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Parliamentary reporter @TrinderMatt
BORIS JOHNSON must do more to protect people’s livelihoods, unions demanded yesterday, after the Prime Minister announced a four-week delay to plans to ease England’s lockdown restrictions.
Following the announcement on Monday that the current rules would remain in place beyond June 21 to July 19, the TUC called for an extension to job support schemes and urgent targeted support for the badly hit hospitality and arts sectors.
Transport unions warned that the delay, caused by the government’s failure to contain the Delta variant of Covid-19 first detected in India, would put more financial pressure on trains, buses and airlines suffering from a massive downturn in passenger numbers during the pandemic.
Labour slammed the PM’s “negligence and incompetence” in allowing the new deadly strain to take hold, labelling it the “Johnson variant.”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the British people, who had “done their bit” by getting vaccinated, were let down by lax border control measures.
Following Monday’s announcement, social distancing will remain in indoor venues such as pubs, museums and theatres. Nightclubs, closed since March 2020, will stay shut beyond next week, and the work-from-home order will not be lifted.
But the furlough scheme is set to end as planned in September, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak claiming he “went long” by announcing a six-month extension in March’s Budget to factor in any change in circumstances.
Responding to the delay, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government must step up and provide urgent targeted support for these industries.
“The Chancellor needs to announce now that he will extend furlough for as long as is needed, rather than cutting it off abruptly. Working people need this certainty now — not a rollercoaster approach to protecting livelihoods.”
Labour backed this call, with shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves stressing economic recovery is fragile after figures published yesterday showed payroll jobs last month remained half a million below pre-Covid levels.
Reacting to the Office for National Statistics data, Ms Reeves said: “The short-termism of this government is exhausting businesses and workers, and it must be clear how it will support firms hit by the delay.”
TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes recognised restrictions were still needed but said more job support was desperately required.
“Government guidance to work from home will continue to hit passenger numbers,” he said.
“That must be recognised rather seeing the imposition of cuts like those [Transport Secretary] Grant Shapps is pushing at Transport for London.”
After a tragically high number of transport worker deaths from Covid-19, Unite urged ministers to ensure current rules on mask-wearing and social distancing on public transport are properly enforced and continue for as long as necessary.
Unite national officer for passenger transport Bobby Morton said: “[The rules must continue] in order to protect the health of the travelling public and provide clear reassurance for those reluctant to return to public transport.”
In a speech today, shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds blasted the government’s confusing traffic light system for international travel, confirming the party would scrap the amber list of countries where travel was allowed but not advised.
He also cited Civil Aviation Authority figures which suggest that at least 20,000 passengers arrived from India in the first three weeks of April despite the government being aware of the Delta variant. The country was placed on the red list on April 23.
Mr Thomas-Symonds said: “Conservative ministers have allowed the Delta variant to take hold. Let’s call it what it is — it’s the Johnson variant.
“The [PM’s] refusal to take tough decisions have left Britain facing weeks more of restrictions.
“People have every right to be angry about being let down so badly.”
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