This winter is set to be the most challenging chapter of the pandemic for many people across the country, with unemployment growing and many families struggling to put food on the table or heat their homes.
The government has gone a long way this year in supporting many working people hit hard by the pandemic through the furlough scheme, business support schemes, the new Local Restrictions Support Grant, and so on. However, too many people have fallen through the cracks and received insufficient financial support.
Stark new analysis from the New Economics Foundation shows that, based on current trends, a third of the entire population will be experiencing some form of financial difficulty by the spring. Yet in last week’s spending review, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, failed once again to offer meaningful support for every person in the country who needs it.
Exceptional times demand exceptional measures. And so we need solutions that match up to the scale of the economic crisis we are facing. But the chancellor failed to mention social security despite the fact that many people have lost their jobs, or have been excluded from government support schemes. On top of this, the review fell short of the level of investment needed to create good, green jobs to deal with record levels of unemployment.
In many parts of the country, such as Manchester, Liverpool, Yorkshire and the north-east, businesses and residents have been living under various severe forms of local restrictions for many months, some since July. Many areas, especially in the north of the country, will continue to have to live under the highest level of restrictions after the national lockdown ends this week. This has had, and will continue to have, a major impact on local economies and a devastating effect on the lives and livelihoods of so many.
In London, boroughs with the highest levels of deprivation in the country – such as Newham, Tower Hamlets and Hackney – saw the highest mortality rates. The capital’s economy has also faced unprecedented challenges, with the hospitality, culture, retail and leisure industries being hit particularly hard by a lack of tourists and office workers.
There is a moral case for the government to act to stop any family from suffering, but there’s also an indisputable economic case. How can Britain possibly be called a prosperous country when people don’t have enough to eat, when people can’t pay their rent, when families can’t afford to go out? Without action, the ripples may well last for generations.
We are doing everything we can for those in our regions, but we need the firepower of central government to tackle a problem of this magnitude. There’s still time for the government to right this wrong, but make no mistake: time is running out. They must move fast to plug the gaps and offer help to those who desperately need it.
Covid has upturned our lives and reminded us of the things that really matter: our health, our families and communities, having warm homes and enough to eat. It has also shown us how important we are to each other – and how connected we are as individuals and as regions across the nation. And so we need to see a plan that ensures that everyone – no matter who and no matter where they are from – has enough to live on, whether they are in or out of work. We need a plan that supports people this winter, and sets us up for a recovery in the spring.
Just a few months ago, the chancellor promised he would do “whatever it takes” to help us through this crisis. Instead, in the run-up to Christmas, millions are being forced to choose between putting food on the table and keeping their families warm.
Now is the time for us to get this right: to look out for each other, to strengthen the systems that support us all when times are tough, and to design a better future. And so we urge the chancellor to think again to ensure that everyone has enough to live on this winter.
• Sadiq Khan is mayor of London; Andy Burnham is mayor of Greater Manchester; Jamie Driscoll is mayor of the North of Tyne combined authority; Dan Jarvis is mayor of Sheffield city region; Steve Rotheram is mayor of Liverpool city region