We are New Starter Justice –the voice for the new starters your Job Retention Scheme has left behind. You may have heard of us. You certainly haven’t listened.
We don’t envy your task. It’s never easy to start a new job, and you’ve certainly been thrown in at the deep end, immediately faced with the responsibility of steering the nation through an unprecedented economic challenge. We imagine when you started your new position, you were excited for the future and the opportunities it would present. The current situation must feel a world away from that. This is, perhaps, a small something we have in common.
We have felt the excitement of better prospects too—except ours have turned into a living nightmare. Through no fault of our own, we are left without work, income or financial security. All because we stepped forward into what we thought might be a brighter future.
Our campaign represents a vast collective of individuals from all sectors and backgrounds. Every day, the number of people you seem to have forgotten grows. We now estimate in excess of one million people have fallen through the cracks of this policy. And now, as our incomes start to dry up, our families are suffering too. Is this fair?
Over a month ago, you made the first announcement about the Job Retention Scheme. You made a direct promise that each and every person would “not be left behind”. It provided the nation with the comfort that we needed as we faced these difficult times.
Unfortunately, you have failed to deliver on this promise to over a million families and, despite thousands of us calling out to you, you have yet to acknowledge our fears. How can you continue to publicly laud the Job Retention Scheme as a roaring success, when it leaves so many at risk of losing everything?
When you announced your policies to save UK jobs, hidden amongst the fanfare was a stipulation that those who started—or were due to start—new jobs following 28th February would be ineligible for the Job Retention Scheme, despite our new employers being desperate to access the grant to retain us. This leaves us both struggling in the present and scared for the future. How can you fail so many workers and employers?
As you have scrambled to plaster over the cracks in other hastily-made policies, those in the Job Retention Scheme are left open and ignored. To date, your proposed solutions to address these gaps in the scheme are wholly inadequate.
First, you suggested we approach our former employers to re-hire us to immediately place us on furlough. A survey of over 8,000 members showed that this was unsuccessful for 96% of us. The process of returning to our employers, begging and pleading, was an embarrassing and inhumane proposal. Many left following experiences of bullying, discrimination and abuse. You forced them to return, ‘cap in hand’, understanding that this would be the only way to provide safety and security for their families. This solution, which you continue to suggest, simply isn’t viable. It’s emotional torture. We invite you to take a second to imagine how that would feel.
You then asked us to apply for Universal Credit. Yet the vast majority of us have been told we are not eligible for this support. And for those that are, the amount offered does not cover a fraction of our household bills. Whilst we appreciate that many people rely on the Universal Credit system day-to-day, we have always worked. We have built lives for ourselves that are reliant on our incomes. The amount offered to those few who have been told they are eligible will not keep a roof over their heads, pay their bills or feed their families. Why should we be expected to live on less than 10% of our income (if we’re lucky) when others are offered 80%—just because of unfortunate timing?
A small glimmer of hope emerged when you announced an amendment to the scheme. For a moment, we thought our voice had finally been heard. On the surface, this appeared to be an extension of the ‘cut-off date’ to 19th March. Initial elation turned quickly soured as it proved to be nothing more than a smoke screen. The requirement for our RTI to have been submitted to HMRC by this date means it offers no hope to those who are paid on a monthly basis – over 84% of the workforce. It was a mere clarification that only helped a small proportion of those who you had left behind. In fact, it took that support away from many who would have previously been eligible. Your treasury reported that this would provide support for an additional 200,000 people–a figure that has been widely debunked. You have left millions of families feeling abandoned, desperate and frustrated. How can you continue to ignore us?
You argue, in defense, that to extend the scheme to save us would leave it open to fraud. Yet by your own admission, you have the capabilities to mitigate against such crime and have systems in place to carry out checks. You allow this for the self-employed. You allow this for TUPEd workers. But you choose not to allow this for new starters, despite it being proven as possible. You openly admit this, but dismiss it as an administrative ‘burden’. Are millions of people and their families not worth the time or effort?
You have brushed us aside and written us off. And you have remained suspiciously quiet on acknowledging the flaws in your policy or the millions of people they will impact. We can assure you, we will not stay so quiet.
We are the taxpayers that you repeatedly state you must protect. For our entire working lives, each and every one of us has supported the government. Like everybody else, we will continue to pay the cost of COVID-19 for years to come. It is so undeniably right that the government must provide us with equal support through this crisis too. How can you show such blatant disregard for the taxpayers you claim to respect so much?
The stories we hear every day from our members, each one heartbreaking and desperate, highlight the number of ways people fall through the cracks in the Job Retention Scheme. They show that a ‘cut-off’ date isn’t a viable solution for all. Our members may be in a variety of different situations, yet we all have something in common: contractual proof of employment. We have signed contracts. We have offer letters. We have tax records. So many have attended work, for days, weeks, and have paid taxes on the earnings through payrolls but you fail to accept that as proof. Many were not even lucky enough to get the opportunity to start, left in limbo and waiting for this living nightmare to end. But both our past and present details and contributions are logged on HMRC systems. The evidence is available and so clearly displays that a solution that works for all is achievable. We have proof. We’ve done everything right—so why are you punishing us?
We do not profess to have the answers. We’re not policy makers. That’s your job. We are the families facing poverty because you took our jobs away.
You are disregarding us as collateral damage, Chancellor. We rely on you to support us through this and right now, you are failing us. We will not accept this any longer. How far are you going to push us?
People will suffer, homes will be lost, and children will go hungry as a direct result of this neglect. You are pushing millions of people to the edge. Reports show that 100,000 people attempt suicide each year due to debt and financial hardship. Will it take somebody to end their life before you listen to us? Could you live with that on your shoulders?
It’s not too late. All we ask is that you keep the promise you made and that you do the right thing. Please, do not leave us behind.
New Starter Justice