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We cannot afford a generation of mass unemployment, that’s why we need a back-to-work budget focused on 'jobs, jobs, jobs'

As the furlough programme is unwound there will be a number of businesses that don’t survive, writes Pat McFadden MP. | PA Images

4 min read

The UK does not need hyperbole from the Government, it needs a plan that understands investment in people matters as much as bricks and mortar.

One of my earliest political experiences as a teenager growing up in Glasgow was going to the People’s March for Jobs rally in the city at that time.

It was 1983. Unemployment was over 3 million. The spectre of the dole haunted everything.  Factories and shipyards were closing.  School leavers had little prospect of work.  The vocabulary of unemployment was everywhere - signing on and giro cheques. There was even a band called UB40 named after the card which registered you as jobless. 

The costs of that mass unemployment were enormous, not only economically but socially and personally too.  Communities were scarred for a generation, losing the sense of pride and purpose that comes with a thriving local economy.  People felt cast aside, abandoned by their government.  And the longer they were out of work, the harder it was to get back to it, with some of those affected never working again.

It is an experience no Government and no country should ever want to repeat.

Indeed if we have learned anything from past experience it is that when hard times come, that is the moment when Government have to step up, have to help the country through them.  It is what government is for.

A generation on from the 1980s the spectre of mass unemployment stalks Britain once again. 

The furlough scheme introduced by the Chancellor and called for by Labour and the trade unions has provided vital support and kept most of the job losses at bay.  But as the programme is unwound there will be a number of businesses that don’t survive.  And it will be particularly tough for those sectors based on bringing people together such as hospitality, culture and entertainment.

The priority for the country must be to avoid a repeat of the mass unemployment that did so much damage in the past.  That is why this week we need a back to work budget focused on jobs, jobs, jobs.

A few billion pounds of re-heated spending plans does not meet the once in a generation needs of this moment

We have to give hope to a generation of young people leaving school or graduating from college or university into the most difficult labour market in living memory.  And we have to give help to those whose jobs are no longer there as lockdown eases so that they can find new careers elsewhere.  And we have to do all of this in a way that rewards those who helped us through the crisis and which makes our economy cleaner and greener in the future.

The Prime Minister set out his plan last week comparing it to the New Deal launched by Roosevelt in the 1930s, succumbing again to the temptation to compare himself to great leaders from the past rather than focussing on competent delivery for the present.  But the ambition of his historical comparison merely exposed the smallness of the announcements.  A few billion pounds of re-heated spending plans does not meet the once in a generation needs of this moment.

Investment in infrastructure is welcome – if it happens – but compare what the Prime Minister announced to what Roosevelt’s New Deal really entailed. 4m people were hired in two months.  255,000 miles of roads were built, 40,000 schools, 3,700 playgrounds and almost 1,000 airports. 

The scale of the programmes matched the challenge of the moment. They left a lasting legacy of renewal for the United States and pulled the country out of the desperation of the depression.

In claiming that last week’s announcements come anywhere near the New Deal the Prime Minister has taken the old maxim in politics – under promise and over deliver – and turned it on its head.

The UK does not need hyperbole from the Government that has presided over such a high death toll during the past few months.

It needs a plan that understands that investment in people matters as much as bricks and mortar.  It needs a focus on jobs, jobs, jobs.  And it needs competent delivery of a programme where the level of ambition meets the needs of the times. 


Pat McFadden is the Labour MP for Wolverhampton South East and shadow economic secretary.

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