Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to you for allowing me to make this statement. Let me wholeheartedly apologise that I was not able to set out these measures to the House first. I can provide the reassurance that you requested and I hope that hon. and right hon. Members across the House understand that these are extraordinary circumstances.
I want to take the opportunity today to set out for the House the next stage of our economic plan in response to the coronavirus. The coronavirus pandemic is a public health emergency, but it is also an economic emergency. We have never, in peacetime, faced a fight of an economic nature like this. I know that people are deeply worried. I know that people’s anxiety about the disease itself is matched only by their anxiety about their livelihoods.
In the Budget last week, I set out the first stage of our economic response with a £30 billion package to support people and businesses. I promised to do whatever it takes to support our economy through this crisis and that, if the situation changed, I would not hesitate to take further action. As the Prime Minister set out yesterday, we are now approaching the fast-growth part of the upwards curve. He has set out the next stage of our public health response; I want to update the House on the next stage of our economic response.
Let me begin by setting out for the House our overarching economic strategy. People should know that the objective of our economic policy remains clear and our resolve remains firm: we will do whatever it takes to protect households and businesses to get through this, and to make sure that the effects do not become permanent. As we develop our strategy, not just today but over the coming days and weeks, we will be guided by three principles. First, our response must be comprehensive. This national effort will be underpinned by Government interventions in the economy on a scale unimaginable only a few weeks ago. This is not a time for ideology and orthodoxy. This is a time to be bold—a time for courage.
I want to reassure every British citizen that this Government will give you the tools you need to get through this. We will support jobs, we will support incomes, we will support businesses, and we will help protect your loved ones. We will do whatever it takes.
Secondly, our response must be co-ordinated. We in Government are working hand in glove with the wider economic authorities. Domestically, that includes the Bank of England, the regulators, and the health response. And internationally, I continue to engage with my G7 and G20 counterparts to agree and facilitate a global response.
Thirdly, our response must be coherent. It would be easy, at a time like this, to rush into a response and measures that we found out later had been ill-considered. The single most important test we in this House must set ourselves is to make sure that the actions we take will, in the lives of ordinary people and businesses, make a difference. To apply those principles in practice, we will use fiscal action to support public services, households and businesses. The Budget last week set out the first stage, including our commitment to provide the NHS with whatever it needs. In the coming days, I will take further steps, with a particular focus on supporting people and individuals.
In response to the updated medical advice yesterday, I can take three immediate steps today. First, the Government will stand behind businesses small and large. I can announce today an unprecedented package of Government-backed and guaranteed loans to support businesses to get through this. Today, I am making available an initial £330 billion of guarantees, equivalent to 15% of our GDP. That means any business that needs to access cash to pay its rent, salaries or suppliers will be able to access a Government-backed loan on attractive terms. If demand is greater than the initial £330 billion I am making available today, I will go further and provide as much capacity as required. I said whatever it takes, and I mean it.
That support will be delivered through two main schemes. To support liquidity among larger firms, I have today agreed a new lending facility with the Governor of the Bank of England to provide low-cost commercial paper. To support lending to small and medium-sized businesses, I am extending the new business interruption loan scheme I announced at the Budget last week so that rather than loans of up to £1.2 million, it will now provide loans of up to £5 million, with no interest due for the first six months. Both of those schemes will be up and running by the start of next week. I am also taking a new legal power in the covid Bill to offer whatever further financial support I decide is necessary.
Some sectors are facing particularly acute challenges. In the coming days, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and I will discuss a specific potential support package for airlines and airports. Yesterday, I asked my Cabinet colleagues to urgently convene meetings over the coming days with business leaders and representatives in the most affected sectors to identify other specific opportunities to support them, including possible regulatory forbearance. I repeat: we will do whatever it takes.
Secondly, as well as access to finance, businesses need support with their cash flow and fixed costs. Following the changed medical advice yesterday, there are genuine concerns about the impact on pubs, clubs, theatres and other hospitality, leisure and retail venues. Let me confirm today that for those businesses that do have a policy that covers pandemics, the Government’s action is sufficient and will allow them to make an insurance claim against their policy. But many businesses do not have insurance, so we need to go further. I announced last week that businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors with a rateable value of less than £51,000 will pay no business rates this year. Today, I can go further and provide those businesses with an additional cash grant of up to £25,000 per business to help bridge through this period.
Additionally, I am extending this business rates holiday to all businesses in those sectors, irrespective of their rateable value. That means that every single shop, pub, theatre, music venue and restaurant, and any other business in the retail, hospitality or leisure sector, will pay no business rates whatsoever for 12 months, and if they have a rateable value of less than £51,000, they will now get a cash grant as well. I also announced last week that we would be providing £3,000 grants to 700,000 of our smallest businesses. To support their cash flow in these exceptional circumstances, today I can increase those cash grants to £10,000.
Taken together, on top of the unlimited lending capacity I have already announced, that is a package of tax cuts and grants in this financial year to directly support businesses worth more than £20 billion. That comes on top of the existing multibillion-pound package I set out at Budget, which included reimbursing small and medium-sized companies for the cost of statutory sick pay. Local authorities in England will be fully compensated for the costs of these measures, and the devolved Administrations will receive at least £3.5 billion in additional funding as a result, to provide support to businesses in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I repeat again: we will do whatever it takes.
Thirdly, I will strengthen our support for peoples and individuals. At Budget last week, I committed £1 billion to support the financial security of vulnerable people through a half-a-billion-pound boost to the welfare system and a half-a-billion-pound hardship fund for local authorities. Following discussions with industry, I can announce today that, for those in difficulty due to coronavirus, mortgage lenders will now offer a three-month mortgage holiday, so that people will not have to pay a penny towards their mortgage while they get back on their feet. In the coming days, I will go much further to support people’s financial security. In particular, I will work with trade unions and businesses to urgently develop new forms of employment support to help protect people’s jobs and incomes through this period.
Let no one doubt our resolve. When I said in the Budget last week that we will do everything we can to keep this country and our people healthy and financially secure, I meant it. The measures that I have announced today are part of a comprehensive, co-ordinated and coherent response to a serious and evolving economic situation. These are only the first steps, and I will set out the next stage of our response in the coming days. We have never faced an economic fight like this one, but we are well prepared. We will get through this, and we will do whatever it takes. I commend this statement to the House.
There was an element of déjà vu about that statement. I thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer for providing us with an earlier copy of it. Of course, we recognise the immense threat that this virus poses to our country and the globe, and we want to work with him to ensure that we do everything we can to protect our economy and our people. But today, in some of our constituencies, people were being laid off—they were losing their jobs and their incomes, and their livelihoods are being threatened. People are worried, and I am disappointed that today’s package of measures does not really appreciate the urgency or the gravity of the situation for those individuals and their families.
Let us establish a principle throughout our discussions. To protect our people, the underlying principle must be that, wherever a person is sick, self-isolating or laid off from their employment, we will protect their income and give them security. I want to raise a number of questions about issues that the Chancellor failed to address and that I hope will be addressed urgently.
On those people who are sick, there is an urgent need for statutory sick pay to be available for everybody from day 1, and that means extending it to people on low pay, in part-time work and on zero-hours contracts, who at the moment do not qualify. Will the Chancellor now consider abolishing completely the lower earnings limit with regard to statutory sick pay, as called for by the CBI? May I also ask him to heed the call of the TUC and other groups to lift the overall level of statutory sick pay? The TUC has proposed that it should be raised to the level of the real living wage, and I think we should support that. Other countries are providing 100% protection of wages.
Other questions with regard to individuals remain unanswered. Will those workers who have been asked or required to self-isolate—teachers, health workers, nurses, carers and other essential public servants—be protected on full pay to ensure that essential services continue? Will the Government assure people of a right to work from home?
Other pressures felt by individuals relate to rents, mortgages and evictions. I really regret—I ask the Chancellor to consider this urgently this evening—that there was nothing in the statement to protect renters. It affects all our constituents. Will the Chancellor bring forward urgently now measures to protect renters, prevent evictions and enable rent holidays for those people unable to meet their costs? Will he put powers in the legislation now to follow the example of some other countries that have frozen or suspended utility bill payments and put that on a statutory footing because this is an emergency?
For those who have already lost their jobs, let us be clear: the level of and access to universal credit are unacceptable. The Chancellor has said that those receiving universal credit can receive an advance as a loan. This is pushing people into debt, some of them the poorest in our society. The Child Poverty Action Group has asked whether we can make that loan non-repayable as a grant. Can I urge him to consider that?
The Chancellor has said, and I welcome it, that he is going to bring the trade unions together to look at a more sustainable package. We need to do that within days, not weeks, and we will work with him to ensure that happens. I would cite other examples. In Denmark, the Government cover 75% of wages and companies cover 25%. It is true that workers give up some holidays in exchange, but there is a job guarantee for those workers.
We want financial support, but we want guarantees that these people, when this crisis is over, will have a job to go back to, particularly in those companies where there have been significant lay-offs. Unfortunately, we are now facing significant job losses, and a real sense of uncertainty for workers and businesses alike. I have to say that that uncertainty was made worse last night by statements with regard to the hospitality sector. I do not believe that the Chancellor’s statement today gives the clarity that is needed. Will he make it clear to the insurance companies that those in the hospitality sector—the pubs, the clubs, the theatres, the festivals—are closing on the instruction of the Government? In that way, most of them, even if they do not have “pandemic” in their insurance policies, will be covered.
I welcome today’s announcement of loan guarantees to businesses, but I notice in the small print—can the Chancellor clarify this?—that this is interest free for a period of six months only. I am not sure whether that gives the sufficient support and guarantee for the long term that many will want. I welcome the grants, but may I say to him that the response so far from a number of businesses has been that the scale of the grants needs reviewing? They are too small, and they do not relate to the costs that people are involved in at the moment.
