As a constructive Opposition, we want to work with the Government to ensure that people’s jobs and incomes are protected and the furlough scheme is a critical element of that. Many of the more than 6 million people who are currently furloughed were taken aback by comments made in the media by Government spokespeople suggesting that, for example, people needed to be weaned off an addiction to the scheme. There were many intimations that changes might have been announced to that scheme by the Chancellor, potentially in the media, without the opportunity for proper scrutiny.
I have only heard about these changes in the last few seconds. We will look at them very carefully, but there are some critical principles that the Chancellor surely must follow as he redesigns the scheme.
First, we must acknowledge that people did not want to be furloughed. It occurred through no choice of their own and through following the Government’s advice about the closure of sectors. It is critically important that they are not penalised for that choice.
I welcome the flexibility mentioned. We have asked for that repeatedly; it applies in many other countries. It has been a long time coming, but I welcome the fact that it is occurring now.
That flexibility includes an employer contribution, so the Chancellor needs to provide more information about that employer contribution now. He also surely needs to provide more information about alternatives to the scheme. Other countries have job creation, training schemes and redeployment schemes. We do not have those yet. Will the Chancellor work with me, trade unions, businesses, local authorities and further and higher education institutions to create the support that is so desperately needed?