The end of the Furlough scheme

The Tories plan to wind-down the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, more commonly known as the “furlough” scheme, with a view to closing the scheme by the end of October. Under the scheme, employers have been able to furlough their workers, with the government paying 80% of their salaries.

While this was always clearly insufficient, as it leaves the choice as to whether to make up the 20% difference down to individual employers, the scheme has provided a safety net for workers in recent months, helping them to buy food and essentials, and to pay rent.

Over the coming months, the government plans to reduce the operation of the furlough scheme, and eventually to end it entirely. From 1 September, the government will pay only 70% of furloughed workers’ wages, with employers expected to “ensure [workers] receive 80%”. Inevitably, this will cause many employers to stop topping up their workers’ wages to full pay, leading to a pay cut for many. For others, it will mean unemployment.

The scheme is currently scheduled to end on 31 October. At the time of writing, 9.6 million workers had made use of the furlough scheme, and the Institute for Public Policy Research think tank has stated that 2 million jobs will be lost when the scheme ends. The Bank of England predicts that UK unemployment will rise to 10% by the end of the year.

While the majority of the press has been focused on the potential damage that such levels of unemployment will do to the economy, what is often missing in these narratives is the deprivation and poverty that mass unemployment will inflict on workers. The media has instead focused, as usual, on vilifying and victim-blaming the working class.

The ideological attacks from the media include the suggestion that workers have been defrauding the government by working while furloughed (when surely it is the bosses who are guilty of fraud by claiming furlough while forcing their employees to work!). The purpose of this attack is to make it appear that furloughed workers are “scroungers”, in order to drum up public support for ending the scheme and rendering these workers jobless.

To resist the inevitable devastation that will be inflicted by the ending of the furlough scheme, workers need to organise now. We didn’t cause this crisis, and we shouldn’t be forced to pay for it. In response to mass redundancies, factory closures, and pay cuts, workers need to organise a rank and file movement to win control of the unions and of every strike.

We also need to work to build an independent unemployed and precarious workers’ movement to demand work for all, and if there isn’t enough work to go around, hours should be cut with no loss of pay. Our demand is simple; work or full pay! Only by forcing the Government and the bosses to concede to this demand can we protect the working class from the impending crisis.