I welcome what the Government have said about the business rates relief holiday, but last week the statement seemed to exclude nurseries and childcare. Can the Chancellor just clarify that that has been remedied now, because childcare and nurseries will be desperately needed in the coming period? A bit of concern has been expressed about the British Business Bank being asked last week to deliver the business interruption loan scheme. As of very recently there is little public evidence that the scheme has been established or developed.
I will turn quickly to individual sectors. On the aviation sector and other key transport sectors, I accept that there is a need now for support. I say gently, however, that I resent Mr Branson urging his workers to take eight weeks of unpaid leave, when he makes such a fortune, often by tax avoidance as well. If we are to give grants, loans and assistance to some of these sectors, we should consider whether to take an equity stake for the long term. That also relates to the rail sector. If any franchise fails, is there any planning to bring it under public ownership and management?
Another sector that has been mentioned—this is deeply worrying—is the fishing industry. It has been hit hard, particularly because of its inability to export. We have been told about the lack of insurance cover for boat mortgages. Can we look at that rapidly now to develop some form of legislative protection? Agriculture is now moving into the planting season. The sector was already facing a significant shortage of workers, but it now faces even bigger challenges. Will the Chancellor reassure the House that there will be support for agriculture throughout, because food supplies will be essential during this coming period, especially domestic food supplies?
I must also raise the issue of public services, which the Chancellor did not mention in any depth. The Opposition received well the commitment that whatever the NHS needs it will get, but can we be clear about the allocation of funding to enable testing to take place at scale? The £5 billion response fund did not earmark any particular funding for the NHS, let alone for testing. Clearly, the public now want reassurance that testing will be developed, and we need the funding. Also on the NHS, can the Government point to stronger steps that need to be taken to manufacture essential ventilators and provide personal protective equipment for frontline NHS workers? If we are harvesting our resources, Labour Members do not believe that we should be paying for private hospital beds at this time. Indeed, many of us believe that they should be requisitioned for the use of the whole community.
The overall system of caring for our population relies not just on the NHS but on social care. Will the Chancellor be absolutely clear now about the scale of funding that has so far been directed to social care, as there is uncertainty about that at the moment? What does he think is the best estimate for the level of funding that will be needed, given that we have already inherited 120,000 vacancies, and staff numbers may well dwindle because of the impact of the virus? In recent years, we have seen evidence that some care companies face threats to their financial viability. What plans have the Government developed to intervene if necessary in that sector? There is also pressure on family carers, who are relied on to support our social care system. We need proposals to support them financially as well.
One area of change that has been mooted is the possible closure of our schools. It is crucial that childcare support is provided in the event that any closures occur. We will work with the Chancellor on that issue and with local authorities, but it is crucial that children who depend on free school dinners receive support if the schools are closed. We cannot allow them to go hungry. School staff may be off for long periods and we would like an assurance that their incomes will be guaranteed. Pupils and students are being advised to study from home and most will require access to high-speed broadband. What will be done to ensure access to broadband for students? May I suggest to the Chancellor that it could be free? We all rely in our communities on the voluntary sector as well and it is being hit hard because of the temporary downturn in donations and staffing levels. What consideration has been given to grants to ensure that the voluntary sector can continue to carry out its important functions?
We need more clarity on the Barnett consequentials, and very quickly, because there is uncertainty about the scale of support that will be given to the devolved countries and regions.
With regard to international interventions, whatever people thought about Gordon Brown’s individual policies, in 2007 and 2008 he showed international leadership to tackle that crisis. I have expressed previously my disappointment that the Government did not act sooner in bringing countries together. I urge the Chancellor to follow up the teleconference with the G7 on Monday with engagement through the G20, the World Bank, the World Health Organisation and the UN, and to bring forward a global plan with his colleagues to ensure that we can give assurance not just to the markets but to those, particularly in the global south, who may well be hit hardest by this virus.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the constructive attitude with which he approaches some of these issues. I very much welcome his desire to work with me to try to solve some of the pressing issues that face our nation.
I will try to answer as many of the right hon. Gentleman’s specific questions as possible, starting with financial security for our most vulnerable people. I wholeheartedly agree that this is a priority and should be a priority, which is why, in the Budget, we made significant changes to the operation of statutory sick pay, universal credit, and employment and support allowance to ensure that people had quicker and more generous access to a support system for them and their families. We have already invested £1 billion to provide that extra security, but of course we keep all these things under review. As I said, the next step of our plan is to focus on providing support to people, their incomes and their jobs over the coming days.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about insurance for the leisure sector. I can confirm that, after extensive meetings today between my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury and the insurance industry, the insurance industry will honour insurance contracts that would have been triggered if the advice had been to ban certain things, rather than it being advisory not to do them. That has been agreed and negotiated by my hon. Friend. I thank him for those efforts, and I thank the insurance industry for doing the right thing.
The shadow Chancellor asked, rightly, about renters. Of course, I announced measures today on mortgages. He is absolutely right that the biggest fixed cost that many families face will be their rent payment, and it is right that we have regard to that. I can tell him that my right hon. Friend the Housing Secretary will, in the coming days, make a statement with further measures to protect renters through these difficult times.
The shadow Chancellor asked about other countries and their experience, and about global leadership. He mentioned some specific examples of schemes. I can assure him that I am in touch with my counterparts across the G7 and the G20 to understand how schemes in other countries work. He mentioned, for example, employment support schemes in both Germany and Denmark. I say to him and to the House that, whatever package or scheme we come up with that we believe will provide the appropriate support, it is important that we can operationalise that at speed. The difference between our system and that of many other countries is that they have these systems already in place, so it is far easier for them to step them up quickly. We need to make sure we come up with a solution that can be delivered so that it makes a difference to people quickly, which is why I am happy to work closely with unions and business groups to see what will make the most sense.
On international leadership, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it was widely noticed by other countries that last week, in this country, we saw both monetary and fiscal policy—the Government and the Bank of England working independently but in a co-ordinated fashion to provide significant support and confidence to the economy. That was acknowledged by people, including the International Monetary Fund, which noticed what happened here and pointed at it as an example for others to follow.
On the scale of our response, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to look at the analysis comparing the scale of the fiscal support that various different countries are providing. Again, I think he will find that the package of measures announced both last week and today shows that we have one of the strongest responses of anybody in the G7 as a percentage of GDP to the significant challenge that we face.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the delivery of the loan scheme and it is right to focus on how it will be delivered. We have been working at pace over the past week to make sure that the loans can be delivered not by the British Business Bank, but by individual retail banks on high streets up and down the country. Again, because of the work of the Economic Secretary, that will happen by early next week: businesses will be able to walk into their local branches and request a business interruption loan that has been backed by the Government on these attractive terms. Again, we have to work with the systems that we have. We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good because we want to be able to deliver these schemes as quickly as possible to businesses up and down the country.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about support for a variety of sectors. I can tell him that I have urgently asked my Cabinet colleagues to convene roundtables and engagement with their particular industries to understand if there are specific measures we should be looking at, on top of the measures for airlines and airports that we can look to address in the coming days. All the sectors he mentioned will be covered by that.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman: when it comes to providing support to larger companies, if the taxpayer is going to be put at risk in supporting those companies, it is right that the taxpayer is rewarded on the other side. That is a principle with which we also wholeheartedly agree. He can rest assured that, as we negotiate those situations, we will always protect the interests of taxpayers.
The right hon. Gentleman rightly asked about public services. Our No. 1 priority is to ensure that the NHS has everything it needs to get through this period. I made that commitment last week. I re-echo that commitment today.
On the Barnett consequentials, the right hon. Gentleman will have seen this week that we released the full amount of the Barnett consequentials resulting from the Budget package in advance to all devolved authorities. Today, I announced the overall quantum. Again, we will quickly release those, in advance of those payments being released in England, to the devolved authorities, so they can plan appropriately.
The right hon. Gentleman can rest assured that all the specific public service issues he mentioned, whether school meals, schools and social care, are under active and urgent consideration.
I will end on this point. Our public servants, in particular those working hardest in our NHS right now, deserve nothing but our support at this difficult time. I want them to know, and I want the country to know, that we will do whatever it takes to get through this.
These are truly shocking times and a great weight lies upon the shoulders of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. I hope it is felt right across the House that we wish him every success in his endeavours to steer us through this crisis. He has come forward with a huge response to the current situation, which I know will, in many quarters and businesses up and down the country, provide some reassurance. There are, however, inevitably some areas on which there is still work to come, not least in terms of the employment support package. I note the fact that he will shortly be engaging closely with trade unions and businesses to flesh that out. May I urge him to do so as quickly and promptly as possible? Does he know at this stage when the conclusions of that exercise may be reached, so that we can provide vital reassurance to employers and employees who fear for their jobs up and down our country? This is a time in our history where not just days, but hours matter.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his thoughtful support. I can tell him that we are working on those proposals urgently and plan to have answers for both him and the House in the coming days, ideally next week, with an early thought of what we can do. As I said, designing these schemes will take an appropriate amount of diligence and care. That is what we are focused on urgently as we speak. He is right: this is about hours, not days and weeks.
I thank the Chancellor for the action and the extra money that he has announced this evening. I put on record my thanks to health staff, volunteers and everybody working at the forefront of this crisis. I also mark my sadness at the second death that was recorded in Scotland today.
We want to work across the economy and across society, because fundamentally this is about people’s lives. The Chancellor is right that nothing should be spared when it comes to that. Can he tell me precisely what the Barnett consequentials will be from today’s announcement? He says that the Scottish Government knew in advance. I do not make the point to be party political, but my understanding is that the Scottish Government were only notified by letter at 5.30 pm yesterday of the previous set of Barnett consequentials from last week’s Budget. [Interruption.] I hear hon. Members saying that that has been the same for Wales.
The Scottish Government want to act swiftly. They must not be behind the curve of what England is doing. The Chancellor must pick up the phone to Kate Forbes, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Finance, to let her know exactly what is coming, so that she can take action for Scotland’s businesses and individuals across the country.
