Ministers must do more to stop people from being plunged into hardship and mass unemployment
If we don’t act, we risk scarring a whole generation of young people – the ‘never employed’, writes Frances O'Grady. | PA Images
The TUC is calling for a three part approach; improve job support, fix our safety net and invest now in green infrastructure and public service jobs for our future prosperity.
The job retention scheme – called for by unions – has shown what active government can do during a crisis. It has rescued companies and saved millions from the dole queue.
While no one would claim it is perfect, the furlough scheme has been a vital lifeline for working people – keeping many in their jobs since March.
From this weekend, the level of financial support available to workers and businesses will fall despite the public health crisis getting worse. And that will mean employers will lay people off.
That can’t be right. No one should lose their job because of coronavirus restrictions.
While last week’s changes to the Job Support Scheme represent a step forward, more needs to be done to protect jobs and livelihoods.
To get out of the crisis and prevent the devastation of mass unemployment, the TUC is calling for a three part approach; improve job support, fix our safety net and invest now in green infrastructure and public service jobs for our future prosperity.
Improve job support
Restrictions continue to tighten up and down the country, with affected businesses forced to close or hit by reduced demand.
Ministers must do more to stop mass unemployment and stop people from being plunged into hardship – especially for those on lower incomes and the self-employed.
Where businesses are effectively forced to shut, 80% of workers’ wages should be guaranteed by government. And there must be more support for the overlooked self-employed.
And nationally, hard-hit industries like aviation, retail, arts and hospitality need targeted-sectoral help now to save jobs. They can’t be left to wither on the vine.
As well as being the right thing to do, it makes economic sense. Keeping people in their jobs means more money into the public purse and a quicker, faster recovery.
Let’s get unions, businesses and government around the table to plot a course for the next six months and beyond
Fixing the safety net
Improving job support alone won’t be enough. We need to fix our broken safety net too.
Our current level of statutory sick pay is a prime example. At a paltry £95 a week, we’re far behind our European counterparts. Government must not force workers to choose between feeding their family and potentially spreading the virus.
So rather than one-off payments for some of those are self-isolating, boost sick pay for those self-isolating to at least the real living wage of £320 per week – to help make Test and Trace effective and self-isolation possible for those on a low income.
And for those who lose their jobs during the crisis, there must be proper help to get them back on their feet. That’s why we are calling for a rise in the standard universal credit payment to £260 per week, scrapping the five-week wait for the first payment and the end of the two-child benefit cap.
Invest in the future
But it’s not just about the here and now, it’s about building for the future.
Stopping mass unemployment and everyone having a decent job with fair pay is how we get out of this recession.
The TUC set out a plan in June for how we could create 1.24 million jobs in the next two years in the green industries of the future – if ministers fast-track investment now.
And we have also called for a public sector jobs drive that will create decent, higher-skilled and better paid work. With the right investment this could create 600,000 new jobs in public services.
Ministers should set up a national recovery council to help protect jobs and get the economy back in gear. Let’s get unions, businesses and government around the table to plot a course for the next six months and beyond.
If we don’t act, we risk scarring a whole generation of young people – the ‘never employed’ – especially young women and those from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds.
But with the right actions now, we can avoid the devastation of mass unemployment and emerge from this pandemic a better and fairer country.
Frances O’Grady is General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress.