Chancellor to make announcement on Job Retention Scheme
Chancellor Rishi Sunak will address MPs on Tuesday to outline the future of the government’s Job Retention Scheme, after he had warned that it was unsustainable in its current format.
The scheme, which has already seen over six million people furloughed from their jobs and have up to 80 per cent of their wages paid by the government, is due to lapse in June.
However, despite Sunak’s warnings over the sustainability of the scheme, there has been pressure from employers and trade unions to extend it. Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner has also urged the government to extend the furlough scheme as a lifeline for workers and employers.
The government has this week taken the decision to publish “Covid secure” safety guidelines to be implemented in workplaces, and has encouraged people to return to work if they cannot do so from home to ease them off the scheme.
Prime minister Boris Johnson has said that the government did not expect a “big flood” of people to return to work instantly, adding that the latest measures introduced were merely “baby steps” toward getting people back to work.
He hailed the existing furlough scheme as “one of the most remarkable features” of the government’s response to the crisis, adding that supporting over six million people through the scheme was "absolutely right".
Sunak has already promised that a “cliff-edge” style cut-off to the Job Retention Scheme will not be implemented.
The government has already come under criticism from the Labour Party and trade unions following Sunday night’s call for citizens to return to work while uncertainty remains as to how they can do so safely.
Johnson offered more clarity on the new regulations both in Parliament and at the Downing Street coronavirus briefing on Monday, informing the public that employers will be required to meet the new safety standards before employees can return.
Documents have been published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy advising how social distancing should be practised in the workplace for sectors which are able to reopen at this stage. The government is also poised to provide further information on how public transport will adapt to greater demand while keeping social distancing in place.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC union, said that the new guidance was a “step in the right direction”, but the union remains concerned over access to personal protective equipment for employees.
O’Grady said: "After the confusion of the last few days, working people will only feel confident if government and employers act now to make safer working a reality in every workplace.”
Former chief scientific adviser Sir David King has suggested that it was the wrong move to allow people to go back to work at this stage, adding that an effective contact tracing strategy and further treatment capacity should be in place first.
Sir David said: "I think until that is in place I would only suggest that we run the very serious risk of running back into where we just came out of six weeks ago. I think we should be considerably more cautious in undoing the lockdown."
The total number of deaths in the UK linked to Covid-19 has reached 32,065, after an increase of 210 was declared on Monday.
On Sunday [May 10] the government was shown to have hit its target of 100,000 coronavirus tests per day after eight successive days of failure, with 100,490 recorded.
New guidance has also been issued for the public in England. From Wednesday, individuals will be allowed outside for an unlimited amount of time and are able to meet one other person from outside their household as long as they remain two metres apart and the meeting takes place outdoors.
Citizens in England have also been advised to wear face coverings in some shops and when travelling on public transport.
The easing of measures will not yet apply to the other constituent countries of the UK and English citizens will not be allowed to travel to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland where tougher restrictions remain in force.