The Chancellor mentioned that the loans will be on attractive terms. Can he tell us more details? Businesses will be nervous about taking on more debt at this time, and interest free for six months is perhaps not good enough for businesses that are struggling and questioning their very future. His flexibility on the next steps is also welcome, but we expect those measures to come before the House if at all possible.
Will the Chancellor take a stake in the airlines to guarantee that money for the future? In any intervention for airlines, will he make sure that staff are protected first, including support staff in airports and in the supply chain, not just airline staff directly? They are all worried about their jobs.
Cash grants for small businesses are welcome, but I gently suggest that the £3,000 announced last week was not enough. Today’s announcement of £10,000 shows how short that was. The hospitality sector in particular needs urgent clarity about what is going to happen for events, for pubs and right across the sector. The Government need to be absolutely clear: if people are to stay away from pubs, pubs need to know that and have the Government’s backing if they close. That applies across the hospitality sector, including for hotels and lots of small businesses in the supply chain.
The Association of British Insurers has suggested that many businesses will not have a policy that covers pandemic. Will the UK Government stand as an insurer of last resort, as Professor Sir Charles Bean suggested at the Treasury Committee today, saying,
“Big early action is better than half-hearted action that’s late”?
I urge the Chancellor to think on that. Can the insurers cope if they are asked to pay out on all those policies? Will the Government stand behind the insurers if need be?
What protection has been given to pregnant women around maternity entitlement? Lots of women have been asked to take their maternity leave early, which will affect how long they can stay off at the end. They need to know that the Government will back them on that and that they will not lose out on their maternity leave because of the coronavirus.
The Chancellor made no mention of private renters, particularly young people who are more likely to be in insecure employment. He is giving a break to those paying mortgages, lots of which are buy-to-rent mortgages where people rent the accommodation. If the mortgage holders are getting a break, that must be guaranteed for renters as well. It must be passed on, and passed on quickly. If the Chancellor looks at Twitter, he will see that people around the country are losing their tenancies and do not know whether they can get a new one.
There has been talk in the US of $1,000 being given to Americans, and in Italy €500 being given to the self-employed. Will the Chancellor consider such direct schemes for individuals who may be struggling to cope? Will he also look at the situation for asylum seekers and those with no recourse to public funds who cannot claim benefits and are particularly vulnerable? The services, food banks and voluntary action that they rely on will disappear. They need direct payments as well if they are to live through this crisis.
I note that France is moving to the direct payment of bills. Will the Chancellor look at that measure? That is a different mechanism that stops money being taken out of people’s pockets, rather than putting money into them. Has he spoken to the energy companies about that?
Turning to the vulnerability of people in the economy just now, the Fraser of Allander Institute has said that only one in four under-25s has enough savings to cover one month of income. The under-25s are incredibly vulnerable, so will the Chancellor consider specific measures to tackle issues for those young people? Only 42% of households in the bottom income decile have enough savings to cover one month. People will not get through this crisis with the money they have in the bank, because a lot of them have no money in the bank. He needs to consider how he will ensure that people can put food on the table. That need is particularly pressing for families, because if the schools do close and parents cannot work, there will be no money coming in. He needs to think about how those families will put food on the table for those children during this extended period.
I agree with everyone who has said that statutory sick pay is woefully inadequate to deal with this crisis. The Government have suggested that people should apply for universal credit, but they seem to be forgetting that for many people universal credit is far less generous even than statutory sick pay, so will the Chancellor urgently increase the amount that people can get through the universal credit system? Will he uprate that so that people can get enough money to survive the crisis? Will he consider extending the period for universal credit advances, or ideally get rid of the advances and pay people straight away? Will he ensure that the Department for Work and Pensions looks carefully at the implications of people claiming universal credit for their entitlement to legacy benefits, because people might lose out on their legacy benefits if they jump into universal credit just now? Will the Department protect that for all claimants so that they do not lose out in the long term?
This is a crisis. I welcome all action that the UK Government will take on this, but the questions this evening will be legion, and people will have so many questions in the days ahead. I ask the Government to listen and to react as quickly as possible to all the questions that honourable colleagues will raise this evening, and in the weeks and months ahead.
I thank the hon. Member for her comments. I can reassure her that I am listening. I welcome all the suggestions that she has made, and indeed all those that other hon. Members will make. We are listening intently to hon. Members, and to businesses and others, to ensure that we provide the support required.
Let me answer the hon. Member’s specific questions. The Barnett consequentials resulting from today’s package will be about £3.5 billion. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury will be speaking to the Scottish Finance Secretary tomorrow to explain in more detail how that will work. Earlier this week we released the Barnett consequentials to the devolved authorities before the money has been drawn down in England, as would be typical, in order to provide advance on the Barnett consequentials to all devolved authorities in recognition of the circumstances that everyone is grappling with, so that they can plan appropriately. I hope that will be welcomed.
Obviously, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on specific interventions in any particular company, whether an airline or anything else, but I agree with the hon. Member that in general we are interested in protecting people’s jobs. When I stand here and talk about supporting businesses, I am keen to support businesses because that is the best way to protect jobs, and ultimately that is the best way to protect people.
The hon. Member asked about cash grants. In thinking about the scale of the grants and how significant they might be, let us take the £10,000 grant available for anyone currently in receipt of small business rate relief. The typical rateable value on one of those properties would be approximately £7,000. That is a good proxy for a year’s worth of rent. A £10,000 cash grant is therefore reasonably significant in covering what is probably a business’s biggest fixed cost. When we look at what the average income of one of those smaller businesses might be, again we see that it will be significant.
The hon. Member talked about pubs and the leisure sector. Not only will there be a business rates holiday for the sector for the next 12 months, but for all businesses in the sector, regardless of their rateable value, there will be a £25,000 cash grant for businesses up to £51,000.
The hon. Member asked about insurance. The statement is welcome on insurance. With regard to retrospectively changing insurance policies, she rightly identified that that would most likely cause solvency issues with insurance companies, so it is perhaps not the most appropriate course of action, which is why we have several other measures for providing support directly to businesses in those circumstances. She will probably be aware that very few businesses actually have the requisite insurance in any case, so although the steps set out today are welcome, it is important that we think more broadly about direct support.
I welcome the hon. Member’s question on maternity pay, which I will discuss with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and reflect on. With regard to renters, as I said in my earlier answer, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will shortly announce further measures to protect renters.
The hon. Lady talked about other countries, and about fiscal responses and individual measures. Every country is doing this slightly differently, but, broadly, are trying to do the same things through different means. I think that the best way to judge us is by the total scale of our fiscal response, and on that metric, as a percentage of GDP benchmarked to nearly all developed countries, we have what is to date one of the most comprehensive and significant packages of scale—which, as I have said, underlies our commitment to doing what it takes to get the country through this.
I strongly welcome the Chancellor’s enormous loan and guarantee package, but he himself recognised that he is supporting the liquidity of businesses rather than their long-term viability. We want to see employment protected, so may I ask him to fund business not just in ways that enable the maintenance of employment, but in ways that actively incentivise it? It is not the same thing. Block grants will not do it. May I also ask him, when he does that, to do more than just taking the route of sectoral support packages? If he takes that route, tens of thousands of small businesses will fall through the cracks.
That, unfortunately, means an incredibly tailored system. The Chancellor will have to design rather intricate mechanisms to ensure that we pay people properly, which may involve small claims courts, the insurance business and British chambers of commerce and the like. I ask him to consider doing that, however. What he has done today is important in terms of maintaining liquidity, but his main aim must be to maintain the viability of the British economy.
My right hon. Friend has made a good point. I believe that providing liquidity now ensures sustainability for the future, but he is right to identify the further steps that are needed to provide support on fixed costs such as employment, and preserving and incentivising that employment. This is work that we are undertaking as a matter of urgency.
For those who are currently off work on statutory sick pay or are self-isolating for public health reasons, who are laid off because there is no work or who are self-employed or low-paid, there is nothing at all in the Chancellor’s package of measures. The Chancellor says that these matters are under review. As a matter of urgency, will he at least increase statutory sick pay to the level of the national living wage, and come back to the House with a package of support that ensures that workers will not be financially penalised for doing the right thing, and will not be unable to pay their bills and rent and put food on the table?
We have put £1 billion into the welfare system to provide extra financial security for those people, to speed up both access and the generosity of all those benefits.
There is a sector of the retail market that is doing incredibly well, and that is the supermarkets. Many of my constituents are worried because they rely on home deliveries from supermarkets. Can the Chancellor update us on what talks he and his colleagues are having with the supermarket industry about increasing capacity for home delivery?
That is an excellent point. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is engaged in urgent talks with supermarkets to ensure the security of our food supply and to improve accessibility, particularly for those who may now be at home.
We believe in a strong safety net during a short period so that people can get through this, which is why we have strengthened that safety net with £1 billion of extra investment to increase generosity and accessibility.
I commend my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for his bold measures today, which will encourage many small businesses to believe that the Government are on their side. There is more to do, I know. Can I also encourage him, though, in his statement to come, on further employment measures to bear it in mind that the most important thing we can do is to do everything we can to keep people in employment? That will help to deliver growth.
One area I want to raise with my right hon. Friend, which has not really been touched on, although I think the shadow Chancellor raised it, is the voluntary sector. The Centre for Social Justice has done some quick work on this and come to the conclusion that the smallest elements of the voluntary sector, which have no reserves, are going to lose about £400 million during this next few months, and they are going to be the ones that are called upon most for support in the community for those who suffer. Can I please ask him to look at this very carefully and see what we can do to give them that cash aid?
My right hon. Friend knows better than most the value of making sure that people have the security of a good job, and I commend him for all his work in that regard. I agree with him wholeheartedly. My right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary is talking already to the voluntary sector and we stand ready to provide the support that may be required.
