The Challenges for Labour Market Policy during the COVID‐19 Pandemic

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The COVID‐19 pandemic is having a dramatic economic impact in most countries. In the UK, it has led to sharp falls in labour demand in many sectors of the economy and to initial acute labour shortages in other sectors. Much more than in a typical downturn, the current crisis is not simply a general slowdown in economic activity but also a radical short‐term shift in the mix of economic activities – of which an unknown, but possibly significant, amount will be persistent. The initial policy response has focused on cushioning the blow to families’ finances and allowing the majority of workers and firms to resume their original activities once the crisis subsides. These are crucial priorities. But there should also be a focus on reallocating some workers, either temporarily if working in shut‐down sectors or permanently by facilitating transitions to sectors and jobs offering better prospects and facing labour shortages. The phasing‐out of the furlough subsidies, which is projected to happen in Autumn 2020, brings this into even sharper focus since the alternative for many workers will be unemployment. Active labour market policy will need to be front and centre.