The Department for Work and Pensions' ongoing recruitment drive for work coaches is intended to put it in a position to help people if unemployment from the coronavirus pandemic rises to the projected four-million mark, Thérèse Coffey has said.
The work and pensions secretary told Sky News that rising unemployment was the driver for the previously-announced plan to double the number of coaches, who help people find employment through the DWP’s network of jobcentres, from around 13,500 to 27,000.
The current unemployment rate is 4.1%, and the number of people receiving Universal Credit and other out-of-work benefits reached 2.7 million in August, an increase of 120.8% since March.
The independent economic watchdog the Office for Budget Responsibility has forecasted joblessness could rise to 13.2% – which would broadly equate to about four million people out of work – next year.
On a visit to an employer who is taking on people in work placements through the government’s £2bn Kickstarter scheme for young benefit claimants, Coffey told Sky News that the department was planning around those forecasts.
"I think we're in a number similar in terms of being ready to help people and trying to help them get back to work as quickly as possible," she said.
“We're bringing people into the organisation and in a Covid-safe way in order to respond to the challenge. I genuinely hope we don't reach, obviously, that figure. But it's important we are ready to help people."
Coffey said that the recruitment of work coaches was “a real investment in making sure we help people, many of whom will never have had benefits and may not have been unemployed or for a very long time."
She added: "That might be putting their chosen career on hold, just for a couple of years while their sector recovers, but helping them get into some of the growth sectors - construction, other infrastructure, health and social care."
The projections for increased unemployment come despite chancellor Rishi Sunak's announcement of a new job support scheme to replace the coronavirus job retention scheme, which closes at the end of this month.
The new scheme is intended to support “viable” roles in the economic recovery from the coronavirus, and will be available for employees working a minimum of one-third of their hours and requires employers to pay for the hours worked, with the wages then topped up by payments on the part of the employer and the government. a worker undertaking one third of their normal hours would actually receive 72% of their regular pay under the new system.
Coffey said the government “never promised we could save every single job or every single company”.
She added: "We will do our best to try and help businesses keep going. But we have reached a point where we absolutely recognise we cannot pretend, we've never pretended, we can save every job."