I recognise, as I am sure the whole House does, the Chancellor’s wish to get any employment support scheme right, but he will recognise, as the shadow Chancellor said from the Front Bench, that people are facing redundancy right now. May I suggest two things that he can say tonight to help ward off those redundancies? The first is that he accepts the principle that Government should cover a substantial proportion of people’s wages, because it is in their interests and those of the economy and their businesses. The second is that he undertakes to come back not next week but by Friday of this week with a clear plan developed with unions and businesses.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is more important that we get this right than rush to things that will not work, but he can rest assured that we agree wholeheartedly with the ambitions of what he says, but delivering them and getting it right are vital and that is what we are working on doing.
I congratulate and thank the Chancellor on behalf of the people in Mid Norfolk for a coherent and comprehensive package, in particular the support on rates and mortgages. In my rural and quite fragile economy, it is the pubs, the high streets, the small businesses, tourism and farming, and food processing that are the backbone of the economy. May I press him on the insurance point? The policies of many of my local employers simply do not cover liability for epidemics. Would it not be sensible to look at reinforcing the insurance industry, which has the wherewithal to deliver the support, so that those that have made money in the good years can help companies that really need it in tough times?
I appreciate the point my hon. Friend is making. The steps today on insurance are welcome, but he is right to identify that retrospectively changing the situation that insurers would have reserved against could have a very significant impact on their solvency, which would send a ripple effect throughout the insurance market. That is not something that any of us would want to see.
The Chancellor must surely recognise that those on statutory sick pay are being asked to protect the rest of us, but take only £96 a week in income and live on that, and that those on universal credit, if they can access the system at all, will be asked to live on £74 a week. Millions of people are simply not eligible for either of those deeply flawed structures. He has to do something fast. He has to do it quickly. Instead of talking about the £1 billion he has already put in, will he now realise that he has to move fast to reassure people that if they do the right thing they will not suffer and that they will be able to put food on the table and maintain their housing and their children’s meals?
We have provided half a billion pounds specifically to local authorities to provide extra support, particularly to help people with housing costs, notably council tax. That will make an enormous difference to people on the ground.
Borrowers can speak to their mortgage provider and, owing to the work of my right hon. Friend today, they should receive a three-month mortgage holiday, depending on their circumstance as explained, but it should be reasonably automatic thereafter.
Order. I am expecting to run this to around 9 o’clock.
Our economy is suffering a heart attack, one deeper and bigger than in 2008, so the Chancellor has a serious responsibility and he deserves constructive engagement from everyone in this House, including my party. His main task is to ensure that there is confidence among the business community and the British people. I have to tell him that although he has made a good start, this is still very much a work in progress. His package for the business sector was large, but may I urge him to say far more about the loan terms he is putting forward? Many small businesses will be very worried about taking on this debt. May I also urge him to go much faster to give confidence to the ordinary people who are suffering in our constituencies?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his constructive attitude, and I look forward to working with him. The loan terms will be interest-free for six months. Because of the liquidity that has been provided by the Bank of England, they will be incredibly cheap, and they will be available on a rolling basis for commercial paper, so they will be loans that are accessible and very valuable to businesses. They will be ready from next week.
I am delighted that the Chancellor recognises the need for burden-sharing on employment costs in badly affected sectors such as tourism, travel and hospitality, but will he also make sure that there is a package for the self-employed, because some of those people are losing a large amount of their business, too?
Half of my constituents rent privately—that is the highest proportion in the country. A quarter of all Londoners rent privately, and 13 million people across the country rent privately, with a third having no savings whatsoever. Will the Chancellor assure me that when we have the statement from the Housing Minister, there will, in addition to any legislative change to protect renters, be money on the table to help people on low incomes and in insecure employment to pay their rent, so that this crisis does not mean that they also get into debt and risk losing their homes?
The measures announced by the Chancellor should be welcomed, but many of my constituents who are self-employed are worried because their cash flow has stopped now. When can we expect further announcements on how we are going to help these people? Will he consider extending the loans he has made available to businesses to cover this category of people?
I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the loans available already will be available to those who are self-employed and that many of them, those who do have small properties, will benefit from the business rate reliefs and grants too.
My party also wishes to work with the Government on ensuring that we get through this crisis as easily as we can. Redundancies are already starting across a range of industries in Northern Ireland. It is important that if the Chancellor is coming with the next step, it addresses the issue of how we keep people in employment and how firms are supported. I understand that he wants to get this right, but he also has to get it done.
I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that we will get it done, we will do it at pace and we very much agree that it is important to protect people’s jobs. That is the security we want to provide.
I very much welcome the Chancellor’s statement and all that the Government are doing to support individuals and businesses in my constituency. I have a specific point for him that has been raised with me by the chairman of Gillingham football club. They are in league 1, but this also covers clubs in league 2. A lot of the matches for those clubs have been postponed. They rely on matchday income to support them. What will be done to work with those smaller football clubs and organisations to ensure that their Her Majesty’s Customs and Revenue payments are dealt with adequately and that they are given soft loans over a certain period to ensure that they can get through these challenging, difficult circumstances?
My hon. Friend’s football club, like many others, will be eligible for the business rates relief measures and grants that I have announced today. On HMRC, we activated Time to Pay last week, and there are now 2,000 specific, dedicated HMRC officers ready to take the calls of businesses such as Gillingham football club, in order to provide exactly what he suggested: a deferral for their tax payments and an agreed schedule for paying them back.
Yesterday, the Government announced measures for the hospitality industry. Businesses are laying off people today, throughout the country and certainly in County Durham, where I have spoken to businesses this afternoon. It is clear that the Chancellor does not have a clue how ordinary people live. They do not have access to savings and they do not have access to trust funds or independent wealth; they rely on what comes in each week. I urge him very strongly either to ensure that benefits are paid from day one, or to bring in some system that allows the Government to subsidise wages directly for some small businesses.
It is because we care deeply about the financial security of all people that we want to work hardest to protect their jobs. That is the way to help working people in this country. We have strengthened the welfare system, and the measures that we have taken today will increase the likelihood that we can preserve those jobs. We know that there is more to do.
I know that my hon. Friend knows those businesses well. He should rest assured that we are already in contact with them, through both the Treasury and the Department for Transport. As I said, we will work with them as quickly as possible to put in place what measures are necessary.
This afternoon, Lochfyne Langoustines, which employs 20 people in the village of Tarbert, told me that it did not have a single UK or export sale today. Soon, the company’s boats will be tied up, processers will be laid off, and the business could close. The far east markets are beginning to reopen and there is a glimmer of hope, so will the UK Government work with the Scottish Government to help to arrange cargo flights to get into the reopening markets as soon as possible?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the scale of the package that he has announced, and I recognise the significance of the Barnett consequentials that will come from it. Does he agree that simplicity and commonality are key features? It was only late yesterday that the Welsh Government matched the business rate package, which left—[Interruption.] It left many businesspeople in my constituency anxious before the support was made available. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that commonality will be an important theme?
I am disappointed to hear the tone from Alun Cairns. I do not doubt what the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary have said about the devolved Administrations and what they are trying to do to give them information, but I must tell the Chancellor that it is not coherent and it is not working. He knows that getting cash to the frontline—to businesses and individuals—is absolutely mission-critical and time-critical at the moment, so will he work with the Administrations so that they can make future announcements together, so that businesses are not confused, people are not scared and we do not have further chaos? That has not happened today. The Welsh Finance Minister has made it clear that she would do that, but the Welsh Government did not have the information. Can we sort that out please, as a matter of urgency?
I warmly welcome the package that has been announced today, but my constituency is home to one of the largest concentrations of self-employed people in the country. Will the Chancellor please commit to looking at what further help might be given for them? Will he also please look at A2 properties, which do not currently receive business rates relief, and see whether some of those businesses—such as estate agents on the high streets—can be helped?
I know that my hon. Friend is a champion of the self-employed. Some of the measures announced last week at the Budget will benefit them, as will, indeed, some of the loan and other grant measures announced today, depending on their circumstances, but my hon. Friend is right and we will of course keep an eye on that issue as we develop these packages.
The difference with this crisis is the profound effect it is having on human behaviour. The Chancellor has acknowledged that the big missing piece from the package announced tonight is direct financial support for workers who are laid off as a result of the advice that the Government have given to the country, so will he commit now—in principle if he cannot give the number—to bringing forward a package of support for a significant proportion of the wages of those who have been laid off as a result of this crisis?
I have already committed to that urgent piece of work that we are undertaking. We have already improved the financial security available to people who find themselves either ill or off work, as a result of the £1 billion invested last week in these measures.
At a time of national emergency and national need, Dover once again stands ready to do its duty. The Port of Dover, the hauliers and the ferry companies will be moving the goods, medicines and resources that are needed to keep our country safe and fed. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the port, transport, ferry companies, Border Force and all the hard-working local workers in my constituency will be given the necessary financial and practical assistance so that they can do their duty for our country?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the vital importance of our ports, particularly Dover. They are conduits for trade and everything else that our country needs at this critical time, and, of course, we stand ready to listen and hear what they need.
Last night, a constituent in the hospitality trade contacted me to express concern at the Prime Minister’s measures and to ask what could be done about them. Today, she emailed me to say that she had been made redundant and to ask how she could pay her rent. The Chancellor does not seem to grasp the scale of the fear, the uncertainty and the desperation in the country now. Will he guarantee to me now that every renter will have the means to pay their rent, and every small business the means to pay their staff?
It is because of what was announced yesterday and the particular impact on the hospitality sector that today we have announced a series of steps of considerable support for that sector. As I have already said, when it comes to renting, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will shortly be announcing measures to protect renters in these circumstances, and we have strengthened the safety net, the security, for people to fall back on.
