I was young in the 1980s and I remember the desperation of people who were laid off. I’m glad most employees have never experienced this. I had hoped that this country would never have to learn more about it again: that young people would not feel the lifelong effects of being excluded from the labor market early in their careers, and that people with family and mortgages or rent payable would not be. live in fear that every payroll package will be the last.
The labor movement saw this coming. While the UK was on lockdown, we worked closely with the government on the Keeping Jobs Program, which has bolstered families’ livelihoods, saved businesses and saved millions of jobs.
The coronavirus crisis is not yet over. But at the end of October, the job retention scheme ends. Without government support, thousands of businesses whose business has not yet returned to normal could decide to let their workforce go. And those thousands of businesses could mean millions of jobs.
If that happens, it will be a monumental mistake on the part of the government. Many businesses have a viable future beyond the pandemic, especially in industries like entertainment, retail, aviation and manufacturing. They just need a bridge, some more time-bound help to keep them going until the economy is fully reopened. Now is not the time for the government to step aside.
The job retention program has shown what an active government can do in a crisis. If good businesses fall to the wall and thousands of people lose their livelihoods, it will cost the country dearly. The benefit bill will rise and workers will stop spending and paying taxes. This is not the way to rebuild the economy after a crisis.
Once the pandemic is brought under control, we will need industries, from green energy and manufacturing to arts and culture, to thrive. So, in October, the government must not be satisfied with unplugging.
And for those whose jobs are already gone, the government must start creating new jobs, doing the things Britain needs to help us recover faster and prepare for the future. The TUC has put together a costed plan to create more than a million jobs in the green technologies we need. And there are hundreds of thousands of health and social service vacancies that could be unlocked through a government commitment to fund providers to fill them all.
Protecting and creating jobs must be the government’s top economic priority. The country is watching: will it support working families or will it move away from them?
My message to Chancellor Rishi Sunak is this: There is still time to end mass unemployment. We already worked together at the start of this crisis; I will work with you again if you are serious about stemming the job drain.
The cost of not doing enough now will be much higher in the long run, and the burden will, as always, be borne by ordinary workers.
Mass unemployment is not inevitable. If the government acts quickly to keep people working, our economy will recover faster and our country can rebuild better.
• Frances O’Grady is General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress.