Covid-19 Political Update

By May 29, 2020 June 3rd, 2020 UK

During these unprecedented times, Political Intelligence’s London team is providing its clients with a daily update on key COVID-19 developments, including information on government support schemes they can access, breaking political and parliamentary developments and horizon-scanning of issues as the ‘new’ normal becomes more and more apparent. If you would like any further information on how to receive these updates, please email alex@political-intelligence.com

Sunak outlines changes to the furlough scheme

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, led today’s press conference, alongside Professor Stephen Powis from NHS England.

  • 38,161 people have sadly died, with an increase of 324 deaths since yesterday.
  • More details were provided about the upcoming changes to the Job Retention Scheme with ‘flexible furloughing’ introduced.
    • The scheme will remain open until October, with employers expected to contribute gradually to the payments overtime and employees seeing no difference in the level of support.
    • From August employers will pay national insurance and pension, with the Government continuing to contribute 80%.
    • In September, employers will pay 10% with the Government contributing 70%.
    • In October, employers will pay 20% with the Government contributing 60%.
    • Thereafter the scheme will close.
  • The Flexible Furlough scheme, which will be launched on 1st July – one month ahead of schedule. Employers will have the maximum possible flexibility to decide on arrangements and the Government will continue to pay the furlough for the remaining days of an employee not working. The new scheme means the new applications for the existing scheme will need be made by 10th June as the old scheme will close by June 30th.
  • The Chancellor confirmed that the Self-Employed Income Scheme will be extended with applications opened in August for a second grant. The scheme will work in a similar manner as before but the value of the grant will be 70% of an individual’s average monthly trading profits, capped at £6,750. Beyond this, there will be no changes and no further extensions to the scheme.
  • When responding to journalists, Sunak explained that the Government cannot protect every industry and jobs and that there will be economic hardship ahead as a result of the crisis.
  • The Chancellor was questioned on whether Ministers would consider taking pay cuts, as seen in New Zealand, and the Chancellor outlined that he would look into this.

Track and Trace system hit with technical problems upon launch

Technical problems to the test and trace system prevented clinical staff from using the system on its launch yesterday as they were unable to log in and make calls. Many of the 25,000 tracers hired by the Government were sent log-in details late on Wednesday evening, having previously been told it would not go live until the 1st June, and were unable to log in and start calling people for much of the day. Some of these tracers feel the launch was rushed and brought forward to take the focus away from Dominic Cummings. The Chief Executive of Care England Martin Green also commented that the system threatens to make the care home crisis even worse because care homes are not being prioritised and many carers will be told to self-isolate by tracers because they will have come into contact with those with COVID-19.

In other news:

  • A cross-party group of 114 MPs signed a letter to the Chancellor calling on him to extend the Self Employment Income Support Scheme.
  • 70+ MPs have signed a letter criticising the decision for MPs to return to Parliament next week. The letter explains that many MPs have family members that are shielding and have illnesses such as diabetes which means they are high risk yet are expected to come to work. If MPs followed social distancing rules to vote, the queue would be 1.2km long around the Estate.
  • An Office for National Statistics (ONS) report concluded that seven in ten people who tested positive for COVID-19 did not display symptoms. Social distancing will therefore continue to be important – without which the Track and Trace system could be rendered ineffective.
  • A UCL and Nuffield Trust report has concluded that adult compliance of lockdown rules has fallen to a new low. Among 90,000 adults, total compliance of lockdown rules has fallen from 70% to just over 50%, with this falling to just over 40% in the young adults category.
  • Senior Ministers have urged the Home Secretary to pause her plans to indefinitely impose a two-week quarantine on anyone arriving from abroad. Ministers from the Treasury, Business and Transport Departments believe this measure will damage the UK’s economic recovery from the pandemic, and that it will be difficult to withdraw support to businesses while simultaneously hampering their ability to operate.
  • Number 10 confirmed that police will not have the power to carry out ‘spot checks’ on people’s gardens and private areas to ensure that they are following the new lockdown guidance.
  • EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier has ruled out any deal giving EU boats access to UK waters in return for better conditions for UK financial services in the EU’s Single Market. Fishing is one of the key sticking points of the Brexit negotiations at present, as confirmed by the UK lead negotiator David Frost, and the negotiations have ended this week in deadlock, with both sides sticking to their red lines.

The Premier League will return on the 17th June, with matches to be played in empty stadiums and artificial crowd noise to be pumped into grounds and people’s homes. This move follows Germany and Spain in allowing professional football to return, but differs from France and Netherlands who have already prematurely ended their respective seasons.