Brown: Sunak must deliver new post-furlough recovery plan “within days”

Elliot Chappell
© 360b/Shutterstock.com

Gordon Brown has told the Chancellor that he must deliver a new economic recovery plan “within days” for when the furlough scheme comes to an end and called on businesses and trade unions to join his Alliance for Full Employment.

Giving his first keynote speech to a Labour Party conference in a decade, the former Labour Prime Minister told virtual attendees that people in the UK now face “the worst odds against finding a job for 50 years”.

Brown called for “co-operation and solidarity” as he warned that youth unemployment could rise to 30% as a result of the Covid crisis. He added that among 18-19 year olds, this figure could reach as high as 50%.

He made a direct call to SNP ministers in Edinburgh and argued that Scotland should be leading in a UK-wide campaign for full employment with the AFFE, already backed by Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford and all Labour English metro mayors.

The former Labour Prime Minister said: “Let us show people our vision of a united Britain is built not on the shifting sands of warring nationalisms but on the unbreakable rock of solidarity and a willingness to share.

“United around the same guarantee everywhere to every family of a rising living wage, improved child benefits, decent pensions and free NHS and education the costs and the benefits shared by all – the real same universal basic income for all the citizens in all of the UK.”

Brown also told Labour members and the public watching this afternoon that “Black jobs don’t seem to matter to this government, as BAME unemployment heads up to 20%”.

As well as Welsh Labour leader Drakeford, the AFFE also includes Greater Manchester’s Andy Burnham, Liverpool City Region’s Steve Rotheram, North of Tyne’s Jamie Driscoll, South Yorkshire’s Dan Jarvis and Bristol’s Marvin Rees.

1,200 council leaders, mayors and councillors have given their support to the Alliance earlier this month, signing a letter calling on the Prime Minister to rethink the plan to scrap the furlough scheme and to introduce targeted financial support instead.

Brown used his address today to call on ministers to support proposals from the campaign, including extending the furlough beyond October 31st now that new health restrictions have come into place amid fears of a second wave of the virus.

Figures from across the labour movement have welcomed the comments made by the former Labour Prime Minister this afternoon, with Unite general secretary Len McCluskey agreeing that “the time to act is now”.

He added: “We are staring the danger of mass unemployment in the face and only urgent government action can prevent a jobs catastrophe. I urge ministers to act on the AFFE agenda without delay.”

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “After a very brief flirtation with using the power of our state to protect livelihoods, the Tories have sadly returned to form and a jobs massacre is on its way unless they rapidly change course.

“It can’t be lost on the British people that as France, Germany and Spain extend their job retention schemes to protect workers, Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson are about to cut the legs off millions of our citizens by allowing an unemployment bonanza to flourish.”

Cortes described how the country urgently needs a “policy rethink” along the lines advocated by the AFFE, adding: “Time for Sunak and Johnson to recalibrate their response to an impending jobless calamity.”

Recent research shows it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a job as more people compete for fewer vacancies. One survey revealed that a trainee paralegal role received 4,228 applications, while a warehouse worker job received 2,932.

Commenting on the numbers, Richard Leonard said: “These alarming figures, coming as we face the threat of the economy collapsing and unemployment rocketing, show just how vital it is that the goal of full employment is placed at the heart of policy making.

“In Scotland, almost 350,000 workers are facing a furlough cliff-edge next month – and this could lead to long-term unemployment on a scale the people of Scotland have not seen in their lifetimes.”

The Scottish Labour leader added: “The real priority is about whether people are going to have jobs or not and as Scottish Labour leader I fully support this UK-wide AFFE and welcome Gordon Brown’s launch of this initiative in Scotland.”

Labour representatives from across the regions and nations of the UK came together and formed the AFFE earlier this month in anticipation of a major jobs crisis once the furlough scheme is withdrawn.

Rishi Sunak announced the winding down of the furlough scheme earlier this year. Labour has been consistently critical of a complete withdrawal of the support by the end of October, with Anneliese Dodds calling the move a “historic mistake”.

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