As UK Covid cases surge, Rishi Sunak extends wage bill support
Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Thursday again extended and expanded schemes to support employees, companies and the self-employed over the next six months, as more areas in England went into the highest alert level following a surge in Covid-19 cases.
The support, which since April included the state picking up varying percentages of the wage bill of employees, the income of the self-employed and various incentives to companies, total nearly 200 billion pounds, Sunak told the House of Commons.
The new package comes in the context of wrangling between the central government in London and local leaders in Greater Manchester over the financial support for companies that are required to close in areas under the highest alert level 3. London is under level 2.
As of Wednesday night, the UK has recorded 26,688 new cases in 24 hours – four times the day-peaks in April and May – besides 191 deaths. South Yorkshire and Greater Manchester are due to join Liverpool and parts of Leicestershire in level 3 alert level this week.
Announcing the new package, Sunak told MPs: “I’ve always said that we must be ready to adapt our financial support as the situation evolves, and that is what we are doing today. These changes mean that our support will reach many more people and protect many more jobs.”
“I know that the introduction of further restrictions has left many people worried for themselves, their families and communities. I hope the government’s stepped-up support can be part of the country pulling together in the coming months”.
Opposition leaders accused the Boris Johnson government of being ‘London-centric’ and criticised it for allegedly ignoring north England and announcing the package only when it was clear that London companies would be more adversely affected under the level 2 alert level.
Lisa Nandy, shadow foreign secretary, said: “This is incredible. I don’t for a moment begrudge help for London business but this is the same chancellor who refused to help Greater Manchester as we lived with these restrictions for months and said it was ‘unfair’ to other areas when we asked for help. Don’t ever forget this.”
Sean Fielding (Labour), leader of the Oldham council in north England, added: “It stinks. Proves that when people like me say that the government wouldn’t leave London high and dry we’re not just being chippy northerners, it’s true. Our businesses have struggled under the equivalent of tier 2 restrictions, or more, for three months and received nothing.”