Boris Johnson’s refusal to extend the furlough scheme risks unemployment levels not seen since Margaret Thatcher was in Number 10, MPs have heard.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said firms still “desperately” needed the furlough scheme as they cannot return to normal during the Covid-19 pandemic.
But the prime minister insisted “indefinite furlough” was not the answer and defended the decision to call time on the policy in October.
Is his government making the political choice to accept levels of unemployment last seen under Thatcher in the early 1980s?”
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Blackford said: “Yesterday the prime minister told his cabinet, ‘I am no great nautical expert but sometimes it is necessary to tack here and there in response to the facts as they change’.
“It was surprisingly honest from the prime minister to admit his government is all at sea, a UK Government now defined by eight U-turns in eight months.
“But if the prime minister is true to his word, then surely he must see sense and change tack for a ninth time.
“With the clock ticking for struggling businesses and workers, will the Prime Minister commit today to extend the job retention scheme beyond October?
“Or is his government making the political choice to accept levels of unemployment last seen under Thatcher in the early 1980s?”
Mr Johnson responded: “Members opposite, of all parties, seem to want to extend the furlough scheme which has already cost this country £40 billion, supported 11 million people, but after all keeps them in suspended animation and prevents them from going to work.
“What we want to do is get people back to work and that’s why I hope Mr Blackford will instead support our Kickstarter scheme to get young people into jobs and support them in those jobs.
“How much better is that than languishing out of work?”
Mr Johnson highlighted other schemes to support the economy, adding: “We will continue to put our arms round the entire people to keep them going throughout the crisis, but indefinite furlough is just not the answer.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer earlier accused Mr Johnson of being “just tin eared and making it up as he goes along” when it came to the Covid response.
He cited one Tory MP saying: “It’s mess after mess, his own MPs, U-turn after U-turn, it’s a fundamental issue of competence, God knows what’s going on, there’s no grip.”