Along with many others, I was pushing for the Government to announce a replacement for furlough when that comes to an end on 31 October. I was initially pleased, therefore, when Chancellor Rishi Sunak finally announced a “Winter Economic Plan” last week. Better late than never, I thought. And don’t get me wrong – the measures that he announced are better than if he’d done nothing, but they are so far from being adequate. In fact, unless the Government improves this package urgently, I fear we could see mass unemployment and whole industries decimated. This might sound like I’m over-exaggerating. I really wish that I was.
The Chancellor and the Prime Minister have both been clear that furlough couldn’t last forever, and this is obviously true. But instead of tailoring furlough, they’re replacing it with a scheme that is vastly less generous and aims only to save businesses that are “viable”. The problem is that it appears that by “viable”, they actually mean “viable during lockdown” (and let’s not forget that there are likely to be more local lockdowns over the next few months).
As we all know, there are thousands of businesses across the country which will be viable as soon as all measures are lifted, but currently aren’t. Whole industries are included in this, including the nightlife, events and creative arts sectors but also to a lesser extent, things like hospitality, sports and beauty. The Government abandoning so many businesses and so many workers like this is appalling.
Then we have the self-employed, who will see their support slashed. And still there is absolutely nothing for the three million excluded from all support, such as freelancers. I and many others have been calling for action for the self-employed for months, but sadly these calls have fallen on deaf ears. Yet more livelihoods at risk because of the Government’s incompetence.
Finally, I am very concerned that these schemes will undermine efforts to keep us safe from the virus. The lockdown measures that are necessary to slow the spread of Covid are what make businesses and jobs “unviable” in the Government’s terminology. Furlough was a good way of limiting the damage of these measures on people’s livelihoods. Withdrawing economic support while lockdown measures remain is disastrous for public support for the restrictions needed to keep us safe.
I think the Government will eventually realise their mistake on support measures, but people facing losing their jobs or businesses just can’t wait – the Chancellor needs to act now!