Too Little Too Late
Sunak ducked the big decisions needed to take Britain forward, argues Dr Faiza Shaheen
Rishi Sunak’s ‘Winter Economic Plan’ will prove too little too late for those who have already lost their jobs, and insufficient for the sectors that have been hardest hit.
The second wave of Coronavirus was widely predicted, just as the government faced a chorus of criticism that the window of their furlough scheme threatened to unleash mass unemployment of a scale perhaps never before seen on these islands.
The Chancellor has waited until the last possible moment before jumping out of the way of this train, scribbling a winter statement with no notice. It bears all the hallmarks of Whitehall panic at the looming catastrophe.
There were some things to commend Sunak’s statement. Firstly, it was better than nothing. Second, the Job Support Scheme did at least take on board the minimum demands from the TUC.
But there were gaping holes. No action to plug the gaps that over three million people have fallen through in being unable to access support. No action to improve welfare benefits to allow people without jobs to survive.
It is welcome that businesses can defer debt repayments and VAT but that means more debt hangover that will depress investment and could lead to a debt bubble.
Support for hospitality and tourism are also welcome but not nearly enough. And what about other struggling sectors like aviation?
The government is just not ready or willing to take the bold decisions necessary to avoid mass unemployment, let alone stimulate the economy and plan for a better future. There is too much emphasis on expecting all employers to do the right thing by workers when all the evidence points to the need to put workers at the centre of decision-making.
These gaps and omissions will hurt businesses and jobs.
Did his statement promise to boost recovery, generate jobs, and provide real ‘level-up’ equality? No. What we got was a sticking plaster on a huge gaping wound of Britain’s economy in the pandemic.
Sunak talked about supporting “viable” jobs, but who gets to decide what job is viable or not? If it is left to the market and what Covid-19 lockdown measures decide are “viable” - we are likely to lose a lot of creative, tourism and hospitality jobs, and get an economy with even more zero-hour contracts.
In my book, a good example of a viable job is a well-paid, rewarding, secure and unionised job that helps Britain move to the future, such as tackling the climate crisis using innovative low-carbon technology.
The winter statement lacked any mention of this and was similarly lacking on training for young people. There wasn’t even a plan to create the kind of jobs that the Chancellor does consider viable - although we’re not clear on how he defines those.
The Treasury has briefed that this damp squib replaces an autumn budget, which had been billed for November. You’re joking, right? We need a real budget to set the levels of spending, borrowing and investment across the departments, regions, and nations of the UK.
Sunak cannot avoid these things, no matter how much his colleagues don’t want him to impose higher taxes on the rich.
We need a budget this year to ensure there are goals for the economy beyond COVID-19. Sunak seems to be divorcing short term measures from longer-term change. If we don’t know what the vision is for the economy then how can we design good policy now?
We need to really level-up, not just attempt to spread out the few jobs that remain. That’s levelling-down. We need a real industrial strategy and a green new deal that can genuinely be compared to Roosevelt's.
The Conservative's approach to the economy is increasingly looking chaotic and reactionary, to the detriment of our livelihoods and this country's long-term economic health.
- Dr Faiza Shaheen is Director of CLASS