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A plan to grow the economy and stop mass unemployment

A recovery based on investment and jobs is vital for workers in the North East, writes BETH FARHAT, secretary of Northern region of the Trade Union Congress.

THE Prime Minister pledged a “Rooseveltian moment.” This is a reference to policies set out  by Franklin D Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the US and the architect of the New Deal, which rescued millions of ordinary Americans from the despair of the Great Depression.

He used the power of government to directly employ millions. He regulated banks and the stock market and cracked down on corporate abuse. His National Recovery Administration formalised co-operation between unions, business and government, and regulated workplaces.

The best and fastest recoveries from economic crises in British history were based on investment for growth, not cuts to services, deregulation and tax breaks for bosses.

The pandemic alone did not cause this economic crisis. It has been made worse by a decade of austerity and failure to strengthen the British economy.

Choosing the wrong approach to recovery now risks embedding low growth, long-term unemployment and all the social ills that go alongside.

Roosevelt knew that, in the 1930s as now, the price of mass unemployment was misery and destitution. As we face an economic crisis on the scale of the Great Depression again the TUC warns that there is a high risk of mass unemployment without a recovery plan centred on protecting and creating jobs, backed by major investment.

Workers who have required support from the Job Retention Scheme and self-employed income-support scheme are most likely to face unemployment risks in the months ahead.

In the area I represent in the North East, at least 349,500 workers have required support from these schemes.

Darlington, Northumberland, Sunderland, Gateshead and South Tyneside represent the local authorities in the region with the highest proportion of workers seeking support through these schemes. Over 30 per cent of people in employment in those areas are being supported through the Job Retention Scheme or the Self Employment Scheme.

On top of these figures, there will be many other people who have been laid off, or who entered the employment market during the crisis and have been unable to find work.

Economic uncertainty will affect all industries, so there will be pressure on the jobs of many workers who have not been furloughed, too.

A plan to get the economy growing out of the crisis and stop mass unemployment is essential.

An investment-for-growth approach must be resourced by central government, and will need action at regional level in three key areas:

Investing in jobs: combined authorities, local councils and local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) should work together to secure investment for local infrastructure needs, leverage public-sector spending to support local jobs and enterprise, and develop a regional-level green industrial strategy that builds on the region’s strengths to meet climate targets.

We need decent work and a new way of doing business: combined authorities, local councils and LEPs should attach conditions to commissioning and procurement that will improve job quality, strengthen workers’ voices, increase training opportunities and tackle discrimination and disadvantage in the workplace.

Rebuilding public services: combined authorities and local authorities should adopt a policy of managing all services in-house by default, so they can raise employment and delivery standards, and strengthen the resilience of essential services such as social care.

We need regional recovery panels with representation from unions, employers, Jobcentre Plus, relevant civic partners and local and regional government. These would work in tandem with a National Recovery Panel to turn headline objectives into tailored strategies for each region.

Regional structures with devolved powers are essential to achieving the best recovery possible, because the nature and scale of the challenge varies greatly across different parts of the country.

In the North East there is no one-size-fits-all approach to regional devolution with towns, rural communities and cities each needing a combination of investment in infrastructure, skills and public services.

Regional devolved bodies are already working together to improve the quality of jobs in the region, with the North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll and Councillor Joyce McCarthy leading the implementation of a Good Work Pledge, which is encouraging private-sector employers to adhere to certain standards on pay and conditions when creating jobs.

People are very worried about their jobs. Many have been laid off already. Losing your job is a dreadful experience — devastating for families. And if we allow mass unemployment to take hold, our economy will be smaller, and the recovery from the pandemic will be slower.


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