The chancellor has urged workers to return to the office, saying that young people in particular will benefit from face-to-face interactions.
Speaking to LinkedIn News, Rishi Sunak, who worked in finance before moving to politics, said he would not have done as well if he had worked virtually, saying being in an office was “really beneficial for me when I was starting out in my career”.
“The mentors that I found when I first started my job I still talk to, and they’ve been helpful to me all through my career… I doubt I would have had those strong relationships if I was doing my summer internship or my first bit of my career over Teams and Zoom,” he said.
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“That’s why I think for young people in particular, being able to physically be in an office is valuable.”
Sunak added that he had the confidence that businesses were “going to make the decisions that are right for them”, and that he expected most firms to have a gradual return to the physical workplace.
Young people have been one of the hardest-hit groups by the pandemic. As well as being one of the groups most affected by unemployment, many college and university students have also missed out on vital work experience opportunities.
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Last year, three in five firms cancelled work experience placements because of the coronavirus pandemic.
And while furloughed young people have been returning to work at a faster rate than other age groups, recent figures have shown that applicants for graduate jobs still vastly outnumber the available positions.
Sunak’s comments come as a think tank has warned that hundreds of thousands of jobs could still need to be furloughed when the scheme closes at the end of next month.
Analysis from the New Economic Foundation has warned that 660,000 workers will either be at risk of being made redundant, or could face hours or pay cuts when government support ends on 30 September.
It added that the increase in employer contributions to wages for hours not worked paid by the scheme, which increased to 20 per cent on the first of this month, would not be cost-effective for around 250,000 furloughed jobs – around a third of roles on the scheme.
Alex Chapman, senior researcher at the New Economics Foundation, said the current end date for the furlough scheme was “arbitrary” and would cause “unnecessary harm for thousands of workers”.
“We strongly urge the chancellor to retain it beyond September,” he said, calling for a more permanent furlough scheme to be developed, similar to those elsewhere in Europe.
This would “build resiliency against future economic shocks such as climate disruption, trade realignment and other public health emergencies”, he said.