OPINION: How can we bring an end to the labour market’s long Covid-19?

by Tris Dyson | Nesta Challenges
Thursday, 13 May 2021 11:43 GMT

People wearing face masks walk past a closed retail unit in Preston, Britain, March 9, 2021. REUTERS/Phil Noble

Image Caption and Rights Information

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

As the impact of COVID-19 continues to reverberate, there is a burning need to help people find paths to employment and financially support those out of jobs

Tris Dyson is managing director at Nesta Challenges, a global hub for expertise and insight on challenge prizes.

Over the past year, the pandemic has shaken the delicate and already imbalanced ecosystem of jobs and finances to its core. The health effects have been devastating and indiscriminate, yet there is no denying some groups of society have been hit particularly hard when it comes to finances.

People who were already in low-income work or less secure work - such as those on zero hours contracts or in the gig economy - have seen their precarious working and financial situations become even more strained. And young people - with less work experience under their belt and more often working in industries such as retail and hospitality - have often borne the brunt of consecutive lockdowns.

Gemma, a 24-year-old who worked in a local high street clothing store in Hexham, found herself furloughed and subsequently made redundant from her job early on in the pandemic. She’d worked there for five years but lockdown meant that security was gone almost overnight. She spent hours applying to hundreds of jobs to try to get new work and struggled to deal with the financial impact of losing her previously steady income.

Sadly, we all know Gemma’s story is not uncommon, and many others have found themselves turning to debt advice charities, food banks and benefits for the first time in the pandemic - particularly young people. In fact the latest research for Nesta’s Rapid Recovery Challenge has found that 18-24 year olds and low earners are twice as likely to have been furloughed or made redundant during the pandemic.

While a return to normality may be in sight, the economic reverberations of the pandemic will be felt for years to come - and those who were already in precarious positions will continue to feel them most.

There is a pressing need to help people find paths to new employment, and identify skills and opportunities to make necessary career changes which they might not have considered pre-pandemic. Particularly as we also found that four in 10 people currently out of work have not been working for over six months. A further 15% have already been out of work for three months.

The long-Covid-19 of the labour market has been widely reported - if we don’t do something now, this will remain endemic long into the future.

We also need to ensure people who are already out of work have financial support to get by. Government support packages are coming to an end and people need support to help them make the most of every penny and understand what other sources of financial help are available to them.

The positive news is there is a huge array of tools out there that can help, such as solutions for young people trying to gain work experience as they first enter the labour market, for low-paid workers needing to access earned wages early, and for marginalised groups - such as homeless and disabled people - who need to upskill or find secure work.

But we need to get these solutions into people’s hands in their moment of need or people will be pushed further to the brink. This isn’t just a task for the government - businesses such as banks  and supermarkets, as well as charities, local authorities and housing associations can all play a part - particularly where they have direct access to individuals and communities.

With one in five people in Britain still fearing they won’t recover financially from the pandemic for several years, and this figure almost doubling for those who have been furloughed or made redundant, it’s clear further action is needed to mitigate the long-term effects of the pandemic and help people not only gain job security but see a more positive financial future.