By Alan Lockey

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Viewed from almost any angle, the UK government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme — to give the furlough policy its official title — is a staggering departure in the state’s relationship with the economy. Not since the foundation of the welfare state in 1948 has a British government intervened so emphatically to ameliorate labour market outcomes. And even then not to subsidise employees’ wages directly, as now.

The policy’s vast scale is a story best told in numbers. According to HMRC data, at least 9.4 million workers have been furloughed; more than a quarter of the UK’s entire labour market. The cost to the exchequer stands at an estimated £14bn a month and, by the time the policy is wound down, this could even top £100bn. With the economy in freefall, there is only one way the government can fund this: borrowing. As such, the UK’s public deficit is expected to exceed 15 percent of GDP, a level not seen before in peacetime. …

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Most of us would like to see important aspects of our societies change: reducing local, national and global inequality; heading off the potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change; renewing democracy; and enhancing wellbeing.

by Zayn Meghji, Josie Warden and Riley Thorold

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The coronavirus pandemic has shown us how ill prepared we are for crises, even for those that we know are coming down the line, be that the high probability of a global pandemic, or the impacts of climate change. It’s also highlighted the extent to which the shameful inequalities that already exist are painfully exacerbated without action.

With so much uncertainty, ways of thinking and acting devised in relative stability no longer seem up to the challenge. We need to be able to respond continually, and to adapt and evolve as we meet challenges. Much has been said about a ‘v-shaped recovery’ — bouncing back and continuing as we were — but this assumes nothing has changed, and that nothing needs to change. …



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