Luton North MP Sarah Owen has warned the town faces a jobs and benefits crisis over plans to slash Universal Credit by £20 a week and end furlough for the struggling aviation sector.
In the House of Commons, she told the Work & Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey that the government are leaving people in Luton to fight the jobs crisis on their own, with up to 27,000 households across the town facing a £20 cut to Universal Credit, and as many as 6,000 local aviation jobs being at risk as furlough ends on September 30.
On Wednesday Labour will be calling an emergency vote on the government’s plan to slash Universal Credit.
For Luton, one of the area’s which has relied most on the government’s furlough scheme due to the size of the town’s aviation sector, this comes as the furlough scheme will come to a close. Luton Airport saw traffic down by 75% on pre-Covid levels in August and a quarter of the airport’s staff remain furloughed. Luton Airport’s CEO Alberto Martin warned last month that the airport will ‘need to consider whether to let people go' if the government doesn’t offer aviation a deal to protect jobs.
Data from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that 11,000 households in Luton North are in receipt of Universal Credit, and official data from the DWP shows that of this number 3,830 people are claiming the benefit whilst working. Numbers from Airlines UK have also shown that there are 2,341 jobs in Ms Owen’s constituency, and a further 3,450 in Luton South where the town’s airport is based, which depend on aviation and its supply chain.
The sector and aviation worker union have echoed the local MP’s warning that many of these jobs are at risk as furlough ends and air traffic remains low.
The Luton North MP told the Secretary of State for Work & Pensions on Monday: “Some 11,000 people in my constituency are on UC, and it may come as news to Ministers but nearly 4,000 of those people are in work. More than 2,000 good jobs in Luton North are in aviation and they are under threat as furlough ends. When we look at this job cuts double whammy, it is hard not to conclude that the Conservatives are leaving Luton to fight this crisis on our own.”
“Will the Minister tell the Chancellor to extend the furlough for aviation and to reverse this cut in UC?”
The Secretary of State Thérèse Coffey responded: “The hon. Lady is wrong to suggest that our Government have not supported the people of Luton throughout this difficult time. The furlough scheme was unique; it was not introduced when many hundreds of thousands of people were made redundant after Labour’s financial crisis. We stepped in, putting more than £400 billion into Government spending overall to support the country during this time.”
“I am conscious of that fact that some people will be concerned about the impact on aviation travel, which is why we have invested in various job schemes, including encouraging people to switch sectors, recognising that the skills they have are transferable.”
The furlough scheme was introduced as the Government announced a nationwide lockdown in March last year in a bid to tackle the Covid 19 pandemic. Many businesses, including large parts of the aviation industry, were forced overnight to close.
Ms Owen further commented: “The Tories are leaving people in Luton to fight this crisis on our own. It was an insulting response from the Minister to people’s legitimate concerns about the future. ”
“We’ve been hit harder than most places by any Covid downturn because of the amount of jobs in our town that rely on our airport and aviation sector.”
“I think it’s shocking that the government are planning to slash Universal Credit at this time when so many are still struggling, and I think this one-size-fits-all approach to ending furlough for aviation workers when there’s still so few airline passengers in the sky, is short sighted. It makes no social or economic sense.”
“The government’s suggestion that pilots, ground staff and cabin crew should just go and work in another sector is complete nonsense when these are well-paid, skilled jobs and people will fly again.”