Rishi Sunak expands COVID-19 jobs support grants for UK businesses

Rishi Sunak (Photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images).
Rishi Sunak (Photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images).

UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Thursday (22) announced an expansion of the Job Support Scheme already in place to provide struggling businesses further taxpayer support with wages and additional grants amid the lockdown measures brought in to tackle the second wave of the pandemic.

In recognition of the “challenging times” ahead, the finance minister laid out the new measures in the House of Commons targeted mainly at the areas of England currently under Tier 2 high alert level, which means businesses can open but restrictions on movement and gathering make it extremely difficult for them to operate.

“I know that the introduction of further restrictions has left many people worried for themselves, their families and communities. I hope the government’s stepped-up support can be part of the country pulling together in the coming months,” said Sunak.

“I’ve always said that we must be ready to adapt our financial support as the situation evolves, and that is what we are doing today. These changes mean that our support will reach many more people and protect many more jobs,” he said.

The Job Support Scheme, which is set to come into effect on November 1, involves employers paying a third of their employees’ wages for hours not worked, and requiring employers to be working 33 per cent of their normal hours.

The announcement on Thursday reduces the employer contribution to those unworked hours to 5 per cent, and reduces the minimum hours requirements to 20 per cent, so those working just one day a week will be eligible.

That means that if someone was being paid £587 for their unworked hours, the government would be contributing £543 and their employer only £44.

Employers will continue to receive the £1,000 Job Retention Bonus. A separate, Job Support Scheme Closed, for businesses legally required to close remains unchanged.

“So businesses that are not closed but face higher restrictions – in places like Liverpool, Lancashire, South Yorkshire and Greater Manchester as well as the devolved nations – will be able to access greater support,” Sunak told MPs.

“It is clear that even businesses that can stay open are facing profound uncertainty. This is our plan. A plan for jobs, for businesses, for the regions, for the economy, for the country. A plan to support the British people,” he said, in reference to the reasons behind Thursday’s update to the Winter Economy Plan he had tabled in Parliament last month.

As part of the latest changes, additional funding to support cash grants of up to £2,100 per month is being put in place primarily for businesses in the hospitality, accommodation and leisure sector who may be adversely impacted by the restrictions in high-alert level areas.

These grants will be available retrospectively for areas who have already been subject to restrictions and come on top of higher levels of additional business support for local authorities moving into Tier 3, or the very highest alert level which involves a complete shutdown.

For people who are registered as self-employed, the amount of profits covered by the two forthcoming self-employed grants is being increased from 20 per cent to 40 per cent, meaning the maximum grant will increase from £1,875 to £3,750.

The UK Treasury department said that this is a potential further £3.1 billion of support to the self-employed through November to January 2021 alone, with a further grant to follow covering February to April.