Think tank calls for urgent action to limit the financial toll of Omicron and the cost of living crisis this winter
The IPPR think tank is today warning that the Omicron variant is putting people’s lives and livelihoods at risk and urges the Chancellor to announce urgent economic support measures in response.
Researchers fear that the Omicron wave, combined with the escalating cost of living crisis, driven by fast-rising prices of energy and imported goods, will seriously hit families and businesses this winter without more support.
IPPR proposes three sets of support measures:
1 - Support for businesses hit by the Omicron wave. This should include:
- Bringing back furlough for businesses hit by the Omicron wave. As in other countries, this scheme should be put on a permanent footing, so it is in place for potential future variants and crises, giving businesses more confidence. It could be targeted at those businesses that are seeing sharp declines in revenues.
- Targeted grant support for businesses who are losing revenue due to reduced demand or are forced to stop trading due to staff isolating. This should come with some conditionality, such as commitments by businesses to improve their environmental impact and employment practices.
2 - Protecting people’s incomes. This should include:
- Boosting sick pay, by increasing statutory sick pay to 80 per cent of previous earnings and abolishing the lower earnings limit. The current set up means that many low-income households currently face a large income hit when they fall sick, often leaving them no choice but continuing to go to work.
- Restore theUniversal Credit uplift of £20 per week. This is crucial to help people on low incomes through the cost of living crisis. It is particularly important given the small size and low agility of the UK government’s Hardship Fund.
- The Cold Weather Payment should be increased and eligibility expanded to help people with the extraordinary rise in energy costs this winter. The government could also extend the eligibility of the Winter Fuel Payments to low-income working age households. The government could also consider temporarily cutting VAT on domestic electricity from 5 per cent to 0, to ease the hit of rising energy costs.
3 - Easing the cost of living crisis. With measures including:
- Reconsidering the minimum wage level set at the last budget in the light of inflation rates that have come in higher than expected. Also encourage public and private sector players to agree on wage settlements that take into account the very high rates of inflation – while avoiding the risk of a wage-price spirals.
- Ensuring firms are not unfairly profiting from the crisis. To do so, the government should in the future implement a temporarywindfall tax, levied on any firms who are making disproportionately increased profits from the crisis. In this, the government should also consider businesses who are found to have disproportionately increased their prices in the context of the cost of living crisis. Announcing such a measure now could likely prevent unfair profiteering in the first place.
- Considerbroadening the list of occupations qualifying for the skilled worker visa, to help fill high vacancies in sectors where businesses are struggling to recruit.
Carys Roberts, IPPR executive director, said:
“This winter we are faced with a double whammy of the Omicron wave and a cost of living crisis which could deal a major blow to people’s livelihoods and to businesses.
"This demands action to protect businesses, to shore up people’s incomes, and to ease pressures on the cost of living. Failure to do so risks undermining efforts to protect the economy this year were not wasted.
"If we have learned anything during the pandemic it is that acting early to protect people and businesses pays off both economically and in terms of the public's health. That’s why the Chancellor needs step in now with a comprehensive package that helps us all through this hard winter.”
Carys Roberts, Carsten Jung, Luke Murphy, Dr George Dibb and other IPPR policy experts are available for interview
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NOTES TO EDITORS
- IPPR is the UK’s pre-eminent progressive think tank. With more than 40 staff in offices in London, Manchester and Edinburgh, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence. www.ippr.org