Extension of furlough scheme in England could have happened earlier, critics say

The Government’s extension of much-needed furlough payments in England should have happened a long time ago, political and business leaders say.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Government will extend furlough payments at 80% to December and for the duration of the new national lockdown measures.

He told a Downing Street press conference that he was sorry about the hardship that businesses have already endured this year.

Coronavirus – Sun Oct 11, 2020
Coronavirus – Sun Oct 11, 2020

He said: “That’s why we are going to extend the furlough system through November. The furlough scheme was a success in the spring and supported people in businesses in a critical time. We will not end it, we will extend furlough until December.”

It will have some differences to March in that these measures will be “time-limited”, starting on November 5 and ending on December 2.

This is when the Government will seek to “ease restrictions” and go back into the tiered system.

Non-essential retail and hospitality services will be forced to close, while schools stay open during the four-week lockdown.

It means that pubs, cafes, restaurants will shut except for takeaway and delivery services.

The Government said the extended furlough scheme will see employees receive 80% of their current salary for hours not worked, up to a maximum of £2,500.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak hoped that the furlough scheme, along with a number of changes to support measures would provide “a vital safety net” for people across the UK who are about to face a tough winter.

Concerns had been raised about the more generous support system ceasing just as the public health situation with coronavirus gets worse.

Ministers in Wales immediately questioned why Mr Sunak refused previous requests for the furlough scheme to be extended.

First Minister Mark Drakeford tweeted: “Furlough is crucial for businesses. But Rishi Sunak said he wouldn’t extend it in Wales when we asked.

“He also said no when we asked him to bring forward the Job Support Scheme to help businesses – we even said we’d pay the difference. It’s now clear he could have said yes.”

Regarding the extension of the furlough scheme, Wales’ Counsel General Jeremy Miles tweeted: “This should have been extended a long time ago.

“And if you believe ‘We Stand Together’ – why didn’t you act when it was business and workers in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north of England who were looking for the support?”

This should have been extended a long time ago.

And if you believe “We Stand Together” – why didn’t you act when it was business and workers in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north of England who were looking for the support? https://t.co/0XJFGwyK8f

— Jeremy Miles (@Jeremy_Miles) October 31, 2020

In her statement on England’s new measures, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Following today’s announcement by the Prime Minister we are also asking that people do not travel to England, or from England into Scotland unless absolutely essential, just as we are also asking people not to go to Northern Ireland or to Wales.

“We know that these restrictions are difficult, but public health and preventing the spread of the virus must come first.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said that families are being forced to face a “grim winter” because the Government did not act decisively sooner.

She said: “The extension of the furlough scheme is long overdue and necessary, but ministers must do more to protect jobs and prevent poverty.

“Furlough pay must never fall below the national minimum wage.”

She stressed that a boost to Universal Credit is needed and Government must not “abandon” the self-employed.

The Treasury also announced that grants worth up to £3,000 per month are to be handed out for business premises forced which are to close.

There is also £1.1 billion that will go to local authorities for one-off payments to help them support businesses.

Mortgage payment holidays will no longer end today as previously planned, the Government announced.

Borrowers who have been financially hit by coronavirus and have not yet had a mortgage payment holiday will be entitled to a six-month holiday.

Those who have already started a mortgage payment holiday will be able to top up to six months without this being recorded on their credit file.

The Financial Conduct Authority is to set out more details on Monday.

Business grants are also to be made available for firms who have to shut in England due to local or national restrictions.