March 17, 2020 Blog

Expand testing, ban evictions and put people first – Richard Leonard

In Parliament today, I welcomed the cross-party, co-operative approach that the Scottish Government has taken in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. We are faced with one of the biggest challenges in the history of modern civilisation, and it is vital that we put differences aside to safeguard our communities and save lives. The real answer to this pandemic is not disunity or segregation, but co-operation and information sharing.

With our NHS, public services and economy facing pressure on a level many of us have never witnessed before, we are being reminded daily of the values that motivated us to get involved in politics in the first place. There are actions that elected representatives and governments can take to protect citizens, businesses and services in these times, and the time for action is now.

I am encouraged that the UK and Scottish Governments have now responded to the concerns raised by experts, and recommended that social contact should be avoided where possible. The chancellor’s announcement of additional support today is also necessary, but it may not be sufficient. Loan facilities may not be a big enough liferaft to save jobs and prevent businesses from going under.

I also welcome the Scottish Government’s decision to roll out community testing. But I think we must go further, and follow the advice of the World Health Organisation, which has called for a much wider testing regime. I called on the First Minister to consider this in Parliament today.

Meanwhile, many working people are still unclear and anxious over whether they should go to work, and what the consequences will be if they do not, because they simply cannot. We need clear leadership on this not least from Boris Johnson’s Government.

In other countries across Europe, we have seen governments take decisive action to provide workers with the support they need to self-isolate. The simple fact is that if people cannot afford to stay away from work, they will continue to be exposed to risk.

The Government cannot call for people to stay away from businesses and not recognise the consequences this will have. There should be a clear instruction for cultural institutions to close, so they are able to recover their losses. In addition Ministers should immediately look at ways of uplifting and extending statutory sick pay, which would otherwise be insufficient for most working people to get by on, and extend support to the self-employed, those on zero hours contracts and others caught up in the gig economy.

The shape of our economy and society coming out of this pandemic will be determined by the choices we make now. I hope you will join me in calling for bold action to put our people first.