Rishi Sunak urged not to "throw away" furlough scheme by letting millions lose their jobs

Ministers have been urged not to "throw away" the good work of the job retention scheme by failing to provide the extra support which could stop millions of people losing their livelihoods in the coming months.

As pressure mounts on Boris Johnson from Tory backbenchers to be "very, very cautious" about tax rises as part of the Government's recovery plan, union leaders are urging the Prime Minister to adopt a range of job protection and upskilling schemes.

It comes as new figures show city centre shops continued to see a slump in footfall in August, with vast swathes of people still working at home despite pleas from the Government to return.

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The Trades Union Congress is now urging Chancellor Rishi Sunak and the Government to work with unions on a new job protection and upskilling scheme to help avoid a "tsunami" of unemployment in the autumn.

Millions of workers have been furloughed during the lockdown period, with wages paid by the Government, but the scheme is now winding down with employers being asked to contribute from this month.

Without additional support for businesses and workers, millions will lose their livelihoods in the coming months ahead, the union organisation warned.

The TUC's plan outlines a new short-time working scheme designed to prevent mass unemployment and help firms bounce back after the virus crisis, as well as proposals to help workers whose jobs are at risk develop new skills.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak. Pic: PA

The aim would be to help businesses save jobs by providing financial support for companies with a viable future, and fund the reskilling of workers, said the TUC.

The plan, which would have built-in contingencies for companies hit by local lockdowns, mirrors measures being taken across Europe, said the TUC.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "The job retention scheme showed what government can do during a crisis.

"It saved many people from the dole queue and stopped good companies going to the wall.

"Ministers cannot afford to throw away the good work of the JRS. There is still time to avoid a tsunami of unemployment.

"The TUC's jobs protection and upskilling deal will help firms with a future keep people on - and protect the jobs and incomes of millions, and workers in companies taking longer to recover will get the skills they may need for future jobs."

The chairman of the powerful 1922 Committee of backbench Conservatives, Sir Graham Brady, yesterday urged the Prime Minister not to worsen the economic crisis from the coronavirus pandemic with his recovery plan.

Sir Graham's warning came after Mr Johnson and his Chancellor tried to placate unrest among the Tory ranks amid anger over a series of U-turns and concerns over the need to make unpopular choices.

Mr Sunak told the most recent intake of Conservative MPs that the Government cannot "simply borrow our way out of any hole" and that ministers will "need to do some difficult things".

Sir Graham told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think the necessity is to make sure we don't make this crisis any worse than it has to be.

"I think we have to be aware that raising taxes, and raising the wrong types of taxes especially, can be a way in which you stifle economic growth and prospects rather than guaranteeing them."

On Wednesday, Mr Sunak, MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire, told his fellow Conservatives: "We will need to do some difficult things, but I promise you, if we trust one another we will be able to overcome the short-term challenges. Now this doesn't mean a horror show of tax rises with no end in sight."

Meanwhile, the latest monthly BRC ShopperTrak footfall monitor revealed that UK footfall slid by 34.3 per cent in August compared to the same month last year.

It said this represented a 7.3 per cent percentage point improvement from July as the rate of recovery slowed.

Footfall on high streets was 41.7 per cent lower for the month, as shoppers stayed away from city centres.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: "In-store discounting and demand for school wear helped lure some customers back to the shops, but with many office blocks still empty and much of the public avoiding public transport, footfall is not returning to towns and city centres and this is having a devastating effect on the local economies in these areas."