DIVERGENCE between Scotland’s cautious approach to easing lockdown and England’s more relaxed lifting of restrictions has made an impact. There have been no new reports of lives lost from Covid-19 over the past few days in Scotland, the reproduction rate of the virus is down and experts say we might be Covid-19 free by the end of the summer.

This is much-needed optimistic news. The loss of loved ones before their time to the pandemic has been a tragedy beyond words. As we look to the future, it’s important to accept that unless a vaccination is found there can be no return to normal as in truth the virus will never be eliminated. The best we can hope for is to keep it under wraps.

Controlling the virus will mean a “new normal”. A new normal where we all live and work differently to prevent unnecessary death and sickness from the spread of Covid-19. That requires the continued co-operation of everyone to follow the social distancing guidance and public health rules.

We already know the pandemic has taken a major toll on jobs and businesses– much of this has yet to manifest because it has been off-set by government job retention and support schemes. Yet, we are starting to see what the full carnage to people’s livelihoods will look like later this year unless we act.

A survey of firms by UK Finance found that seven in 10 UK businesses have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus crisis. One in five have less than one-month worth of cash reserves left. Almost a fifth of businesses warned that they could cease trading altogether and may not survive the fallout from the pandemic.

October is expected to mark the first big wave of business failures. That’s when business loan repayment holidays come to an end, and when UK Government support for wages and income through the coronavirus job retention and self-employment schemes are scheduled to wind-up.

Last week, the Standard Life Foundation published new findings on the impact of the pandemic on the financial wellbeing of households across the UK. The research report, by Professor Elaine Kempson and Jamie Evans of the University of Bristol, looked at how effective government coronavirus safety nets have been.

Of the 28 million households in the UK, an incredible 8.7m households had their earned income protected, in whole or in part, from one of the government’s support schemes. That’s a staggering number of people and to date this has cost the government around £22 billion.

The Bristol University academics found that more than half of households currently supported by the furlough or self-employment schemes had suffered a loss of income because of the pandemic. This group of 4.5m households were considered to be “partially protected”.

More than four in 10 of the partially protected were currently either struggling to make ends meet or were in serious financial difficulty.

Some two million households in this group thought it very likely they would lose their job or suffer a further loss of earned income in the next three months.

Worryingly, the researchers found that there were also three million households – the “unprotected” – across the UK who had lost earned income and were not protected by the job retention or self-employment schemes. Only one in 10 of this unprotected group had received support through Universal Credit.

There were several reasons why employees had failed to have their earnings covered by the furlough scheme. These included job loss and working reduced hours or on reduced pay, but also new employees that were not already on the payroll on the cut-off date of March 19.

Self-employed householders who fell outside the government self-employment scheme included those who were deriving less than half their income from self-employment; had trading profits above £50,000 in previous years; or were newly self-employed.

For me, the truly bleak foreboding from the Standard Life Foundation report was the expectation that a fifth of the partially protected and one quarter of the unprotected expected to lose their jobs later this year. That equates to 1.65m people in the UK. The prospect of 132,000 job losses in Scotland in one fell swoop.

This tallies with analysis published this week by the Resolution Foundation. They predict one million job losses when the furlough scheme ends. Unless we want to see the highest level of unemployment in a generation, we need the UK Government to act.

I agree with the Resolution Foundation. The government must flip its job retention initiative into a new job protection scheme, subsidising the wages of those working in the hardest-hit sectors, to enable firms to maintain employment. We must incentivise worker retention and invest in new jobs, with job and training guarantees for young people.