Chancellor Rishi Sunak to outline changes to furlough scheme

Harriet Line, Deputy Political Editor, PA

The Chancellor is set to tell employers they will need to contribute to their furloughed workers’ salaries from August as the Government admitted the scheme cannot run “indefinitely”.

Rishi Sunak will use the daily Downing Street press conference to outline changes to the job retention scheme, which has so far covered the wages of 8.4 million staff unable to work during lockdown – costing £15 billion.

Ministers have said they will extend the scheme covering 80% of workers’ salaries up to £2,500 per month until the end of October, with employers expected to make a contribution.

Treasury sources did not deny reports that the Chancellor will ask employers to contribute around 20% of wages, as well as National Insurance and pension contributions from August.

Meanwhile, Mr Sunak is facing calls, including from a cross-party group of 113 MPs, to extend the scheme supporting self-employed workers past Sunday or risk leaving many “without work and without support”.

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It comes after Boris Johnson announced a gradual easing of the lockdown in England, with friends and families able to meet in parks and gardens in socially distanced groups of six from Monday.

The Prime Minister said all five of his tests to move into the next phase had been met, allowing schools to begin reopening and greater contact to be permitted from Monday.

Mr Johnson on Thursday confirmed people will be able to see “both parents at once, or both grandparents at once”, in what he said will be a “long-awaited and joyful moment” for many.

But the PM continues to be dogged by questions over his top aide Dominic Cummings after Durham police said he may have committed “a minor breach” of lockdown rules.

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In Scotland, a gradual relaxation of lockdown begins on Friday with a similar plan to allow outside gatherings, though First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is permitting groups of up to eight people.

Her Welsh counterpart, Mark Drakeford, announced that, from Monday, an unlimited number of people from two different households would be able to meet as long as they do not travel more than five miles.

The easing of restrictions also means the gradual reopening of the economy, with outdoor retail and car showrooms opening in England from Monday ahead of a greater opening of non-essential shops.

Meanwhile:

– Environment Secretary George Eustice confirmed pubs with beer gardens are likely to be the first venues in the hospitality sector to reopen.

– Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance stressed “there is not a lot of room” to ease measures, with new Covid-19 cases still around 8,000 per day.

– The toll of deaths linked to the virus rose to almost 48,000, while at least 189 frontline health and care workers have died after contracting Covid-19.

– Dental practices in England will be able to reopen from June 8.

– People across the nation clapped their appreciation for carers for the 10th successive week, in what the founder of the Clap for Carers event said should be the last.

Mr Eustice said people cannot be furloughed “indefinitely” and ways need to be found to get people safely back to work.

Asked on Sky News whether there will be continued support for the self-employed, he said: “Well obviously it is nearly a month ago now that we said we wanted to reopen those bits of the economy that couldn’t work from home, so we’ve been encouraging the construction industry, for instance, to get back to work.

“A lot of those self-employed professions such as plumbers, electricians and so on, those people are able to return to work now, albeit observing social distancing, but we need to try to start to get bits of the economy back to work.

“Now I don’t know what Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, will say later in terms of self-employed and the furlough scheme for them, but I think there is a general overarching message here that we’ve had a very generous furlough scheme in place to help people through these extraordinary times and to ensure that businesses’ overheads could be covered.”

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Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds called on the Government to provide more financial support to the self-employed and those who will have to self-isolate under the new NHS Test and Trace system.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There’s a worry about the specific self-employed support scheme just abruptly coming to an end but there is also the broader question of the support that people receive when they do stay at home.

“And the availability of statutory sick pay, we’ve debated previously the level of statutory sick pay.

“The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have both made promises that people should not lose out for doing the right thing, they have to be held to that promise in the weeks and months ahead.”