Coronavirus: Chancellor’s ‘live without fear’ message not an invitation to break COVID-19 rules, minister says

A minister has denied that the chancellor’s message to “live without fear” during the pandemic was a suggestion people do not have to follow the coronavirus rules.

Rishi Sunak made the remark in the Commons as he set out his “Winter Economy Plan” designed to avert a jobs crisis amid continuing COVID-19 restrictions.

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Asked about the comment in an interview on Sky News – and whether it was a message that Britons should ignore the coronavirus rules – chief secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay said: “Quite the opposite.

“I think what’s very clear from the message the chancellor said we need to address the health risks in order to protect jobs.

“It’s as a consequence of people following the health guidance, adhering to that, that’s also how we enable the economy to recover and we protect as many jobs as possible.

“This false choice that’s sometimes presented between the health needs and the economic needs is wrong.

“They both sit side by side and it’s through taking strong measures to address the virus that we can get the business confidence back into the economy.”

The headline announcement from the chancellor was a new Job Support Scheme, which will replace furlough when it ends next month.

This will see the government “directly support” the wages of people in “viable” jobs working at least a third of their normal hours.

A worker doing a third of their normal hours will still get 77% of their usual pay – 33% from their employer for the hours worked, a 22% top-up from the firm and another 22% from the government (up to a cap of £697.92 a month).

It will start in November and run for six months – with all small and medium-sized businesses eligible for the scheme.

Larger firms will have to prove their profits have been affected by the pandemic in order to utilise it.

The 15% VAT cut for hospitality and tourism – down to 5% – has also been extended until the end of March.

Mr Barclay said the government have been “honest with the public that we will not be able to save, regretfully, every job”.

“There’s a whole range of investment going into the economy in those sectors whilst we protect as many of those jobs that are viable, that people have been protected in initially through the furlough and now through the winter package.

“It is right that we also look at the cost to the wider economy, these measures come at a significant fiscal cost, and that’s why it’s right we target those jobs that are viable during what is going to be sadly a difficult winter.”

But Labour’s shadow business minister Lucy Powell told Sky News that she fears the scheme may not have the intended effect and will still result in “mass redundancies”.

“The cost to employers and the incentive to employers are not good enough,” she said.

“It will be cheaper for an employer to keep somebody on full-time than it would be to keep two people on part-time.

“That’s not really what the scheme is designed to do.”

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the end of the furlough scheme will result in a “dramatic increase” in unemployment.

“We’re going to return to the mass unemployment that we haven’t seen since the early 1980s,” he told Sky News.

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