Covid-19: UK workers to get 67% of pay if firms told to shut

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Media captionRishi Sunak: Expansion of Job Support Scheme is a “safety net”

Employees who work for UK firms forced to shut by law because of coronavirus restrictions will get two-thirds of their wages paid for by the government.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said it was an “expansion” of the Job Support Scheme, which begins on 1 November and will be available for six months.

A Treasury source says it could roughly cost hundreds of millions a month.

A restrictions update, which could see pubs and restaurants shut in the worst-affected areas, is expected on Monday.

Labour’s shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said Mr Sunak’s “delay in delivering support has caused unnecessary anxiety and job losses”.

Regional leaders have called for more help for struggling firms.

The support will be reviewed in January. Until November businesses that are asked to close can continue to use the furlough scheme.

The grants will be paid up to a maximum of £2,100 per employee a month and the Treasury said they will protect jobs and enable businesses to reopen quickly once restrictions are lifted.

Announcing the financial support, Mr Sunak said: “I hope that this provides reassurance and a safety net for people and businesses in advance of what may be a difficult winter.”

In addition, for businesses forced to close in England, the chancellor announced an increase in business grants – with up to £3,000 a month paid every fortnight.

The Treasury says the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive increased funding allowing them to bring in similar measures if they choose to.

‘Range of options’

The chancellor described Friday’s announcement as “a very different scheme to what we’ve had before, this is not a universal approach, this is an expansion of the job support scheme specifically for those people who are in businesses that will be formally or legally asked to close”.

The support will only apply to businesses that have to close as a result of government regulations, but as yet it is not clear which firms may have to close.

Asked whether the announcement suggested the government was going to ask businesses, such as those in hospitality, to shut, Mr Sunak said: “The rise in cases and hospital admissions in certain parts of the country is a concern.

“It’s right the government considers a range of options… but it’s also right they engage with local leaders.

“That is what’s happening this afternoon and over the weekend so those conversations can happen and collectively we can decide on the appropriate response.”