The Chancellor has talked about courage, but I will tell him what takes courage: fighting this pandemic on the frontline without adequate protective clothing. Will he commit right now to doing whatever it takes to ensure that every single frontline healthcare worker has the protective clothing they need if they are working exposed to this virus?
I welcome the scale of what the Chancellor has announced. It is up to the mark. Some of his specific measures will be welcomed by constituents who have contacted me, but may I press him a little on the employment support package? I recognise the importance of coming up with a package that is deliverable, but I fear that if he is unable to say anything more urgently, he needs to give businesses the confidence to keep those employees employed, because some of them will be facing massive reductions in cash flow immediately. Will he look at what he can say quicker than next week to give them the confidence that they will be supported in due course?
I very much appreciate the strains that business cash flows are under, which is why, today, we have already taken steps with the announcement of new cash grants of £10,000, £25,000 and an extension of the business rate holiday to thousands more businesses.
The health action that is being put in place is essential to save lives, but does the Chancellor accept that that also means that some of the jobs that are going this week and the redundancies that are being made will not come back in a hurry, because many hospitality, leisure and tourism jobs simply cannot be done at a social distance? Does he accept that there is a gap between the employment support package that he is rightly working on, I hope, as fast as possible and the welfare support that is simply not adequate for the huge numbers of people who are going to be urgently losing their jobs and who will be terrified of losing their homes as well?
We have strengthened the security and the safety net for those in that situation, but the right hon. Lady is right that we are urgently working on measures to do more.
I asked for more firepower at half-past 4 this afternoon, and it is fair to say that the Chancellor has delivered. However, a number of businesses whose entire model has been undermined, such as village pubs and restaurants, are facing a very uncertain year. On that note, may I ask him what he proposes that they should do? Does he welcome the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government that such businesses can now operate as takeaways, which will help to solve some of the problems of self-isolation as well?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and what he has done. I think that it will make an enormous difference, as will the cash support that we have provided today to pubs and restaurants in his constituency and elsewhere across the country.
This is a welcome step in the right direction—there is much to welcome in the Chancellor’s announcement—but the family reliant on a zero-hours-contract hospitality worker’s salary or the self-employed tradesman whose cash flow has dried up want to know how this money will reach their bank account. What prevents the Chancellor from introducing a coronavirus universal basic income in his package of new measures which, in itself, would give confidence to thousands of Welsh workers and beyond?
We have already taken steps to strengthen the safety net that the right hon. Lady has mentioned in particular. They will be eligible for those enhanced packages, and beyond that, we are looking to do more, as she knows, in the employment support field.
These measures are indeed bold, and will provide practical support. I particularly look forward to further information about renters and measures for the childcare and nursery sector, which was generally omitted from the Budget last week and is in a fragile state. The hospitality industry, which the Chancellor rightly singled out—it is our third largest industry—is laying off people, and the number of customers has absolutely collapsed. I am told that they are approaching banks and being told, “We may be able to get something for you in April.” Can he instil a sense of urgency in the banks and make sure that the grants from central Government are immediate so that people do not have to wait for them, which could make the difference to their being there in a few weeks’ time or not?
I can tell my hon. Friend that the grant schemes are being delivered in the coming weeks. Businesses will receive a letter from local authorities. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government is doing that work at pace. With regard to the loan schemes, that will not take until April—they will be ready to access for business from the start of next week.
The Chancellor says that we have to do whatever it takes, and I completely agree with him, but that must apply to everyone in the UK. I cannot believe that every step of the way we, the fifth richest nation in the world, have to battle for the poorest and those who are struggling the most in our communities, including in my constituency—homeless people, those who do not qualify for statutory sick pay, private renters and families on low incomes. When will we stop debating and start the action that is desperately needed?
I refer the hon. Lady to the measures in the Budget last week, particularly on homelessness and rough sleeping. We announced £640 million to build 6,000 more units and to provide support for substance abuse support services, once people are off the streets, to help them tackle their long-term addictions. That money will make an enormous difference and build on the good work of the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
It was not possible for ordinary businesses and working people to anticipate the scale of the most severe public health crisis for 100 years, so does the Chancellor accept that for many businesses the nation has to act, not so much as a lender of last resort, but as a collective insurer of last resort, meeting their unmet operating costs if they are to keep people employed and inoculate against economic contagion?
My right hon. Friend is right to highlight the need to provide support for businesses with their fixed costs, rather than their variable ones. That is what we need to help bridge through—the cash grants today related to rateable value, with reference directly to rent payments—but he is right that other fixed costs are people, which is why we are working up measures in that area.
As a result of the actions of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, SSP is available for those who are eligible for it from day one. Regulations are being laid to that effect, and employment and support allowance will also be available from day one, rather than day eight.
The measures announced by my right hon. Friend are extremely welcome, and he should be congratulated on them. For many people, including freelancers and those working in the gig economy, the most vital thing over the next few weeks will be some kind of guarantee of continuing income, so they can know that they can continue to pay their bills. Will those measures and the ones that he says are to come over the next few days guarantee that vital help?
Many of the workers in the gig economy will benefit from statutory sick pay, depending on their exact contractual relationship with their employers, but the measures that we undertook last week in the Budget will provide direct support to those people.
What contingency will be put aside by the Treasury to assist in recruiting more social care workers, who are desperately needed to look after people in their homes as they fall ill?
I welcome the package that the Chancellor has laid out and all the work that he has been doing. He said that he will look at other things over the coming days. May I please ask him to consider pre-schools and nurseries? They pay business rates, so will not receive the £10,000, but they are not within the category of hospitality, retail and leisure. Mine have been in to see me today and they are very worried. It would be awful for the very people that rely on them—the parents. Will my right hon. Friend consider that ask?
Many of my constituents are freelancers. One wrote to me unable to pay his rent or bills in the next couple of weeks. That is how urgent the situation is. Can the Chancellor give any comfort tonight for people who are very worried? They have been laid off today, have no ability to pay the bills and their freelance work has dried up. We are told that we have to wait for an answer from the Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary. The Government have known that this was coming. Where is the planning? What answer does the Chancellor have now?
For those people, the measures that we took last week will already start to help from day one. The Work and Pensions Secretary has already put in place support to make sure that access to the security that they need is both faster and more generous than it was.
The events industry is not only highly seasonal but full of people working on a self-employed basis. Given that this season has pretty much been wiped out, what reassurance can my right hon. Friend give the industry that he is looking to its needs?
I am happy to look specifically at the issue that my right hon. Friend has raised, but the measures that we took last week will provide immediate support to many of her constituents in that situation.
I was contacted today by a constituent who is self-isolating and has underlying health conditions. She was trying to get a food delivery, which she vitally needs. Tesco could only do it within 10 days, while other suppliers would take three weeks. There is clearly a massive issue, probably a combination of stock levels and delivery logistics. Will the Chancellor do whatever it takes to work with the supermarkets and logistics companies? There are opportunities to get other people into short-term employment if this is done right and quickly, so that people get the supplies that they need.
The hon. Gentleman is right that the security of our food supply and deliveries is critical. My right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary is already having those conversations and has already taken steps on delivery curfews to ensure that deliveries can continue and to maintain the security of those supply chains.
Today is a very good part 1; the Chancellor would be the first to admit that it is part 1—he obviously has a lot of other ongoing workstreams. I do not know what he has done with the mortgage lenders, but so many of my constituents and people across the country will be incredibly pleased about the three-month holiday.
The second biggest outgoing for thousands of my constituents is probably their train season tickets. Right now, they are paying for a service that they are not getting—some would argue that they have been barely getting it for a long time. They are currently paying for a service they are not getting at all and are not able to use at all. Will my right hon. Friend use whatever influence he did with the mortgage lenders to lean on the train companies to show some humanity to their customers right now? Frankly, those companies are not in their customers’ best books already.
My hon. Friend is always a champion of his commuting constituents. I am happy to have that conversation with the Transport Secretary to see what we can do to encourage companies—whether mortgage companies or others—to help people through this difficult time.
For somebody who is self-employed, self-isolation will often mean giving up their income. The advice is to claim benefit, but all someone gets with universal credit in the first five weeks, as has been pointed out, is a loan. People are not going to give up their incomes for that. Will the Chancellor replace those advances with non-repayable grants for those who lose their income because of this crisis?
I was very pleased this evening when Nicola Sturgeon confirmed to me promptly that every penny of the likely £1.9 billion that the Scottish Government will receive as a result of today’s announcement will go directly to businesses and individuals. It is very important that we have that common approach across the United Kingdom from Governments, but it is also important that we have a common approach from banks. The Chancellor has referenced the banks in relation to his loan and grant schemes, but many businesses have existing loan arrangements with the banks. What confirmation does he have from the banks that they will not seek to change those arrangements or to take advantage of the situation where people may be able to get Government money to repay those loans?
I can tell my right hon. Friend that we have had extensive discussions with the banks just this week, and they have outlined their forbearance measures. I very much expect them to honour those commitments. He is absolutely right with his point that we will get through this as one United Kingdom.
Today the Government have announced a mortgage holiday for homeowners, and that is welcome, but they have made the political choice not to give a rent suspension to millions of tenants. The average rent is £220 a week. Statutory sick pay is £94.25 a week. Before people are forced on to the streets because this virus will stop them from working, I, like many other Members in this House, call on the Government to follow the example of other countries and suspend rents and ban evictions today.
The hon. Lady talks about other countries. If she looks at the overall scale of the fiscal interventions that we have outlined last week and this week, she will see they are more significant than almost every other country.
The Welsh Labour Government stand to gain £1.6 billion as a consequence of coronavirus. Will my right hon. Friend comment on how the UK Government can encourage the Welsh Labour Government to spend that money timely and appropriately, because business and people need help now?
As I said before, we will get through this as one United Kingdom. We have provided Barnett consequentials early and in advance to devolved authorities, and I very much hope that we can take a joint approach to supporting businesses, public services and individuals through this difficult time.
