The speech made by Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Opposition, on 11 January 2021.
This is a critical moment in our battle against Coronavirus.
Yesterday, there were 55,000 new infections.
32,000 people were in hospital with Covid.
And tragically, over the weekend 1,600 people lost their lives to this dreadful virus.
In the months to come I want to set out the better, fairer Britain I know we can build together.
But between us and that better future, stands a huge national effort.
And today I want to focus on that.
The government’s task is clear.
To deliver the vaccine as quickly and as safely as possible.
And to secure the economy, by protecting family incomes and supporting businesses.
As the vaccine is rolled out, we all have a part to play.
We have to stay at home.
We have to follow the guidance.
And we have to protect our amazing NHS.
I appreciate how hard another lockdown will be.
For the millions who are juggling childcare and working at home.
For young people when the school gates are closed.
And for businesses that aren’t allowed to open.
We all want to see our loved ones.
We all want to reclaim our lives.
But we have a job to do first, as a people and as a country.
In the race between the virus and the vaccine, our task is to do everything we can to suppress the virus.
I know the British people will rise to the challenge.
Because this has been a time of national solidarity and heroism.
From our care workers, our delivery drivers, our posties, our shop workers and our life savers in the NHS.
We’ve seen extraordinary achievements from British science, British business, research and manufacturing.
And there have been extraordinary acts of kindness and compassion.
We’ve seen the best of the British people in the most difficult times.
If only the British people had a government that was worthy of them.
But I’m afraid the Prime Minister and the Government have been found wanting at every turn.
Even in the best of times, you can’t be indecisive in government.
In the worst of times, indecision can be fatal.
Every time there’s a big decision to make, Boris Johnson gets there too late.
He was too slow to lock down in March of last year.
Too slow to protect our care homes.
Too slow to save jobs and businesses.
And too slow to get protective equipment to the frontline.
In the summer, he ignored the warnings to prepare for a second wave.
In September, he ignored the science and delayed a circuit break, only to introduce a longer lockdown a month later.
In December there was the debacle about household mixing over Christmas.
And then, when he was told by his scientists on 22 December that a national lockdown was needed, he delayed again for nearly two weeks.
The indecision and delays of the Prime Minister cost lives and they cost people’s jobs.
The British people will forgive many things.
They know the pandemic is difficult.
But they also know serial incompetence when they see it – and they know when a Prime Minister simply isn’t up to the job.
The government says it’s trying to balance the health crisis with the economic crisis.
Yet we ended 2020 with one of the worst death tolls in Europe and the deepest recession of any major economy.
That’s not bad luck.
That wasn’t inevitable.
It’s the consequence of the PM’s repeated delay and incompetence.
As we start the new year, we need a new approach.
And a new national contract – the British people stay at home and help to get the virus under control.
In return, the government delivers on their priorities.
By delivering the vaccine and securing the economy to protect family incomes and support business.
The first priority is to get Britain vaccinated.
This is now the only way out of the darkness.
Thanks to our brilliant scientists, we were the first country in the world to get the vaccine.
Let’s be the first in the world to get our country vaccinated.
This must be the focus of all our efforts.
The biggest peacetime project in our history.
We need a round-the-clock vaccine programme, 24-hours a day, 7 days-a-week.
In every village and town, every high street and every GP surgery.
We all need to play our part.
Government, businesses, our armed forces, public services and tens of thousands of volunteers coming together like never before.
The Government says it can deliver 2 million doses a week by the end of the month.
I hope they do. Let’s hold them to that. And let’s help them with that.
But then we must deliver even more and double that target in February.
This isn’t just about Government.
It’s about all of us.
So, lets sign up to volunteer, let’s roll up our sleeves – quite literally – and do everything we can in a truly national effort.
Because every day we’re stuck in this nightmare of lockdowns and closures is another day that we can’t see our families, our friends and our loved ones.
It’s another day that we can’t enjoy everything the world has to offer.
And it’s another day that our economy, and our country is held back.
This pandemic has taken at least 80,000 lives.
It’s cost the NHS £1 billion a week, the UK economy £5.3 billion a week and its seen jobs losses running at 23,000 week.
So the quicker we can get the vaccine rolled out, the quicker we can recover and rebuild.
Until then, the Government must secure the economy to protect family incomes and support businesses.
Family has always been incredibly important to me.
It meant everything to my parents that I was able to get on, to go into law and to lead a public service – the Crown Prosecution Service.
It meant everything to me that the NHS was there to care for my mum when she desperately needed it
And it means everything to me now that I have a loving family of my own.
So when I think of the economy, I think about how it affects families, people worried about paying the bills, covering childcare, or coping with insecure work.
