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Keir Starmer lays out Labour’s Covid recovery plans in major speech

Savers would be given a chance to invest in Britain’s economic future under new plans from Labour for Covid recovery

Sir Keir Starmer has laid out Labour’s vision for the UK’s post-Covid recovery, stressing the need to combat inequality after a decade of Conservative rule with investment proposals to support savers and business.

The Labour leader described the upcoming March budget as a “fork in the road” between “an economy rooted in insecurity and inequality” and what he described as a path “focused on the long-term”.

“That’s why a Labour Budget would protect families,” he said. “We wouldn’t cut the £20 uplift in Universal Credit, benefiting six million families by £1,000 a year. We’d provide local councils with the funding they need to prevent huge rises in council tax. And we’d end the insult of a pay freeze for our key workers after they’ve given so much.

“A Labour Budget would also back British business. By extending business rate relief and the VAT cut for hospitality and leisure. By easing the burden of debt that weighs down so many businesses. And by extending and updating the furlough scheme so it’s better able to help people back into work.”

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The speech comes two weeks ahead of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s March Budget, in which he is expected to detail how the Conservatives plan to rebuild Britain from the worst economic recession in 300 years.

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It also provided an opportunity for Starmer to lay out the clearest idea of where he would take the Labour party since replacing Jeremy Corbyn as leader in April 2020.

He proposed two core policies as part of Labour’s plans: a British Recovery Bond to allow savers to invest in communities and businesses crucial to the UK’s future and recovery, and a £1 billion loan scheme to create 100,000 start-up businesses over five years.

Other measures included funding earmarked for regions outside London and devolved nations, improved links between different schemes such as job centres and local enterprise partnerships, and support for alternative business models such as co-operatives and social enterprises.

Danyel Sattar, chief executive of Big Issue Invest, the Big Issue Group’s social investment arm, welcomed the proposals.

“If you give people a chance to invest positively, they tend to take it,” he said. “One of the barriers ordinary investors have had is the lack of access to the right kind of savings and investment product that suits their need. Those are increasingly coming onto the market, on platforms like Ethex, Triodos and our own Big Exchange.”

Reaction wasn’t all positive, however. Right-leaning think-tank the Institute of Economic Affairs called the speech “disappointing” and “an extenstion of state intervention in the economy”.

Mark Littlewood, director general at free market think tank the IEA, said: “A strong economic recovery will require the private sector to be freed from the ever higher burdens placed on them by Westminster. Taxes and regulations need to be cut, not increased. The enormous hole in the government’s finances will require state spending to be reduced, not hiked, over the coming years.”

The Labour leader also took aim at the Conservative government’s “incompetent” record throughout the pandemic, made worse by a ten years of austerity measures which he said ensured “the foundations of our society have been weakened”.

“The problem is even bigger than the serial failures of this government: It’s about an ideology that’s failed,” he said.

“An ideology that’s proved incapable of providing security for the long-term, that’s indifferent to the moral and economic necessity of tackling inequality, and that left Britain unprepared when we were tested most.”

A Government spokesperson told The Big Issue: “Throughout the pandemic, we’ve acted quickly and decisively to protect lives, livelihoods and our economy. Our £280 billion package of support has safeguarded millions of jobs and businesses across the country.

“The Government has worked tirelessly to combat the pandemic and our approach continues to be guided by scientific and medical experts. We have never shied away from lifesaving measures, including restrictions and lockdowns.

“This is an unprecedented situation and we have made significant strides in our response to tackling COVID-19 including building the largest diagnostic testing system in British history from scratch and developing the biggest vaccination programme the NHS has ever had.”

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