The economic impact of the pandemic has devastated millions of workers’ lives across Britain.
Bosses have slashed jobs and the Tories have failed to protect workers. And it’s black workers, the low paid and young workers who have been worst affected.
Unemployment was at 4.5 percent in August, up from 4.1 percent in May. This meant 1.5 million workers out of a job, with 16-24 year-olds accounting for 60 percent of the decline.
According to a new report by the Resolution Foundation, unemployment rates in September may be three points higher than pre-crisis. This means 2.5 million unemployed workers in September, or a rate of over seven percent.
“I was in London but now I’ve had to move back in with my parents,” Mark told Socialist Worker.
“I’d been furloughed since the start of the scheme, but when the changes started to come in my employer didn’t keep me.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s furlough programme was set to end on 31 October and be replaced by the Job Support Scheme (JSS).
The furlough was extended for a month after the Tories were forced into a national lockdown across England.
Two million workers rely on the furlough, meaning many are still set to lose their jobs.
Under the new JSS, bosses were to pay for hours worked, and the government to pay for 75 percent of wages for unpaid hours.
Bosses cover just 5 percent of unpaid hours. That means workers will lose a quarter of their pay while bosses receive a government subsidy.
“The competition for what little work there is at the moment is only going to get harder”, Mark said.
“Once furlough ends more people will be let go and there will be more of us looking for fewer and fewer jobs.”
Sunak’s furlough scheme meant workers received up to 80 percent of their wages to stop them being laid off. But this has been cut down since September.
Mental health support worker Simon was furloughed until the government announced employers needed to contribute more to their workers’ pay.
He fought to remain on furlough but had to leave his job to avoid being forced back to work and putting his health at risk.
“I’m used to the Tories skulking around pretending to be about compassion and fairness. But in this situation they have been so brazen and it chills you to the bone.”
Mark said, “The Tories are throwing money to their friends but not to people who want to work a job and make the world a better place. It’s a kick in the teeth.”
“They have the ability to continue the furlough, but they want to put profit before ordinary people.”
And the Tories’ response to the entire pandemic has been driven by their slavish commitment to supporting businesses and propping up the profit system.
Bosses have relied on state handouts during the pandemic, yet their senior management and shareholders continue to trouser profits and huge salaries.
These companies should be brought into public ownership. Workers and people who use services could make decisions instead of a tiny cabal of bosses.
A bold programme of renationalisation would mean money went into actually improving services and workers’ conditions instead of being sucked into the bank accounts of top management.
Periods of deep crisis, like the coronavirus pandemic, make it all the more important to raise these demands.
Call centre worker Jasmine was furloughed from April until June when her temporary contract ran out, and she was forced to give up her flat in London.
“People all over the country are having to make really hard decisions. I’m able to stay at my partner’s parents, but otherwise I would’ve had to work in an unsafe workplace,” she said.
“It’s cruel, heartless and horrible. The Tories made clear political decisions to bail out big businesses while the rest of us have to suffer.
Jasmine added, “If Johnson thinks he can’t survive on his wage of £150,000 how can someone on £20,000 or less pay bills and rent?
“The divide between the ruling class and working class has become crystal clear.”
A fightback against the Tories and to extend the furlough scheme is vital.
‘There's not many opportunities’
Black workers have been hit disproportionately by the emergency.
One in five black workers who were furloughed during the first lockdown have since lost their jobs.
And according to the report 22 percent of black workers who were furloughed in lockdown were no longer working in September.
In comparison the survey showed an average rate of unemployment following furlough of 9 percent.
Aishah is a young black worker whose contract ran out in August. She told Socialist Worker how difficult it had been trying to look for work since.
“What I did before was clerk work where you get trained up. But there’s not many of those opportunities about,” she said.
Black workers are also more worried about redundancies than white workers.
The report says 65 percent of black respondents were making “efforts to respond pre-emptively to the risk of unemployment” compared to an average of 45 percent.
Aishah said, “I’m not surprised that black people are being hit hardest. Black people tend to be working frontline jobs that are lower paid and they’re the ones that are most impacted.
“Many cleaners or retail workers are black and in a pandemic, if companies are struggling, they’re most likely the first to go.”
