Gordon Brown, the UK prime minister during the financial crisis that began in 2008, has railed against the chancellor’s “out of date” coronavirus measures, saying Rishi Sunak has “failed us now”.
Employment support is “declining dramatically” as restrictions tighten and coronavirus infections spread, Mr Brown said. From November 1 the furlough scheme that has been in place since the early days of the pandemic crisis will come to a halt.
Mr Sunak, the UK chancellor, has unveiled a multibillion-pound local plan for workers in pubs, restaurants and other businesses forced to close as the country braces itself for a winter of local coronavirus lockdowns. Tighter Covid restrictions have been applied to some regions in northern England and the government has put in place a three-tier system as it seeks to stem the spread of the virus.
There is a “bigger health problem and smaller government support”, Mr Brown said on Tuesday. “It cannot be right that the economic policy and the health policy are so at odds with each other,” he added.
Mr Brown, who held the nation’s purse strings for 10 years from 1997, compared the Covid-19 support package set up by Boris Johnson’s government with those of Germany and France, which are spending “a lot more”. The US debate, he said, is over $1tn or $2tn of support.
Faced with these “extraordinary times and extraordinary measures”, the former Labour chancellor told Sky News on Tuesday: “you cannot fail to help people because your whole society and its cohesion is dependent on people feeling they are thought about that, their jobs are valued, their livelihoods are something that you are going to protect.
“What is the price we will pay for leaving young people without jobs for months and for years?” Mr Brown said.
Mr Johnson’s Conservative government proposes “to cut wages by a third, which is actually what Mr Sunak is doing after October 31”, Mr Brown said.
The minimum rate per hour is not £8.70 but £5.80, which means that somebody on £300 a week will now take home £200, the former chancellor said.
“How can a family budget for the future if they are going to lose £100 of income overnight?” he said. “It is simply not a tolerable situation in a civilised society and the chancellor must know now that his proposals of a month ago have been completely overtaken by the health problems we have.”
From November 1, workers in outlets forced to close in England will be given 66 per cent of their usual wages by the state up to a maximum of £2,100 per month.