The notes that have been handed out from the Vote Office tonight say “Statement to the Press”, not to the House of Commons. I do not think there is any difference between what the Chancellor has said to the House and what was said to the press earlier on, and that should not happen again.
Are businesses that are strapped for cash flow likely to take out a loan rather than lay staff off? Is it not assistance with paying wages that they do not have to pay back later that those businesses need? They do not need more debt from the Government; they need help with paying wages.
As we have already outlined, in addition to the extensive loan guarantee scheme, we have also announced significant cash grants to business to provide immediate cash flow relief to them. With regard to employment support, as I have said, that is our next urgent priority.
Difficult times require bold measures, and I commend my right hon. Friend for twice in the space of a week coming to this House and demonstrating that he will do whatever it takes. I support the comments on employment support, but may I ask him also to extend hospitality and leisure benefits to the equally hard-pressed exhibition sector?
I thank my hon. Friend for his support. With regard to the exhibition sector, those that have physical properties and business rates will be eligible for the scheme that we announced today and the cash grant. I am happy to have further conversations with him as well.
The RSA recently pointed out that 32% of workers in this country live on less than £500 a month in terms of savings, and 41% have less than £1,000 in the bank. That means there could be as many as 20 million people living from one pay cheque to the next. From what I have heard tonight, renters, freelancers, gig economy workers and zero-hours contract workers will not be feeling reassured. Will the Chancellor be able to look them in the eye and tell them honestly that he has truly done enough, or are they going to be collateral damage on the scrapheap, like so many with the Government’s already failing strategy over herd immunity?
We already took extensive measures last week to strengthen our safety net for vulnerable people. I firmly believe that the best way to help all people through this is to protect their jobs, and that is why the actions we have taken today to support business cash flows provide the best means of doing exactly that.
I warmly welcome the bold and decisive steps that the Chancellor has taken today, which will be welcomed by many businesses in mid-Cornwall, particularly those in the hospitality sector.
I want to raise something that many Members have already raised—the self-employed and small businesses that do not own premises and therefore will not benefit from the measures on business rates and grants. Many people such as taxi drivers, window cleaners, electricians and plumbers have overheads that are not rent, because they are keeping vehicles on the roads. Will he urgently look at what he can do to get cash to those people, so that they can keep their businesses going?
I am happy to look at all the measures that my hon. Friend suggested. The steps we took last week will provide immediate support for those people, and the further measures that are coming will provide a degree of relief for those who have property and small businesses. Of course, they will be able to access the loans that we have talked about, but he is right to highlight the importance of those who are self-employed. They deserve our support, and indeed, last week and this week they are getting it.
Following the previous question, I want to press the Chancellor on sole traders. There are measures on taxation that he could introduce quickly to support sole traders. Many in my constituency are very worried that they will not benefit from any of the Chancellor’s proposals laid out last week or today. Will the Chancellor look at that specific area with Treasury officials, the devolved Governments and anybody else who could support sole traders?
I commend my hon. Friend for this raft of packages, although Members on both sides of the House clearly feel that there is still a lot more to do. I shudder at the administrative task ahead of him to ensure that all this money gets to the right people at the right time. Should we not bring back the small bank branches that have closed over the years, particularly in rural communities that simply do not have access to them?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of rural communities. My right hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury has done a sterling job of preserving access to cash for those communities, and we have said that we will legislate to do more, but in the short term, we will keep that under review.
May I ask the Chancellor again whether he will work with the Home Office to revisit its rules on no recourse to public funds? If it does not revisit those rules, thousands of the most vulnerable people in this country will not have access even to the most basic support to see them through this crisis.
I warmly welcome this package of support for small businesses, which has been warmly welcomed by a number of businesspeople who have already contacted me. The business interruption loan scheme is a key part of this, but some lenders cannot access that scheme because they are not registered with the British Business Bank, and it would take months for them to do so. Will the Chancellor act now to ensure that all lenders can access that scheme?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He is right: we want this scheme to be available through as many branches and outlets as possible. We are urgently working with the Prudential Regulation Authority to see whether we can onboard new providers at pace. He will understand that there are regulatory requirements, but we are seeing what we can do to speed that up.
I welcome the increase in the small business grant to £10,000, and I understand that those grants will be distributed by local authorities. What assessment has the Chancellor made of the capacity of local councils to deliver that help, and when will businesses actually receive the money?
As a former local government Minister, I have amazing faith in the capacity of our local authorities to deliver for us in this regard. They are being provided with extra resources to help deal with the administration of this money, and my right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary is already working at pace to ensure that the rebilling and processing of these grants happens in a matter of days and weeks.
I warmly commend my right hon. Friend for this package. The support for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors is welcome, but he could make it even more effective if he extended the same package to those who are in the supply chain of those industries and the businesses that disproportionately supply customers for those industries, such as English language schools.
I welcome the Chancellor’s measures for small businesses, and especially in my constituency lots of people have been in touch with us about them, but they will only be effective if they are timely, so when will the cash grants be available to small businesses in real terms? Will he also consider the idea that, when landlords get mortgage breaks, they pass them on to their renters, and how will we ensure that actually happens?
On the processing of the cash grants, as I have said, my right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary is working on this at pace. It will require local authorities to write to the recipients of small business rate relief to collect their bank details, which they do not hold centrally, so that they can then provide the cash payment, but I can assure the hon. Member that that work is happening at pace.
Businesses in the hospitality sector will appreciate the relief the Chancellor has given on business rates and the cash grants, but can I raise the question of suppliers to the sector, many of which have seen their sales fall off a cliff? In particular, there are those with short-dated products, such as Wood Farm micro-brewery in my constituency, which produces an excellent product but has £20,000 of short-dated stock with four weeks’ life left on it, and stands to bear a pretty substantial loss as a consequence. Is there something that can be done to support businesses such as these?
The Prime Minister’s public health advice to avoid pubs, restaurants and theatres was not coupled with immediate economic protections, causing panic and upset for the small businesses, the self-employed and those on zero-hours contracts who form the backbone of coastal constituencies such as mine. The measures announced today do not address their concerns. They struggle with high rents and high bills, and my friends have lost their jobs today. Today, the grafters should have been a priority. When will they be?
The package of measures today does specifically provide cash support to those in that sector to help with things like rent, but I make no apology for our being led by the public health response. This is first and foremost a public health emergency, and we will be led by responding to that. Of course, the economy is foremost in our minds, and I will always respond quickly and rapidly to any changes in the public health advice.
I commend the Chancellor for this package of measures as far as they go, and we understand that it is a moving narrative, but I particularly urge him to focus on the importance of cash flow when it comes to smaller businesses and the self-employed. However, can I raise with him a group of people who so far have not been mentioned, which is the elderly and the vulnerable who live alone? There is a real risk in a situation such as this that they get inadvertently overlooked, and we need to reach out to them. Would the Chancellor consider providing appropriate support for local authorities to do just that—to identify them, locate them and make contact, because no one should be left behind?
I can tell my hon. Friend that he is absolutely right, and the Communities and Local Government Secretary has already been engaging on this particular issue, working together with the Health Secretary with regard to social care, to make sure that, in our local communities, we can identify and protect the elderly and most vulnerable, and make sure that they get the support that they need.
A constituent of mine in the Howe of Fife, who is self-employed, has contacted me today because she is worried about her future employment and how she will pay her mortgage and support her family. Although I welcome the Chancellor’s moves in relation to mortgages, the fact is that mortgage products often have payment holidays as part of them. Given that these are the first steps, may I ask the Chancellor, first, is this going to be for people who are directly impacted by coronavirus, or is it potentially for people who are self-isolating as they are at risk of getting an infection; and secondly, is he considering other measures to support my constituent, such as statutory sick pay for the self-employed or, indeed, council tax relief?
I say to the hon. Lady that I think the measures today on mortgage forbearance are significant and welcome, and banks will show flexibility in providing that. In regard to council tax support, we did provide £500 million of hardship funding to local authorities specifically to use and deploy through their local council tax or support systems that already exist to provide extra support to people with their council tax bills.
I welcome the Chancellor’s package, but he will recognise that many of our constituents remain anxious and we look forward to further measures. He rightly mentioned the aviation sector, which could lose many thousands of jobs. At a more local level, bus and coach operators will suffer as a result of people staying home. They provide a vital service to get NHS workers, for example, to and from work. Could he have a word with his colleague in the Department for Transport and ensure that bus operators are looked after?
I have already mentioned looking at the Denmark scheme and indeed the German scheme. The point is what we are able to deliver at pace. Other countries have had schemes in place beforehand, which makes it easier for them to do things, and we need to work with what we have got. But the principle of providing support is one that I fully acknowledge, which is why we are working on that at pace. Again, when considering individual measures, it is worth looking at fiscal interventions between this week and last week in the round, which, in the context of any global response, are extremely significant.
I welcome the Chancellor’s statement and have two questions. First, charities and social enterprises, such as Age UK on the Isle of Wight and the West Wight Sports and Community Centre, face significant income cuts and I fear that rate relief will not be enough. Can more be done to support social enterprises? Secondly, my chamber of commerce is concerned about the ability of small businesses, especially tourism businesses, to access the grants and it fears that
“businesses will be closing, and on mass, before money becomes available”.
So can we act as swiftly, quickly and generously as possible?
In the past few weeks, businesses in my constituency, and across Rhondda Cynon Taf, have been devastated by unprecedented flooding and are still trying to recover. Many are faced with the bureaucracy of insurers and are trying to rebuild their livelihoods. They are now faced with the prospect of closing for good because of the loss of business due to coronavirus. What conversations is the Chancellor having with the Welsh Government to secure financial relief for all these businesses in the UK?
