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More than 140,000 companies have asked the government to help pay the wages of more than a million workers on the opening day of its furlough scheme, the chancellor has announced.
Rishi Sunak revealed the scale of the applications received between 8am and 4pm on Monday – the opening day of the government’s job retention scheme, which will see the state paying 80% of workers’ wages.
Sunak said the government scheme would help workers who, “if they hadn’t been furloughed, would be at risk of losing their job”.
Firms that applied on Monday would receive their grants in six working days and HM Revenue and Customs will continue to provide updates on the number of furloughed workers.
The scheme sits alongside other measures to help businesses and the self employed through the coronavirus crisis.
Sunak told the daily Downing Street briefing: “We have never seen an economic crisis like this one.
“Times like this demand that we put aside ideology and orthodoxy.
“Times like this demand that the state turns to its most immediate purpose – the protection and support of its people.
“The goal of the schemes we have developed is to maintain as many people as possible in their existing jobs, to support viable businesses to stay afloat and to protect the incomes of the self-employed to allow them to trade again.
“To maintain, in other words, our economy’s productive capacity so that we can bridge through this crisis.
“That is what we have done.”
The Resolution Foundation said the first day of applications to the scheme would cost £4.2bn.
Dan Tomlinson, an economist at the think tank, said: “The sheer scale of applications for the government’s job retention scheme on its opening day shows just how badly the scheme is needed.
“Without firms having the option to furlough staff, Britain could be facing the prospect of totally unprecedented numbers of people being unemployed.”
Sunak meanwhile revealed that 12,000 business interruption loans have gone out to small businesses with an acceptance rate of 80% to 90%. In total there have been 35,000 applications.
But he rejected calls for the government to guarantee 100% of the loans, rather than 80%, in order to get banks lending more to companies to help keep them afloat.
“I’m not persuaded that moving to a 100% guarantee is the right thing to do,” the chancellor said.
“Some people have made some comparisons with what’s going on in other countries. I think when you look at the totality of what we’re doing it’s more significant in scope and scale than most of those other countries.
“But if people are asking the question ‘would that help speed up delivery of the loans?’ then I’m very sympathetic to that and I also want to see that.”