New Office for National Statistics figures show that the coronavirus restrictions and subsequent economic slowdown have resulted in a record decline in employment during lockdown. Over 600,000 UK workers lost their jobs between March and May 2020 and the benefits claimant count has skyrocketed by 125.9%, (1.6 million) since March . Government wage support schemes have managed to keep the UK unemployment rate at a relatively low 3.9% between January and April, but once these schemes are lifted in October, the full impact on the labour market will be felt, with UK unemployment expected to reach 7.3% by the end of December.
There is a clear imperative for the government to create jobs in the aftermath of this crisis, particularly for young people and those on lower incomes in the industries hardest hit by the coronavirus restrictions (e.g. arts, recreation, entertainment, hospitality, food & leisure) , in order to boost the economy and prevent people from sliding into poverty. There is also a need for the government to ensure that this economic recovery generates a fairer, more resilient and sustainable economy.
These outcomes can be achieved together through a ‘National Nature Service’ (NNS): an employment and training scheme in which tens of thousands of jobseekers, particularly young people and those from underrepresented and disadvantaged groups, would be employed and trained in environmental projects designed to level up access to nature, address social and health inequalities and bend the curve on nature’s decline.
The scheme is inspired by the success of the 1930s US Civilian Conservation Corps and the 1970s UK Manpower Services Commission, but updated for the modern day and the UK context. The scheme would be funded across the UK by central government, including funding for devolved governments to run the scheme in their respective countries.
With the right investment from government, an NNS could boost employment and skills development, particularly for young and disadvantaged groups, fast-track ecosystem restoration, tackle climate change and provide access to nature for all. The NNS would also contribute to reducing health inequalities in areas with more green space. This could save approximately 1,328 lives per year and billions of pounds for the NHS, as well as boosting productivity through a happier, healthier workforce and delivery of other vital ecosystem services such as improved air quality. It would support rural and urban economies across the UK, lock away millions of tonnes of carbon in pursuit of our net zero target, and protect people and businesses from future natural disasters.
A letter to the Chancellor last week demonstrated considerable cross sector support for the proposed National Nature Service, from environment charities, youth unions and diversity groups to businesses, local authorities and farmers. There is also growing public support for the proposal, with the online public Declaration calling a National Nature Service having picked up over 1400 signatures within the first 24 hours. Speaking on BBC Countryfile on Sunday in support of the Natural Nature Service, actor Sir Marc Rylance stated that:
“If the people declare a willingness to act for nature, that they would like to devote their time, then it will really help our nation and help our young people.”
If you want the government to invest in a scheme that will create tens of thousands of jobs, improve the health of nature, people and the planet, and contribute to a green, sustainable recovery please show your support for the National Nature Service by signing the public Declaration and join us at the #TheTimeIsNow virtual lobby of Parliament on 30 June.
Carmel Edwards, Senior Policy Officer, RSPB
The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.
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