Unions have been pushing hard for months for jobs support to continue beyond October. The short-time working scheme announced yesterday by Rishi Sunak – a model common in the rest of Europe but the first ever in the UK – is an important step.
But let’s be clear: it’s just one piece in the jigsaw of support we need. While the new scheme will give many firms much-needed breathing space to get back on their feet, ministers will need to do far more to protect livelihoods in the months ahead.
Wider support package
The government must urgently work with unions and business on a wider support package for the hardest-hit sectors of the economy. Which is why cancelling the Budget was a mistake.
The new scheme unveiled by the Chancellor is likely to benefit manufacturing companies most, where unions can negotiate work shares and pay top-ups. But industries like aviation, retail, arts and hospitality needed targeted support now.
Labour was right to highlight that yesterday’s announcement was a missed opportunity for skills and training. It’s crucial that hours not worked under the new short-time working scheme are not wasted.
Workers must be given the chance during their down time to build their skills and expertise, as an investment for the future. We will continue to push the government on our proposals for upskilling during this pandemic and beyond.
Keeping things under review
It’s no secret that the TUC pushed for the scheme to be more generous to avoid triggering more lay-offs and to provide more support for the self-employed. Mass unemployment is a real and growing threat. It scars lives and whole communities. Much better for our economic recovery to have workers paying their taxes and spending wages than adding to the benefit bill.
That’s why it’s essential that ministers are flexible and keep the level of support provided by the scheme under review. And they must set out what protections will be in place if we see more local lockdowns, and for people who can’t go to work because they’re caring or shielding.
Fixing the safety net
This new scheme is not going to halt all job losses and – despite a recent (temporary) increase in Universal Credit – is simply not enough for people to live on. We need a social security net that catches those who lose their jobs and allows them to bounce back quickly.
This pandemic has exposed the need for our benefits system to be urgently overhauled. This should include a rise in the standard UC payment to £260 per week, scrapping the five-week wait for the first payment, and the end of the two-child benefit cap.
And if we want people to able to self-isolate we need to give them a proper rate of sick pay. Rather than one-off payments for some of those are self-isolating, we need to increase statutory sick pay to the equivalent of a week’s living wage (£326) and make it available to all.
Investing in the future
It’s even more vital that government takes proactive steps now to shore up our economy. The TUC set out a plan in June for how we could create 1.24 million jobs in the next two years in the green industries of the future – if ministers fast-track investment now.
We have also called for a public sector jobs drive that will create decent, higher-skilled and better paid work. With the right investment, this could create 600,000 new jobs in public services.
The TUC and our unions know that the road ahead is going to be tough. But with the right support in place, government can stave off mass unemployment and protect people’s livelihoods.
We’ll continue to push for a wider economic plan that prioritises protecting and investing in good jobs, fixes the social safety net and finally sorts out sick pay. A responsible government would call unions and business to work with ministers in a National Recovery Council to do just that.