The coronavirus pandemic and the measures taken to tackle it have exposed serious flaws in how the UK economy works.
This crisis has shown who really keeps the country going – and also just how poorly paid many of our key workers are.
It has also revealed the scale and depth of existing inequality in this country , with women, disabled people and BME workers more likely to be affected because they are disproportionately stuck in insecure jobs on low pay.
Addressing these problems will be key to rebuilding a stronger and fairer post-virus economy with greater resilience for the future.
That is the challenge we explore in a new report published today: A Better Recovery – learning the lessons of coronavirus to create a stronger, fairer economy .
Over the last few months, it’s become increasing clear that it’s working people who create the goods and services people need, not billionaires and bankers.
So it’s time to reassess what jobs we value most – and to recognise how dependent our economy and society is on them.
We can start by giving our workers a proper pay rise.
Even before the pandemic hit, the UK was going through the longest pay squeeze in centuries . Now more than ever, we need to boost the earnings of the lowest paid and give our key workers the reward they deserve.
Building back better also means addressing the discrimination and insecurity that runs through the heart of the UK workforce.
We need new business models that put fair employment at their heart, moving our economy away from its reliance on low-paid, insecure jobs.
And since it’s now clear how important workers are to the economy, it’s only right that they are properly represented in decisions about how work and our economic system is organised.
That’s why we need new rules to support collective bargaining so that all workers have a voice at work.
The government must also continue to work constructively with unions and employers to secure a sustainable recovery for everyone.
This crisis proved what can be achieved when unions have a voice at the table.
Unions helped to negotiate the job retention scheme that saved millions of jobs – and negotiated with employers so that they made use of it instead of making redundancies.
We fought for strong rules on safe workplaces and negotiated with employers on new ways of working to allow businesses to adapt and survive.
Working people have voted with their feet, joining unions in large numbers throughout the crisis.
Now unions need to have a say in the recovery too. That’s why we’re calling for a national recovery council consisting of unions, government and businesses to create a greener and fairer economy.
Government interventions during this crisis showed what can be done when the situation demands it. That same commitment and urgency must now be applied to addressing the threat of climate change.
The ‘Everyone In’ programme that brought homeless people off the streets in days shows us that social problems are not intractable but can be solved through political will.
The changes that people have made in their lives during lockdown have demonstrated adaptability and resilience, which will be vital to creating a fairer and more sustainable economy.
The mutual aid groups that sprang up spontaneously across the country remind us that interdependence and mutual support are essential human characteristics.
These are the values that should govern our economic relationships in the future, not financial greed and unaccountable power.
We entered this pandemic with a fragile safety net and public services damaged by years of austerity. Both left us unprepared for the challenge to come.
We can’t go on like this. Now is the time to rebuild our public services with adequate funding from government and a public service ethos at their heart.
Even in the most optimistic scenario, workers face a bumpy ride ahead.
That’s why it’s so important to mend the UK’s broken safety net so it can offer security and safety to all who need it.
That means raising statutory sick pay to the equivalent of a week’s real living wage, raising the basic Universal Credit payment (as well as the equivalent legacy benefits payment) to £260 a week, and scrapping the five-week wait for first UC payment.
As a society we are only as strong as our weakest member.
If we’re to come out of the crisis successfully, we need to do more than stem the spread of Covid-19 and ensure people return to work safely – as important as these things are.
The UK is entering the deepest recession for decades. Without urgent government action, unemployment will rise to levels not seen for 30 years.
Already there are siren voices calling for a return to austerity, but the lesson of the last decade is that austerity failed on its own terms.
It didn’t deliver economic growth, nor did it reduce our national debt. Instead, it created a vicious circle of cuts, lower growth, lower incomes, lower tax revenues and rising private debt, all of which contributed to rising poverty and hardship.
This time working people can’t pay the price for recovery. This time we need to build back better.
To create a fairer society, we must invest to build a stronger economy that supports secure jobs for everyone, better pay and working conditions, revitalised public services and a stronger safety net.
That would be a recovery that puts the work, health and dreams of ordinary people at its heart.
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