Watch again: Chancellor announces new coronavirus wage furlough scheme rules

12 May 2020, 05:43 | Updated: 12 May 2020, 13:00

EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Ministers are to set out public transport guidance as the Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to announce a further extension of the furlough scheme to subsidise the wages of workers temporarily laid off during the outbreak.

At least 6.3 million people are currently having part of their salaries paid by the taxpayer under the coronavirus furlough system at a cost of some £8 billion.

Mr Sunak has previously said he was preparing to "wean" workers and businesses off the programme - which currently runs until the end of June - but calls have been made for it to be prolonged.

It has been reported the programme will continue to September, although the rate of support will be cut from a maximum of 80 per cent of salary to 60 per cent.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told LBC on Tuesday morning that "obviously" the coronavirus furlough scheme "can't last forever" and that the Government would have to "make changes."

He revealed to Nick Ferrari the Chancellor would lay out his plans later, and branded it "one of the most generous schemes for workers in the world."

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Mr Sunak warned last week that the scheme was not "sustainable" at its current rate although he promised there would be no "cliff edge" cut-off.

Torsten Bell, the chief executive of the Resolution Foundation think tank and an early advocate of the scheme, said it should be phased out gradually.

"Moving too quickly could spark a huge second surge in job losses at a time when unemployment already looks set to be at the highest level for a quarter of a century," he said.

"This policy has made a huge difference in this crisis. It now needs careful and gradual change to ensure the benefits it has provided are secured rather than squandered."

Meanwhile, Government guidance on how to travel safely on public transport is due to be published today after the Prime Minister said those who cannot work from home should start returning to their workplaces from Wednesday.

His comments prompted a barrage of questions as to how it could be achieved amid warnings the Government is watering down its clear "stay home" message around the coronavirus crisis.

The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland made clear they were not yet ready to follow the Westminster Government in beginning to relax the controls.

Speaking at the daily No 10 press briefing on Monday, Mr Johnson said the relaxing of lockdown measures - including allowing unlimited outdoor exercise - were just "baby steps".

He warned that the Government stood ready to reimpose controls if there was any sign of the transmission rate of the virus picking up again.

The TUC meanwhile has welcomed the publication of Government guidance on how workplaces can be made "Covid-secure" as they re-open.

Employers - including factories and construction sites - will be required to carry out a risk assessment before they can resume.

It followed criticism by unions that Mr Johnson had issued his return-to-work call in his broadcast on Sunday without explaining how it could be safely achieved.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said the new guidance was a "step in the right direction".

"After the confusion of the last few days working people will only feel confident if government and employers act now to make safer working a reality in every workplace," she said.

"Getting this right is in the national interest. If rogue employers cut corners it puts us all at risk of another spike in infections."

Her comments were echoed by CBI director general Dame Carolyn Fairbairn who said: "Safety is at the heart of business thinking.

"Unless people feel safe, employees won't return, customers will stay away and the restart will falter, harming livelihoods and public services.

"This guidance will help. It gives firms a clearer picture of how to reopen safely and gradually."

The next key step for ministers will be to set out how people returning to their jobs can travel to them.

Mr Johnson has urged people to drive, cycle or walk if they can do so in order to ease the pressure on public transport.

The road map document said ministers were working with operators to bring services back towards pre-Covid-19 levels "as quickly as possible".

However, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps warned on the weekend that social-distancing requirements meant some parts of the network would be reduced to a tenth of their normal capacity.

Some transport unions have called for rail services to be shut down if the two metre rule cannot be met.

The Government is now urging people in England to use face-coverings in confined areas - such as public transport - where social-distancing is harder to follow.

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