On this week’s #NCFNewspeak, Emily Carver of the Institute for Economic Affairs argues that the government’s haphazard Coronavirus strategy is failing the public, which faces a winter of discontent and economic ruin. Ms Carver believes it’s time to consider a Plan B.
“The people of this country are, on the whole, very reasonable. We’ll put up with restrictions on our freedoms if we understand why we are doing so: if the costs and benefits are communicated clearly, if the balance seems right, and if there is a credible exit strategy. However, public trust in the government’s handling of the pandemic is eroding day by day.
“Having extended the initial lockdown for months on end, we were rewarded with a summer of relative freedom. We were encouraged by the Prime Minister to get back to work, to Eat Out to Help Out, the Chancellor even slashed VAT for the hospitality sector, remember that.
“However, with cases on the rise, the Government has decided to follow SAGE’s advice and impose draconian restrictions, once again, on our everyday lives. The Government insists these will only be temporary.
“The British public now face an everchanging patchwork of rules. With more and more of the country covered by additional ‘local’ restrictions, and the Opposition leader calling for another nationwide lockdown, the hopes of a V-shaped recovery are fading fast – even among the most optimistic of economists.
“The growth figures were starting to look positive: GDP was heading in the right direction, the number of job adverts was growing, and shoppers were heading back out on the high street. At the beginning of October, we saw a further rise in people travelling to work. With most workers now off furlough, businesses were gradually getting back to normal.
“But that was before the Government introduced the new three-tier lockdown rules.
The Manchester mayor Andy Burnham was right to tell ministers that the government “is asking local leaders to gamble on residents’ jobs, homes and businesses and a large chunk of our economy on a strategy that their own experts tell them might not work”. Although the same of course applies to a nationwide circuit breaker, as he went on to propose.
“At best, these measures will only slow the infection rate temporarily. Even SAGE has recognised that ‘multiple circuit-breaks might be necessary’. A policy of ‘stop, start and then stop again’ will increase uncertainty and will bring devastating social costs and economic damage.
“Meanwhile the question of how we will pay for this all remains unanswered. The hospitality sector has been decimated, having worked hard to make their premises Covid-secure. Gyms are being forced to close, despite little to no evidence of transmission.
“This stop-start strategy will also make it harder for the government to provide the right financial support for those who need it most. The British public may be reasonable, but even the most fastidious among us can no longer keep up with what is and is not allowed.
“The government may, however, be wrong in thinking people will naturally follow any rules. At the beginning, compliance was extraordinarily high; with little understanding of the virus, people were terrified into staying at home.
“But with lockdown fatigue and no end in sight to the Health Secretary’s strategy of virus suppression, the Government may find itself in need of a plan B, sooner rather than later.”
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