The Week, 17 September 2021

17 September 2021
By William Mills
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With all eyes on the reshuffle, the week's policy news may have gone under your radar. Here's what you need to know.

Tuesday saw the ONS publish Labour Market Statistics for September, prompting cautious optimism. As this helpful Resolution Foundation graph shows, the drop in workers on payrolls brought about by the pandemic has performed a (near-perfect) U-turn back to pre-pandemic levels. But as pointed out in this Institute of Employment Studies briefing note, the number of vacant jobs is also on the rise. Why? The labour market is now half a million workers short of where it was pre-COVID, which is the largest contraction since the early-90s, thanks to higher economic inactivity and the emigration of foreign workers, a trend which now seems to be slowing.

The ONS also published the latest inflation figures this week, with CPIH hitting 3%, well above the Bank of England's 2% target. This links to another event this week, yesterday's Opposition Day Debate calling for the £20 Universal Credit uplift to be retained. The long-awaited reshuffle meant it got little coverage, but with inflation so high, the October cut to benefits will be all the harder for claimants to adjust to.

On Thursday, Sajid Javid made a speech in Blackpool on his ambitions as Health and Social Care Secretary, with health inequalities clearly in his sights. This will be spearheaded by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (Yes - the Office for Health Promotion has already had a rebrand!) whose driving mission will be to "level up health and ensure everyone has the chance to live happy and healthy lives". The challenge will be wrestling resources away from an ever-expanding NHS to invest in the determinants of health. Let’s hope the SoS is ready to take the bold calls that this will require.

Although the Government will be pleased with how the week has gone, yesterday's intervention from the County Councils Network (CCN) should ring alarm bells. Echoing a point identified in our snap-analysis of last week's social care announcement, the CCN have said that a £1.5bn blackhole will be created by the decision to allow self-funders, who have been in effect been subsidising care homes through higher fees, to arrange cheaper care through their local authority. This move could bankrupt care homes, unless the gap is plugged in the upcoming Spending Review, the CCN argue. It's well worth listening to Conservative Counsellor Martin Anthony Tett explaining the problem here. Let's hope the Government has a Plan B for this too.