The onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic has produced unprecedented times for Britain and with it a need to unprecedented action.
As the crisis grew workers became fearful of what would happen to both their jobs and their wages. If the firms they worked for were forced to close down, how could they afford to live?
The answer came from Chancellor Rishi Sunak with the radical decision to pay 80% of the salaries of staff kept on by their employers up to £2,500 a month.
The unprecedented move came as firms were warning the government if no help was forthcoming they would be forced to close, temporarily or otherwise, and lay off their entire workforce’s.
Leave of absence
The new rule allowed employers who had previously paid off staff to bring them back onto the payroll and grant them leave of absence for as long as the firm had its doors closed.
Chancellor Sunak said: “I know that people are worried about losing their jobs, about not being able to pay the rent or mortgage, about not having enough set by for food and bills… to all those at home right now, anxious about the days ahead, I say this: you will not face this alone.”
The CBI praised the move as ‘a landmark package’.
Director general Carolyn Fairbairn said: “It marks the start of the UK’s economic fightback – an unparalleled joint effort by enterprise and government to help our country emerge from this crisis with the minimum possible damage.”
Following discussions with the government yet more pressure was taken off consumers with agreement from the banks, building societies and landlords that mortgage holders and tenants could be offered a three month mortgage or rent holiday.
As with all other measures, the holidays will be reviewed at the end of three months and decisions taken then whether or not they might be extended if the virus situation has not improved.
Help with energy bills
Energy firms have agreed an emergency package of measures to ensure vulnerable customers don’t get cut off during the pandemic.
An estimated four million people who use pre-payment meters will be offered help if they can’t get out to get a top-up.
Anyone struggling to pay their bill will receive support and there will be no disconnections.
Business and Energy Secretary Alok Sharma said: “While friends and family will play a role in helping people impacted by the coronavirus, we recognise there will be many customers who will need additional support and reassurance, particularly those who are financially impacted or in vulnerable circumstances.”
Another ray of sunshine was the announcement that commuters will get a refund on their retail season tickets if they are forced to stay at home by the government’s new powers.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “We will ensure no-one is out of pocket for doing the right thing.”
All the money from normal fares will be paid to the government which has taken on the financial risk of the network to ensure firms don’t go under.
Other measures announced by the government included:
- VAT payments by companies deferred until the end of June
- Interest free cash grants to small businesses
- Self-assessment income tax payments for July 2020 deferred for six months
- Increase in standard Universal Credit of £20 a week, with the same rise for those still on the working tax credit scheme
- Nearly £1bn for those struggling to pay rent, through increases in housing benefit and Universal Credit