'As we emerge from the pandemic, we face a fork in the road'

File photo dated 17/02/16 of a Job Centre Plus in London. Youth unemployment could top one million b

6,800 local people are relying on unemployment benefits as they search for work - Credit: PA

As businesses closed their doors for the first time 17 months ago, thousands of people in Hornsey and Wood Green lost their jobs.

Local unemployment soared by over 2,000 in the first weeks of lockdown and in the difficult months since it’s risen further. Today, 6,800 local people are relying on unemployment benefits as they search for work, 4,200 more than before the pandemic. 

It’s no surprise that in the past year I've received more emails than ever from constituents worried about their futures. Many fear redundancies or being behind on rent. Others still have a job but have lost working hours in their zero-hour contracts or their employers have “fired and rehired them” by offering their old jobs back on worse terms than before. These experiences have drawn into sharp relief the fact that, for many people, the post-Covid workplace is even less secure and less dignified than before.

As we emerge from the pandemic, we face a fork in the road. Go back to the same unequal system of job insecurity and wage stagnation that has become rife in our society over a decade of successive Conservative governments and has seen the use of food banks at a record high. Or build a better future. 

Catherine West, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green

Catherine West says Haringey has one of the highest numbers of furloughed workers - Credit: Chris McAndrew

The need is urgent. 

On top of sky-high unemployment figures, 6,600 people in Hornsey and Wood Green are still relying on the furlough scheme that’s about to end - Haringey has one of the highest numbers of furloughed workers.

It’s vital the jobs these workers go back to pay at least a real living wage of £10 an hour so no one’s forced to choose between eating or heating their home.

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“Firing and rehiring” must be banned, and we must embrace the flexibility that the pandemic has shown can work so well to give workers a new right to work flexibly where they can and full workers’ rights from day one on the job. For those who, sadly, won’t return to their old jobs the government must provide more support instead of ripping the bandage off before the wound has healed.   

With almost 1,000 young people locally searching for work, higher than the national average, we face a generation scarred by this difficult start to their working life without more action from this government.

Labour’s calling for a “jobs promise” that guarantees quality education, training or employment together with more opportunities to access high quality apprenticeships – by ending the treasury raid of the apprenticeship levy. 

This is the moment for fundamental change. Let’s make sure that everyone is entitled to a secure, well-paid, and dignified job that offers high quality living standards and economic security.

Catherine West (Lab) is MP for Hornsey and Wood Green.

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