// Extension of furlough scheme in England should’ve happened earlier, critics say
// Workers on furlough will continue to receive 80% of salaries for the second lockdown period ending Dec 2
// The furlough scheme was initially due to end Oct 31 to be replaced by a less generous Job Support Scheme
The government’s extension of the furlough scheme in England should have happened a long time ago, political and business leaders say.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the government would extend furlough payments at 80 per cent to December and for the duration of the new national lockdown measures.
On Saturday he told a Downing Street press conference that he was sorry about the hardship that businesses have already endured this year.
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“That’s why we are going to extend the furlough system through November,” he said.
“The furlough scheme was a success in the spring and supported people in businesses in a critical time.
“We will not end it, we will extend furlough until December.”
It will have some differences to March in that these measures will be “time-limited”, starting on November 5 and ending on December 2 – the duration of the second lockdown.
This is when the government will seek to “ease restrictions” and go back into the tiered system.
Non-essential retail, leisure and hospitality services will be forced to close, while schools and universities will stay open during the four-week lockdown.
Cafes and restaurants can only operate with takeaway and delivery services.
The government said the extended furlough scheme will see employees receive 80 per cent of their current salary for hours not worked, up to a maximum of £2500.
The scheme was initially due to end on October 31 and be replaced by the less generous Job Support Scheme.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak hoped that the furlough scheme, along with a number of changes to support measures would provide “a vital safety net” for people across the UK who are about to face a tough winter.
Concerns had been raised about the more generous support system ceasing just as the public health situation with Covid entered a second wave of soaring infection rates.
Ministers in Wales, which currently in the middle of a two-week “firebreak” lockdown, immediately questioned why Sunak refused previous requests for the furlough scheme to be extended.
First Minister Mark Drakeford tweeted: “Furlough is crucial for businesses. But Rishi Sunak said he wouldn’t extend it in Wales when we asked.
“He also said no when we asked him to bring forward the Job Support Scheme to help businesses – we even said we’d pay the difference. It’s now clear he could have said yes.”
Regarding the extension of the furlough scheme, Wales’ Counsel General Jeremy Miles tweeted: “This should have been extended a long time ago.
“And if you believe ‘We Stand Together’ – why didn’t you act when it was business and workers in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north of England who were looking for the support?”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said families are being forced to face a “grim winter” because the government did not act decisively sooner.
“The extension of the furlough scheme is long overdue and necessary, but ministers must do more to protect jobs and prevent poverty,” she said.
“Furlough pay must never fall below the national minimum wage.”
She stressed that a boost to Universal Credit is needed and government must not “abandon” the self-employed.
The Treasury also announced that grants worth up to £3000 per month are to be handed out for business premises forced which are to close.
There is also £1.1 billion that will go to local authorities for one-off payments to help them support businesses.
Business grants are also to be made available for firms who have to shut in England due to local or national restrictions.
with PA Wires