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Union warns of job losses when furlough ends

Written by: Emma Lunn
Unite has urged the government to adapt the furlough scheme to meet skills shortages and save thousands from immediate unemployment.

The plea comes with just six weeks to go until the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) ends on 30 September. At its peak, the scheme provided wage support for more than 11 million UK workers.

Unite warns that the end of furlough will result in immediate job losses and growing poverty for hundreds of thousands of working people.

The union says that in July about two million workers were still on the scheme, more than had been anticipated, reflecting the continuing troubles for parts of the workforce and underlines that the economy is yet to recover from the crisis.

Furloughed workers are currently receiving 80% of their wages, with 60% paid by the government and 20% from their employer.

When this support ends in September, those still unable to return to work will be forced onto Universal Credit. But the government also plans to cut Universal Credit by £20 per week – £1,040 per year – on 30 September, despite warnings that this will deepen child and family poverty.

Unite is calling upon the government to think again, not to dump furlough, but to adapt it to protect jobs and to retrain workers, including using it to build the skills urgently needed to address the climate crisis and the skills shortage.

Steve Turner, Unite assistant general secretary, said: “The end of furlough in six weeks’ time will see an overnight jobs crisis and a crash in incomes for hundreds of thousands of workers who are on the scheme through no fault of their own.

“These workers are in the very sectors that have been hardest hit by the government’s approach to managing the re-opening of the economy.

“The travel, hospitality and aviation sectors which depend on tourism and travel to thrive, alongside many in manufacturing dependent on consumer confidence and global supply chains are still in a state of Covid disarray. This summer’s re-opening chaos has only brought more troubles to these industries and their workforces.

“Ending the furlough scheme on the day that Universal Credit is cut by £20 a week is heartless, but it is also economically damaging given that this money is spent in our communities on our high streets protecting further jobs and livelihoods. It’s a senseless, unjust move by the government to plunge these workers and their households into an immediate and chronic income crisis, so the government must think again.

“The taxpayers of this country made a massive investment in keeping working people off the dole and out of poverty. But by pressing on with its plans to pull the rug out from under working people at the end of September, the government is pouring this investment down the drain.”

Unite says furlough could be used to help address the skills crisis the UK faces across the economy, from engineers and plumbers to lorry drivers and digital workers.

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