One of the biggest surprises about post-Covid Britain, says Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph, is the “huge, debilitating hole” in our workforce. Alongside the 375,000 over-50s who “lost the habit of working and didn’t fancy getting back into it” are 2.5 million “long-term sick”, most suffering mental health issues. Then there are the 3.5 million deemed “unable to work”, even though 700,000 of them say they want a job. It’s a mess. A fifth of adults in Liverpool, Glasgow and Birmingham are on out-of-work benefits. Jobcentres ought to be coaching people back into work, but, incredibly, “they can’t find enough people to work at the Jobcentres”.
This is a shocking failure by the Tories – and it’s also a political headache. “A panic is now on in No 10” after Labour’s work and pensions spokesman Jon Ashworth gave a speech showing how well his side understands the issue. He sounded “just like a Tory circa 2009”, talking about the scandal of millions on benefits as “a waste of lives, not just money”. The Tories used to be good at this stuff: before lockdown a record 33 million people were in work; David Cameron boasted of leading “the workers’ party”. But now the roles have reversed – the Tories claim they have a plan ready, but they’re still not even willing to admit how many people are on benefits. This is a huge and complex problem. “Denial, as a strategy, is not a great place to start.”