Wednesday evening's figures for new claims for Universal Credit are sobering and a reminder of the economic - and moral - consequences of the shuttering of huge swathes of the economy. Despite the government offering to pay 80 per cent of the wages of furloughed workers, 850,000 more people than usual have applied for Universal Credit in the past fortnight.
Right now, the shutdown is, I think, justified by the fact that it is the least worst way of preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed and the number of coronavirus deaths increasing to ever more horrific levels. But no one who backs the current policy should pretend that it doesn’t come at its own human cost. These figures also raise the question as to how high the number of people pushed onto benefits would be if this lockdown goes on for - say - four months.
The government urgently needs an exit strategy from its current policy. If we do end up in lockdown month after month, this country will become permanently poorer - and we will not be able to afford as good a health service, resulting in more premature deaths in the future.
Boris Johnson says in his video tonight that testing is the way out of the current crisis and it is right that mass antibody testing would make the whole situation much more straightforward; those NHS staff who have had the virus could return to the frontline, people would know who could volunteer with minimal risk to their own health and those who had recovered could return to work - giving the economy a vital boost. But this makes it all the more frustrating that a week after a senior Public Health England official told a Commons select committee that these tests were days away, there is still no sign of them.