Welsh MP calls for furlough scheme for ‘inevitable’ local lockdowns
A Welsh MP has called on the Chancellor to allow businesses caught up in local lockdowns to furlough their staff.
Although the ability to lockdown areas is devolved to Wales, the power to furlough staff is reserved to the UK Government and is expected to end in October.
Ceredigion MP Ben Lake said that there was a danger that people would face a choice between “doing the right thing, and putting enough food on the table” if they are forced to self-isolate in a local lockdowns.
Workers in some other European countries receive 100% of their pay if they are forced to self-isolate, but in the UK self-isolating employees who cannot work will only legally be eligible for £95.85 per week in Statutory Sick Pay.
“We have seen in the last few days that local lockdowns are likely to become the new normal,” Ben Lake, The Plaid Cymru Treasury Spokesperson, said.
“You simply cannot force people into lockdown without the financial support that they need – it is not fair, and more fundamentally it will not work.
“If people are forced to self-isolate and thereby depend on less than £100-a-week in sick pay, many people will face a difficult decision between doing the right thing, and putting enough food on the table for their family.
“Wednesday’s statement marks an opportunity for the Chancellor to address this issue and put in place a targeted, furlough-like scheme to ensure that any local lockdown is effective.
“It is not only the right thing to do by the employees and businesses, it is also essential if local lockdowns are to be effective in containing any outbreaks and safeguarding public health.”
The UK Government said that retailers forced to shut their doors again in Leicester under the local lockdown will be able to re-furlough their staff – if they have used the scheme before.
Number 10 said on Tuesday that the scheme to prevent job losses could still be utilised by businesses affected by the return of strict local lockdown measures to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Leicester became the first place to be placed on local lockdown with non-essential shops being told to once again close, while schools will shut to most pupils from Thursday.
“If employers have used the furlough scheme at any point between March 1 and June 30, which of course many will have, they can re-furlough those employees from July 1,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
“If someone worked in non-essential retail and they have been able to go back to work and that non-essential retail now has to close again they will still be eligible to benefit from the furlough scheme.
“It applies nationwide but obviously it’s a particular circumstance to Leicester and those surrounding conurbations at the moment.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak extended the job retention scheme until the end of October, with employers being told to contribute to the cost from August.
Some 9.3 million workers have been furloughed under the programme, claiming £25.5 billion to cover the salaries of those who cannot work, according to the latest government figures.
PM Boris Johnson acknowledged in his major speech on Tuesday when he set out his recovery plan that “the furloughing cannot go on forever”.
However, he warned that “jobs that many people had in January are also not coming back or at least not in that form”, adding: “And we know that that’s the biggest and most immediate economic challenge that we face.”
Labour shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said it came as “a relief” to learn that employers would be able to re-furlough employees but called for ministers to go further.
“We now need government to adopt this more flexible approach to the furlough scheme as a whole, as well as to the self-employed scheme,” she said.
“It simply does not make sense to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to economic support.
“Many businesses in sectors like hospitality, tourism and the performing arts will simply be unable to deal with the removal in these schemes given their lack of cashflow.”