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Covid-19: Support for Job Retention

Volume 690: debated on Tuesday 9 March 2021

In July last year, the OBR forecast unemployment to peak at around just under 12%. Now, because of policy development, it has forecast a much lower peak of 6.5%. That means 1.8 million fewer people who are expected to lose their jobs. Whether it is through interventions such as the furlough scheme, we remain committed to protecting, supporting and creating jobs.

The furlough scheme has helped to protect 11.2 million jobs across the UK, including nearly 6,000 jobs in my Birmingham, Northfield constituency, so I take this opportunity to thank the Chancellor for the extension until September. Does he agree that this will give businesses the vital breathing space needed to be able to plan as we go along the Prime Minister’s road map?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of protecting jobs. The extension of the furlough scheme on generous terms beyond the end of the road map is designed to give his local businesses and others the reassurance that they need to reopen safely and confidently. I know he will be keen to protect as many of those jobs as possible in his local area and I am delighted that this Government can support him in doing so.

A SAGE—Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies —adviser is reported to have said:

“I thought the chancellor was in charge. He was the main person who was responsible for the second wave.”

Does the Chancellor accept that his refusal to follow the science by pitting public health against the economy led to worse outcomes for both?

I urge the hon. Lady to be a little bit careful about what she reads in the newspaper. At all steps in this crisis, we have indeed taken the advice of our scientific advisers. Let us go back to September, which I think is what she is referring to. At that time—as she knows from the SAGE minutes herself, which are published, rather than unsourced quotes in newspapers—the evidence was finely balanced and there were many things for Ministers to consider. The consideration at that point was that the tiered system was working and deserved to be given a chance.