Labour is turning its fire on Rishi Sunak, accusing the chancellor of calling the coronavirus crisis wrong “time and again” and doing “untold harm” to business with a stop-start approach to government support.
In a speech to the London School of Economics on Thursday, shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds will say that the chancellor’s approach has left the UK with “the worst of both worlds” – the worst recession of any major economy and the worst Covid-19 death toll in Europe.
She will say that government mishandling of the pandemic has stemmed from a false belief that the health and economic needs of the nation could be treated as separate entities to be traded off against one another.
Ms Dodds will also call for better support for local authorities to deliver the £500 one-off support payment available to those asked by NHS Test and Trace to self-isolate after coming into contact with someone with Covid-19, following complaints that many of those eligible have missed out.
Mr Sunak has won plaudits for his £280bn package of support for businesses and workers during the pandemic, including furlough payments for those who would otherwise be laid off and grants and loans for companies unable to operate normally.
But he has faced criticism over a series of cliff-edge dates for withdrawal of support which have repeatedly been subject to last-minute change as the outbreak worsened. And critics say that his flagship Eat Out to Help Out programme to support restaurants in the summer may have played a role in keeping levels of infection up.
He is understood to be at loggerheads with the prime minister over whether to extend a £20-a-week uplift to universal credit and working tax credit beyond its scheduled withdrawal in April.
Taking aim at Mr Sunak, Ms Dodds will say: “The chancellor has called this crisis wrong time and again.
“From a succession of winter economic plans that had to be continually revised because each iteration sought to give the bare minimum in economic support and then was overtaken by events; to disappearing altogether over Christmas only to return earlier this month with almost nothing new to say and precious little clarity for businesses as to what they can expect in the months to come.
“Much of this seems to stem from a belief that the economy is only well-served by a total lifting of restrictions and a removal of all economic support as soon as possible. But with the virus sadly still with us and continuing to impact on demand, he needs to think again.”
She will add: “At the heart of the Conservative government’s mishandling of this crisis over the last 10 months has been an insistence that you can treat the health of a nation and its economy as distinct entities, to be traded off against one another.
“You either ‘choose health’, and lock down the economy completely in a bid to prevent the virus from spreading. Or you ‘choose jobs’, easing restrictions as rapidly as you are able to get people back to work.
“This narrative is not only untrue; it is self-defeating.”