Labour has accused the UK chancellor, Rishi Sunak, of consigning more than 1m jobs to the “scrapheap”, after failing to protect workers in the hard-hit wedding, exhibition and festival industries in his emergency Covid plans.
Shadow ministers claimed the plight of businesses that rely on mass gatherings – including events, festivals, sports venues and theatres – was overlooked by the chancellor when he presented his winter economic plan last week.
Sunak’s new jobs support scheme aims to get people back to work part-time – on at least a third of their regular hours – during the pandemic. However, Labour said this was “impossible” for those sectors that are still shut down as a result of Covid-19 and are unlikely to reopen for the next six months without an effective mass-testing system.
According to figures compiled by Labour, the jobs at risk in the culture and events sector include:
Events and conferences industry: 142,000 event caterers, 11,000 exhibition organisers, and 18,000 people running conferences.
Creative, arts and entertainment sector including theatres, cinemas: 90,000.
Weddings: 500,000 including caterers, florists, photographers, dressmakers, beauticians, etc.
Nightlife: 69,000 employed in nightclubs, and 428,000 employed in pubs and bars.
Labour pointed to industry surveys that showed the wedding sector alone had already lost around £4.8bn due to the pandemic, after 127,000 nuptials were postponed until at least 2021. New restrictions cutting the number of wedding guests from 30 to 15 are also expected to impact at least 70,000 weddings this year.
Meanwhile, many venues in the nightlife industry are either still shut down or are now facing reduced business due to the government’s new 10pm curfew on drinkers.
Pantomimes, which can generate enough revenue to support a theatre through the rest of the year, are expected to be cancelled as Christmas approaches and the government keeps in place strict limits on social gatherings.
Dry cleaners, shoe repair shops and tailors are also among the businesses that have seen a huge fall in revenue since March and will continue to suffer from income losses until office workers return to work in city centres.
Lucy Powell, the shadow minister for business and consumers, said: “The chancellor is consigning whole sectors of our economy to the scrapheap, damaging lives and livelihoods, and threatening the recovery. The failure of ministers to ensure an effective test, track and trace system means that many businesses have no idea when they can reopen. The decision to shut these firms out of the job support scheme adds insult to injury.”
Powell said that while Labour had called on the government to put forward an effective plan to recover jobs, retrain workers and rebuild businesses, “This isn’t it.”
“Even for those who can access it, the job support scheme is badly designed and could lead to a wave of job losses, because the chancellor’s sums do not add up for businesses. He must think again, before the jobs crisis reaches tipping point,” she added.
Former prime minister Gordon Brown has also hit out at Sunak’s economic plan, saying there are “fundamental flaws” in the job support scheme, which failed to cater for the 1.5 million people currently unemployed or the 3 million self-employed workers who are not covered by the furlough scheme.
The former Labour leader is expected to tell a Communication Workers Union conference on Monday that the government should “reboot” its plans, and call a special summit to avoid the threat of a “Covid generation” of unemployed young people. He said 500,000 young people were at risk of ending up on the streets or isolated at home without extra help during the pandemic.
The Treasury said in a statement: “Supporting jobs is our absolute priority, which is why we set out a range of new measures on Thursday including the job support scheme to protect millions of jobs, extending the self-employment income support scheme and 15% VAT cut for the hospitality and tourism sectors, and help for businesses in repaying government-backed loans.”
The spokesperson also highlighted the chancellor’s previously announced £1,000 coronavirus job retention bonus for companies who bring employees back from furlough.
“As the chancellor has said, it would be fundamentally wrong to hold people in jobs that only exist inside the furlough,” the Treasury said. “Our focus will continue to be on creating new opportunities for people across the UK and supporting them into secure jobs.”