I am reassured by the fact that the Government will be making a statement on 7 May reviewing the current lockdown, but I need to make it absolutely clear to the Minister that business is stressed. The lockdown has collapsed demand, and the longer it goes on, the harder it will be for businesses to claw back that demand. Their future is bleak. I remind the Minister that the economy is people’s lives. It is our health service, our schools, our policing, our pensions, our roads, our mortgages, our workplace and so many more things. In short, it is us.
I urge the Government to do some modelling on the impact that the lockdown will have on the 5.9 million privately owned businesses in this country. Of that 5.9 million, 99.3% employ between one and 49 people, and if hundreds of thousands—or a million or more—of those businesses go under, we will unleash a tidal wave of human misery. Unemployment of 12% means 4 million people out of work, 4 million people suffering from mental health problems, and many more millions of people underemployed. We need to have a frank, open and honest debate about the ethics of trading lives tomorrow to save lives today. The chief medical officer has made it perfectly clear that there are people who are going to die of cancer who otherwise would not have died of cancer because of this lockdown. It may well be that, after that debate, we decide that this is a terrible trade we want to make, but we need to have that discussion, as a Parliament and as a country.
The chief medical officer has said that we may well have to learn to live with covid-19 for years to come. It may not just be a battle to beat the first wave or the second wave. There may be many waves to come, year after year, and we need an economy that is resilient and that can meet that challenge and face it down. So we have to get people back to work as safely as possible. Maybe in a few months’ time, because we want to protect our public services and the things that we value, the slogan will be: “Go to work, wash your hands, save the NHS”. Most people find their purpose, their motivation and their happiness in the workplace.
May I conclude by saying that many people in my constituency are doing truly wonderful things? Each day, they get up in the morning and go to work. I know some of them are fearful and frightened, but they go to work to keep this country running as best as they can—they are all heroes. I cannot thank everyone, because it is impossible to do so, but I would like to thank those at the little Co-op in Goffs Oak, where I live. Young men and women, and older men and women, are working on the tills, behind their glass screens. I am sure they are concerned about their own welfare, but there is always a cheery smile and a warm welcome, and they give the impression that nothing is too much to ask. There are many, many heroes, and a number of them are found at the Co-op in Goffs Oak.