A Budget to counteract "...the issue most on everyone's mind – coronavirus Covid-19"
In a Budget dominated by coronavirus measures the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has acknowledged the gravity of the situation: "I know how worried people are. Worried about their health, the health of their loved ones, their jobs, their income, their businesses, their financial security".
Stating that, "People want to know what's happening, and what can be done to fix it", he proceeded to set out a number of measures to help both individuals and businesses deal with the impact of coronavirus.
He has pledged that:
- Statutory sick pay will be payable from day 1 (rather than the usual entitlement which kicks in on day 4) to those who are absent from work due to coronavirus, or have been advised to self-isolate.
- All those "who are advised to self-isolate" will be entitled to statutory sick pay even if they are not displaying symptoms. Sick notes will be available by contacting NHS 111.
- Business rates will be suspended for a year for firms with a rateable value below £51,000.
- Banks will be given a "temporary coronavirus business interruption loan scheme" to offer loans of up to £1.2 million to support small and medium-sized businesses.
- The government will meet the costs of those off work "due to coronavirus" for businesses with fewer than 250 employees for the first 14 days of sickness.
- Contributory employment and support allowance (ESA) will be able to be claimed from day one, rather than day 8.
- The requirement to physically attend a job centre will be removed and everything will be done either over the phone or online.
In addition the Chancellor has said that millions of people who are self-employed or operating in the gig economy will also need help, and that the government will "make it quicker and easier to get benefits".
From an employment perspective there was little else in the Budget of interest other than the fact that the National Insurance threshold will be raised from £8,632 to £9,500 next month which the Chancellor claims will save "a typical employee £104". Also, the National Living Wage (NLW) is targeted to reach two-thirds of median earnings and be extended to workers aged 21 and over (it is currently only available to those aged 25 and over) by 2024. The Chancellor stated that the NLW is expected to rise to over £10.50 an hour by 2024.
Meanwhile in these times of considerable uncertainty, the Chancellor's measures to counteract the financial effect of coronavirus will be welcomed. The position on sick pay entitlement is now clear, and smaller businesses will be relieved that they will not be left to foot the bill for coronavirus-induced absence alone.
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