Government makes U-turn on national lockdown and furlough extension
After weeks of saying it will not happen, the government plans to return to a national lockdown in England, at the same time extending the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (the furlough) for another month.
The lockdown has to be approved by Parliament but Labour has said it will support the proposal, although the finer details of it have yet to be seen.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are continuing with their own schemes, which have been more restrictive that in England. Northern Ireland's schools re-open on Monday (2 November) mid-way through a four-week national 'circuit breaker' lockdown. Wales continues its 'firebreak' lockdown, and Scotland launches its tiered system of restrictions on Monday.
The furlough scheme (the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme), currently paying 80% of income, which is more generous than the Job Support Scheme that was supposed to replace it from today (1 November), is being extended for a month across the UK. The Job Support Scheme will now start in December when the furlough scheme ends.
Furloughed staff will continue to receive 80% of their salary from the state for hours not worked, up to a maximum of £2,500 a month. The cost to employers of retaining workers will be reduced compared with October as the scheme returns to what was being paid in August, when companies paid employer National Insurance Contributions (NICs) and pension contributions only for the hours employees do not work. Flexible (part-time) furloughing will continue to be allowed in addition to full-time furloughing.
Business premises in England forced to close are to receive grants worth up to £3,000 a month under the Local Restrictions Support Grant. Also, £1.1billion is being given to Local Authorities, distributed on the basis of £20 per head of local population, for one-off payments to enable councils to support businesses more broadly.
To give homeowners peace of mind, mortgage holidays will also no longer end today (1 November).
The national lockdown, announced by the Prime Minister on Saturday night (31 October) and due to start on Thursday (5 November) is unlikely to close building sites or stone companies that supply them this time, as it did earlier in the year. Eventually the government made it clear that lockdown did not mean construction projects should come to a halt and most of the construction industry that had shut resumed work in May and June.
Schools and colleges will also remain open this time.
However, the Health & Safety Executive, which carried out a campaign of visits in October primarily to clamp down on dust, a major cause of industrial disease, had already said it intended to continue its visits in November in order to clamp down on coronavirus compliance.