'Last chance': Keir Starmer says government must extend furlough scheme for workers at risk of losing jobs

'Next week’s financial statement could be the last chance to save millions of jobs'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 01 July 2020 13:31
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Starmer calls on PM to extend furlough scheme

Labour has called for the furlough scheme to be extended for workers most at risk of losing their jobs, warning it is “the last chance to act”.

Keir Starmer pointed to worrying job culls at Airbus, Easyjet and elsewhere – even as the prime minister was pledging to rebuild the battered economy on Tuesday.

“There was nothing in the prime minister’s speech for the 3.2 million people in hospitality, or the 2.9 million in retail,” the Labour leader told Boris Johnson.

“Next week’s financial statement could be the last chance to save millions of jobs. Will the prime minister start now by extending the furlough scheme for those parts of the economy still most at risk?”

But the prime minister insisted the “best thing we can do is get the economy back to health by getting our people back into work.”

The furlough scheme – which is paying 80 per cent of the wages of 9.3 million workers – is due to be wound down from the end of July and closed in October.

There is pressure to turn it into a job protection scheme to last throughout 2021, with workers in hospitality, non-food retail, arts, leisure and entertainment facing the risk of mass unemployment.

But the government is keen to start cutting the eye-watering cost to the taxpayer – more than £22bn so far – with firms asked to contribute to furloughed workers' wages from August.

During the clashes, Sir Keir warned growing gaps in the test-and-trace system, which is meant to catch coronavirus spikes, threatened the hoped-for return to work.

Latest figures showed “three quarters” of people with Covid-19 are not being contacted – up from two-thirds – telling the prime minister: “You can't just brush it away.

“It’s a real problem and it's growing, and it's going to have to be addressed. The prime minister did this at phase one, brushing away serious concerns.”

And he called for a “laser-like focus” on protecting jobs, asking: “So how many jobs does the prime minister think yesterday's announcement will protect?”.

Mr Johnson argued the government has protected 11 million jobs in the crisis, adding: "I'm not going to give a figure for the number of job losses that may or may not take place, but of course the risk is very, very serious as he rightly says.

He defended his spending plans, adding: “We're going to build, build, build and deliver jobs, jobs, jobs for the people of this country.”

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, is under growing pressure to use to use next week’s summer statement to boost support and stem a looming jobs crisis.

However, it is thought more likely that detailed measures will not come until a full budget to be held in the autumn.

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