What was in the Chancellor’s plan for jobs?
The Government unveiled its latest suite of measures to help tackle the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic this week. Were they a structural transformation or a sticking plaster?
From ‘build, build, build’ to ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’. Leading on from the Prime Minister’s promise recently that infrastructure spending will be used to take us out of the current economic crisis, this week’s statement showed that the Government is also mindful of the immediate issues facing the jobs market, and is keen to intervene to stave off a rise in unemployment.
The true impact of the crisis on business closures (and subsequent job losses) is still unfolding, and with the furlough scheme coming to an end by October and a further batch of young people entering the jobs market after university or college, the Government has recognised that intervention is paramount.
And so, the Chancellor’s third (!) major economic statement in his nine months on the job was dubbed the ‘plan for jobs’, and featured a raft of measures aimed at persuading employers to keep existing staff and hire young people, and delivering support for various projects that will offer up ‘green jobs’.
Some of the measures have certain beneficiaries in mind. 16-24s entering the job market now may well be looking around in horror at their prospects, so the Government will directly pay employers to create new jobs for this demographic, as well as offering support for businesses taking on trainees and apprentices.
There are also pledges for those who already have work. The new jobs retention bonuses offers bosses £1,000 per employee to bring workers back off furlough. Finally, to create new jobs, £2bn has been put into a green homes grant to make homes more energy efficient.
Perhaps inevitably, being a major economic statement, there was a headline-grabbing rabbit pulled out of the hat as well, with everyone in the country offered a 50% discount on meals for the month of August, and encouraged to use them to “eat out to help out”.
The question on everyone’s lips this morning was, is this enough? There can be no doubt that a huge fiscal stimulus has gone into the economy since the COVID-19 pandemic begun, but this £30bn splurge was a small fraction of what was announced at the beginning of the pandemic.
What is more, for those hoping for a structural shift in the way in which the UK’s economy is run, or for a transformational effort to bring our emissions to net zero, the promise of a meal voucher may not be the headline that they were hoping for.
The measures outlined this week may well stop a drastic rise in unemployment as retail businesses in particular struggle to acclimatise to the new normal. For those whose jobs have been at risk, this can only be good news. However, with the business models of so many industries being interrupted, large numbers of people concerned about going back to the shops or out to restaurants, and the prevailing possibility that another lockdown may have to implemented (at least locally) in the event of a second wave of the virus, this week’s statement is unlikely to provide the long term reassurance so many were craving.