Rishi Sunak committed to extending the furlough scheme earlier today, with people set to receive 80% of their wage covered by the government, for workers in businesses forced to close due to Covid restrictions until March next year.
Reacting to the statement delivered by the Chancellor on the economic support package this afternoon, Labour’s Anneliese Dodds told MPs that “the Chancellor can change his mind at the last minute, but businesses can’t”.
The Shadow Chancellor criticised him for the “last-minute” U-turn and highlighted that this was the fourth change to his ‘winter economy plan’ in six weeks unveiled earlier in the year. Here’s how trade unions reacted to the extension…
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said that agreeing to extend the scheme at its 80% rate until spring was a “positive step” but argued that “there are still gaps in the government’s support package”.
Commenting on the effect on low-pay wage workers, she added: “It’s not right to ask millions of low-paid workers on furlough to survive on less than the minimum wage. The Chancellor must fix the scheme so their pay is topped up to 100%.”
The leader of the trade union federation also said that the Chancellor needed to offer more help to those self-employed workers who don’t qualify for government support and are “falling between the cracks” as a result.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey declared that the furlough extension was “welcome but entirely predictable” and criticised the government for failing to offer more than “short-term sticking plasters” to workers until now.
He also warned that “thousands of UK jobs have been lost in the past 24 hours alone” as a result of the delay in announcing the furlough extension – the government only confirmed the move just before the scheme was due to end.
The general secretary criticised a lack of planning from the Tories and said that “the absence of longer-term, strategic support” is “making desperate matters worse and is a gift to our competitors who will recover faster and stronger”.
McCluskey added: “We need a government with a plan to protect health, jobs and incomes, to get us through these frightening times and out the other side, and we need it yesterday.”
The GMB warned that the government’s delay in choosing to extend the furlough scheme had created a “bonfire of jobs and investment” and stopped workers or employers from “planning for the future”.
Commenting on the announcement today, acting general secretary John Phillips said that while the move would “provide much-needed certainty for many workers”, there were still many issues that still needed addressing.
Phillips highlighted as one example the “injustice” of UK sick pay rates, which are some of the lowest in Europe. He warned that without action “those who are doing the right thing” and self-isolating would be “punished with poverty sick pay”.
The retail union said that it was “crucial” that workers did not “pay the price” for fighting Covid and expressed concerns about the situation for minimum wage workers under furlough, many of whom will have to survive on very low pay.
General secretary Paddy Lillis called on the government to top up minimum wage workers furlough pay to meet the living wage and called for an increase to UK sick pay rates, saying it was a “crucial part of limiting the spread of the virus”.
He also mirrored concerns expressed by Labour on the last-minute timing of the furlough announcement and declared that “too often the government has chased the pandemic, rather than get ahead of it”.
Community union general secretary Roy Rickhuss declared that the union was “pleased” with the new extension as it fulfilled many of the demands made in a letter sent by the organisation to the Chancellor on Wednesday.
The trade union, which has been vocal in its support for self-employed workers during Covid, called on the government to explain the details of the newly extended Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS).
Rickhuss warned that without more information many self-employed would be “plunged into uncertainty”. He also criticised the “unforgivable gaps” in the scheme that have left millions of self-employed people without support.
The Labour-affiliated trade union called for more “reskilling and retraining opportunities” for UK workers and support for “viable businesses” to ensure a “prosperous future as we emerge from the crisis”.
Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy criticised the “confusion and uncertainty” that had been caused by the Chancellor’s “constant redrafting of the rules on economic support” after the last-minute furlough announcement.
He welcomed the new extension to the scheme but warned that “thousands of jobs” had been lost due to the government’s delay, which will “plunge people into economic hardship that was totally avoidable”.
Clancy also declared that the “exclusion of three million self-employed and freelance workers” from SEISS was now “even more unjustifiable than it was back in March” and called for Sunak to ensure everyone will have access to support.
And other organisations…
Head of economics at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Dave Innes said Sunak was “right to acknowledge” that the crisis would last for months and supported the decision to give business and workers certainty with a furlough extension.
He criticised the Chancellor for failing to “extend that certainty and reassurance” to 16 million people in families on Universal Credit or Working Tax Credit, who will face a £20 drop in weekly income once an emergency benefit uplift ends next April.
Innes also expressed concerns that no announcement was made on extending the evictions ban, which he called a “vital protection for renters” and warned that without it the UK could see a “wave of evictions and increased homelessness”.
Carsten Jung, a senior economist at the Institute for Public Policy Research, mirrored these concerns and warned that many families “may even find themselves on the street” in the coming winter without an eviction ban extension.
The think tank also called on the government to implement a “targeted stimulus”, which would get “cash into family’s pockets during this challenging time” as the number of those made unemployed continues to rise.
The IPPR economist also reiterated a call made by the group last month to reform the job retention bonus, which is one of the scheduled replacements to the furlough, to be more “targeted” on those in need and less “wasteful”.