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Bail out the many, not the few

Now is the time to build on the spirit of unity and solidarity, writes CLAUDIA WEBBE MP

THIS week the Daily Telegraph reported leaked Treasury policies that should set alarm bells ringing. 

The paper sets out a proposed “policy package” of tax rises and spending cuts that could be announced soon in order to “enhance credibility and boost investor confidence.”

In other words, the Tories and sections of big business are seeking to use the current crisis to argue for a new wave of “shock therapy” austerity to “reset” the economy.

As the socialist economist Grace Blakeley put it this week, if the Tories get their way the government’s extra assistance and spending “will continue for as long as it benefits the wealthy — and not for a minute longer.”

This is exactly what many of us on the Labour benches in Parliament warned may happen when George Osborne, the architect of the last round of austerity, recently argued that similar measures would be needed again. It must be firmly resisted.

Measures in the leak included an increase in income tax, the end of the triple lock on state pension increases and a two-year public-sector pay freeze. 

Meanwhile, billionaire tax exiles trapped in Britain by the lockdown are being granted a reprieve from paying higher tax bills.

Additionally, we have seen policies floated that would further hit the living standards of the majority of people — such as increases in transport fares and cuts to benefits — at a time when millions of people already simply can’t afford them.

Trade unions have repeatedly warned during the coronavirus crisis that we could be on the brink of another economic crisis and millions of people’s livelihoods are at risk. 

This was confirmed recently by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, that Britain was heading for a deep recession. Illustrating this, unemployment had already increased by 22,000 to 1.36 million in the three months to February — even before Covid-19 lockdown measures were put in place. 

Recent figures also showed that poverty, including in-work poverty, was increasing.

Over the last decade, Conservative governments have implemented an ideologically driven policy of austerity that has left our public services weakened, vulnerable and underfunded; escalated insecurity at work; and brought about a long and continuing squeeze on the living standards of the majority of people. 

These reckless policies have left all of our society, public services and households less resilient than we should have been when facing this crisis.

Furthermore, the current crisis, with its severe economic impacts, will already be deepening many of these problems.

Having now taken extraordinary action to prevent economic collapse due to the coronavirus crisis, it is becoming clearer each week that the Tories are already working out how to distribute this burden, in the future, across the overwhelming majority of the population. 

It is many of the keyworkers that are currently keeping our society running who will suffer most if a new wave of austerity is unleashed. 

It is these same workers who have already disproportionately and unnecessarily suffered because of the government’s mishandling of its response to the pandemic. 

Let us not forget we are talking about a government that was slow to lock down and failed when it came to testing and personal protective equipment and much more besides.

A return to “business as usual” when it comes to how our economy is restructured would be deeply damaging for both our economy and society. 

What is needed is far from another wave of austerity and cuts.

After the amazing efforts and sacrifices we are seeing across every community and locality in Britain — and the drastic measures that have  been taken in so many areas of our economy and society — people will rightly not accept a return to the growing insecurity that marked the last decade in particular.

Instead of yet more austerity, we desperately need a recognition that in our country of deep and unequal wealth the top 1 per cent should be asked to contribute a little bit more, including through increased taxes on corporate profits.

This would enable us to expand the support available to public services, social security and other measures to defend the living standards of the majority of people.

Alongside this, when it is safe for more people to return to work, the government will need to use its power to reboot our economy. 

This needs to include policies such as investment in infrastructure and public transport, with a green new deal and a social-housing building programme across the country. 

Such policies based on investment would limit economic damage in the short to medium term, get sectors of the economy going again and help improve living standards. 

All of these measures would pay for themselves in the long term.

During this crisis we have experienced our dependence on each other, clearly showing the Thatcherite mantra that there is no such thing as society was wrong. 

Thursday’s weekly “claps for carers” and the development of mutual aid groups show a new spirit of unity and solidarity.

Crises often shape the future. From the horrors of the second world war, the left created the welfare state and our treasured NHS. 

Now we need to develop a collective commitment to building a different and more equal economy and society in the years ahead.

People don’t want to go on as before, where the 99 per cent are always forced to pay for the bailouts for the super-rich.

Claudia Webbe is the MP for Leicester East. You can follow her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/claudiaforLE) and Twitter (twitter.com/ClaudiaWebbe).

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