Stephen Crabb: The UK has a huge role in global disease prevention. We must not step back from our commitments.

2 Dec

Stephen Crabb is Member of Parliament for Preseli Pembrokeshire.

As the world continues to battle Coronavirus, the UK’s leadership in global health has never been more important. Investment in strengthening health systems, developing vaccines, and preventing global disease saves hundreds of thousands of lives every year and helps build the very infrastructure that will protect us all from future pandemics.

Cutting back our overseas aid at this time of global crisis raises questions about our ability to maintain these crucial programmes at their current scale. Not just in terms of our obligations to the most vulnerable in the world, but also in terms of our fundamental duty to protect our own citizens at home.

And we know that investing in global disease prevention has the firm backing of the British public. According to recent polling by YouGov, over half of the British public said they are now more aware of the importance of preventing global disease than they were last year and 82 per cent now think the UK should play a role. Furthermore, 88 per cent see this investment is important for the UK’s security, and this figure was even higher among Conservative voters at 91 per cent.

The UK has a strong track record in fighting global disease under successive Conservative governments. Take malaria for example: over the past decade, British political leadership, investment, and world-leading scientific research have been at the forefront of the global efforts which have seen a 60 per cent reduction in deaths since 2000, and seven million lives saved. The investments in tackling malaria have been incredibly cost effective, too, delivering £36 in economic and social benefits for every £1 spent.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic has been a clear reminder of the fragility of progress against malaria, and the potential for the disease to surge in times of crisis. While many countries, governments and partners are showing incredible commitment, acting quickly, efficiently, and safely to move ahead with essential anti-malaria programmes, the full impact of Covid-19 on malaria responses may not be known for some time and cases and deaths are expected to rise.

Yet the current pandemic has also highlighted how tackling diseases like Covid-19 and malaria, and strengthening the resilience of frontline health services, go hand-in-hand. So much of the infrastructure needed to tackle malaria is the same as that needed to tackle Covid-19 and prevent future pandemics. Things like investing in data and surveillance systems that can provide early warnings and direct help to where it’s needed as fast as possible, and in supporting health workers who can diagnose and treat diseases accordingly.

In recent weeks we have also seen the importance of British science in the race to beat deadly diseases, with promising news about a new Covid-19 vaccine. Pioneering British science is also pushing the boundaries of knowledge to deliver practical solutions to help tackle malaria – from the development of life saving mosquito control tools supported by the Innovative Vector Control Consortium in Liverpool, to British companies like GSK which are leaders in development of a malaria vaccine. Again, this is an area where public support is very strong – with 79 per cent of people agreeing that the UK should invest in science and innovation to combat malaria specifically.

By continuing to channel not only British aid, but also British science, innovation, and technology to tackle diseases such as malaria, this government can proudly deliver on its 2019 manifesto pledges to end the preventable deaths of mothers, new-born babies and children by 2030 and lead the way in eradicating malaria – helping to save millions of children’s lives and countries to be much stronger in the face of future threats, for the benefit of us all.

That is why it is crucial that we do not step back from our international commitments now. We have a moral duty to the world’s vulnerable and a fundamental duty to protect our citizens at home. For both reasons, the UK must maintain its current financial commitments to tackling global diseases like malaria for the years to come, as a central pillar of British efforts to bolster future pandemic preparedness.

As we look ahead to next year, the UK-hosted G7 Summit and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda present key opportunities for our government to use its diplomatic muscle to encourage other countries to take action to improve their defences against future diseases, and continue the fight against existing ones. But being able to do so must be contingent on leading by our own example of maintaining our commitments in this vital field.

Stephen Crabb: Sunak must extend the uplift to Universal Credit – and make his intentions clear now

1 Oct

Stephen Crabb is Member of Parliament for Preseli Pembrokeshire.

When the Chancellor stood at the despatch box last week to announce the Winter Economic Plan, it was clear that he feels a deep personal responsibility to do all he can to protect lives and livelihoods.

It was a sobering message: with wage support now focusing on viable jobs, a further rise in unemployment is sadly now inevitable. Many more families will face great uncertainty and anxiety in the months ahead.

There are many pressing issues that our country will need to overcome but, in my view, the Government must immediately focus on preventing rising unemployment leading to a surge in poverty.

What was missing from the Chancellor’s statement was any mention of the crucial role being played by Universal Credit during this crisis and the bigger role it will inevitably need to play in the months ahead.

Ministers rightly acknowledged at the start of the pandemic the need to strengthen Universal Credit. The main rate of unemployment support had fallen to its lowest level in real terms since around 1990 and an uplift was an essential step in providing an effective safety net for the storm that was fast approaching.

The increase to the standard allowance Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit of £20-a-week has served as a lifeline for families who otherwise would have had to cut back on essentials, fallen behind with bills or been forced into debt.

However, this support is due to be withdrawn next April unless the Chancellor announces his intention to make it permanent. The statement on the Winter Economic Plan was a good moment for such an indication.

Withdrawing the uplift would reduce the spending power of people on lowest incomes. This will likely reduce consumption, meaning families going without essentials and household debts rising. It would also see a reduction in spending just when the economy needs it most.

In contrast, investing in social security can be an effective stimulus, with those at the bottom end of the income distribution allocating more of their budget to core bills and essentials, and therefore being more likely to spend additional income than wealthier households (who are more likely to save).

The concern over this upcoming overnight cut to incomes is shared by a coalition of over 50 leading charities, bishops and other organisations who earlier this week called on the Chancellor to make the temporary increase to Universal Credit permanent.

The letter highlights recent analysis by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which warned that 16 million people are in households facing an overnight income loss equivalent to £1,040 a year, and half a million of those already in poverty are at risk of being plunged into deep poverty unless this support remains in place.

Several committees in Parliament have already spotted the looming cut and have flagged warnings to ministers about the need to extend the uplift. The default Treasury position in these situations, however, is to commit to nothing until absolutely necessary – usually when Number 10 gets involved.

But we know how this will likely play out: Whitehall digs in. Meanwhile constituents start to realise the change in their circumstances that is coming. Backbenchers get spooked as the emails come in. Opposition turn up the heat supported by a wide range of voices outside Westminster. Whips step in to fix the problem with Number 10. U-turn.

A better course of action is to spot the political problem on the horizon and avoid it by having a clear plan. In this case the Government has already done the hard work – it now just needs to keep doing the right thing which is maintaining this vital support.

Just over nine months ago, our party won the General Election on a promise to deliver Brexit and level up the UK, improving the living standards of parts of the UK that understandably felt forgotten.

Many of us owe our seats to voters on low incomes, with the Conservative Party now more popular among these groups than the Labour Party. Unfortunately, it is precisely the areas of the UK that were most in need of levelling up before Coronavirus that are feeling the full force of the economic storm it unleashed.

To fulfil our promise, we will need to see investment in infrastructure, housing, jobs, reskilling and education in these parts of the UK, as set out in our manifesto and the recent announcements from Government.

We must not shy away from our responsibility to tackle the root causes of poverty. As more people lose their jobs, have their pay cut and hours reduced, the numbers of people at risk of poverty and debt will grow.

It is crucial that we have a social security system that people can turn to when they hit hard times.