Boris Johnson, Exeter College Construction Centre, 29 September. Photo: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked at bottom of article Boris Johnson, Exeter College Construction Centre, 29 September. Photo: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

Boris Johnson’s latest measure falls way short of the mark and will do nothing to stop the impending unemployment tsunami, argues Terina Hine

As Boris Johnson blustered his was through the Q&A following his Lifelong Learning speech this morning, it was clear the skills training on offer was desperately needed by his own government.

Having added to the chaos and confusion of the Tory Covid rules Johnson was forced to issue an apology (of sorts), drowning out the intended message of his speech: that thanks to new student loans, some free FE courses (not available until next year) and a tweak to the apprenticeship scheme, the imminent tsunami of job losses could be glossed over and Britain would be both richer and fairer.

But will this training help the million-plus workers whose jobs are in jeopardy this month? Put simply – no.

A training scheme not available until 2021 will be unable to provide the urgent support needed.

The Chancellor’s Job Support Scheme (JSS) has deemed entire industries unviableand therefore ineligible for support, causing whole swathes of the economy and thousands of workers to be left out in the cold.

Most of these ‘unviable’ businesses and jobs are unviable because of the government’s Covid restrictions; they were perfectly viable before the pandemic, and if supported would likely be so again.

In spring the UK hospitality industry employed almost 4.5 million people – that’s 10% of the working population. Not for much longer.

How is it possible, for example, for a nightclub to be currently viable when it is not allowed to even open its doors.

The night-life industry accounts for almost 500,000 jobs in the UK with annual revenues of £66 billion. Thanks to the ending of furlough and its current ‘unviable’ status, 80% of those who work in the industry are expected to lose their jobs. The same is true for the thousands who work in events and conferences, the wedding industry, sports and creative arts.

Having failed to support such workers the government is attempting to silence its critics by announcing a programme of skills training for the newly unemployed. But don’t be fooled.

Back in June, Johnson gave a speech promoting a Roosevelt style ‘New Deal’ to get the economy moving. ‘Build, build, build,’ he proclaimed, as he announced £5 billion worth of capital investment. Yet, after a few days of digging, the Institute for Fiscal Studies found there was £0 of new money set aside for Johnson’s ‘New Deal’.

Is the same going to happen today? Possibly. Free college courses were announced in March as part of the National skills fund policy; apprenticeship schemes, with a striking similarity to the boot camps mentioned in today’s speech, were included in Rishi Sunak’s July statement.

The levelling-up budget put forward at the beginning of the year has been re-announced and re-promised. Given the government’s form, it is hard not to conclude that there is little of substance in today’s announcement.

We do have a skills shortage and adult training is of course a good thing – but re-hashing policies to address these issues does not deal with the current jobs’ crisis.

The Migration Advisory Committee today announced an urgent need for care workers and nursing assistants. Warning of the stark consequences of low wages in social care.” Even with the predicted spike in unemployment the sector will struggle if wages remain at current levels. MAC Chair, Professor Brian Bell said,

We remain particularly concerned about the social care sector … as it will struggle to recruit the necessary staff if wages do not increase as a matter of urgency,”

Training and re-skilling opportunities could provide a lifeline for some, but without addressing the UK’s low wage economy or looming unemployment, will do little, if anything, to ease the pain of the coming months.

It is important that the left is clear, there will be no levelling-up under this government. It is incumbent on us, along with the trade union movement, to fight for those in danger of loosing their jobs and livelihoods.

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