UN­LEASHED: THE NEW BAT­TLE FOR BRI­TAIN

● Boris closes ALL pubs, restau­rants, cafes and cin­e­mas in fight­back ● Govern­ment vows to pay wages of work­ers for the first time EVER

Daily Express - - FRONT PAGE - By Martyn Brown Se­nior Po­lit­i­cal Cor­re­spon­dent

BRI­TAIN was handed a life­line in the bat­tle against coro­n­avirus last night as the Govern­ment took the his­toric step of pay­ing the wages of mil­lions of work­ers in a colos­sal new res­cue pack­age.

Chancellor Rishi Su­nak ef­fec­tively signed a blank cheque to the na­tion and Boris John­son shut all pubs as the eco­nomic fall­out from the deadly

out­break es­ca­lates. Mr Su­nak said the Govern­ment will cover 80 per cent of salaries up to a ceil­ing of £2,500 a month – equiv­a­lent to the UK aver­age wage of £30,000 a year.

And he stressed that there will be “no limit” on the to­tal cost.

The un­prece­dented step came as the Prime Min­is­ter or­dered all pubs, bars and restau­rants in the UK to close their doors last night in a dra­matic na­tional lock­down to slow the spread of Covid-19.

Mr John­son said that so­cial premises, in­clud­ing the­atres, cin­e­mas, gyms and sports cen­tres, must shut “as soon as they rea­son­ably can” and not re­open un­til fur­ther no­tice.

The dra­matic an­nounce­ments came as the death toll due to coro­n­avirus in the UK reached 177, with 40 fur­ther fa­tal­i­ties the big­gest daily num­ber so far. Mr Su­nak said the “coro­n­avirus job re­ten­tion scheme” will be up and run­ning by the end of next month and will be back­dated to March 1.

It will ini­tially last for three months but could be ex­tended.

He said it would be made avail­able for staff who are cur­rently not work­ing as a re­sult of the eco­nomic tur­moil caused by the out­break, but who re­main on their em­ploy­ers’ pay­roll.

To help the thou­sands who have al­ready lost their jobs since the out­break be­gan, Uni­ver­sal Credit and work­ing tax credit pay­ments will also in­crease by £1,000 a year for the next 12 months, the Chancellor said.

Self-em­ployed peo­ple will also be able to claim Uni­ver­sal Credit at a rate equiv­a­lent to statu­tory sick pay, which is cur­rently £94.25 a week.

Some £30bil­lion of VAT bills for the next quar­ter will be de­ferred, and there will be a £7bil­lion boost to wel­fare to “strengthen the safety net”.

Ren­ters will also get a £1bil­lion boost with hous­ing ben­e­fits ris­ing.

Mr Su­nak said: “For the first time in our his­tory the Govern­ment is go­ing to step in and help pay peo­ple’s wages.”

Stand­ing along­side the PM at a press con­fer­ence in Down­ing Street, Mr Su­nak made a di­rect ap­peal to busi­nesses not to sack peo­ple.

He added: “The Govern­ment is do­ing its best to stand be­hind you and I am ask­ing you to do your best to stand be­hind our work­ers.”

The as­ton­ish­ing res­cue pack­age, which will last an ini­tial three months and be fi­nanced by bor­row­ing, was on an even big­ger scale than many had ex­pected.

There are thought to be more than eight mil­lion work­ers in sec­tors that are di­rectly af­fected. If the Govern­ment pays out the maximum rate to five mil­lion, it would cost £12.5bil­lion a month.

If the sit­u­a­tion con­tin­ues for a year, as govern­ment ex­perts say is likely, that could cost £150bil­lion – roughly equiv­a­lent to the NHS bud­get for the year. Mr Su­nak added: “We’re set­ting up a new coro­n­avirus job re­ten­tion scheme. Any em­ployer in the coun­try small or large, char­i­ta­ble or non-profit, will be el­i­gi­ble for the scheme.

“Em­ploy­ers will be able to con­tact HMRC for a grant to cover most of the wages of peo­ple who are not work­ing but are fur­loughed and kept on pay­roll rather than be­ing laid off.

“Govern­ment grants will cover 80 per cent of the salary of re­tained work­ers up to a to­tal of £2,500 a month – that’s just above the me­dian in­come.”

There have been warn­ings that with­out ac­tion, GDP could be slashed by a fifth and a mil­lion could lose their jobs within months, with many more to fol­low, after “so­cial dis­tanc­ing” mea­sures brought the econ­omy to a halt.

Un­veil­ing the his­toric move, Mr

Su­nak said the next quar­ter of VAT pay­ments will be de­ferred un­til the end of June in a cash in­jec­tion of £30bil­lion.

Mr Su­nak said: “To help busi­nesses pay peo­ple and keep them in work, I’m de­fer­ring the next quar­ter of VAT pay­ments. That means no busi­ness will pay any VAT from now un­til the end of June.

“And you’ll have un­til the end of the fi­nan­cial year to re­pay those bills. That’s a di­rect in­jec­tion of over £30bil­lion of cash to busi­nesses equiv­a­lent to 1.5 per cent of GDP.

“I’m strength­en­ing the safety net for self-em­ployed peo­ple too by sus­pend­ing the min­i­mum in­come floor for ev­ery­one af­fected by the eco­nomic im­pact of coro­n­avirus.

“That means that self-em­ployed peo­ple can now ac­cess, in full, Uni­ver­sal Credit at a rate equiv­a­lent to statu­tory sick pay for em­ploy­ees.

“Taken to­gether, I’m an­nounc­ing nearly £7bil­lion of ex­tra sup­port through the wel­fare system to strengthen the safety net and pro­tect peo­ple’s in­comes.”

The Bri­tish Cham­bers of Com­merce said the new mea­sures were a “life­line” to busi­nesses.

Di­rec­tor Gen­eral Dr Adam Mar­shall said: “Busi­nesses will wel­come the scale of the Govern­ment’s lat­est re­sponse, as well as the spe­cific sup­port it is of­fer­ing to some of the worst-af­fected parts of our econ­omy.”

‘For the first time in our his­tory the Govern­ment will step in and help to pay peo­ple’s wages’

Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son makes his point with Chancellor Rishi Su­nak and Deputy Chief Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer Dr Jenny Har­ries

Adam Mar­shall praised Govern­ment re­sponse

Pic­tures: PA, GETTY

Chancellor Rishi Su­nak spells out his res­cue pack­age for the na­tion’s work­force yes­ter­day

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