Tory scheme won’t halt mass unemployment: mobilise the unions!

Jobcentre Plus, photo Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)

Jobcentre Plus, photo Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

A Department for Work and Pensions worker

The Tories’ new ‘Job Support Scheme’ will do nothing to save jobs. It should be renamed the ‘job scrapping scheme’.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced the launch of the Job Support Scheme on Thursday 24 September 2020. It launches on 1 November, and will replace the Job Retention Scheme, commonly known as furlough.

Introduced alongside the initial Covid-19 lockdown in April, furlough paid workers 80% of their salary to remain at home throughout. The total cost of furlough will be around £60 billion, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility in June. Tory backbenchers have already begun panicking about paying workers to ‘do nothing’.

The new Job Support Scheme would introduce a steeper wage cut for workers – if employers even take it up. Compared to furlough, the new scheme requires a larger contribution from employers. This will speed the process of bosses making workers redundant, particularly in low-paid jobs.

In theory, workers covered by the scheme would work part-time. Part of their wage would be paid by their employer, including paying for some hours not worked. The government would pay a small contribution (22%); the remainder would not be paid at all (23%).

Tories have lauded this as workers “making a contribution” to the scheme, by accepting a significant pay cut. To be covered at all, a worker has to be in a ‘viable’ job – so sectors which have not yet reopened would not be covered.


But it won’t work. Sunak himself has said that it “can’t save every job.” One Barclays economist went further: “I don’t even think anyone will take it up.”

Sunak announced the scheme outside 11 Downing Street with Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, on one side of him, and Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the bosses’ Confederation of British Industry, on the other!

Meanwhile, the Starmer-led counter-revolution in the Labour Party continues apace. Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds has argued that training workers will cure unemployment. All the training in the world will be wasted unless there are jobs to go to.

These ills are created by the renewed global crisis of capitalism. Instead, Labour should argue for massive state intervention to save and create jobs, and nationalisation of employers which threaten redundancies.

Many of the job losses are in retail and hospitality. Premier Inn owner Whitbread has announced 6,000 redundancies. Yet already the Department for Work and Pensions, which oversees unemployment benefits, has been working with hospitality and retail employers to develop new “sector-based work academies” – essentially unpaid work in the same areas!

Unions must fight

This is the only ‘training’ that the bosses will offer unless there is a significant fightback by the trade unions. Workers are very worried about their future prospects, even where they currently have a job. The fight continues to force the unions to shoulder their responsibilities.

Union leaders must fight to defend every job that’s under threat, to ensure safe workplaces, and demand protection for every worker’s income.

It is not too late to fight for retention of the furlough scheme, with 100% pay. The Tories have shown the money is there and have made repeated U-turns under pressure (see p6).

Only a mobilised trade union movement, willing to utilise strikes and demonstrations, can wrest this from the teeth of the capitalists and their Tory lapdogs.

No more photos with Tories – build the fightback instead!

The Socialist Party demands:

  • Unions must fight to defend all jobs under threat
  • Retain and extend the furlough scheme. Work or full pay
  • Invest in free training and apprenticeships on full pay. With a decent, guaranteed job at the end
  • Increase benefits in line with the minimum wage – no delay in payment
  • A minimum wage of £12 an hour as a step towards £15 an hour