Express & Star comment: Furlough safety net disappearing

The furlough scheme has been one of the most important and imaginative initiatives from the Government to cushion the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on working people.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak

For several months it provided a safety net. Now businesses and workers look down, and there is no safety net, just a drop.

The scheme has been hugely expensive, and it has been widely recognised that it could not go on forever. Its phasing out brings the nation up sharply against the reality of the situation, and the new regional restrictions have greatly added to the difficulties for those in certain sectors.

Pubs and hospitality venues have had the agony of crushed hope. The eat out scheme in August, another of Rishi Sunak's imaginative ideas, seemed to signal their emergence from a bleak period. If they thought that it meant better times were round the corner, they are now faced with the prospect that those better times have been pushed a long way down the road.

Wolverhampton pub and brewery group Marston's says it is cutting up to 2,150 furloughed jobs because of the new restrictions which have been imposed to try to halt the surge in Covid-19 cases.

From the company's point of view, those in the sector are being hit despite a lack of clear evidence that pubs are implicated in rising infection levels.

Pubs and those in the hospitality sector have done their bit to ensure their premises are safe environments, and yet have not been spared the latest blows.

The Unite union is calling on the Government to bring forward a package of support measures. Otherwise, it says, Britain's hospitality sector will become a "wasteland."

Whether the Chancellor has anything left in his locker, we shall have to see. At some stage he'll have to find a way to pay for everything he has done, and a sector reduced to a wasteland will be in no position to contribute to the economic recovery and generate wealth.

So spending to save what he can does make some economic sense.

But it is the progress of the virus which is the dictating factor in everything. If no further help is forthcoming, thousands of people are in effect being asked to sacrifice their jobs and their livelihoods for the sake of public health.

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