New package of emergency measures to help tackle coronavirus outbreak in Budget
The Government will unveil a package of emergency measures to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak in today’s Budget.
New Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been forced to rewrite his statement as a major epidemic heads the UK’s way.
The top Tory has said he will take “whatever action is required” to support the economy through the weeks ahead.
He suggested his financial plan would now focus on the “economic security” of the country.
And he warned that the economy could suffer a “supply shock” if lots of people fall ill.
Official predictions suggest that one in five workers could be off work sick at the peak of the virus.
Mr Sunak has held talks with the Bank of England about the risks ahead, fuelling speculation of coordinated action.
This could include a cut in interest rates from the current base of 0.75% next week.
He could also reassure financial markets by outlining more drastic steps he stands ready to take if growth slows drastically.
But the Chancellor’s allies have played down the prospect of a big fiscal stimulus in the Budget.
Instead they are working on “targeted” support for public services, companies and workers to help them weather the critical months ahead.
Mr Sunak has admitted ministers faced a “huge” task in addressing coronavirus but promised to give the NHS whatever it needed.
But there are already concerns that cash-strapped NHS Trusts may struggle to provide the extra equipment and staffing necessary.
In the short term, the Chancellor is ready to provide emergency cash to help the NHS as it prepares for a possible pandemic.
But some Tories argue that the NHS has already been given a boost under Boris Johnson after years of tight purse strings.
He is also under pressure to confirm public health grants for councils which have not yet been alloted.
Mr Sunak is expected to set out ways the Government could help companies if they are crippled by mass sickness of staff.
Small businesses are hoping for moves which could include delaying when they have to pay tax.
Ministers have already expanded sick pay to the first day people are off sick, down from the fourth day.
But unions say it must go further by applying to the low-waged, self-employed and those in the gig economy who aren’t eligible, who would face significant hardship if they had to stay at home.
Treasury officials have also been examining a temporary reintroduction of the statutory sick pay rebate which would allow smaller firms to claim back some of their costs when they pass a threshold for staff off ill.
Mr Sunak, who has been in office for less than a month, said: “We need to look at what are the interventions that we need to help bridge a difficult period.
“That’s where we might look at some targeted options to help ease the strain on cash flows for a certain period to help them get through to the other side.
“Obviously, alongside the supply shock there will likely be an impact on demand if people are at home.”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: "Hospitals and GPs clearly need an emergency funding package to help them deal with the increased demands on them as a result of coronavirus.
"Our social care services have suffered from years of cuts and elderly people are vulnerable so we need more funding for the sector.
"It's ludicrous and irresponsible that local directors of public health are expected to plan a community health response to the virus but they haven't been given their budgets yet for April."
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