Wes Streeting accuses Chancellor of return to “Thatcher’s sink or swim mentality”

Andrew Kersley
© David Woolfall/CC BY 3.0

Labour’s Wes Streeting has accused Chancellor Rishi Sunak of returning to “Thatcher’s sink or swim mentality” on jobs after a government minister defended the decision to refuse support to worst-hit sectors such as hospitality.

Reacting to comments by Helen Whately on Sky this morning, the shadow Treasury minister criticised the decision to consign millions of workers “to the scrap heap” as otherwise healthy industries have been forced into short-term closures.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a new job support scheme last week that would offer support to those who cannot fully return to work, but only to staff able to work one third of the hours of their normal working hours.

Whately defended the approach taken by the government on Kay Burley’s Sky breakfast show today, saying: “It doesn’t make sense to continue supporting jobs where there simply isn’t work at the moment.”

She also suggested that the Chancellor’s scheme was a move to “the next phase” of government support, and argued that the government now should only “support people where they can be working”.

Commenting on Whately’s appearance, Streeting said: “We have it in black and white: the government doesn’t think it makes sense to support jobs where there isn’t work “at the moment”.

“Millions consigned to the scrap heap because the Chancellor wouldn’t back jobs that would be viable in the long run with a proper work-sharing scheme that incentivised employers to keep more staff on.

“We’re back to the worst days of Thatcher’s sink or swim mentality. And just like in the 1980s, it’s people on the lowest incomes in the North and the Midlands who will pay the highest price. The shine is well and truly coming off Rishi Sunak.”

Under the Chancellor’s new scheme, eligible employees – those who work at least one third of their normal hours – will have worked hours paid by their employer and their hours not worked paid jointly by the government and their employer.

For the time that workers are not working, the government will pay a third of workers’ usual pay and the employer will pay another third of their usual pay. Those included in the scheme will be paid 77% of their usual pay in total.

Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds has criticised the proposed replacement to the furlough scheme, saying it was announced too late. She questioned whether the new scheme truly incentivises short-hours working.

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