BLACKBURN MP Kate Hollern writes her fortnightly column for the Lancashire Telegraph...

THE next month is going to be busy for the Government.

The Chancellor will deliver the Budget in March which some have styled the ‘levelling-up budget’. The decisions he makes will affect millions of lives.

As we go into March, funding for self-isolation payments is expected to dry up by the end of the month.

In Blackburn, the Government’s funding had already failed to match the demand for financial support, leaving the council with the only option but to find the money to support people from elsewhere.

Look ahead to April and it’s clear this crisis is far from over. The £20 Universal Credit uplift is expected to come to an end as is furlough and the evictions ban. Both are designed to prevent people from becoming jobless and homeless.

Thousands more could be out of a job. Three in five families on Universal Credit told the Resolution Foundation that they will struggle to keep up or will fall behind on bills if it isn’t extended. Similarly, Labour estimates that 190,000 renters could be at risk of becoming homeless.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The Government has so far talked a good game about levelling-up our regions and tackling inequality, and now is the time to deliver.

The Government’s new UK Shared Prosperity Fund is a case in point. Lancashire benefitted from more than £265 million from the Prosperity Fund’s predecessor between 2014 and 2020. Yet so far the Government has committed £220 million in pilot funding next year for the entire country – well shy of the £2.1 billion a year the country previously benefitted from.

We are still awaiting the detail, but one thing is clear: if the Government is to tackle inequality in Lancashire it needs to make sure that equitable recovery is at the centre of its plans.

In my own constituency, Blackburn, I’ve seen first-hand how the pandemic has devastated lives and livelihoods. Families are struggling to keep their heads above water, the pandemic has taken a toll on people’s mental and physical health and small businesses are desperate to see people return safely to their shops.

Next month’s Budget could either set our course on recovery – or it could choke it off completely. The Government’s track record has left a lot to be desired. It has been to slow to procure PPE for frontline staff – instead giving billions away in contracts to friends; failed to feed hungry children; and failed to adequately support people self-isolate.

The Government can’t afford to be slow out of the starting blocks once again. It must act quickly to re-build a more prosperous and equal Lancashire.