The UK government will pay 80% of workers’ salaries as part of an ‘unlimited’ effort to help businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic to survive the growing economic crisis, it has been announced this evening.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled the ‘unprecedented measures for unprecedented times’ during Downing Street’s live daily address to the nation during the unfolding crisis.
Today’s briefing also saw Prime Minister Boris Johnson order the temporary closure of cafes, bars, pubs, restaurants, nightclubs theatres, cinemas, gyms and leisure centres as the government looks to stem the flow of a virus which has so far claimed 144 British lives.
Such businesses were told to close their doors tonight and not open them tomorrow, as Johnson said the UK economy’s ability to ‘bounce back’ from the current situation will ‘depend on our ability to get on top of the virus’.
Takeaway operations remain allowed for these firms, but they may not open to patrons, in a move which will be reviewed each month.
Johnson said: “We are seeing fantastic British companies under huge strain through no fault of their own. We will do everything we can to help.
“The more we follow advice, the faster we’ll stage medical and economic recovery.”
Sunak said the UK’s rapidly-evolving economic response to the crisis will be ‘one of the most comprehensive in the world’.
He said: “We know people are worried about their jobs and about being able to pay the bills. We know these measures will have a significant economic impact.
“For the first time in our history, the government is going to step in and help pay people’s wages.”
He said ‘any employer will be eligible’ if impacted by Covid-19, and that 80% of workers’ salaries would be covered, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. Claims can be backdated to March 1 to protect those who have already seen jobs lost, and will remain in place for at least the next three months – with ‘no limit on the amount’ available.
The measure will be implemented UK-wide, and has been established with support from both the TUC and CBI, said Sunak, who added that HMRC is working ‘around the clock’ to set up a scheme he says should be operational by late April.
Further cashflow support – in addition to a £330bn package announced earlier this week – was also announced in the form of a deferral of the next quarter’s VAT payments, with firms being given until the end of the year to pay bills which will become due in June.
A coronavirus business interruption loan scheme set up earlier this week will see its interest-free period extended from six months to 12. And Sunak also increased both Universal Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit, while also deferring self assessment tax payments for the self-employed until January.
Sunak said: “This represents an unprecedented action to step in and protect the jobs and incomes of British people. Unprecedented measures for unprecedented times.
“We said we would stand together with the British people and we meant it.”
And in a message direct to business owners, he added: “We are starting a great national effort to save jobs. But we are already starting to see job losses.
“I know it’s incredibly difficult out there. We in government are dong everything we can to support you.
“When this is over – and it will be over – we want to look back on this moment and look back on the many small acts of kindness done by us and to us.
“The government is doing its best to stand behind you – and I’m asking you to do your best to stand behind our workers.”