Labour Party leader says it is ‘extraordinary’ that lockdown measures are less strict than last spring

Sir Keir Starmer has urged the government to consider restricting the operation of the housing market in order to curb the rapid spread of covid-19.

In questions following a major speech on the coronavirus crisis and the economy yesterday, the Labour leader asked why house viewings were being allowed when they were banned during last year’s spring lockdown.

The government has allowed both the housing market and construction sites to continue working during the current lockdown in England, with house viewings permitted and estate agents and show homes able to remain open.

The comments come amid growing pressure on the government to consider even tighter restrictions on people given the deepening crisis in UK hospitals, and just days after the housing ministry made clear it was keeping the prospect of shutting the market on the table.

Kier Starmer economy speech

Starmer (pictured left) said the UK was entering the “most serious stage” of the pandemic and that many people were surprised at the number of facilities still open. He said: “It is still possible at the moment, as I understand it, to go and view houses if you’re going to buy a house, and that wasn’t allowed last March.

“So we’re in this extraordinary situation … at least as serious, if not a more serious position than in March of last year, we’ve got less restrictions in place.

“I think we are going to have to look in the next 24 hours or so, what are the other measures that could be put in place, and hear from the scientists as to which of those that they think are more effective, and then all pull together and support those measures if they’re needed because the numbers are still, as everybody knows, heading in the wrong direction on.”

Starmer also called for the government to introduce a right to flexible furlough for working parents, to enable them to manage the twin demands of work and childcare through the pandemic, and for more support for the estimated three million self-employed people who are not benefiting from existing Treasury support packages.

The inability of construction workers to qualify for keyworker provision at schools, despite being urged to carry on working, has emerged as a major issue for the industry over the past week.

Starmer’s comments come after the housing ministry issued guidance stating that, while the housing market remained open for the moment, “it may become necessary to pause all home moves locally or nationally for a short period of time to manage the spread of coronavirus”.

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A spokesperson for the department insisted there were no immediate plans to close the market nationally or in any region.

The news comes as emerging data suggests the housing market has been so far unaffected by the latest lockdown measures. Rightmove reported its busiest ever start to the year, and Vistry this morning said that sales so far in January had seen “no impact” from the pandemic.

So far, the government has been resisting calls to tighten the lockdown rules set out last week, instead focusing on boosting adherence to the current restrictions. England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty yesterday gave a round of media interviews playing up the seriousness of the threat of the virus, and calling on everyone to do their part.