Munira Wilson leads parliamentary debate on Excluded

It’s a year today since Munira Wilson was elected as MP for Twickenham. Since then, she has held one of the most stressful roles, as Health Spokesperson, holding the Government to account for its often reckless and chaotic handling of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Like all other MPs, though, she will have a lot of casework from people who have had the financial rug pulled from under them – owners of small businesses whose activities have been curtailed or stopped altogether during the pandemic. People who run events companies, creative industry freelancers such as make-up artists are just some examples of those who simply have had no income and no support since March. Then they were struggling. Now they are desperate.

Lib Dems have led the fight for support for this group. Jamie Stone set up an all-Party Parliamentary Group and our MPs have repeatedly pressed the Government  to do more.

This week, Munira led a parliamentary debate to highlight the plight of those 3 million people who have been excluded from the Government’s support schemes:

You can read the whole debate here.

In her opening speech, Munira highlighted the impact the Government’s failure to provide support has had:

There has, at times, been a suggestion that some of the excluded are highly paid and dodging tax in some way, especially those paid via dividends. My constituent, Fraser Wilkin, who runs a travel company in Twickenham, pays himself by dividends because of the huge fluctuation in annual income due to events outside his control, such as the coronavirus. If he had drawn a regular salary through the year, he would have been unable to fulfil his statutory and contractual obligations to his clients, in terms of prompt refunds when their holidays were cancelled due to the pandemic.

Universal credit is cited as the fall-back. A survey of more than 3,000 individuals found that almost three quarters were unable to access universal credit. Let us face it: we all know that universal credit is not meaningful support. Otherwise, the Government would not have felt the need to create the furlough scheme or the self-employed income support scheme.

We know that the mental health impacts on many of those excluded from support have been stark. There have already been eight reported suicides, and one respondent to the House of Commons digital engagement team said that she almost took her life several times, and one week spent every day in contact with the Samaritans.

The Centre for Mental Health has said that covid-related unemployment has caused an additional almost 30,000 people to request services for depression. Those mental health impacts spread well beyond the 3 million individuals to their families and support networks. Many report having to move back in with elderly parents and rely on their pensions. Marriages and relationships have been strained or ended. Parents of young children talk about the stress it is putting on their children.

She shared a story written by an illustrator who has also found himself ineligible for the Government schemes:

I want to conclude by sharing from a children’s book sent to me by Kev Payne, who was a teacher and became an illustrator in 2018. He is ineligible for support because of the 50% rule. He wrote a story to try to explain how he feels. In it, the mice are the taxpaying workers and the bear is the Government. A storm hits and the bear provides food and shelter for all the animals, but the mice are left out and told that there is no space for them:

“‘But I gave you my food’, said Mouse. ‘You said you would help me.’

‘I cannot help you now,’ said Bear. ‘I will see you when the storm is over.’

‘But…’ began Mouse. Bear glared and growled at Mouse. It turned its vast back against her.”

My plea to the Minister is to listen to how these hard-working, tax-paying people are feeling and to look at the long-term impact of his policy. The Chancellor does not have to be the big, bad bear; he can be Santa Claus this Christmas.

Labour, Conservative and SNP MPs supported Munira’s calls. The Government minister responding to the debate offered precious little hope as he defended the Government’s position.

Christine Jardine also spoke, highlighting the case of a make-up artist:

I was contacted recently by a woman—a make-up artist—who had used her husband’s pension to set up a small business to provide for her and her two children, but she cannot work and she is getting no support. I get calls every week from constituents who built up successful businesses that they are now losing through no fault of their own because they are following Government rules, and the Government are not helping them. They are distraught; they are at their wits’ end.

I know what it is like to build a career, and I am sure many on the Government Benches know—or think they know—what it is like to have it ripped away for following the Government’s rules. In many cases, these are people who voted for the Government. Yes, many of them are the people we will depend on to rebuild our economy, but to do that, they will have to depend on the help they get now. We want our west-end theatres to be alive again and our TV industry to thrive, and in my city, we want our world-famous festival to regrow, but they all need help now. Covid-19 might not discriminate, but we know how to be fair; this Government could do so.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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12 Comments

  • Munira Wilson correctly says, “Universal credit is cited as the fall-back. A survey of more than 3,000 individuals found that almost three quarters were unable to access universal credit. Let us face it: we all know that universal credit is not meaningful support”.

    Yes, yes, yes…. I’ve been saying that since 2013 when I was helping to run a food bank. It it fell on deaf ears in the Lib Dem Parliamentary party who obediently followed the whip and voted for the introduction of UC. Because of that fact, Munira’s words will not be listened to by the general population.

