Increasing furlough payments for a national lockdown shows the Prime Minister thinks workers in the North are worth less than those in the South, regional mayors have claimed.
The Government will plunge England back into Covid restrictions from Thursday with businesses set to close their doors for four weeks.
The Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced an extension to furlough payments of 80 per cent, despite workers in the north of England only being offered 67 per cent of pay when businesses were forced to close as part of Tier 3 restrictions.
At an online press conference on Sunday, Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram said: ‘This morning millions of people woke up knowing the Prime Minister of this country believes the North is worth less than the South.’
He said voters across ‘red wall’ areas would not be ‘fooled’ into electing the Conservatives again.
Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram accused the government of believing workers in the North are worth less than those in the South when they announced plans to extend 80% furlough for the national lockdown
The Labour politician said: ‘Apparently all votes count equally, but all voters demonstrably don’t to this Government and the support you get from the Chancellor of the Exchequer depends on a horizontal line drawn across the country and on which side of it you sit.’
He told the press conference that, during discussions about Liverpool City Region becoming the first area of the country to enter Tier 3 restrictions, the Government was ‘unequivocal’ that it would not consider changes to the furlough scheme.
He added: ‘I can assure the Government that the people of the North won’t easily forget that they were judged to be worth less than their southern counterparts.’
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said people in the region had ‘just completed three months of morale-sapping restrictions and now they are waking up to the prospect of a month of even tougher restrictions’.
Workers in the north of England were only being offered 67 per cent of pay when businesses were forced to close as part of Tier 3 restrictions. Steve Rotheram (left) and Andy Burnham (right) have suggested there is a north vs south divide in the government’s thinking
He added: ‘I honestly don’t believe that that is understood in Westminster, that already people have been ground down by the restrictions they have been living under and they need to understand that before we go any further forward.’
He called for work to be done on a ‘substantial localisation’ of the test and trace system, for self-employed people to be financially supported and for schools to close for two weeks for a ‘true circuit break’.
He said: ‘We need to see an end to the late-night briefings of newspapers which have major consequences for people’s lives, causing all kinds of worry and anguish, we need to see an end to the ongoing failure of test and trace, we need to see an end to the differential treatment of people on low wages, people in the North vs people in the South, we need to see an end to the exclusion of some people who desperately now need some public support.
Rishi Sunak announced the extension of his furlough scheme on twitter, but received a biting remark from Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham
‘If we do those things we can use November as a proper reset of this country’s response to this pandemic.’
Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson told BBC Breakfast he, as well as members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), had called for a lockdown in September as the city’s infection rates started to rise.
Mr Anderson, whose brother Bill died after contracting coronavirus last month, said: ‘It’s clear to me that the Government made the choice to put people’s health and the health concerns of the nation second and listen to Tory right-wing MPs and people arguing about the economy.
‘I think as a result of that it’s very, very clear that thousands of people have died.’
Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson told BBC Breakfast he, as well as members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), had called for a lockdown in September as the city’s infection rates started to rise
The Welsh First Minister has also criticised the move to extend furlough, saying it is ‘not fair at all’ to guarantee funding while the country is halfway through its ‘firebreak’ lockdown.
Mark Drakeford said Chancellor Rishi Sunak had rejected his requests to boost subsidies for wages when Wales went back into lockdown.
‘I got an answer quickly to say that was not possible for a number of technical reasons and so no,’ Mr Drakeford told BBC Radio Cymru.
The decision to extend furlough comes with England facing a new lockdown.
Eligible people in Wales will also benefit – as well as from a decision to extend mortgage payment holidays.
But the head of one business group said a lot of businesses had already made decisions in terms of redundancies, ahead of the furlough extension announcement.
The Treasury, which has been asked to comment, said previously that the UK government had provided billions in support to Wales.