Richard Leonard has warned that the end of the UK government job retention scheme on Saturday will leave Scotland’s furloughed workers facing a “bleak Christmas” unless an adequate replacement for the programme is put in place.
The Scottish Labour leader described the proposed furlough replacement, the job support scheme, as “totally inadequate” for Scottish workers and likely to put at risk the jobs of the hundreds of thousands of employees still furloughed in the country.
Leonard has called on the Scottish government to commit to a ‘jobs guarantee scheme’, which would provide well-paid, green jobs for workers across Scotland and help combat the risk of mass unemployment in the devolved nation.
The Scottish Labour leader has also reiterated his demand that Chancellor Rishi Sunak introduce a Scotland-specific furlough extension to protect squeezed incomes going into the Christmas period.
Commenting on the end of the furlough scheme and the demands from Scottish Labour today, Leonard said: “Scotland’s furloughed workers face a harsh winter period and bleak Christmas after the end of furlough this weekend.
“Household incomes will take a substantial hit due to the Chancellor’s disastrous decision to end the scheme. Rishi Sunak’s half-baked replacement scheme is a totally inadequate package to make up for the substantial loss of furlough money.
“Scotland’s industries from oil and gas, right through to tourism and the arts, have been battered during the last seven months. There is no sign of any recovery and it’s therefore deeply worrying that despite the sharp rise in infections and tighter restrictions, the Chancellor is letting furlough end.
“Workers should not have their incomes cut back at this critical time, which is why the Chancellor must agree to Scottish Labour’s call for a furlough scheme that is targeted specifically at Scotland’s economy and workforce.
“Without it, the living standards of hard-pressed families and those on already squeezed incomes will only get worse as winter starts to bite and households face soaring fuel bills and the usual costs associated with Christmas.”
The Scottish Labour leader’s latest warning follows the release of Scotland’s benefit claimant statistics. In September, there were 224,200 people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and Universal Credit, a 101.2% rise on the start of the year.
The furlough scheme was introduced by the government in March and offered to pay workers 80% of their normal wages to help reduce costs for employers during the pandemic and save jobs. It will be cut off on Saturday, as October ends.
The Chancellor announced the job support scheme and job retention bonus after facing criticism from Labour, with the two programmes intended to encourage part-time working and serve as a replacement for the furlough.
In their initial form, the two much less-generous schemes were predicted to save just 230,000 jobs and leave just under two million people in otherwise viable professions at risk of becoming unemployed.
Analysis from the Scottish government projected that unemployment could reach as high as 8.2% in the country before the year’s end, as it expected the Chancellor’s proposed job support scheme to fail to curb rising unemployment.
The Chancellor has since announced changes to the Tory plans and put forward a local furlough for areas under restrictions, but Labour has argued that the plan is still flawed with one party source saying it had “more holes in it than Swiss cheese”.
The new local furlough offers just 67% of a worker’s wage, compared to the 80% offered in the original programme. Many have expressed fears about what that reduction in income will mean for employees on the minimum wage.
In response, Leonard has reiterated his call for the Chancellor to put forward a new Scotland-specific furlough to ensure the country’s workers do not miss out and its economic needs are properly accounted for.
The Scottish Labour leader first called for a Scotland-specific furlough scheme during an event at the UK party’s virtual conference this year. He told a Labour ‘Connected’ event in September that the move was needed “to save jobs now”.