Sarwar announces new ‘Scottish skills benefit’ policy for retraining workers

Sienna Rodgers

Anas Sarwar has announced a new ‘Scottish skills benefit’ policy that would help the furloughed, the out-of-work and those at risk of unemployment retrain as part of the Scottish Labour Party’s national recovery plan for jobs.

Under the proposal, those furloughed or on Universal Credit would receive an average of £500 to pay for the training, plus up to £750 for attendance for those unemployed, who would still be able to access their benefits.

Speaking ahead of his job plan launch, which follows Scottish Labour’s post-Covid proposals for the health service revealed last week, Sarwar said: “This pandemic has created a jobs crisis in Scotland, and it is far from over.

“More than 360,000 of our fellow citizens in Scotland are still on furlough and by June a further 210,000 are expected to be unemployed. That ends in September and many are anxious about whether they will have a job to go back to.

“Put simply, we have five months to come up with a plan to stop mass unemployment. That’s why it’s time to ditch the old politics of division and focus instead on national recovery so that we can protect and create jobs.”

The number of those furloughed or receiving UC is estimated to reach around 600,000 by June in Scotland. The UK government’s ‘Restart’ scheme for the long-term unemployed will not be up and running until then.

A report by The Prince’s Trust published last week found that 55% of employers in Scotland thought Covid would have a negative impact on the medium-term job prospects of young people in their sectors.

Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a political hero of Sarwar, has told the SNP to focus on recovery from the pandemic and the possibility of increasing unemployment, rather than the constitution.

“Devolution has given Scotland the power to act. The Covid crisis has handed the Scottish government extra resources to support our economy and high streets,” Brown wrote in a piece for the Daily Record.

“Nicola Sturgeon must do what I think even she knows is right – to put her constitutional argument to one side and focus on the job in front of her. What we need is concrete and ambitious policy.”

Similarly, Sarwar said ahead of his policy launch: “The SNP has squandered the opportunity to retrain Scotland’s workforce and we certainly can’t rely on Tories because they want to return us to the old failed economic thinking.

“And as our economy changes, those left behind by Covid or in at-risk industries deserve the support of the government to help find a job to guarantee their future.

“It’s only by using both votes for Scottish Labour that you can guarantee we have a parliament focused on creating jobs and a national recovery.”

The new Scottish skills benefit would first focus on the unemployed and the furloughed, increasing the Individual Training Account (ITA) subsidy from £200 to £500, while maintaining the offer of Universal Credit support.

But the scheme in its second phase would look at sectors undergoing structural change that are likely to have fewer employees in ten years’ time – such as retail, due to online shopping – and provide retraining opportunities to those workers.

Scottish Labour anticipates the total cost of the first Covid year of the policy to be between £250m and £300m, then going down to around £100m a year. Funding would mostly come from the Scottish budget and unallocated Barnett consequentials.

In the run-up to the Holyrood elections in May, the Scottish Labour leader – first elected last month – is unveiling in stages an all-encompassing national recovery plan to address the impact of coronavirus on Scotland.

The party’s NHS plan prioritises getting cancer treatment back on track, followed by improving mental health care and support, better pay for health and care workers, and the creation of a National Care Service.

Scottish Labour’s “national recovery plan” has been outlined as follows:

  • Jobs recovery: Guaranteeing a job for every young Scot by investing in a National Training Fund and a Business Restart Fund.
  • NHS recovery: Funding our NHS to get cancer treatment back on track, improve mental health, and give carers the pay they deserve.
  • Education recovery: Developing a comeback plan which invests in schools, and ensures IT support in every primary and secondary school.
  • Climate recovery: Investing in green jobs and seizing Scotland’s hosting of COP26 to champion an ambitious climate justice plan.
  • Community recovery: Creating a community recovery fund to invest in local areas and make our communities safer and strong

Sarwar, who was an NHS dentist before being elected as a Westminster MP in 2010, is standing in May against Nicola Sturgeon for the Glasgow Southside seat, while also being second on Labour’s list for the Glasgow region.

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