nature of their employment, they have not qualified for any of the support schemes and their savings preclude them from universal credit.
Others outside the creative industries have also found themselves in difficult positions, for example, a driving instructor in my constituency, who was not eligible for any of the self-employment support schemes, received support through furlough, which only managed to cover his national insurance contributions.
The UK Government have been consistently slow in responding to the crisis and have failed to provide the long-term clarity about economic support that is required. We need to do the right thing, plug the gaps in the schemes and support hard-working people in Aberavon and across the country.