Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak are completely out of touch about the looming jobs crisis. The UK has already lost a million jobs since the start of the pandemic: around 700,000 workers laid off and an additional 280,000 self-employed workers.
This situation is likely to get much worse. 2.7 million people are still on the furlough scheme and at risk of losing their job in the coming weeks. Last Friday the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions revealed that the government is planning for a total of around 4 million unemployed.
A new Job Support Scheme will begin on the 1st November and last for 6 months. But as the JSS makes it more expensive for employers to keep workers on part-time than employ some full-time and let others go, the labour market still faces a cliff-edge at the end of October when the furlough scheme ends.
The government says that it is not prepared to support unviable businesses, but many businesses are only unviable because they’re still not legally allowed to operate normally. No-one is arguing that furlough or any other scheme should continue indefinitely, but we are still living with public health restrictions brought in to deal with a global pandemic. In these circumstances, the government does need to step in to ensure that businesses survive and we avoid further job losses.
When people are out of work, they naturally tighten their belts and spend less money in shops, restaurants and other businesses. As a result, more businesses see their incomes reduce and they begin to lay off staff themselves. It’s vitally important that the government acts now to save as many jobs as possible before this spiral of unemployment takes hold.
Mass unemployment has a devastating impact on individuals, families, and communities; we’re still feeling the consequences of the last time we had mass unemployment here in South Yorkshire in the 1980s. The effects can last for generations and lead to long-term economic decline.
Millions of jobs and livelihoods are hanging by a thread. Yet, neither the Prime Minister nor the Chancellor had anything to say about unemployment in their recent speeches at the Conservative conference. They are cutting people loose and leaving them to fend for themselves in the middle of a pandemic, which has destroyed their livelihoods through no fault of their own.
Along with other Labour MPs, I’ve urged the Chancellor to provide targeted support to sectors of the economy that have been particularly badly hit by lockdown, to introduce a wage support scheme that incentivises employers to keep more staff on, and to establish a National Retraining Strategy to help people who are already unemployed back into work.
The government must heed Labour’s warnings, take our suggestions on board and get a grip of the jobs crisis before it’s too late.