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Extend furlough scheme for people in local lockdown, Labour’s Anneliese Dodds demands

The Shadow Chancellor (centre) will call on the Government to do more to prepare for the economic toll of a second Covid-19 wave. (PA)

3 min read

Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds is urging Rishi Sunak to keep the coronavirus furlough scheme going beyond October if people are caught up in a local lockdown.

In her first major speech in the role, the Labour frontbencher called on the Chancellor to “recognise the scale of the challenge we face” and hold a “Back to Work Budget” focused on jobs.

And she will said the Government must make sure that “localised second waves don’t wash away businesses and jobs in their wake” by extending the furlough scheme if needed.

The demand comes after Leicester was put back into lockdown following a spike in cases, with the east midlands city exempt from a host of easing measures that will kick in in the rest of England on Saturday.

The Treasury has previously confirmed that its Job Retention Scheme (JRS) will keep paying 80% of people’s wages — up to £2,500 per month — as they stay at home during the pandemic until the end of July.

From August, firms will be asked to pay national insurance and pensions contributions, before being asked to foot 10% of a furloughed employees’ pay from September and then 20% in October before the scheme closes at the end of the month.

Boris Johnson on Thursday doubled down on that position, saying keeping the multi-billion pound programme running would leave people in “suspended animation”.

But Ms Dodds said: “As with the lifting of lockdown, what we have now is an exit without a strategy.  Government must abandon its one-size-fits-all wind-down of the Job Protection and self-employed schemes.

“We need a targeted strategy that acknowledges that workers in struggling sectors cannot and should not be treated the same way as workers in sectors that are already back to full capacity. 

“This is not about ‘picking winners’, in the Chancellor’s words. It is about protecting those who have lost - through no fault of their own. It is about giving people across the country a fair chance. The reward for months of sacrifice cannot be a redundancy notice.”

And the Shadow Chancellor added: “This week we saw a wave of companies announcing enormous job losses - because the government is refusing to shift from its one-size-fits-all approach. To avoid the same flood of redundancy notices for workers within smaller companies later on this month, government must act now - and abandon its one-size-fits-all approach.”

The Labour frontbencher is meanwhile calling on Mr Sunak, who will make a set-piece economic statement next week, to do more to support businesses with “targeted” help.

She said of small business owners hit by the crisis: “That frustration, that anger, at working hard all your life, playing by the rules, doing the right thing, waiting your place patiently in the queue, only to find it snatched away from you by a combination of this terrible crisis and government’s refusal to help. That isn’t about ‘picking winners’. That’s basic fairness.”

Labour say the economic recovery from coronavirus must also be used to tackle climate change, with “every project announced” either carbon neutral or carbon reducing. 

The Government should also commit not to “increase taxes or cut support for low and middle-income people, during the recovery period”, the party says.

But the Conservatives have already hit back at Ms Dodds, with the party’s co-chairman Amanda Milling saying: “Under Sir Keir Starmer Labour will say anything to try and score political points and chase headlines.”

She will add: “We have already provided over £124 billion of support to protect jobs and livelihoods across the country, and this week the Prime Minister set out how we’ll invest a further £600 billion to ensure we can build back better after coronavirus.
“Whilst we have a clear plan to protect and create jobs, every Labour government has left unemployment higher than when it entered. Sir Keir would be no different.”

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