Welcomed by the TUC and Labour, Rishi Sunak’s announcement of a £2 billion job placement scheme for 350 000 young people likely to be unemployed as a result of the Covid crisis, is a big step for a Tory Party that less than six months ago was committed to reigning in public spending to balance the books. What’s more, the Sunak plan is based on New Labour’s 2009 Future Jobs Fund considered radical then, bearing in mind the Blairite commitment to a neo-liberal labour market. Sunak is also dealing with much larger numbers.
But let’s get the proposal in perspective. This is a statement of intent – Boris Johnson previously promised apprenticeships to all young people, but no further details have emerged. Also, as it stands at the moment, the Tories will be depending on employers to get the scheme rolling and recruit young people.
Despite some Tories insisting employers have a moral obligation to take on young people, this cannot be assumed. Even if wages and NI payments are reimbursed, employers have other costs. Uncertain about their longer term future, many will be reluctant to spend money on training new workers – being more concerned with managing their existing staff. However, there is also the risk that firms could use this ‘free labour’ to replace employees currently doing low-skilled work.
Much more significant, these are temporary ‘placements’ in a failing economy which, as opinion polls show, large numbers of people don’t want to return to. Sunak and the Tories think that spending a billion or two, is enough to kick start a ‘green’ recovery, whereas a proper Green New Deal though costing far more, would allow the creation of thousands of permanent jobs for young people, enabling new skills to be learnt. The same could be said about the creation of a new care service run in a different way and professionally staffed.
As the fear of mass unemployment increases, Labour is concentrating on the need to extend the furlough. But let’s hope it also starts to argue for these sorts of things.