People will not be surrendered to hardship, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has said, as the government prepares to bring in new restrictions in England to slow the spread of Covid.
Labour mayor Mr Burnham said the chancellor’s pledge to pay two-thirds of workers’ wages if restrictions force a firm to close was “insufficient”.
The government is planning to bring in a three-tier local lockdown system.
This could mean tougher rules in parts of northern England and the Midlands.
Liverpool, where there are currently 600 cases per 100,000 people, is expected to be placed under the most severe set of restrictions, with all the city’s pubs forced to close.
In a joint press conference with other mayors from northern England, Mr Burnham said negotiations about the lockdown in the North of England were ongoing but he was told by a “senior figure in Number 10” that the proposed financial help was “non-negotiable”.
“I’m angry actually about being told the effect on people’s lives is non-negotiable,” he said.
He added that the chancellor’s plans would hit the lowest paid – those on minimum or living wages. “These people can’t choose to pay two-thirds of their rent or two-thirds of their bills,” he said.
He also suggested the timing of the proposals could leave people without any financial support for weeks, with some first payments only due in December.
“That would leave people with no money for a period of six weeks and could push them into debt and severe hardship.
“To accept the chancellor’s package would be to surrender our residents to hardship and our businesses to failure or collapse – and we are not prepared to do that,” he said.
Referring to the chancellor’s previous furlough scheme, Liverpool mayor Steve Rotherham said: “If 80% was right in March, it’s right now. You can’t do lockdown for the North on the cheap.”
He said if the new restrictions were as severe as during the national lockdown in March, a similar sort of package was needed.
Mr Burnham and Mr Rotherham, together with mayors from Sheffield and North of Tyne, have written to all MPs in northern England asking them to call for a separate vote in Parliament on the chancellor’s latest package – and to reject it.
Mr Burnham said he would not rule out a legal challenge and did not accept hospitality workers were “somehow second-class citizens”.
“This goes to the heart of everything we care about – the north of England is staring the most dangerous winter for years right in the face.”