Whatever It Takes
We may all be trying to weather the same storm of the Covid-19 crisis, but we are not all in the same boat.
It has become clear that the impact of this crisis on our communities will extend long beyond the point at which the infection rate is brought under control, and it is especially pronounced for already disadvantaged groups such as people of colour, disabled people and women.
We know that we may be heading into the worst recession in three hundred years, and personal debt is projected to hit £6bn. But instead of guaranteeing protection in the longer term, the country is being taken by the Government towards a number of sheer cliff edges, likely to result in an unprecedented wave of unemployment, homelessness and poverty.
The furlough scheme is being tapered from July, and will be wound up completely by October. The ban on evictions will be lifted at the end of August. Meanwhile, test and trace may not be fully operational until September.
The Government is pretending the cliff edges can be deferred. They have extended the eviction ban by two months, and found money to keep rough sleepers in beds for a little while longer. But these are sticking plasters on problems which need corrective surgery. The cliff edges still loom.
The first duty of Government is to protect, whether that be in the face of the coronavirus crisis, the climate crisis or any other crisis. Over the last four months, we have seen a level of state intervention with no parallel in the peacetime history of this country. Now is the time to raise that ambition, not cut the support off.
We cannot accept punitive, piecemeal solutions, or worry that people might get “addicted” to state support. Now we must ensure that everyone can access everything they need to live with dignity, universally and unconditionally. Not just to get us through this crisis, but to create true social security that doesn’t just protect, but lifts up everyone.
If we are to transform our economy in the way that we must to meet our obligations in the face of the climate emergency everyone will need security and a guarantee that they will be protected. This is the foundation on which to make possible, and enjoy the many opportunities that a new green economy provides.
We make the following demands to ensure that no one is left behind in the months, years and decades ahead.
No one destitute
14.5m people lived in poverty going into the crisis, including over 8m in working families, and nearly 2m pensioners. Current job losses look likely to be just the tip of the iceberg, with millions more set to lose their employment and 1 in 5 UK adults self reporting that they think they will need to go on benefits.
Means testing for benefits is outdated and punitive, especially when you often don’t get enough to live on at the end of the process. Even our Prime Minister has admitted £111 a month is not enough to live on. For those who were already most vulnerable, the current crisis is a disaster. We must level up benefits to an amount people can actually live on.
The furlough scheme has fallen far short of providing universal financial protection for workers. Even the successive bespoke scheme to support self-employed workers still leave thousands of newly self employed without support, as well as many people who believe themselves to be eligible.
The main furlough scheme will also hit a cliff edge as employers are asked to contribute more from July. But with many sectors effectively closed for months, it is difficult to see where this money will come from for many workers. The scheme will end altogether in October. What then?
To ensure that no one is left behind on financial security, Greens are calling for:
- Universal Credit and Statutory Sick Pay and all remaining legacy benefits to be set at a level equivalent to a real living wage and permanently end all waiting periods for payment
- An extension of the SSP limit to 52 weeks in order to better protect disabled workers
- A permanent end to benefit sanctions
- A lifting of the benefit cap
- Abolition of ‘No Recourse To Public Funds’ for all affected migrants
- A universal basic income to be phased in for all, including students and apprentices
No one in danger
Our physical health is under obvious threat during a pandemic, especially with the UK experiencing the highest numbers of Covid-19 deaths in Europe.
With workers dependent on their income to survive, and sick pay not being enough to live on, many people face a choice between going to work even if they are ill and risking passing on infection, or facing destitution. This is no choice at all, and measures must be taken to ensure everyone can put the safety of others first.
Being forced to exist in cramped conditions also puts people at risk of infection. Over 62,000 families live in temporary accommodation, at least 9% of which is in cramped hostels and B&Bs. Meanwhile, 70% of prisons are overcrowded, while thousands are still in detention centres.
Danger during a pandemic takes other forms than the virus itself, of course. There are groups in society which are more vulnerable or at risk of harm, with calls to the NSPCC hotline up 20% and a recorded 8% increase in domestic abuse compared to the same period last year.
To ensure no one is left behind on physical safety, Greens are calling for:
- An acceleration of a fully effective test and trace system, nationally enabled but embedded in local communities, and with the highest possible data protection standards.
- An unconditional non repayable grant for anyone who is asked to self isolate as part of a test and trace system
- Access to appropriate PPE at all workplaces
- A ‘right to be furloughed’ which would allow any worker reasonably concerned for the health of themselves or a family member the guarantee of being allowed to be furloughed at state expense without fear of penalty.
- An emergency independent scientific and social scientific inquiry into the mortality rate of BAME people in relation to Covid-19 with full action points for immediate implementation
- Immediate abolition of all NHS charges
- Immediate abolition of hostile environment policies
- The closure of detention centres and set ambitious target for prison reduction numbers to lessen risk of infection
- Specialist support for those housed in shared Asylum Accommodation to enable safe access to medical services, testing and re-housing
- The DWP to allow all claimants to have benefits assessed in the way which is safest to them — whether face to face, on the phone, or on paper.
No one without a home
When we must stay at home as much as possible, we all need a home in which we can feel safe and secure.
The ban on evictions is welcome and has averted disaster for many people. However, with 1.7m renters in England predicted to lose their jobs (1 in 5) and housing benefit at a shortfall of £400 per family in most of the country, and up to £1200 in London — there are still concerns about the ability for renters to pay back what they will eventually owe their landlords.
Once the eviction ban is lifted, we risk an unprecedented wave of homelessness, into what is likely to be the worst recession in three hundred years, along with a possible second and third wave of the virus on the way.
At the beginning of lockdown, rough sleeping was nearly eradicated overnight, showing what is possible when there is the political will. With contracts with hotels expiring at the end of June, the Government found £105m to home rough sleepers in unused student accommodation. This is still not a permanent solution to the national shame of rough sleeping.
Being able to stay in a stable home obviously means being allowed to stay in the country. For migrants, there is also the added concern of their visa running out during the crisis, which would see them removed not just from their home, but from the country. A one year visa extension has been offered to NHS workers, but that represents a fraction of migrants in the UK.
To ensure no one is left behind on housing security, Greens are calling for:
- Permanently ring fence funding for local authorities to provide shelter for every rough sleeper who wants it
- Local authorities to have power to control local rents
- A one year visa extension for all migrants, not just NHS workers
- Forgiveness for rent arrears, with appropriate compensation for landlords, with no impact on tenants’ credit ratings
- Permanent end to no fault evictions and temporarily suspend Section 8 as grounds for eviction
- An increase to Housing Benefit to at least levels of average rent
- Students to be allowed to give 7 days notice to leave PBSA tenancy agreements with no penalty
- Emergency funding to be released to local authorities to provide safe housing for all currently in crowded or unsafe conditions, from families in hostels, to detainees in detention centres, along with all victims of domestic abuse.
Who is the economy for?
The time has come to ask who the economy is for. Giving everyone all they need to live a good life should be a key measure of success for any country in the 21st century.
At the moment, we are failing, and we are falling deeper into crisis.
Even if the infection and death rate of Covid-19 continues to drop, the economic and social impacts will be felt for many months to come. Now is the time to raise our ambition, not to cut support.
Policies like the Universal Basic Income have long been championed by the Green Party because we recognise that people need security as we transform the economy in the face of the climate crisis. Today, the Covid-19 crisis has helped more of us to understand the importance of building this security, resilience and basic dignity across our society.
Avoiding the cliff edges in the months ahead is a moral obligation which will save lives. It will also lay the foundations from which we can build back better. For both reasons, we must act now.