OPINION: Karin Smyth MP on a rise in unemployment in Bristol South

(Newspaper column as seen in The Pigeon in October 2020)

This month sees the end of the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme, which was put in place at the start of lockdown to avoid mass job losses. It leaves many people in Bristol South facing a very uncertain future.

I, and my Labour colleagues, have been pushing to see the scheme extended for those hardest hit sectors which are still unable to operate properly due to ongoing restrictions. Disappointingly, the Government chose to ignore the calls from us, from business owners, trade unions, think tanks, the cross-party Treasury Select Committee and some of its own MPs; in doing so, it has let down hundreds of thousands of people working in vulnerable industries such as hospitality, leisure, travel and the arts.

Bristol South does not have lots of large employers which can accommodate mass remote working set up. Families across Bristol South rely on paid work with Bristol Airport and in cafes, bars and restaurants as well as the creative sector. It’s home to lots of small businesses, many of which were struggling before the pandemic hit and this has made things a hundred times harder. I’ve heard from local business owners and self-employed people with heartbreaking stories of their family business, in the community for decades employing local people, suddenly facing financial ruin and closure as a result of this pandemic.

The percentage of people claiming unemployment-related benefits in Bristol South has already risen from 3.6% in March to 6.2% this summer, and this is likely to increase further. I’m hearing from lots of people who’ve always worked and have never had to apply for government support before. And it’s hitting women and young people particularly hard. We must act now to avert the biggest jobs crisis of a generation.

The Government announced the launch of a Kickstart scheme to support younger jobseekers in August, but we’re yet to see this in action and there appears to be no job guarantee at the end of it. I welcome the offer of extra paid incentives for businesses taking on new apprentices and would encourage employers in Bristol South to explore this further, but they too will need jobs at the end of their training and, at the moment, there is no guarantee there either.

This piecemeal approach is not enough. We need a national plan for job retention and creation as well as retraining. I will continue lobbying the Government on this and am working on plans for my 2021 jobs and apprenticeships fair to help link local people up with jobs and training opportunities. In the meantime, there is help available locally to support people with job hunting and employability skills, see here for more details.