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Lord Hague tells Boris Johnson to listen to Tony Blair and roll-out Covid testing on ‘massive scale’

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The number of UK workers on the payroll plummeted by 600,000 between lockdown and May amid warnings of looming ‘disaster’.

In a sign of the carnage to come, official figures showed the number of paid employees dived 2.1 per cent or 612,000 between March and last month. 

Jobless claims under Universal Credit soared 1.6million – 125.9 per cent – over the same period as the economy went into freefall.

Vacancies showed an eye-watering reduction of 342,000 in March-May compared to the previous quarter – a sharper fall than than the credit crunch. 

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However, the worst of the hit for workers appears to have been masked by the government’s massive furlough bailout scheme, with experts warning of 1980s levels of unemployment by the end of the year. 

Official figures showed employment was down 0.8 per cent in April, while the jobless rate was up 0.1 per cent month-on-month. Inactivity rose significantly and total hours worked recorded a record fall of 94million a week. 

The grim jobs data emerged as former Tory leader William Hague joined calls from a swathe of MPs for the two-metre rule to be abandoned immediately to save the UK from a complete meltdown. 

In an analogy to the famous rescue of thousands of British soldiers from the beaches Dunkirk in France during the Second World Ward, Lord Hague described lockdown as an ‘heroic operation in itself but the result of a massive failure’.

He urged the government to heed calls for testing on a ‘massive scale’ so that social distancing curbs are no longer required. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the figures showed the furlough scheme was working, and insisted ministers and scientists are working as fast as possible to review the two-metre rule. 

In other rollercoaster coronavirus developments today: 

  • Around one in five pupils are said to have carried out no schoolwork at home, or less than an hour a day, since schools closed partially in March, according to research by UCL Institute of Education;
  • Scientists at Imperial College London will begin testing another possible coronavirus vaccine on humans this week.
  • The Prime Minister faces a growing rebellion after he rejected England footballer Marcus Rashford’s demand to extend its free school meal voucher scheme through the summer holidays. 
The number of weekly hours worked fell sharply in the latest ONS figures released today

The number of weekly hours worked fell sharply in the latest ONS figures released today

The claimant count showed an alarming rise over the last few months as people struggled to get by

The claimant count showed an alarming rise over the last few months as people struggled to get by

The figures rose most sharply in London and the South East, according to the ONS data

 The figures rose most sharply in London and the South East, according to the ONS data

Former Conservative leader William Hague (pictured) has today brandished the coronavirus lockdown a 'disaster for society' as he warned 'there can be no second lockdown'

Former Conservative leader William Hague (pictured) has today brandished the coronavirus lockdown a ‘disaster for society’ as he warned ‘there can be no second lockdown’

The ONS figures underline the scale of the damage being wreaked on UK plc by the draconian restrictions. It emerged last week that GDP plunged by a fifth in April, putting the country on track for the worst recession in 300 years.

The details today reveal that the number of people temporarily away from work, including furloughed workers, rose by six million at the end of March into April. 

Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician for economic statistics at the ONS, said: ‘The slowdown in the economy is now visibly hitting the labour market, especially in terms of hours worked.

‘Early indicators for May show that the number of employees on payrolls were down over 600,000 compared with March.

‘The Claimant Count was up again, though not all of these people are necessarily unemployed.’

He added: ‘More detailed employment data up to April show a dramatic drop in the number of hours worked, which were down almost 9 per cent in the latest period, partly due to a six million rise in people away from work, including those furloughed.’ 

Experts believe the full impact of the crisis will not be shown until August at the earliest because of the cushion of the furlough scheme. 

Average weekly hours worked, adjusted for seasonal variations, was down significantly since lockdown. The self-employed were particularly hard-hit

Average weekly hours worked, adjusted for seasonal variations, was down significantly since lockdown. The self-employed were particularly hard-hit

Vacancies showed an eye-watering reduction of 342,000 in March-May compared to the previous quarter - a sharper fall than than the credit crunch

Vacancies showed an eye-watering reduction of 342,000 in March-May compared to the previous quarter – a sharper fall than than the credit crunch

There was a slump in full-time self-employed men in February to April this year

There was a slump in full-time self-employed men in February to April this year

No scientific basis for two-metre rule, say leading experts 

There is no scientific basis for keeping the two-metre rule, leading experts argued today. 

Professors Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson, from the University of Oxford, hit out at ‘poor quality’ evidence on social distancing.

They suggested the impact on ‘our ability to go about our daily lives’ needed to be given more priority.

Writing in the Telegraph, they said: ‘Queuing outside shops, dodging each other once inside, and not getting too close to other people anywhere: social-distancing has become the norm. 

‘The two-metre rule, however, is also seriously impacting schools, pubs, restaurants and our ability to go about our daily lives. 

‘Much of the evidence in this current outbreak informing policy is poor quality. Encouragement and handwashing are what we need, not formalised rules.’ 

Scores of MPs, including former Cabinet ministers, used a debate in the House of Commons yesterday to urge the Government to announce its decision on the two-metre rule before July 4.

Ex-business secretary Greg Clark asked why having a restriction shorter than two metres in other countries was ‘right for them but wrong for us’, while Commons defence committee chair Tobias Ellwood said it was ‘now time for the Government to decide’, not in two weeks.

Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘What we now need to do is perform the task of both, frankly, restarting the economy, but without restarting the virus.

‘And that, of course, is a tricky business because you have got to make judgment calls about whether two metres, for example, needs to remain in place. Or whether you can bring it down, or not.

‘And there is plenty of contradictory evidence, indeed, plenty of international comparisons where countries are doing both things, and that’s why we are spending time looking at that.’

James Reed, of employment agency, Reed Group, told the BBC: ‘This is just the beginning. We are in for a major adjustment and unemployment could reach as high as 15 per cent.

‘I fear there is a pent up tsunami of job losses because the furlough scheme now has nine people on it and including the self employed. It means about a third of the workforce is inactive. My fear is that a lot of these people will lose their jobs at the end of this’.

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In his Telegraph column, Lord Hague said: ‘We now know therefore that a lockdown is not a temporary blip or a paid holiday, but a disaster for our society.

‘It is increasing inequality, social tension, and unaffordable debt.

‘Globally, the World Bank has estimated that up to 60 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty.

‘Such a disaster cannot under any circumstances be repeated. There can be no second lockdown.’

Lord Hague urged the government to cut the two meter social distancing rule and urged them to bring the distance in line with countries such as Denmark, France and Germany – where it is 1.5 metres.

He said the decision would save ‘great swathes’ of the hospitality industry. 

Lord Hague also called on the government to listen to Tony Blair, who was Prime Minister during the former Conservative’s leader’s four year spell as Leader of the Opposition, and put in place a policy of mass testing in a bid to avoid a second lockdown.

Lord Hague has called on Boris Johnson (pictured) to stop 'agonising' over the two metre social distancing rule in order to save the UK economy

Lord Hague has called on Boris Johnson (pictured) to stop ‘agonising’ over the two metre social distancing rule in order to save the UK economy

He said this mass testing should involve ‘millions of test every week’ and should be carried out as people ‘arrive at work, attend conferences or just decide to go out.’

‘While the cost would run into billions of pounds, it would be very little compared to the costs of one day of lockdown.’ he added.

Yesterday, in a boost to the retail economy, shops reopened for the first time since the government introduced its draconian lockdown measures in March to slow the spread of coronavirus.

More than 41,000 people have died of Covid-19 in the UK so far, while there have been almost 300,000 confirmed cases – though actual figures are thought to be much higher.

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