When I think of public services, I think of families relying on our NHS or our schools and when I think of Britain, I think of the hopes and ambitions of millions of families across the country.
So it makes no sense to me at all that when we’re asking so much of the British people, the Government is doing so little to support families.
Working parents have been left once again to juggle childcare and work.
It’s hard on the kids.
It’s hard on the school staff.
And it’s tough on every parent.
For those who can work at home, it’s difficult.
But for those parents who can’t work from home or don’t have a partner to share the load, it can mean the difference between keeping their job or looking after their family.
So the Government should go further to support working parents.
By creating a legal, enforceable and immediate right for parents to request paid flexible furlough and by promoting that to all working parents to help them get through this lockdown.
The Government also need to do far more to protect family incomes.
We’re in the worst recession for 300 years.
Yet the Prime Minister and the Chancellor want to hike council tax – a £1.9bn bombshell that lands a bill of around £90 on every family.
They plan to cut Universal Credit – taking £1,000 a year from millions of families and pulling another 200,000 children into poverty.
And on top of that, they want to freeze pay for millions of key workers who have got us through this crisis – including our armed forces, our care workers, our teachers, our firefighters and police officers.
This shows that the Government isn’t just incompetent but also that it has the wrong priorities.
This is the Government that gave Dominic Cummings a £40,000 pay rise, but won’t pay our carers a decent wage.
This is the Government that wasted £22bn of taxpayers’ money on a testing system that doesn’t work, but now can’t find the money to support families.
And this is the Government that sprayed money on private contracts that didn’t deliver, but won’t give councils the support they need.
That’s why I’m calling on the Government today to put families first during this lockdown.
By backing local councils to prevent council tax rises; stopping any cut to Universal Credit; extending the ban on evictions and repossessions and giving our key workers the pay rise they deserve.
I know this isn’t everything that’s needed.
And that after so much suffering, we can’t go back to business as usual.
To an economy where over half of our care workers earn less than the living wage.
Where childcare is amongst the most expensive in Europe.
Where our social care system is a national disgrace and where over 4 million children grow up in poverty.
But taking these steps now would make a real difference to millions of people across the country.
And it would put families at the heart of our recovery.
The next major priority over the coming months is supporting businesses.
Businesses are the engine of our economy.
They’re not just a source of good jobs and prosperity but also of pride and dignity.
My dad was a toolmaker, he spent his whole life on the factory floor.
And so I know that when businesses are forced to close, to pull out of high streets or to leave communities they’ve been a part of for years.
It doesn’t just affect profit. It affects people. It affects our communities and it affects our country.
We should all be immensely proud of the role British businesses has played during this pandemic.
From keeping our shelves stacked and producing protective equipment, to helping to develop and distribute the vaccine.
And when we come out of this crisis I want Britain to be the best country to do business in – High-tech, high-skilled, high-paid and looking to the future.
Building in Britain – and trading with the world.
But if we’re to do that, the Government needs to protect British businesses – and to protect people’s jobs now.
That’s why Labour’s calling for the creation of 400,000 good jobs in low carbon sectors – because this recovery has to be a green recovery.
A High Streets Fightback Fund to protect our local shops and retail, because Britain can’t re-open if our towns and our high streets are closed.
And for the government finally to close the huge gaps in support for the self-employed, because if we’re to rebuild our economy, we need the dynamism and creativity of everyone.
To have excluded 3 million self-employed people last March was unfair.
To do it again in the autumn added insult to injury. To continue now into the new lockdown, is totally unforgivable.
The package I’ve set out today shows Labour’s priorities for the new year.
Because in 2021 we need to write a new chapter in our national story.
Britain shouldn’t have one of the highest death tolls in Europe, and the deepest recession
We shouldn’t be facing the slowest recovery and we shouldn’t be suffering the tragedy of so many deaths every day from this virus.
That we are is a mark of the serial failures of this Government, and how badly the British people have been let down.
There will be hard months ahead.
But the seasons will turn.
A dark winter will give way to a brighter spring and when it does, I know that together we can build a better future: a country worthy of the sacrifices of the British people.
Just as we did in 1945 when Attlee’s government built the welfare state from the rubble of war.
We can restore pride and prosperity in every village, every town, every city and every part of our United Kingdom.
We can secure our economy. Protect our NHS. And rebuild Britain.
So that it’s the best country to grow up in and the best country to grow old in.
In the months ahead I’ll be setting out Labour’s vision for that better future. And how we can build it together.
For now, let us come together to walk through the darkness.
Safe in the knowledge that our scientists, our NHS and the power of our solidarity will win out.