    Until Sir Edward Davey (who voted for UC in 2013) can find a way of dealing with that, it will continue to fall on death ears.

    It’s blindingly obvious we need a combination of Mea Culpa and a Damascene Conversion, if the blameless Munira is to be listened to and Christine Jardine is to see any rise in the stuck at 6% situation in Scotland.

  • Helen Dudden 13th Dec '20 - 12:16pm

    Some, will never recover from Covid and the loss of income, this has caused. Not from something that they caused, but how the system works.
    The bedroom tax, could be another reason, thing’s spread within a home environment. As we know children can’t always understand why there should be careful with siblings.
    I didn’t support the Food Bank, but have been into one local supermarket to give, as I feel so upset at the humiliation and suffering that’s being caused to so many. So in some ways it’s a small plus.
    What ever happened in the past, things have to move forward, questions must and should be asked, accountability is so important to those who are just existing, mentally and physically.
    I hope my restart won’t be negative, like the actions of this government.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Dec '20 - 12:55pm

    Most of those in politics have hardly any understanding of being in a difficult situation.

    It is to the credit of Munira and mps, they learn as a result of real experience and shared knowledge.

    I am grateful for Caron, David, Helen, for their comments too.

    But I would be more happy if on the countless occasions I mention the struggles I have had, and awareness of these leading to circumstances beyond my control, like a car accident, loss of work, a wife with permanent effects, loss of my house, I got to connect with people who really did or do relate to it.

    It was during the latter New Labour era I suffered, and also earlier years I changed direction, professionally and began to help unemployed people. It was they, New Labour, who gave us atos and work capability assessments.

    Few had much sympathy when Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat govts, were awful.

    Even less understand why people like me have no sympathy with the BBC, and other elitist bodies crying when they lose a few quid, when they do so pay their top so much, and offer hardly anything of training or support to those in the arts, seeking at least a bit of security.

  • You make a fair point Lorenzo. I’d go so far as to say most people are usually oblivious to how fortunate we are to be where we are, and that actually, we might not be that far from a serious down-turn in our personal fortunes. If this time of pandemic has taught us anything, I’d like to think that now more of us are open to the idea that falling on hard times is not just for other people, or for those too idle or reckless to work and put savings aside and whatever other excuses we tell ourselves.

    That some people still manage to pretend they’ve not noticed that some in our communities are facing serious hardship through absolutely no fault of their own, is shameful. I hope we can use this time to make at least some progress, and we don’t all forget again when the news cycle moves on.

  • Steve Trevethan 13th Dec '20 - 4:10pm

    David Raw is so right!

    The economic harms, social and economic, resulting from the “Coalition” present our party with a massive metaphorical boil that so needs lancing.

    Unemployment, underemployment, underpayment and poverty are all forms of economic and social inefficiency which we could and should highlight and address.

    Perhaps a public repudiation of Neoliberal Economics might be a start?

  • Helen Dudden 13th Dec '20 - 6:24pm

    Lorenzo Cherin. I have been through similar. Housing, is difficult in a Power Wheelchair, I’ve even been told my Power Wheelchair is a fire hazard. I lost my husband, many years ago in a traffic accident.
    Life is not easy, often disability is not respected. I’m looked down on deliberately.
    I do know where you are coming from, and understand fully.
    We need change is society, it should be ill thought of, to treat disability with no respect.
    The Tory government is made up of very wealthy membership.
    I try not to let the system beat me, respecting the can and can’t do, is very important, never put yourself down, you can and will.

  • @ Helen. Your contributions are always appreciated, Helen, and based on day to day reality.

    @ Steve Thank you. May I suggest you contact the parliamentary party and suggest they read the Alston Report during the Christmas break. 2010-15 was more Scrooge than the Spirit of Christmas :

    2019: UN Rapporteur: Final Report | Bristol Poverty Institute …www.bristol.ac.uk › poverty-institute › news › un-rapp…
    22 May 2019 — “The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, undertook a mission to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and …

    Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom, by … – OHCHRwww.ohchr.org › NewsEvents › Pages › DisplayNews
    16 Nov 2018 — Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom, by Professor Philip Alston, … to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Dec '20 - 12:16pm

    Fiona and Helen, two wonderful contributions from really terrific friends here.

  • Steve Trevethan 14th Dec '20 - 4:45pm

    As requested, an enquiry about the Alston report has been sent to H.Q.

    Does anyone from H. Q. read L. D. V.?

    Might it help if L. D. V. readers and contributors received some reactions from H. Q.?

  • @ Steve Trevethan. It needs to go direct to each MP, Steve.

  • @Steve Trevethan. You may find it quicker and more effective to contact M.P.s directly, Steve.

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