The hon. Lady asked about flooding. In last week’s Budget we outlined a variety of packages to help the communities affected by that. First and foremost, there was £120 million to rebuild flood defences that have just been destroyed, as well as £200 million of new resilience funding for communities that are repeatedly flooded and £5.2 billion, which represents a doubling of the amount that we spend every year to build new flood defences. That will protect 300,000 people and it comes on top of the work by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government in activating the Bellwin scheme and providing immediate relief for communities that have been impacted by local flooding.
I welcome the Chancellor’s pledge to do whatever it takes to support businesses, families and individuals, but when will we get the details of support for renters, for the self-employed and for freelancers, and when will businesses that are losing customers day by day get those cash grants in their bank accounts, so that they can pay their staff, keep them employed and pay their rents?
Again, the measures that we took last week to strengthen our security net will benefit those who are self-employed and sole traders. Those with properties that qualify for business rate relief will benefit from that and cash grants will also flow to those people.
This morning in the Treasury Committee, we asked the Chancellor to throw the kitchen sink at the economy and I thank him because he has certainly done that. However, small businesses in my constituency of Kensington have an issue, because most of the business rate relief is funnelled only if the rateable value is under £51,000. But they are suffering in the same way as other businesses. Will the Chancellor look into that?
I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that, as a result of the measures I have taken today, any business in the retail, hospitality and leisure sector, regardless of its rateable value, will now qualify for 100% business rates relief for these next 12 months.
Like colleagues, I spent today talking to businesses in my community. They wanted to know that, when they follow health advice to the letter, and if they keep all their staff on payroll, as they desperately want to, their business will be safe. As a result of the package the Chancellor announced tonight, can I give them that categoric assurance first thing in the morning?
I very much hope that the businesses that are looking at the range of measures outlined today will see that there is significant financial support for them, whether that is business rate holidays, direct cash grants or access to incredibly low-cost and accessible financing. The combination of all those measures, on top of the compensation we will pay to small and medium-sized businesses for statutory sick pay, is a significant direct fiscal support for businesses up and down our country to protect people’s jobs.
Life and the economy on the Isles of Scilly are particularly fragile. To give a quick example, a passenger boat operator who needs to provide a service for the whole of the islands but relies on tourism tells me that he has five weeks left in business. What can the Chancellor do to help businesses and the community on the Isles of Scilly?
I am grateful to the Chancellor for the effort he is putting into these measures. One question that has been raised is about the facility that is being made available for business interruption payments. Can the Chancellor outline what criteria will apply to that facility? Will there be complete access, should it be required, or will businesses have to fulfil criteria that will be assessed? If so, what will be the basis of that assessment—books this week, last week or before any interruption?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. Our ambition is for the criteria to be as flexible and generous as possible. The basic point will be to ensure that a business was sensible and well-traded before coming into the crisis that it now faces. As long as that is the case, the loans should be able to be provided through the banks on the ground, with our guarantee standing behind that.
As always, my right hon. Friend makes a pithy point. He is right to highlight the importance of prompt payment, especially during this time. That is why the Government are taking every step we can to be prompt in our payments and urging all other businesses that can do so to do exactly the same.
Although I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the package he has worked very hard on, sadly, I received a phone call today from one of my employers, whose contract had been cancelled forthwith. He has had to lay off 1,000 people. There will be a lot of very anxious people tonight. Although they are probably entitled to employment and support allowance and universal credit, they will suffer a considerable drop in their wages. I urge the Chancellor to come up with an employment support package as soon as possible.
I thank my hon. Friend for his support. I have sympathy with his constituents in that situation. That is why we strengthened our security and safety net last week, but the best thing we can do is help employers get through this and ensure that those jobs are ready for people to go back to as soon as practically possible.
The reality is that universal credit and statutory sick pay were not generous enough in the best of times, and they certainly are not enough to live on in these worst of times. When the Chancellor comes forward again, will he announce immediate plans to provide income protection for people who suffer loss of earnings, and will he give a tax holiday to freelancers and contractors facing tax bills in July for work that will never materialise in these circumstances?
We have taken steps to strengthen the safety net. On deferring tax payments, that is something that is able to happen through Time To Pay. I urge people to contact Time To Pay. The details are available online. HMRC has 2,000 people standing by to talk to individuals. If tax deferrals are needed, it stands ready to negotiate and agree those.
On behalf of my constituents, I welcome the significant package of financial measures the Government have made available today. Businesses in Ynys Môn, such as Seawake, Gwynedd Shipping and the restaurant Catch 22, have contacted me today, desperate for the Government to take action. Will the Chancellor join me in urging the Welsh Government to make this additional funding available as quickly as possible to small businesses across Wales so they can survive?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of speed in Wales and everywhere else. That is why we have taken steps to make Barnett consequentials available in advance as quickly as we can, so that all devolved authorities can plan and execute their plans expeditiously.
Businesses face collapsing revenues and the biggest part of the Chancellor’s response is to invite them to take on substantially more debt. That will not save people’s jobs. For the Chancellor to compare that £330 billion, which is a guarantee he is making that he may never have to spend, with the package President Macron put together in France is absolutely absurd.
I represent the Peak District, where hotels, restaurants, pubs and the tourism industry in general are absolutely central to the local economy. I therefore welcome the economic measures announced, but people and businesses are struggling right now. So may I urge the Chancellor to make certain that loans and grants are paid and put into people’s bank accounts as soon as possible?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. That is why the steps we are taking are designed to work at pace. Loan schemes will be available from early next week and the Communities Secretary is ensuring that the grant payments are processed as quickly as possible through local authorities in the coming days and weeks.
I have been contacted by my constituent Andy, from Erith and Thamesmead. Businesses like Andy’s collapsed this week. The scrapping of business rates does not help small businesses like Andy’s. Loans of £300 billion do not help small businesses like Andy’s. Will the Chancellor clearly set out how he will help small businesses? Will he personally promise me that he will help my constituent Andy and do whatever it takes to make sure he is properly supported?
We have outlined a package of measures to support small businesses specifically. Indeed, 700,000 of our smallest businesses will now be receiving a £10,000 grant. I suggest that the hon. Lady’s constituent Andy contacts his local authority for further support, either on business rates or local council tax support, where we are injecting an extra half a billion pounds into the system.
I declare my interest as a member of Kettering Borough Council. I commend the Chancellor for coming up with a £350 billion business support package in record time. That will be welcomed by many small businesses in Kettering. Billing authorities such as Kettering Borough Council are already at their busiest time of year, sending out council tax bills. Can the Chancellor explain what role they will play in getting business support to local businesses and what extra support they will get to enable that to happen?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He is right to highlight the capacity of local authorities to execute this plan. The Communities Secretary is working closely with them and they will be provided with extra resource funding to deal with the extra administration they will now have to undertake on our behalf. But I know and have confidence that they will do that job extremely well.
Members on both sides of the House are demonstrating that there are gaps in terms of not only the provision that has been announced but the urgency required to address the issue. May I therefore return to the issue of a universal basic income, or a series of flat payments to people? Would that not be a much more efficient and effective way of helping people in the immediate term, with the proviso that money can be clawed back through the tax system in due course?
I believe our approach represents a sensible, coherent, co-ordinated and comprehensive way to tackle the problem. We have a range of targeted measures, each of which will make a significant difference to those on the ground, but as I said, we stand ready to do more and are indeed actively doing extra things.
I warmly welcome the enormous package of measures outlined by the Chancellor. This morning, I spoke to Energy Generator Hire in Kimble Wick in my constituency, which has lost most of its order book and is uncertain about the future. Can he confirm whether event hire companies are included in the envelope of leisure and hospitality?
Those that have business properties will be eligible both for the relief and the grant, which will cover a significant number of events companies that have premises. Obviously, if they do not have premises, they will not qualify for business rates relief, but should be eligible for some of the other measures that I have outlined today.
The failure of the Chancellor to mention private renters in his statement was a grave error, because many of those private renters are the same precarious workers in hospitality, the arts and culture and other industries who are being laid off today. Will he guarantee that no one will lose their home as a consequence of coronavirus?
The Housing Secretary will urgently and soon bring forward measures to protect renters. The hon. Lady is right to highlight the importance of that, and that is why we will be acting in short order.
I commend the Chancellor for coming forward with such a comprehensive range of support. If he is to use the benefits system to support those ineligible for sick pay, I urge him to take on board the concerns raised by Stephen Timms about the fundamental flaw with universal credit. I also highlight the vital work that food banks, citizens advice and local churches will be doing in the coming weeks. He should ensure that they get the right support for that.
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of our voluntary sector, particularly at this time, and the vital role that it will play. It is right that it gets our support. The Communities Secretary is actively engaging with it and I stand ready to do more as needed.
What measures will the Government take to ensure that landlords who benefit from mortgage holidays do not profit from the crisis by having their pockets lined by tenants still expected to pay their rent?
This is a huge step to support jobs. Speed is of the essence, so will the Chancellor confirm when the business interruption loans will be available and how quickly applications will be processed? Will he also confirm that the Communities Secretary’s package will cover renters, the self-employed, nurseries, community groups, kindergartens and charities so that all the people in those sectors will be reassured as well?
My hon. Friend is right that speed is of the essence. The loan programme will be available from early next week. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is doing an excellent job working with the banks to make sure that those applications will be processed at speed, so businesses that need that support will get it quickly.
The amount of money announced for the loan guarantee scheme is a massive sum, but will businesses want to be saddled with debt when they have no income and no means of paying it back? Previous loan schemes were poorly taken up because the banks ignored the guarantee part of the scheme, so how will the Chancellor make sure that the loan guarantee scheme is delivered by the banks at the scale and speed needed?
I thank the hon. Member for the thoughtful question. He is right to ask about that particular point. He will be pleased to know that, compared with previous loan guarantee schemes, the generosity of the Government guarantees is significantly increased to provide a strong incentive for the banks to provide that lending. We have spoken to all the banks individually specifically on this measure and have their assurance that they will work at pace to deliver it. As a result of our entreaties, they have also unilaterally unlocked £21 billion of their own extra lending capacity to provide to the sector, so I am confident that they will deliver as required.
