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15 September, 2020 Open access

Labour Party leader calls for a ‘life raft’ of targeted support to replace the Job Retention Scheme while the UK remains in the ‘choppy waters’ of COVID-19

Speaking at the TUC annual conference, Kier Starmer says it makes no sense to take support away in ‘one fell swoop’ and calls on Prime Minister to work with him to build a national plan to protect millions of jobs

The Labour Party leader Keir Starmer has called for a ‘life raft’ of targeted support to replace the Job Retention Scheme as it draws to a close at the end of October while the UK remains in the ‘choppy waters’ of COVID-19.

In a speech to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) conference via video link today, Mr Starmer acknowledged that the furlough scheme can’t go on as it is forever, something which the Labour Party has never suggested should happen. However, highlighting that coronavirus is still with us, with infections rising and lockdowns increasing, he warned -

‘… for some sectors of our economy - retail, aviation, hospitality - for millions of workers, and for towns and cities under restrictions, it just isn’t possible to get back to work or reopen businesses. That isn’t a choice: it’s the cold reality of this crisis.

Suggesting a way forward after the current Job Retention Scheme draws to a close at the end of October 2020, Mr Starmer said -

‘… it makes no sense at all for the government to pull support away now, and in one fell swoop. But, with a bit of imagination, and if we act in the national interest, a better approach is possible. That’s why today, I’m calling for the government to work with us to create new, targeted support that can replace the Job Retention Scheme, to develop this through urgent talks with trade unions, businesses and the Labour Party. So that we can deliver direct support and training to those who need it, and prevent mass unemployment, this would be a life-raft while we’re still in choppy waters.

To this end, Mr Starmer highlighted a range of proposals for replacing the furlough scheme after it closes including the TUC’s Jobs Protection and Upskilling Plan, the CBI’s short-time work scheme and the German Kurzarbeit scheme, noting that the principles of each proposal are clear -

  • Expand part-time working and reward employers who keep people on rather than cutting jobs.
  • Provide training and support for those who can’t come back full-time.
  • Target those sectors most in need - for example, retail, hospitality, aviation and those hit by local lockdowns.
  • Provide certainty for workers and businesses.

In concluding remarks, Mr Starmer said his 'door is open' to the Prime Minister to work together to do 'everything possible to protect jobs' - 

'At this moment of national crisis, we should take inspiration from our past. Be willing to put party differences aside, and work together in the interest of the country... If we could form a genuine national plan to protect jobs, create new ones and invest in skills and training? So, I’m making an open offer to the Prime Minister: work with us to keep millions of people in work. Work with the trade unions, and work with businesses. Do everything possible to protect jobs and to deliver for working people. My door is open.’

Mr Starmer’s speech is available from the Labour Party website.