British finance minister Rishi Sunak was forced to offer more financial help on Thursday to businesses grappling with a resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which looks increasingly likely to derail the economic recovery.
Some sectors are now in dire straits. An official survey published earlier on Thursday showed more than a third of hospitality companies say they are at risk of going bust.
Sunak said he would offer a new grant to hospitality businesses worth up to 2,100 pounds ($2,750) per month that can be claimed retrospectively to August.
He also tweaked the Job Support Scheme designed to dissuade businesses from making people redundant and instead keep workers on reduced hours.
Businesses will now have to pay 5 percent of the cost of wages for unworked hours, compared with 33 percent previously, and only need to employ staff for one day a week – 20 percent of normal hours, rather than a third before.
Following criticism that the government had done too little to help self-employed people, Sunak said he would double the next grants for the self-employed from 20 percent to 40 percent of their previous incomes.
His Labour Party opposition counterpart Anneliese Dodds said Sunak had failed to get ahead of the crisis.
“This is becoming like a long-running television show -- ‘The Winter Economy Plan: Series 3’. But you know the twist is, it didn’t last the winter, it didn’t do enough to help the economy, and it wasn’t a plan,” she said.
The head of the Resolution Foundation think-tank, Torsten Bell, said Sunak had done the right thing by expanding help for companies.
“Doing it earlier, given the obvious flaws, would have saved more jobs, but at least we’ve got to the right place 10 days ahead of the Job Support Scheme coming into effect,” Bell said.