UK Budget: Tories belatedly realise Labour was right about economy – Ian Murray MP

A man wearing a face mask travels on the London Underground (Picture: Adam Hughes/SWNS)A man wearing a face mask travels on the London Underground (Picture: Adam Hughes/SWNS)
A man wearing a face mask travels on the London Underground (Picture: Adam Hughes/SWNS) | © SWNS
As the coronavirus threatens to hit the economy as well as our health, Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s £30 billion spending boost is very welcome, writes Ian Murray MP.

The coronavirus outbreak is understandably causing concern and anxiety for residents across the capital. People are worried about their own health, the health of their families, their incomes, jobs and businesses.

It is dominating the news all over the world with uncertainty about how it will spread fuelling these concerns. I have been inundated with questions from constituents on this issue, many of which can simply not be answered, but the bottom line is to listen to expert medical advice.

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Tory minister Michael Gove once said that Britain has “had enough” of experts. I wonder how much he regrets saying that? Such a Trumpian approach was wrong then, and is certainly wrong now. We need to listen to experts more than ever, including those working in our world-renowned research facilities here in Edinburgh. There is also a fine balance between the need to protect the public and not cause widespread panic.

Ian Murray is the Labour MP for Edinburgh South (Picture: Ian Rutherford)Ian Murray is the Labour MP for Edinburgh South (Picture: Ian Rutherford)
Ian Murray is the Labour MP for Edinburgh South (Picture: Ian Rutherford)

As an example, the UK Parliament has been debating whether it should be closed for a period of time. It has been quite a surreal working atmosphere in Westminster, with only one topic on everyone’s lips. As many as 20,000 people a week pass through the doors, from tourists and visitors to the staff and parliamentarians.

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But it surely sends out the wrong message to close parliament when schools, hospitals and other workplaces are being advised to carry on for the moment? Then came the news earlier this week that Conservative MP Nadine Dorries had tested positive for the virus, and I wish her and her mother a swift recovery.

The work of Parliament and Government continues for now, including yesterday’s Budget. The £30bn package to help the economy get through the coronavirus outbreak is very welcome. I commend the Government for recognising the need to invest in our health service – and only wish it didn’t require a crisis for this to happen.

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The Chancellor also announced the Government would spend on infrastructure to boost the economy. This approach has been championed by the Labour Party since 2010. Successive Tory Governments have decried this approach but now admit it is the right thing to do. What a wasted decade.

Years of under-investment have put undue pressure on our dedicated doctors, nurses, cleaners, porters and other healthcare workers. In Edinburgh, there have been major problems at the ERI, and the strain on services at the hospital is only going to increase.

Everyone must show patience and understanding at this time, and remember that our hard-working NHS staff are going above and beyond at a time of national emergency. I would like to thank them for their incredible efforts.

The outbreak has also sparked a debate about the precarious nature of some jobs. This is something I have been tackling for many years. Many self-employed workers will struggle to make a living during this crisis, and there could be a big impact on those on short-term and zero-hour contracts. The reality of these contracts is now under the spotlight because of this national emergency, and I hope more people understand why fighting for greater job security for all is so important.

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Don’t forget that two-thirds of people receiving social security support and living in poverty are in work – often on these types of precarious contracts. The Government now has a duty to support their incomes.

I welcome the introduction of legislation providing protections for employees, including paid sick leave guarantees for all workers from day one and sick pay for self-isolation, and the extension of eligibility to everyone is much needed.

Employers will have to be both generous and flexible and the Government has put measures in place to help with this. Inevitability, Edinburgh businesses will be hit, and they need to be supported. The measures in the Budget in terms of business rates relief is devolved so I hope the Scottish Government follows suit. These are testing times for everyone – politicians, medical experts, NHS workers, business owners, carers and workers. We all need to put our differences aside and come together to navigate a way through this national crisis.

Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South