This week's MP's column comes from Imran Hussain, Labour MP for Bradford East

THROUGHOUT the coronavirus crisis, Bradford’s poorest have been the ones suffering the most.

Facing rampant health inequalities and having to put themselves in hard situations just to make ends meet and get by, they are the ones who are most likely to have caught Covid-19 and they are the ones who are most likely to have sadly died from it.

Stuck in already precarious and low-paid roles that are seen as disposable by many big businesses, they are also the ones who are most likely to lose their jobs or see their wages cut, and be left struggling financially because of it.

Yet despite this and the problems that are created by the poverty staring the Government in the face, Ministers are refusing to do anything about it.

Instead, they have effectively turned their backs on some of the poorest, and if Bradford is forced into Tier 3 restrictions without financial support of at least £75 million that I have been calling for, Ministers will again abandon those most in need of help from their Government.

Nowhere can we see this more clearly than in their appalling refusal to vote last week for Labour’s plan to extend free school meals through the school holidays. Free school meals ensure that the poorest children get a good, nutritious meal, but rather than accept this policy, Government MPs blocked it.

They spent the summer telling us to ‘Eat Out to Help Out’, but are now telling starving children to ‘Eat Nowt to Help Out’, punishing children for the economic situation of their parents.

Blocking free school meals has been one of the most savage and recognisable demonstrations of their unwillingness to act, but it has not been the only one.

Whilst the Government seemed willing at the start of this crisis to step to help those in need, these good intentions have quickly evaporated and the Government has time and time again refused to implement policies that will help the poorest.

They pulled the rug out from underneath those self-employed workers struggling to see their businesses return to pre-Covid levels by cutting their support scheme from 80 per cent of monthly wages in March to just 20 per cent, and they left in place a dangerous cliff-edge by scrapping the Job Retention Scheme later this week that will see businesses forced to either have their staff return to work, regardless of whether there is actually work for them to return to, or have them made redundant.

They also raised Statutory Sick Pay by just £1.60 to £95.85 per week, which is amongst the lowest in Europe and leaves the poorest unable to afford to self-isolate, have failed to put in place adequate support to protect the wages of those in Tier 2 areas like Bradford who’ve seen demand collapse because of the restrictions, and refused to extend the ban on evictions until the economy recovers.

When I asked the Prime Minister a fortnight ago to guarantee that he will support those areas most in need, he ducked my question almost entirely.

Even before this crisis, Bradford faced Dickensian levels of poverty with around half of the children across the district growing up in households on the breadline and with economic challenges that mean more people are trapped in precarious employment and working in low-paid roles.

Yet if Ministers do not get their act together in their response to the impact of Coronavirus on the poorest, we will see another generation trapped in poverty and the number living in deprivation will only get worse.

It will also only get worse if the Government forces Bradford and the rest of West Yorkshire into Tier 3 restrictions which will close those businesses that provide the casual, part-time and low-paid work that many of the poorest are employed in, and which will end up forcing the closure of many others that will be starved of trade.

Many of the poorest are therefore extremely fearful of what Tier 3 will mean for their jobs, their incomes and their families.

If the Government put us in Tier 3 without adequate financial support to protect the incomes and livelihoods of not just those whose places of work are closed, but those in supply chains and those whose wages are most at risk of economic shifts, we risk seeing a repeat of the devastation that the financial crash and recession of the last decade, and the cruel, ideological austerity that followed them caused to Bradford.

Ministers, therefore, cannot conduct a box-ticking negotiation with local authorities on Tier 3 and they cannot overrule us as they did with Manchester.

Instead, we must have meaningful engagement with local leaders and local people to develop a response that meets our local challenges, and they must not give us any less than what Liverpool, Lancashire and South Yorkshire received in financial support per person, as I demanded from them last week with a £75 million figure as a starting point for real negotiations.

The scale of the challenge that the poorest in Bradford face during this crisis cannot be ignored by this Government any longer, and it is time for them to live up to their repeated promise that we are all in this together.