Boris Johnson has today vowed “not to pull the rug out” on people receiving emergency Covid support, indicating that he will extend the furlough scheme and other measures past April.
Johnson outlined England’s roadmap out of the current Covid lockdown, telling MPs that the easing of lockdown would be a “one way road to freedom”.
The lockdown roadmap will see non-essential retail and hospitality venues for outside patrons open on 12 April.
The Prime Minister said announcements on potential extensions of emergency Covid programmes – including the furlough scheme, VAT cut for leisure and hospitality businesses and the business rates holiday – would be made by Rishi Sunak in his Budget next week.
“People may be concerned about what these changes may mean for the various support packages for livelihoods, for people and the economy,” Johnson said.
“I want to assure the house – we will not pull the rug out.
“For the duration of the pandemic the government will continue to do whatever it takes to protect jobs and livelihoods across the UK.”
The latest lockdown pushed Rishi Sunak to extend the furlough scheme until the end of April, with the government paying 80 per cent of hours not worked.
A series of new cash grants have also been released by the Treasury, along with extensions to the VAT cut for hospitality and tourism businesses until the end of April.
Starmer’s response to a potential furlough extension
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said “it makes no sense” that Johnson did not outline any extensions to existing Covid support today.
“The Prime Minister says the budget will be next week, but there’s nothing stopping him saying today that business rates relief will be extended, that furlough will be extended or that the VAT cut for hospitality and leisure will also be extended,” he said.
“Businesses are crying out for that certainty and the pm should give it to them today.”
British Chambers of Commerce director general Dr Adam Marshall said “the future of thousands of firms and millions of jobs still hangs by a thread”.
The business group wants the furlough scheme to be extended until June.
“Many hard-hit businesses simply don’t have the cash reserves needed to hold out several more months before they are allowed to reopen,” he said.
“Businesses will hold the Prime Minister to his pledge to support firms for the duration of the pandemic, as this gruelling marathon nears its end.”