During the first lockdown the Tories made sure they were seen clapping for carers every Wednesday.
But now they are putting jobs on the line.
Aishah said, “I’ve been thinking about Universal Credit.
“But having been brought up on benefits I think it sunk in quite deeply that if you rely on the state you’re failing.
“The government should help you out, but they create such a stigma it becomes the last thing you want to do.
“They blame you for their mistakes.”
Young black worker Harjeevan, lives in London and said that “the government has been honest and open about how they don’t care.”
He explained that his employer didn’t bother to put him on furlough at the beginning of the pandemic, and he’s struggled to find work since. “Before the pandemic, finding jobs was already difficult. I had part time work as a cover teacher through an agency,” he said.
“But then the pandemic hit, and the agency didn’t furlough me and left me in the cold.
“I waited ages to get Universal Credit and I was offered a new role at another school.
“But because of the pandemic they couldn’t guarantee my safety.
“The day after I turned down the job, coronavirus hit the school.
“Now I’m at my computer working on my CV applying for jobs every day. I’ve applied to get work experience, but I won’t be paid.”
The pandemic comes on top of long-standing, systematic racism.
The Centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College released a report showing that pre-pandemic, black workers already had to send 70-90 percent more applications than white British workers.
“It’s structural racism,” Harjeevan explained.
“Racism is used as a method to divide the working class. Keeping black and young communities in precarious situations allows them to be easy scapegoats for various media outlets, the government and large corporations.”
And the furlough scheme is going to make people’s lives so much harder.
“It will mean a winter of utter depression, because people will have no money to get Christmas gifts, celebrate New Year and enjoy themselves,” Harjeevan said.
Aishah added, “The pandemic is very much still here. We have the highest death rate since May.
“The Tories have to extend the furlough.”
The youth jobless crisis
The Resolution Foundation, the think tank behind the report, said by August the youth unemployment rate was 13.1 percent—up from 10.8 percent the previous year.
And three months into the pandemic, a third of employees aged 18-24 lost their jobs or were furloughed, compared with one in six older adults.
Nicole, a young worker in Birmingham, told Socialist Worker that she was made redundant because of the pandemic.
“My degree is in events management and I have worked in the events industry for four years. I became redundant because all our events were cancelled due to Covid-19, so the company wasn’t making any money.
“It had a huge effect and now I am working in a completely different sector so that I can cover my bills.”
According to the report, there were 750,000 unemployed 18-24-year olds as of September. It is expected that there will be an additional 620,000 young people unemployed by the end of the year.
Becky, a Film and Television Production graduate from London told Socialist Worker, “I’ve worked really hard at university for three years and I can’t even start my career because I can’t start earning money.
“It feels like I’m regressing from having place and purpose—I’ve applied to my 51 jobs.”
The Kickstart Scheme, which began in September, claims to fund employers to create jobs for 16-24 year olds.
But the scheme just supports CV writing and interview preparation.
The Resolution Foundation report says “the Government will need to be more proactive if it wishes to see swift outflows from unemployment for more workers. That should involve helping the unemployed find work and ensure that new jobs are created.”
The situation facing young workers is bleak. “Being unemployed after a few months I started to feel lost and very unmotivated to do anything”, Nicole said.
“I would come across roles that were asking for a certain amount of experience, which was impossible for any young adult.”
Becky said, “The government needs to stop blaming young people for coronavirus when they’ve been telling us to Eat Out to Help Out, go back to school, work and university purely so they don’t lose money.”
And the toll of unemployment is having a profound effect on mental health.
Counselling Directory saw a 175 percent increase in 18-24 year olds looking for mental health resources compared to last year.
The greatest increases came from cities where Covid-19 restrictions have been stricter.
“My mental health is suffering and hasn’t been this low in a while. And winter is already hard enough,” said Becky. “I feel like my life is so stagnant. It’s purgatory and I hate feeling so useless.”
The homelessness charity Centrepoint has warned that only two in five young people currently furloughed think their role would be eligible for the new JSS.
And they found that a third of young adults don’t think they would have a safe place to live if they didn’t have additional support, with many relying on family and friends.