Most people still have money at the moment. Not everyone, though. A sizeable minority of people, including freelancers, are struggling desperately with the chancellor’s bail-out packages passing them by. So when we hear talk of a long, deep economic recession, it’s easy to imagine it won’t affect us. But it will. And it’s going to be horrible.
Seven million people are currently furloughed, many of whom are finding themselves unexpectedly better off with few means of spending their money. We are all hoping that COVID-19 will slowly disappear into the ether and we will ‘bounce back’, as Dominic Cummings has told government ministers to repeat every time they appear in the media. Some businesses will bounce back. Many won’t.
As well as the seven million of us currently being furloughed, it is believed that there are now as many as 3.3 million unemployed, including a heartbreaking 2 million newly unemployed. Add to that, the millions working shorter hours. Mass unemployment is back.
I dread to think what is going to happen to what’s left of our manufacturing base. Certainly in terms of the aviation industry, the future looks grim. Less aircraft will be built in future years, which means less engines will be required, which means supply chains down the line will be affected. And these are good jobs with good pay. When an economic recovery comes along, competition for fewer good jobs will be red hot. For many, it will require a colossal change in how they live their lives.
I’ll wager of the 2 million newly unemployed, for many it will be an experience they never imagined they would go through, a gentle introduction to what normally is a grim world of claiming benefits. The temporary easements introduced by the DWP may give a false impression to many of life on the dole and come as a shock to many when they find themselves having to repeatedly prove they are actively looking for work and are pressured to take low paid work they never dreamed they’d have to do. The false narrative of the red top newspapers of scroungers living the high life on benefits will soon become very apparent.
If adult workers are facing an uncertain future, what about school-leavers and graduates? Employers are already scaling back dramatically recruitment and will be doing so deep into 2021 and perhaps far longer than that. Those apprenticeships and school leaver programmes will be in short supply this summer and, as ever in an economic crisis it will be those with the least who will suffer the most. However, the current climate, all this talk of recession, unemployment and wrecked lives feels a million miles away. It isn’t.
The furlough system has kept seven million of us in work, or more specifically with jobs to go back to. Imagine if the furlough had never been introduced? What would the unemployment figures be then? Not everyone on furlough would be made redundant but millions of us would be. The question people will be asking following this summer, apart from why the weather was so bad in July and August, is simple: what’s next? The dreamlike state of the semi-lockdown turns into a real life nightmare? The massive, socially distant queues outside the few remaining jobcentres still open after the government cull in the last decade.
Sooner or later, the government will need a plan for the future to take account of our changed society. What will happen to those who lose the jobs they hoped they would enjoy for life? What happens to the school-leavers and graduates who find the jobs landscape virtually barren?
I’m old enough to remember mass unemployment in Thatcher’s Britain of the 1980s and it wasn’t pretty. COVID-19 has the potential to make those grim years look like the good old days. I feel the country has had enough of Dominic Cummings’ ‘chaos theories’. Theresa May made a mockery of her ‘strong and stable’ message but that’s what we need right here, right now. At the moment, we are living in a vacuum, with politicians devoid of compassion and vision. If we are to avoid the the mother of all economic depressions, we all must hope that Boris Johnson can do a better job than he has with the virus. Given his track record in public office, I’d urge you not to bet the house on it.