Leaders in the north of England have slammed the chancellor’s plans for a local furlough scheme as ‘insufficient’, claiming it would disproportionately harm low-paid workers.
Backtracking from plans to cut off the furlough scheme completely, Rishi Sunak announced on Friday that the government will pay two-thirds of the wages of workers whose firms shut over autumn and winter due to local or national coronavirus lockdowns.
But with thousands of workers living under local lockdowns in the north of England – many of whom working in hospitality potentially face a total shutdown of their industry under tougher restrictions – leaders in affected areas have said they “cannot accept” the government’s stance, which they claim falls far short.
At a press conference on Saturday Greater Manchester’s Labour mayor Andy Burnham, speaking alongside leaders from Liverpool, Sheffield and Tyneside, said: “We were told yesterday the financial package that would accompany any new system of restrictions, as announced by the chancellor yesterday afternoon, was final and non-negotiable. And I have to say, we cannot accept that.”
“This package only appeared late in the day, and at the start of the week there was not going to be any financial package at all. Following pressure from mayors and other leaders that changed.
“But the analysis we have done of that package, and we’ve took time to digest what the chancellor had said, the conclusion we have reached is this package is insufficient to protect our communities as we go into the rest of the autumn and the winter.”
From November 1, when the furlough scheme ends, the government will cover 67% of any worker’s salary up to a maximum of £2,100 a month at companies required to close, and they do not have to work any hours to be eligible. The previous scheme covered 80% of a worker’s salary, up to £2,500 a month.
Burnham said the new scheme would hit those on the lowest salaries the hardest, adding: “These people can’t choose to pay two-thirds of their rent or two-thirds of their bills.”
He also suggested the timing of the proposals could leave people without any financial support for several weeks, with some first payments only due in December.
“That would leave people with no money for a period of six weeks and could push them into debt and severe hardship.”
Labour’s Steve Rotheram, mayor of Liverpool city region, said the city was “in the same boat” as others in the north of England.
He said: “We are actually talking about lives and livelihoods.
“Imposing new restrictions without also providing adequate funding and support is simply not acceptable.”
Rotheram said the government should be offering to return to the 80% scheme,
He said: “If 80% was the right benchmark in March, nothing has changed. If it’s right then, it’s right now, adding government “can’t do lockdown on the cheap”.
A further 13,864 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK were reported on Friday, and 87 more deaths were confirmed of people who died within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus.
Nottingham has the highest rate in England, with 760.6 cases per 100,000 people – a huge jump from 158.3 per 100,000 in the seven days to September 29.
Knowsley has the second highest rate, which has leapt from 391.1 to 657.6 per 100,000, while Liverpool is in third place, where the rate has also increased sharply, from 419.0 to 599.9.
Separate figures suggested coronavirus cases are doubling about twice as fast in the North West, Yorkshire and the West Midlands as for the whole of England.