LAST month Boris Johnson said that he wanted a return to normality by Christmas. Like much of what the Prime Minister says, it might sound nice but there’s a problem: this isn’t just unrealistic, a return to business as usual is not desirable or sustainable.

Like everyone else, I can’t wait for this pandemic to end. I want regular haircuts, to be able to go out for a meal, attend a live concert or simply just meet up with family and friends. It’s difficult though to see how we return to normality, or, indeed, why we would want to.

When the Prime Minister talks about getting back to normal, he’s missing the bigger picture. Covid-19 has not just caused a public health crisis, it has highlighted a deeper economic one. Every day, there’s a new headline with another business closing, leaving hundreds or thousands of staff unemployed at the precise time they can least afford it. We have also seen businesses exploiting anti-union laws to fire and re-hire staff on contracts that leave them massively worse off, which itself speaks of another problem: the lack of employment rights in the UK.

Then there are the effects of the furlough system. Furlough has been a lifeline for many, and I hope to see it extended for those who need it. Yet, the reality is that many of those furloughed have had their pay reduced and have been hit financially. Others have been forced to self-isolate on statutory sick-pay of less than £100 a week, which even the Health Secretary admitted he couldn’t survive on.

Of course, some received no support at all. Recently, I joined the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) named Excluded UK which is seeking justice for those who have fallen through the gaps of the Government’s coronavirus support packages. Many of these are people who have worked their entire lives, yet have been forgotten by the Government when they most needed help.

Whether furloughed or forgotten, these workers have gone without a proper income for months and many will have lost their jobs or businesses permanently. It is unrealistic to think this can be fixed by Christmas.

The Government also needs to consider what normality actually is. During lockdown I have met with constituents concerned about the climate emergency, the abject failures of Universal Credit, and the need for better support for cancer patients. Coronavirus has highlighted the inequalities in our society. Deprived areas have been hit the hardest, social care is inadequate, while outbreaks of the virus in garment factories in Leicester have shown the damage cruel, unsafe conditions and non-unionised workplaces can cause.

We cannot continue as we have been, because it isn’t sustainable. It won’t work for the planet, for our economy, the 33 million workers in the UK and it won’t protect the vulnerable.

We are facing an unprecedented economic and public health crisis. Now is the time for bold economic plans, and creative solutions to extraordinary problems. We need an economy that prioritises both the environment and people, as well as addressing the damaging health inequalities that have made this virus worse.

Simply put, normal isn’t desirable and as soon as the Government accepts that we need more than ‘feel good’ rhetoric, we can begin rebuilding a genuinely fair society

  • Mary Kelly Foy is the Labour MP for the City of Durham