We need a Back to Work Budget for Harlow

by Councillor Mark Ingall

Reports have shown that the economic impact of COVID-19 is beginning to hit in Harlow and we need a clear plan from the government to fight it.

The Government was too slow to recognise the scale of the health crisis from coronavirus and we are already paying the economic price.

I am increasingly worried that the slow and muddled health response is now being followed by a slow and muddled response to saving jobs. The window is closing to protect existing jobs and encourage firms to invest in creating new ones.

There were 5090 people in Harlow claiming for Universal Credit and other benefits last month, a rise of 141.2% since the outbreak of coronavirus. Although this is an imperfect measure of unemployment, it hints at the scale of the looming jobs crisis in Harlow.

I am concerned that the government has pushed back its next full budget until the autumn. We’re already lagging behind other countries like Germany, which announced a full economic package weeks ago and people in Harlow and across the country are concerned about their jobs and financial security and are looking to the government for a clear plan.

We need an urgent package of economic measures with a clear focus: jobs, jobs, jobs.

Supporting this, we need a strategic withdrawal of support schemes tailored to the needs of specific sectors and areas.

The Job Retention Scheme is supporting 20.8% of the working age population in Harlow, whilst 4600 people are using the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.

Labour called for and welcomed these schemes, but we are concerned about their abrupt withdrawal which risks pushing millions of people into unemployment. The Chancellor plans to withdraw support for all sectors and areas of the economy at once, and has not linked his plan to other public health measures, such as easing social distancing guidelines where it is safe to do so.

This one-size-fits all approach won’t work for sectors like hospitality. Our pubs, restaurants and cafes will be operating well below capacity when they eventually reopen and their fortunes are closely linked to the decisions that are taken on social distancing. We need to do everything we can to help our local pubs and restaurants and it makes no sense to withdraw support for the 2900 hospitality workers in Harlow at the same time as sectors that are operating as normal and will need less support.

Similarly, firms relying on tourism face losing the majority of trade from the summer high season. Snatching away all support in October, just as the high season ends, could be ruinous for the tourism sector and the roughly 2805 jobs it supports in Harlow.

With the clear planning of a ‘Back to Work Budget’ we can support businesses in Harlow as they re-open, we can protect jobs and we can get people who have lost their jobs because of this crisis back into work. If the political will and backing is there, we can stem the tide of the coming economic impact of COVID-19 in Harlow with as much action and fervour as we have collectively stemmed the tide of the disease itself in lockdown.

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