The devastating second wave of the coronavirus pandemic is an immense challenge to society. We know that without protecting public health, the economy will be unable to recover. We urge the Chancellor to remain resolute in his pledge to do ‘whatever it takes’. The measures taken to date have supported the economy and slowed a catastrophic breakdown in household incomes. But there is more to do to protect jobs, and livelihoods, and to support people who want to do the right thing to protect public health.
In the Budget the Treasury should pledge to support workers, families and businesses for as long as the pandemic continues and economic activity is disrupted.
- The Job Retention Scheme should be extended until the end of 2021, mirroring the support in place in other leading economies. It should be accompanied by a ‘furlough commitment’ to keep in place or renew support for as long as health measures affect economic activity, with the Chancellor providing a quarterly update on the state of the labour market and the support available.
- The need to fix sick pay has never been more urgent. Sick pay should be raised to £320 a week, and eligibility extended to the 2 million people who do not qualify because they earn too little.
- Universal Credit could provide a vital lifeline for many families during this time. It should be increased to a level people can live off – £260 a week – and there must be no rowing back on the £20 uplift introduced last year. The five-week wait to access the benefit must be ended.
- Key workers should be properly rewarded: public sector pay should be increased not frozen; and zero hours contracts should be banned.
- Beyond immediate measures to protect workers, the government needs to get serious about creating jobs. The TUC has set out proposals for a public sector jobs drive, green infrastructure spending and a family stimulus. And there should be an immediate £10bn aid package to help industry cope with new trade barriers and make manufacturing the best in Europe.
- The coronavirus pandemic has revealed the depth of inequalities in Britain today, with structural racism, sexism and discrimination against disabled people resulting in sharply different experiences of the pandemic. Government must show how the measures it takes in this Budget and more broadly will promote equality and overcome the structural barriers faced by too many working people across the UK.
We must take the opportunity to reflect on the lessons of the pandemic. Serious flaws in how the UK and world economy work have been put into sharp relief, not least the poor pay and severe inequalities faced by those who keep the country going. After the Second World War, the Attlee government built back better to a welfare state, the NHS, education and housing for all. In doing so they created a better economy and brought the public finances back under control. We can do so again.
Download full report (pdf)