Of all the statistics that were released this week, the revising down of the Coronavirus death rate, the 20% drop in the UKs GDP and the ‘A’ Level pass rate percentages, the most depressing and worrying was the jobless total, which has risen by 730,000.
It is easy to construct an argument that suggests the 20% fall in GDP is an aberration that will correct itself as the country slowly moves out of lockdown. The Bank of England, assuming there is no second COVID wave, is still predicting a V-Shaped recovery, with the June GDP figures looking much healthier than May’s.
However, further job losses are expected, particularly in the hospitality and leisure sectors, so the spectre of a 3 million plus unemployment total continues to haunt Rishi Sunak and the government.
For the economy, high unemployment is a costly drain with little Return on Investment. For those individuals affected it can be soul destroying, life changing, catastrophic.
I was on the dole when I left college in the Eighties, for around six-months. It was by far the most humiliating and depressing experience of my life. Growing up in Skelmersdale, I had no shortage of ‘Peers’. The towns unemployment rate for those aged between 18-24 was, from memory, well over 60%.
Ironically, I was able to escape my nightmare by initially volunteering at the local TUC unemployed workers centre, were I was trained as a Welfare Rights advisor. I ‘got on my bike’ and secured a job in Leicester, counselling literally hundreds of people a week on what benefits they were entitled to.
But, for many in Skem and millions across the country, there was no escape. The nightmare of the ‘no such thing as society’ culture wrote off a swathe of a generation. And forty years later, we are still paying the price of what was a ruthless and reckless economic experiment.
Many communities across the country suffered the same devastating consequences as Skelmersdale, with mass joblessness a simple fact of life. And, even after all these years, you can see the long-term consequences of the decision to abandon whole sections of the community when you measure mortality rates, cancer rates, mental health cases, malnutrition, poor housing conditions and, no statistics available for this one, no self- worth for the people who live in those most impacted of places.
V-Shaped recovery or not, it will not be easy for those 730,000 and those who are to follow to find alternative work. That is why we cannot afford to continue with a ‘safety first’ narrative when discussing the virus. The plague of unemployment will devastate far more people and many more families than COVID if we go on with this semi-zombified state of economic activity.
The Chancellor must focus his attention on job creation when he makes his next big statement in October. Upskilling and retraining folk is all well and good, but they must have jobs to go to once their education is complete.
Rishi Sunak must promote an enterprising, ambitious, job creating culture. That means slashing National Insurance contributions for employers. It means re-establishing a bold Enterprise Investment Allowance initiative. It means rewarding businesses who invest in supporting the efforts of upskilling our workforce. And, however painful in the short-term, it means stopping the subsidy of ghost jobs that sadly will not survive beyond the end of those cash grants, however long they go on for.
Most of all it means recognising that Unemployment is not a price worth paying. Not for COVID or anything else.
You can download the Downtown in Business ‘Recovery Plan’ Manifesto here.