The Chancellor had a choice last week: protect people’s jobs and livelihoods through the difficult months ahead, or accept the risk of unemployment reaching levels not seen since the 1980s. In a tragedy for working people across the country, he chose the second option. Cobbled together at the eleventh hour, the ‘job support scheme’, the centrepiece of the Chancellor’s economic plan, is too little too late.
Labour has been calling for targeted support for months. Hundreds of thousands of workers have already lost their jobs. And the more details we hear about the scheme, the greater the dread for the millions of workers still on furlough. The way it has been set up means many employers will find it pays to bring back some of their workers and let the rest go, rather than keeping as many on as possible through the winter.
Elsewhere in his plan, the Chancellor made a misguided yet deliberate choice not to support those sectors – such as aerospace, the arts and hospitality – that are critical to the UK’s economic future but currently affected severely by national and local restrictions. And at the very moment we face the second wave of this deadly pandemic, the Chancellor had nothing to say about the shambles of test and trace, nor did he offer support for those needing to self-isolate.
The Chancellor has simply failed to face up to the scale of the crisis. Too many people are left out of his scheme, it doesn’t protect low earners and doesn’t do enough to ensure companies behave responsibly. But there is another way. At Labour Connected, Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds set out the Labour alternative: three steps that together would take Britain towards a better, more secure future – recover jobs, retrain workers, rebuild business.
First, we need to recover jobs. Rather than a devastating spike in unemployment, we need a genuine job recovery scheme. One that gives employers a better chance to support their workers by rewarding them for bringing more back part-time and working fewer weekly hours. Our scheme would also support employers to train their workforce, so that staff can undertake good quality courses to prepare for the future.
Second, we need to support those who have lost their jobs through a nationwide retraining strategy, putting education and training at the heart of our response. We should be equipping people for the secure, skilled jobs of the future, not consigning them to the worst jobs crisis in decades. The new training initiatives announced by the government today are little more than a mix of reheated old policies and funding that won’t be available until April. By then, some people will have been out of work for a year or more, so it risks being too late for many.
It is staggering that the Chancellor had nothing to say to the millions facing unemployment and real hardship over the winter. In the long-term, Labour would scrap Universal Credit, replacing it with a proper social safety net. But to deal with the immediate impact of this crisis, Labour is calling for five urgent changes, including ending the benefit cap and an end to the five-week wait.
Finally, we urgently need measures in place to help rebuild businesses. Many businesses are close to the edge. This matters, not least because struggling businesses are unlikely to be able to take on more employees. More than that, it’s clear that our economy needs to change. Not just because of the coronavirus crisis, but to end a decade of economic insecurity, inequality and low pay.
The Chancellor provided some limited new support to business on Thursday, but missed an opportunity to put in place a transformative programme that meets the scale of the challenge. We need an ambitious Green New Deal to rapidly decarbonise our economy and support the creation of good quality jobs for the future, including in green industries, social care and across the public sector.
And rather than giving no-strings-attached support to underperforming companies like Serco, or funding firms run by the Tories’ dodgy mates, Labour would give our NHS and public services the resources they need and see businesses rewarded for doing the right thing: paying their taxes, investing for the future, creating jobs and supporting our just transition to net zero.
The pandemic has exposed how the workers we should value the most are often the least well paid. Empowered trade unions should be our partners in industrial strategy, helping to build a fairer economy that works for all.
Boris Johnson’s Tories continue to struggle with the reality of the pandemic and economic crisis facing the country. They are in denial about the economic fallout from their failure to get a grip on the health crisis, and they are in denial about the impact of the coming jobs crisis on communities across the country.
My own constituency of Liverpool Walton now faces the highest levels of youth unemployment in the country according to latest figures. The jobs crisis is a tragedy for a generation who need help now and hope for the future.
It couldn’t be clearer: we can’t go back to a low paid, precarious, exploitative jobs market. We can’t go back to a social security system that punishes people for not being in work instead of supporting them. And we can’t go back to an economy that fails to meet our basic needs and puts our future at risk.
People need security, but this government is not going to give it to them. Labour’s job recovery scheme would. But people also need to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Labour’s three steps to recover jobs, retrain workers and rebuild businesses would form the foundations of an ambitious green recovery from the coronavirus crisis, creating a fairer, more secure and more sustainable future for the country.