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19 March 2020

As London prepares for lockdown, the government must show how it will protect incomes

Draconian measures will not command consent if people fear they face financial ruin or homelessness during or after the crisis. 

By Stephen Bush

Schools in all four kingdoms will close for an indefinite period, with the exception of vulnerable children and the children of key workers, while it’s heavily rumoured that curbs on movement in and outside London will follow.

The latter is not particularly surprising. When the United Kingdom changed its approach at the start of the week it went from believing that it could avoid suppression measures, such as those underway in Italy and elsewhere, to accepting that it was on a similar trajectory. So, of course, what has happened in Paris will happen in London, just as what happened in Milan has happened in Paris. 

That’s why getting the income protection policy right matters too – you can’t combat a pandemic and introduce draconian restrictions on movement unless those restrictions command broad public consent, and those measures will not command consent if business owners, renters and the self-employed think they face financial ruin or homelessness whether during or after the crisis. Three-month pauses or interest-bearing loans aren’t going to cut it. 

Rishi Sunak was undoubtedly right to use existing systems rather than attempting to create new ones at a time of high crisis – Citizens Advice and the Resolution Foundation both have well thought-through proposals about what would be necessary and swiftly achievable. But in the immediate term, getting it right doesn’t mean coming up with a policy that will still have all the same moving parts in July as it does now; it means a big financial commitment and the right form of words, to offer the reassurance to large parts of the country that has thus far been lacking, and without which Covid-19 can’t be fought and beaten. 

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