Coronavirus is the “key challenge facing our country”, the Chancellor said, as he announced a package of measures to help tackle the fall-out from the virus.
Rishi Sunak said the outbreak would have a “significant impact” on the UK economy.
But he said the Government was doing everything it can to “keep this country and our people healthy and financially secure”.
“We will protect our country and our people. We will rise to this challenge,” Mr Sunak said.
“Yes, this virus is the key challenge facing our country today, but it is not the only challenge.”
He acknowledged that “there is likely to be a temporary disruption” to the economy, due to a significant proportion of the workforce being off sick, business supply chains being disrupted, and a reduction in consumer spending.
“The combination of those effects will have a significant impact on the UK economy, but it will be temporary,” he said.
“People will return to work, supply chains will return to normal, life will return to normal.
“For a period it is going to be tough, but I’m confident that our economic performance will recover.”
Mr Sunak announced a series of “temporary, timely and targeted” measures to help in the country’s battle against the virus, including:
– A £5 billion Covid-19 Response Fund, to help the NHS, local authorities and other public services.
– A research fund of £40 million for rapid research.
– Statutory Sick Pay will be available to all those asked to self-isolate, from the first day, with part of the sick pay bill for small and medium-sized businesses footed by the Government.
– People will not have to get a sick note from their GP, they will soon be able to get it from NHS 111.
– Measures to make claiming Universal Credit or Contributory Employment and Support Allowance easier for people who are not eligible for Statutory Sick Pay.
– A £500 million hardship fund for local authorities to help support vulnerable people in their areas.
– A new Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan scheme, to support small and medium businesses.
– The Government will increase the Business Rates retail discount to 100% for one year, and expand it to the leisure and hospitality sector.
We are pleased that the NHS and social care are both in the mix for extra emergency funding if requiredCaroline Abrahams, Age UK
– Businesses and self-employed people in financial distress may be eligible to receive support with their tax affairs, through HMRC’s Time To Pay service.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK and co-chairman of the Care Support Alliance, said: “Given the threat posed by the Coronavirus we understand why the Chancellor decided to prioritise strengthening our national resilience, and we are pleased that the NHS and social care are both in the mix for extra emergency funding if required.”
Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, added: “The announcement of hardship funding and business rates support is good news and will be a huge relief to people and businesses who may struggle financially as a result of the coronavirus.
“Keeping older people and those with underlying health conditions safe from the virus will be absolutely crucial.
“Councils have plans in place for every possible scenario, which include looking at how they could best use their staff and mobilise resources to continue supporting the most vulnerable.
“However, a widespread coronavirus epidemic across the country would inevitably have a huge impact on an already-stretched adult social care system.
“We are therefore pleased the Government has pledged a £5 billion fund for NHS and public services coping with the coronavirus, and look forward to seeing the full details.”
Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at the health think tank The King’s Fund, said: “The coronavirus outbreak has understandably altered the Government’s priorities for this Budget, so the extra £5bn announced for the NHS, social care and other public services to support their response to the coronavirus is very welcome.
“As the situation develops the Government will need to keep under review how much funding public services need.”