It became very clear very early on in the pandemic that this wasn’t just a public health challenge, but also an economic one. The initial lockdown meant a sudden halt to a huge amount of economic activity, as shops, restaurants, factories and all sorts of other businesses closed for business. Even as restrictions eased, the measures needed to keep people safe make some businesses harder to run.
Many people have relied on Government schemes to help them through this time, whether that’s schemes aimed to support businesses or those – most notably furlough – to support employees. Unfortunately, there are also around 3 million people (who have come to be known as the Excluded) who have not been eligible for any schemes. MPs from all parties, including myself, are trying to work together to push the Government to put support in place for this group of people.
For those who have received support, we are coming close to the time when that support is withdrawn. Furlough is due to end on 31 October, and a number of other schemes will be closing at around the same time. As I write, the Chancellor has not announced what measures will replace furlough. He has said repeatedly that furlough cannot carry on indefinitely and he is right about this. However, without an alternative we are very likely to see a huge unemployment crisis come November.
Not only will many individual jobs be lost when support is withdrawn, there are whole industries that are likely to collapse because the current circumstances make businesses in those sectors unviable. I firmly believe that this would be a disaster for communities across our country, including here in Stockport.
What is needed is a flexible replacement for furlough which takes into account regional differences and differences between sectors. Labour and a number of other organisations has been calling for something along these lines for months, but the Chancellor has so far stubbornly refused to take action. I hope that he will change his mind, but if he does he needs to do so urgently so that both employers and employees can plan for the future. The time for action is now.