The urgent need for an extension of the furlough scheme across all sectors has become more apparent as new research shows hundreds of thousands of jobs in rural communities are now at risk once the government withdraws wage subsidy support in October.
The new analysis from the Labour Party found that an astonishing 320,000 jobs in rural communties may go to the wall once the furlough scheme, where the government covers 80 per cent of people’s wages if their employer agrees to keep them on, comes to an end in two months’ time.
Drawing from research from the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, which estimates that 1.2m jobs are at immediate risk once the furlough scheme ends, Labour found that nearly a third of these jobs are located in rural communities.
Such a major additional jobs blow for rural areas would be one that they simply cannot afford now to take – the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that more than a half a million people in rural and semi-rural communities were already unemployed.
Labour moreover found that if these additional 320,000 jobs were to go once the furlough scheme ends, this would raise unemployment in some rural areas to levels as high as 60 per cent.
A study earlier this month from Grant Thornton for the County Councils Network (CCN) painted an even bleaker picture for rural communities.
The research found that six million people in rural communities were employed in jobs considered ‘at-risk’, with more than 40 per cent of the UK’s entire furloughed workforce living in rural areas.
Based on the most recent data from June, Cornwall was the area with the highest proportion of the workforce furloughed at 35 per cent. In Staffordshire, Worcestershire, Cumbria, Dorset and Devon, the local workforce was furloughed at similarly high rates, with all close to a third being on the government scheme.
The latest research on the unemployment threats facing rural communities comes as UniteLIVE highlighted last month the issue of rural poverty ahead of this year’s virtual Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival.
We found that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the inequalities rural communities have already faced for years, creating the perfect storm – one that must be addressed before it is too late.
Commenting on Labour’s latest analysis of jobs at risk in rural communities, shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard said, “Rural communities and small towns have been hit hard by austerity and are already facing severe challenges, including access to transport, educational opportunities and good quality housing. They cannot afford for hundreds of thousands of jobs to go.
“The Government should be working with businesses and unions to target support where it is needed most, not ploughing ahead with a one-size-fits-all approach that will leave whole sectors of the economy struggling,” he added.
Unite national officer for food, drink and agriculture Bev Clarkson agreed.
“There has been much talk about extending the furlough scheme for different sectors such as manufacturing or hospitality, but what this latest analysis shows us is that we need a robust, long-term furlough scheme that reaches across sectors and targets support for the areas hardest hit by the economic fall-out from this pandemic,” she said.
“More than one in five people in the UK live in rural as opposed to urban areas – that’s over 13.5m people in total,” Clarkson added. “And yet investment in such areas is abysmally low. These areas have already been blighted for decades by high levels of unemployment, crumbling infrastructure, unaffordable housing and general lack of opportunity.
“Our rural communities simply cannot afford to take an extra hit with the end of the furlough scheme triggering hundreds of thousands of job losses. We call on chancellor Rishi Sunak to do the right thing and extend wage support now, or else this may be blow from which our rural communities may never recover.”
By Hajera Blagg