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Coronavirus update Wednesday 20th May

MPs ordered to return to House of Commons

MPs have been told to return to the House of Commons after Whitsun recess. Whilst I often find conducting business online to be difficult and often stilted, I have also found it possible, functional and appropriate for the times. This instruction is in direct contradiction to the official Government advice given to citizens and risks further spread of the virus. I believe that this decision has been taken to allow Boris Johnson his baying cheerleaders for Prime Ministers Questions and is a further example of the prioritisation of public relations over public health

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

British citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe remains in Iran. The Iranian Government released Nazanin on a temporary basis early this year. This was due to fears that coronavirus could infect large numbers of detainees in Iran’s overcrowded jails. The Government has extended her temporary release from prison due to coronavirus but we fear that the government may not again extend it.  Nazanin is still stuck in limbo, not knowing what her future holds. We in Labour continue to argue that the Iranian Government shouldn’t put Nazanin back to prison – not now, not ever. Amnesty International is asking members of the public to again show Nazanin, Richard and their daughter their support. You can show support by lighting a candle and taking a photo with it, then sharing your photo on social media with the following or similar message: I’m lighting this candle to #FreeNazanin. She has already spent over four years away from her family, in prison in Iran – now she’s been temporarily released she must not be sent back. Nazanin, my thoughts are with you. It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. CC @AmnestyUK @ForeignOffice. You can see the Amnesty International post as an example by clicking here.

Unemployment Benefits

Today’s ONS figures, with jobless claims soaring by 69% in a single month, show the severity of the crisis we are facing. Unfortunately these claimants will now discover the UK has one of the weakest out of work safety nets in the developed world. We support the changes the government has made so far during the outbreak, but they do not match the scale of the crisis. That’s why Labour is asking the government to make five immediate changes to our social security system to make sure no one is forced into hardship:

  1. Convert Universal Credit advances into grants instead of loans, ending the five-week wait.

  2. Remove the £16,000 savings limit which disqualifies individuals from accessing Universal Credit.

  3. Suspend the benefit cap.

  4. Abolish the two-child limit in Universal Credit and tax credits.

  5. Uprate legacy benefits to match the increase in Universal Credit, providing an immediate increase in Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment Support Allowance.

Coronavirus and the Council

Please find the latest Executive Board paper on the council’s Coronavirus response, which the Council published on Friday. The paper attempts to cover the huge range of work being undertaken across the council to respond to the virus. The paper sets out LCC’s plans for a safe city during recovery, and service resumption in line with national policy. An Executive Board paper on council finances was also published on Friday. It’s a very concerning picture for local government with a £164m gap forecasted which won’t be covered by the emergency funding promised to Leeds. I am continuing to lobby to close this gap.

Economy and Business

I am sad to report that Leeds lost 2.79m visitors and £186m of direct and indirect expenditure between mid-March and the end of April. Based on this LCC expects the city may lose 5.14m visitors and £338m of expenditure by the end of May. LCC are continuing to pay out grants to eligible small businesses- by Thursday morning LCC has delivered 10,598 grants valued at £130,805,000. LCC are developing the discretionary business grant scheme and criteria.


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