Annabel Denham

It is hard to take Sunak’s jobs plan seriously

At some point, Rishi Sunak is going to need to pick a lane. There is only so long that the Chancellor can claim to believe that excessive borrowing is immoral while borrowing to such excess. His trick yesterday was to make all the right noises about restraint while unrolling a £500 million ‘plan for jobs’. Take away his earnest delivery and it’s still not clear whether he’s the boozer at the bar telling the world about the dangers of alcoholism, or the sensible friend ordering the taxi home.

Let’s be fair. Sunak has had to deal with exceptional circumstances in the last 18 months, and is taking steps to cease the unprecedented spending spurge. He’s shown resolve in unwinding the furlough scheme last week and ending the £20 Universal Credit uplift today. Another three months of furlough could have cost another £3 billion, another year of the UC uptick £6 billion.

And it’s understandable that the Chancellor wants to take the sting out of these unpopular decisions by announcing extra money for schemes we’ve already seen. But the ‘high-wage economy’ has been a leftist trope for years. The Trades Union Congress, IPPR, and Labour Party politicians have all called for it. Yet Tory ministers are now bashing companies for being ‘drunk on cheap labour,’ seemingly forgetting that business’s main function is to provide for their customers and keep their prices competitive.

Take away his earnest delivery and it’s still not clear whether he’s the boozer at the bar telling the world about the dangers of alcoholism, or the sensible friend ordering the taxi home

We don’t yet know the state of the post-Covid labour market. Job vacancies are at a record high, hitting over one million last month, while over a million workers are expected to be in post-furlough limbo. If ever there was a time for politicians to accept the truism that the labour market cannot be controlled by government intervention, it is surely now, a period of near-unprecedented fluidity and uncertainty.

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