In his latest press conference relating to the coronavirus crisis, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told pubs, restaurants and bars to close.
Addressing the nation shortly after 5pm today (March 20), Johnson was joined by chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak, who outlined the latest financial measures put in place to help businesses and their employees.
Sunak announced a coronavirus job retention scheme, where the government will pay up to 80% of wages for those at risk of being laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic. The scheme will cover the salary of those on up to £2,500 a month, just above the median income.
He said: “Today I can announce for the first time in our history the government is going to step in and help pay people’s wages.”
“We said we would stand together with the British people and we meant it,” he added.
There will be “no limit” on the amount of funding available for the coronavirus job retention scheme. The scheme will be open for three months initially and payments will be backdated to March 1.
“I have a responsibility to make sure that we protect, as far as possible, people’s jobs and incomes,” Sunak continued. “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.”
Sunak also said that a loan scheme to help firms through the crisis will now be interest free for 12 months rather than the six months previously stated. The loans will be available from Monday (March 23).
He added that in order to provide “further cashflow support” he will defer the next quarter of VAT payments, telling businesses that “the government is doing its best to stand behind you, and I am asking you to do your best to stand behind your workers.”
Elsewhere, the chancellor of the exchequer addressed the challenges faced by the self-employed, stating that he is “strengthening the safety net” for them by suspending the minimum income floor for all those effected by coronavirus.
This means self-employed people can access Universal Credit at a rate equivalent to statutory sick pay for employees.
Sunak said that the Universal Credit standard allowance will be increased by £1,000-a-year for the next 12 months. He is also raising the working tax credit basic element by the same amount.
He said that these measures will protect four million of our “most vulnerable” households.
Johnson added that people have made a “huge effort” and notes there have been “reductions” in people attending pubs across the country therefore reducing “unnecessary social contact.”
However, in order to suppress the curve down by the 75% required the government need to make it “absolutely clear” that they would enforce closures of pubs, clubs and leisure centres.
“We are collectively telling cafes, pubs, bars and restaurants to close tonight as soon as they reasonably can and not to open tomorrow,” he said.
He clarified takeout services for these businesses would be able to continue.
“We are also telling nightclubs, theaters, cinemas, gyms and leisure centers to close on the same timescale.”
“These are places where people come together, and indeed the whole purpose of these businesses in many cases is to bring people together. But, the sad thing is, I’m afraid today, for now at least, physically we need to keep people apart,” Johnson said.
It was not immediately clear whether the recommendations were enforceable by law, although Johnson said licensing laws would allow the government to order these businesses to close.
Over the past week, a whole host of gigs and festivals have been cancelled or postponed due to the continued COVID-19 pandemic.