Many businesses depend on not the public or other businesses, but the state itself, through contracts with different parts of the public sector. Many such contracts are on a payment-by-results basis, so they are paid according to outcomes that might no longer be possible, given the situation. Will the Chancellor work with other parts of Government to ensure that the state’s contracts, particularly with social enterprises, charities and social businesses, can be flexed to ensure that those important businesses stay afloat?
If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I do not have a precise answer for her at this moment, but I will look into the matter as soon as I am done and write to her.
A firm in the hospitality sector has written to me to say that tomorrow it must lay off 200 workers and halve the pay of 100 more, because bookings are close to zero and it cannot cover the wage bill. How much longer should it hold off?
Hopefully it will benefit today from the significant measures that have been put in place to provide forward business rate relief and immediate cash support through grants. That should provide the business with some reassurance that help is on its way to enable it to protect jobs, with more to come.
Yesterday a constituent of mine was laid off from his employment, along with 50 colleagues. He described how he watched the company’s owners trying to hold back tears as they let go people who have worked for them for decades. Why will the Chancellor not cut off this problem at the root by providing to British businesses the same reassurance that President Macron has provided to French businesses: that no business will go bankrupt?
As I have already said, the French Government announced €300 billion of loan guarantees yesterday. We have gone a step further with £330 of loan guarantees, equivalent to 15% of our GDP, to provide the same level of support. Beyond that, the fiscal measures that we have taken between last week and today are comparable in scale to those undertaken by any major economy.
The measures announced today, whether the loan or other guarantee schemes, will be of significant support to those businesses, and the measures we announced last week will also help the employees. As I have said previously, we are looking at more measures in all areas, and I will update the House at things develop.
As previously discussed, depending on people’s particular employment circumstances, they might well be eligible for statutory sick pay even though they are self-employed or in the gig economy. We have already taken measures to ensure that they are eligible for those benefits and for employment and support allowance from day one, rather than day four and day eight respectively, and we have further strengthened the safety net with an investment of £1 billion.
Hundreds upon hundreds of aviation workers in my constituency were sent home today. Coronavirus has devastated the airline industry. Because they had less than three years’ experience, 21 days’ pay is all they get, with no prospect of a job going forward. Can the Chancellor give us more information on the aviation package that he has announced tonight?
We are in active dialogue with the key companies in the sector, both airlines and airports, to discuss what specific support might be required. In the circumstances, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the measures that individual companies might want to engage with us on, but the hon. Gentleman can rest assured that we are working hard for the industry.
Given the acceleration of the virus and the collapse of the aviation industry, which means that there is no prospect of any deportation charter flights leaving the UK, and given that there is no testing, it seems inhumane and unjustified to continue to raid the homes of my constituents, especially those who have underlying health conditions or are self-isolating, and put them into detention centres indefinitely, at great expense and in poorly sanitised conditions. That puts the lives of my constituents in danger and violates their human rights. Detentions and deportations by charter flight are barbaric and costly. The outbreak of covid-19 further underlines their cruelty and expense. Will the Chancellor urge the Home Secretary to end them immediately?
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is doing an excellent job, making sure that our borders are secure and that we enforce our laws as required, but in a way that is humane and compatible with all human rights. I am sure that she will do exactly that as we go through the challenging next few months.
The Chancellor will be aware that in certain business sectors, the loss of just one or two people in specialised roles from an organisation can bring down a business. France and Italy are reviving the approach adopted in a global financial crash of supporting workers with a proportion of their wages. Will the Chancellor do the same here?
As I have said, we are considering employment support packages and what can be designed and implemented at pace. As for other countries, let me again put it on record that the fiscal interventions we have undertaken are comparable in size with those of any other major developed economy.
There is huge fear, and also confusion, among my constituents this evening about a range of issues: whether measures will apply to start-ups, what will happen to VAT on advance sales, the position of businesses in the hospital supply chain, and what will happen if a freelancer cannot work because he or she must look after a family member who has been sent home. May I suggest to the Chancellor that local authorities will not have the capacity to deal with all those queries while they are doing many other things, including delivering vital services? It would be very helpful if a dedicated MP hotline could be set up to deal with such questions, so that we could go to one Government location to help our constituents.
If those businesses are already receiving small business rate relief, that will be known to the local authorities, which will shortly be writing to them to request their financial details so that they can process the grant payments. If businesses have not heard in short order, they can get in touch with their local authorities.
Food banks are used by 1.6 million people, 250,000 more than the number indicated by the previous year’s data, and the demand will increase. Food banks rely on the surplus from supermarkets, and on people’s food donations. What is the Chancellor’s contingency plan to address this very serious issue?
The Chancellor needs to be more than a desiccated calculating machine. When he answers questions, we need to hear talk about people, not just packages. Will he look at early-day motion 302, which I tabled and which advocates a universal basic income—particularly for freelancers and the self-employed—as a temporary measure during this crisis, and will he pledge to return to the House, rather than just making an announcement through the press, to tell us what he is going to do about these employment measures?
The hon. Gentleman talks about packages to support business. They are not divorced from people’s circumstances; they are directly helping people’s circumstances. The way to help people is to secure their employment, now and in the future, and that is what these packages are designed to do, which is why they will make a real difference to people on the ground.
The Chancellor is already late with support for aviation. Airlines, airports, and support services such as baggage handlers have already announced, or are strongly considering announcing, significant job cuts. Can the Chancellor reassure them that they do not need to do that, and that he will follow other Governments such as that of New Zealand, which announced £35 billion worth of direct wage subsidies to keep not just those jobs but all jobs safe?
We have announced our own range of fiscal measures to help businesses to protect jobs, with particular reference to the airline industry. As I have said, my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary and I are actively engaging with the companies and the airports in that sector to establish what support is required.
A lot of my constituents work in the events and leisure industry; many are self-employed freelancers. I spoke to one today, who told me that she earns a large proportion of her annual income during the summer event and festival season. She is going to lose that this year. Given that it could be another year before she is able to get back on her feet, can I urge the Chancellor to come back with a package of support for people like her—ideally grant support, a long-term package for individuals in that sector?
Those in the leisure and hospitality and the retail sectors are of course particularly impacted by what we are experiencing, which is why the package of measures announced today builds on what was announced last week and goes to the heart of that industry to provide direct cash support and business rate relief. The measures we announced last week also provide support to those who are self-employed.
I, like many others in this House, have been contacted by constituents who are extremely anxious and worried about the uncertainty and disruption in the months ahead. This includes constituents who are self-isolating, especially those who are expected to self-isolate for extended periods, who may face loneliness and other mental health challenges. Is the Chancellor planning to allocate any funding to address this?
I very much appreciate people’s anxiety at this difficult time. With regard to those who are self-isolating, we have already made changes to our welfare system to ensure that those people qualify for the support that they deserve. With regard to public services support, as I have said, the Communities Secretary and the Health Secretary are actively engaging with those sectors to understand whether there is extra support that is required.
The reality is that for businesses and workers this crisis is going to last for many months. Has the Chancellor considered a much more interventionist microeconomic policy? For instance, has he thought about repurposing the businesses shutting now—hotels, restaurants, music venues, theatres—as infection rates rapidly rise?
That would be a question for my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary, who is actively engaged in making sure that we can increase the capacity of our health service to cope with the next few months and is considering a range of measures, but we will do whatever it takes to make sure that we have the capacity we need to help those who fall sick at this time.
The Government effectively discouraged UK citizens from entering sectors of the economy that traditionally offer low-paid and precarious employment. Is it the Chancellor’s intention, when he talks to trade unions and business over the next few days, to enter into those discussions with the principle that the wages of those who jobs are under threat, whose shifts have been cancelled and whose hours have been cut will be protected?
The Government telling people not to visit those places, or to hold back from them, was based on the advice of scientists and medical experts to ensure that our health as a country is protected. The measures we announced today directly go to help those in those industries to protect those jobs. As I said, we will work urgently with the unions and businesses to see what further measures can be put in place.
Many decisions the Government have taken on isolation, at-risk groups and testing limit the ability of NHS staff to go to work. It is easy to say, “Whatever it takes,” but how can we be sure that our hospitals in particular have the resources to save every life that can be saved?
Of course, we take the advice of the chief medical officer in this regard and we will continue to do so. We have been absolutely clear that the NHS will get whatever support financially it needs from the Government to help get us through what will be a very challenging time. We are considering all measures to increase the capacity of the NHS to respond to this, and indeed provide the support to those on the frontline who are going to deal with a very difficult few months.
I obviously welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to making sure that jobs are saved and that people can stay in work, but I wonder whether he agrees that by structuring his package around loans rather than grants, he actually loses some control over what the money is spent on. Therefore, he cannot be certain that the money is going to be spent most effectively in pursuit of this objective.
It is not just loans; it is loans and grants and tax relief on business rates, as well as deferral of tax payments through time to pay and reimbursement for statutory sick pay. Across the piece, it is a series of different interventions, all of which will be effective at doing one fundamental thing: improving the cash flow in the short term of businesses to help them bridge through what will be a temporary dislocation, so that they can emerge on the other side and we do not lose for the long term that productive capacity and lose those jobs.
Making announcements is one thing, but, to use the Chancellor’s words, operationalising at speed is quite another, so can he be more precise about the resources available for the civil service and local councils? A simple example—a Canadian nurse phoned my office today so frustrated that she cannot help the NHS because we cannot sort out the equivalent qualifications. It will be the same for many others, particularly Bangladeshi nurses working in the care sector.
I am happy to take on board the suggestion from the hon. Gentleman. I will raise it with the Health Secretary, who I know is actively looking at ways to bring extra people into the NHS to help respond to this crisis. There is a range of options and flexibilities we should consider. I will make sure that I raise that one with him as well.