The UK’s chancellor has extended the government’s job retention scheme until the end of March 2021, as Britain starts its second lockdown and fears of substantial job losses mount.
Rishi Sunak told lawmakers on Thursday that he would be extending the government’s furlough scheme, which gives companies the chance to place employees on a paid, temporary leave of absence, until the end of March 2021.
The scheme, which sees the government paying up to 80 percent of a furloughed employee’s wage, was due to end on October 31 but had been extended to cover the duration of England’s four-week lockdown.
Last week’s announcement that the scheme would be extended for England’s lockdown but not the rest of the UK caused outrage in Scotland and Wales, as only people living in England would be able to benefit from the generous financial support package.
Thursday’s announcement comes after a week of discussion over the duration and focus of the furlough’s extension. Sunak told the Commons that he wanted “to give businesses security through the winter,” adding that “the security we are providing will protect millions of jobs.”
The move is the third change to the government’s Covid support scheme for workers. “It is not a weakness to be agile and fast-moving in the face of a crisis, but rather a strength,” the chancellor claimed.
The scheme, which has benefitted around 9.6 million Britons, was first introduced in March 2020 and has cost the government 40 billion pounds so far.
Sunak’s statement comes after the Bank of England said it would begin a quantitative easing program, injecting more than 150 billion pounds into the UK economy amid fears of a double-dip recession this winter.
Most of the UK population is currently subject to a lockdown due to surging Covid-19 cases, with England entering a four-week lockdown from Thursday until December 2.
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