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Local lockdowns require local furlough schemes

Published date
The government needs to move swiftly to safeguard jobs in areas facing stricter local lockdowns.

Last month, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced a short-time working scheme to replace the existing furlough program.

But this plan has already been overtaken by events.

As more people have contracted the virus, pubs and restaurants in central Scotland have been told to close.

And there are reports that licensed premises in the north of England will be instructed to lower their shutters next week.

This raises the prospect of large numbers of workers losing their jobs because their employers are not taking in money and workers can’t get enough hours to qualify for the short-time working scheme.

We need greater support for affected areas

The TUC is calling for:

  • A new local furlough scheme. Businesses required to close should be able to claim from the scheme as long as extra restrictions last, and it would be withdrawn gradually as restrictions ease. The scheme should be run nationally, and should mirror the original job retention scheme - reimbursing employers for 80 per cent of the wages of their workers.
  • An enhanced local Job Support scheme for businesses in local lockdown areas that are affected by low demand but not required to close. There should be no requirement to work a minimum number of hours. And the government should cover 60 per cent of wages for non-working time, with the employer covering 20 per cent, in line with the existing furlough scheme.
  • New ways to ensure self-employed workers do not miss out on necessary support. This could be done by increasing the payments rate of the self-employment income support scheme from 20 per cent to 60 per cent of taxable monthly profits, for those affected by additional local restrictions.

Ministers must step up

Government interventions so far have undoubtedly saved large numbers of jobs.

The existing furlough scheme has supported nine million workers during the coronavirus pandemic. But it’s due to close at the end of this month.

Short-time working arrangements could be beneficial in some sectors - but little to no use for many workers in areas moving towards higher restrictions.

A business must be open to allow short-time working. So we need greater support for wages – and for the self-employed - in affected areas.

The government also needs to sort out existing problems with low sick pay and ‘test and trace’, so people can self-isolate when required.

Finally, Ministers must get round the table with businesses and unions and hammer out a plan to save jobs - and protect whole industries from going to the wall.

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