The government has promised to pay the country’s wage bill following Boris Johnson’s order for a total shutdown of the UK’s restaurants, pubs and leisure facilities to combat the coronavirus outbreak and save “thousands” of lives.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak committed the government to pay 80% of the wages of people unable to work because of the shutdown, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.
The unlimited rescue plan to try and protect the economy is described as “unprecedented in the history of the British state”, with Sunak calling the coronavirus crisis “a generation defining moment”.
£350 billion for British business
The announcement comes on top of Sunak’s pledge for a £350 billion bailout for British businesses in the form of government back loans, made on March 17.
That pledge provides £330 billion – the equivalent of 15% of the UK’s GDP – in loans for firms of all sizes to enable them to continue paying workers’ wages rather than sacking them.
The remaining £20 billion will cover grants of up to £25,000 to small firms and a 12 month suspension of business rates for leisure, retail and hospitality businesses.
No idea how much it will cost, says Sunak
At today’s daily press briefing, the chancellor told British businesses the government will pay “furloughed” workers through an open-ended commitment, which he admitted, he had no idea how much it would cost.
Sunak said: “I have a responsibility to make sure that we protect, as far as possible, people’s jobs and incomes.
“Today I can announce that for the first time in our history, the Government is going to step in and help pay people’s wages.”
Coronavirus job retention scheme
Under a new coronavirus job retention scheme, “any employer in the country, small or large, charitable or non-profit” will be eligible for a government grant to cover 80% of the salaries of furloughed workers, to keep them on payroll instead of being laid off. The scheme – capped at £2,500 for at least three months – will be backdated to March 1 and firms have to apply to HMRC for it.
The promise to protect jobs comes after the prime minister ordered the closure of all social venues including gyms, leisure centres, theatres, cinemas as well as eating and drinking establishments.
The “sacrifice”, Johnson said, is required because “we need to keep people apart”. Earlier pleas by the government for people to avoid social gatherings have been ignored by many.
Shops will be allowed to keep trading for now but that will be reviewed, as too the indefinite closures of pubs and other facilities and establishments.