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Sunak calls for speedier lifting of lockdown

Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak: questioning policy

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is putting pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lift the lockdown more quickly as he calls for firms to start paying at least a fifth of furlough wages.

Sources say that in a conversation with Tory MPs Mr Sunak expressed his concern at the damage being done to a number of sectors and how much the taxpayer could be expected to prop up the economy.

The Treasury borrowed £62.1bn in April, the biggest single monthly figure in history, as tax revenues crashed and spending surged.

He is said to be questioning the government’s response to some of the scientific advice and feels that Britain may be taking too cautious an approach, the FT reports.

Mr Johnson has already been criticised by some for easing restrictions and dropping the Stay Home slogan in favour of Stay Alert.

However, the Prime Minister, who fell victim to the virus himself, has insisted on a gradual approach.

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In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon’s government is being even more cautious, with freedom of movement more restricted than in England and businesses expected to reopen later.

Mr Sunak is also said to want businesses to pay at least a fifth of the wages of furloughed workers in coming months.

The scheme will be extended from June to October and companies will be asked to “start sharing” the cost from the start of August.

The Times reports that the Treasury has devised a scheme which would see employers cover between 20% and 30% of a worker’s wage.

The plans would also see firms paying national insurance contributions, which are approximately 5% of people’s wages.

The furlough scheme – which pays 80 per cent of a worker’s salary up to a £2,500 monthly cap – currently supports around 7.5 million jobs., but there have been reports of abuse, with companies asking furloughed staff to continue working.

Anneliese Dodds MP, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, said: “Labour called for the furlough scheme to be introduced and it’s been a lifeline for workers and businesses. Whilst the furlough scheme cannot continue indefinitely, that lifeline can’t simply be pulled away. 

Study questions lockdown

A study by Imperial College London, led by Professor Neil Ferguson, warned in March as many as half a million people could die in the UK if a strict lockdown wasn’t enforced.

However, Professor Sunetra Gupta and her team at Oxford produced an alternative model, suggesting that half of all Brits could have already been exposed to Covid-19 and that the true infection fatality rate may be as low as 0.1%.

The study was controversial, but two months on, the scientist stands by the findings.

She said: “I think there’s a chance we might have done better by doing nothing at all, or at least by doing something different, which would have been to pay attention to protecting the vulnerable.”

See also

Seven Scots hotels and Shearings cease trading

Travellers face 14-day quarantine or £1,000 fine

Stewart resists pressure to let housing sites restart

Comment: Sturgeon must avoid a deluge of job losses

Comment: Business left frustrated amid the known unknowns

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