Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has told those who left the workforce during the pandemic and not returned that “Britain needs you.”
Citing data that shows that millions of people have chosen to exit the workforce, Mr Hunt said that businesses would struggle to grow if they cannot find enough staff.
He said that employment was a “vital” part of his plan to help Britain get back to growth.
“High employment levels have long been a strength of our economic model,” Mr Hunt said.
“Since 2010, we have seen a record employment rate, the lowest unemployment in nearly 50 years, and labour market participation at an all-time high.”
But the pandemic exposed “weaknesses”, he said. Employment levels are lower than they were before the pandemic by around 300,000 people.
Around one fifth of working age adults are economically inactive, a figure that includes students, mothers and fathers caring for children and those with long-term illnesses. It also includes early retirees and those who have simply decided that work is not worth their time.
“Excluding students, this amounts to 6.6 million people, an enormous and shocking waste of talent and potential,” he said.
He added that around five million of these people do not want to work.
“If companies can’t employ the staff they need, they can’t grow,” Mr Hunt said at an event hosted by Bloomberg.
He added: “So, it’s time for a fundamental programme of reforms to support people with long-term conditions or mental illness to overcome the barriers and prejudices that prevent them from working.
“We will never harness the full potential of our country unless we unlock it for each and every one of our citizens. Nor will we fix our productivity puzzle unless everyone who can participate, does.”
Mr Hunt said: “So, to those who retired early after the pandemic, or haven’t found the right role after furlough, I say: Britain needs you. And we will look at the conditions necessary to make work worth your while.”
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