This article was first printed in the Newbury Weekly News on 24/03/2020. Some information may be out of date.
The Covid-19 crisis is evolving globally at a pace and scale that confirms our worst fears. In the last fortnight we have seen a mortality rate in the UK that mirrors Italy’s with a two-week time lag. That is why the Prime Minister has taken the drastic steps that he announced on Monday.
Everyone is advised to stay at home as much as possible. That means shopping for basic items (food, medicines) as infrequently as possible, venturing out no more than once per day for exercise or if you are volunteering to help the vulnerable. Travel to and from work is permitted but only where the role absolutely cannot be undertaken from home and the Government has published updated guidance as to establishments that must now close: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/further-businesses-and-premises-to-close
Life should not feel normal and I strongly urge my constituents to place staying at home above everything else. We must turn the tide.
This week I attended Parliament to debate the Coronavirus Bill. This is time-limited legislation which gives the Government powers to force the quarantine of infected people, to close schools, to relax recruitment requirements for nurses and social care providers and – grimly – to arrange for the mass disposal of bodies. This is not ordinary legislation. These are not ordinary times.
There is also provision in the Bill for a new form of unpaid statutory leave (and compensation) for people who wish to fill capacity gaps as volunteers. Matt Hancock announced on Tuesday that the NHS was seeking 250,000 volunteers over the weeks ahead. You can sign up here: https://goodsamapp.org/NHS
I thought it would be useful to set out below the measures that the Government has put in place to help:
Help for Businesses
Last Friday the Chancellor announced the Corona Virus Job Retention Scheme. An unprecedented measure to cover 80% of staff wages (up to a maximum of £2,500) while an employee is furloughed, so long as their employer retains them after the crisis. This comes after earlier announcements that all businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors will have business rates waived for the next 12 months. Small businesses in those sectors can access a £10,000 grant, and all businesses can secure a 12-month interest free loan via the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.
Help for the Self-Employed
A relaxation in Universal Credit rules means that anyone who is self-employed can access an amount equivalent to Statutory Sick Pay from Day 1 of their absence without having to attend a job centre. VAT payments have been deferred by three months to June to ease cashflow. However I am well aware that for many this is not enough and I have raised this with the Chancellor directly. A further announcement is expected later in the week.
Help for Households
New legislation will protect renters so that landlords will not be able to evict anyone for a three-month period regardless of whether they have paid their rent. Homeowners will be entitled to a three-month mortgage holiday if they cannot make payments.
There are no easy solutions to this crisis. But the Government is working round-the-clock to support you and asks, in return, that you stay home.