Political Update – 26th March 2020
• Today, the Chancellor announced a new scheme to help self employed workers during the coronavirus crisis.
• The new scheme will take the form of a taxable grant to self-employed workers worth 80% of average monthly profits over the last three years. It will be capped at £2,500 per month per worker.
• As of 9am on 25 March 2020, a total of 97,019 people have been tested, of which 87,490 were confirmed negative and 9,529 were positive. 463 patients in the UK who tested positive for coronavirus have now sadly passed away.
UK Government Daily Press Conference Comments by Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak
• Sunak repeated that the Government’s plan is to slow the spread of the virus, meaning fewer people will need to go to hospital and the NHS can continue to function. He also stated that the Government have taken unprecedented steps to protect the NHS and that the public should continue to stay at home.
• The Chancellor name-checked employers including BrewDog and Pret A Manger as good examples of businesses being protected by Government.
• Turning to self-employed people, Sunak said he understands the issue they face and that “they have not been forgotten”.
• He announced a new self-employed income support scheme in the form of a taxable grant worth 80% of average monthly profits over the last three years. This will be capped at £2500/month.
• This scheme will be open for at least three months, with a potential extension. He noted that this is one of the most generous schemes in the world.
• The scheme will be open to any individual with trading profits of up to £50,000. Only those already in self-employment will be able to apply. The Government have also extended the amount of time available to submit a tax return, allowing people to
identify as self-employed.
• The Chancellor said that 95% of self-employed people will benefit from the scheme. When asked by a journalist about the remaining 5%, he said that they had an average income of £200,000 and therefore did not need to be covered by the already
• The scheme will be accessible no later than the beginning of June. Eligible people will be contacted directly by HMRC.
• He added that support is available immediately and for everyone in the form of business impact loans and the opening of Universal Credit to a wider group of people. When questioned on Universal Credit, he said that upon application a payment would be made almost immediately, before the usual five-week period it takes for people to become enrolled.
• On a more political note, Sunak said it was harder to justify the different contributions from self-employed people compared to others, noting that in the future this would change. When pressed on this point during questions he said it was right to re-align the economy so that people were both paying in and benefitting by the same amount.
• The Chancellor also stated that local authorities had been given more money to provide “extra help” to vulnerable families.
• The Chancellor closed by saying that what the Government has done will stand as one of the most significant economic interventions in the history of the British state. However, he noted that not every job or business would be saved.
Comments by Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jenny Harries
• During questions, Dr Harries said that employers should stick to the “normal principles” of workplace health, allowing employees to work at home where possible and otherwise continuing with social distancing.
• She declined to predict when a peak in the crisis may come, saying it is too early to see the effect of the measures recently put in place.
• In response to a question on the number of tests available for COVID-19, Dr Harries said that there was unprecedented demand and that supplies were very limited. She also noted that other viruses still needed to be tested for, so the production of tests could not shift entirely to focus on COVID-19.
Coronavirus Bill becomes law
• Before Parliament rose for recess yesterday evening, the Coronavirus Bill passed through the House of Lords and received Royal Assent, becoming law.
• More information is available here. Tax helpline to support businesses affected by coronavirus
• HMRC have announced that they have set up a phone helpline to support businesses and self-employed people concerned about not being able to pay their tax due to coronavirus.
• The helpline, which is staffed by 2,000 individuals, is open between 8am and 4pm.
• More information is available here.
Chancellor gives support to self-employed workers
• As detailed in the above note and in the Chancellor’s speech today, the Government has committed to supporting self-employed workers.
• More information will be published by the Government on the scheme shortly, and will become available here.
• As of 9am on 26th March, there have been 894 positive cases of COVID-19 in Scotland, an increase in 175 from yesterday. There have sadly now been 25 deaths.
First Minister’s Briefing
• First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that the Scottish Government is preparing regulations to enforce social distancing and business closure rules, regulations which will be published and may come into force as early as today. This comes after the Coronavirus Bill received Royal Assent yesterday.
• The First Minister further confirmed that those found in violation of the regulations can be directed to or taken home, can be given an on-the-spot fine, or can ultimately be prosecuted for the offence. Police Scotland will initially take a soft approach to
enforcement but will possess these powers and use them where it is deemed necessary.
• Sturgeon also announced that 1.5 million facemasks have been brought back into use from the NHS Scotland central stockpile to be distributed to staff – these were previously marked as out of date and required independent testing before they could be safely introduced.
• The First Minister welcomed the Chancellor’s forthcoming announcement of additional support for the self-employed, something the Scottish Government has called for, and repeated the message that financial assistance is available through programmes already announced.
• Cabinet Secretary for Health, Jeane Freeman, further confirmed that the Government has taken over the provision and distribution of PPE to Social Care workers and is closely looking at the pipeline for these goods to be effectively supplied.
• Freeman also confirmed that the Scottish Government is looking at creating a central point for volunteers looking to assist the NHS in its operations to offer their services. Information will be available on this shortly.
• Chief Medical Officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, confirmed that there have been discussions with the Armed Forces with regards to establishing temporary hospitals, with work being done on evaluating potential sites.
• Calderwood also confirmed that Scotland remains behind London and other parts of England in terms of the progress of the outbreak, and stated that, given that the suppression measures were therefore applied earlier in relative terms, it is possible that with a high level of compliance the rapid acceleration in cases may not be as rapid in Scotland as it will be in other parts of the UK.
• Public Health Wales have announced that 113 new cases of COVID-19 have now been confirmed in Wales, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 741.
• They have also announced a further 6 deaths in the last 24 hours, meaning that 28 people in Wales have now sadly passed away.
Northern Irish Assembly
• A total of 241 cases of Covid-19 have been recorded as of Thursday, an increase of 32.
• There have sadly now been 10 deaths in Northern Ireland.
Executive Office daily briefing
• Economy Minister, Diane Dodds, has confirmed that a grant payments scheme for small businesses will be launched early next week, which are expected to support 30,000 businesses in Northern Ireland. The Minister stated that initial payment in the Small Business Support Grant Scheme should be made on 31st March, if not earlier.
• Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon, has announced that from tomorrow, Friday, public transport will be free to health and social care workers. Additionally, current service provision will be reduced with strict enforcement of social distancing measures.
Update from Department of Health
• Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly, has confirmed that he has written to Trust chief executives initiating the next phase of emergency health service planning for the response to Covid-19.
• Pengelly advised that plans include prioritising patient care, reconfiguring hospital services, urgently discharging medically fit patients and ending visitations to hospitals.
• The Permanent Secretary also confirmed that Trusts will be maximising space to increase capacity, utilising any spare capacity in residential, nursing and domiciliary care.
Grayling COVID-19 European Briefing
• Grayling is compiling a daily European wide COVID-19 monitoring report, covering all the days political developments across the EU. The briefing is available to view here.