By Andy Bruce
LONDON (Reuters) – British finance minister Rishi Sunak will announce on Friday his latest plan to support jobs hit by the expected closure of bars, restaurants and other businesses as the government tries to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The second wave of the coronavirus is threatening to derail Britain’s economic recovery which was already starting to wane, according to official data.
With the government’s main furlough scheme closing at the end of the month and health restrictions tightening by the day, swathes of workers in hospitality, arts and other sectors face unemployment and Sunak has come under pressure to help them.
“The chancellor will be setting out the next stage of the job support scheme later today that will protect jobs and provide a safety net for those businesses that may have to close in the coming weeks and months,” a Treasury spokeswoman said.
There are around 2.5 million jobs in the hospitality sector.
Friday’s official data showed economic output rose by 2.1% in August – less than half the median forecast in a Reuters poll of economists and the slowest increase since the economy began to recover in May from a record slump.
Pubs across England, Wales and Scotland were forced to enact early closing times last month. Scotland’s government has since ordered a 16-day closure of pubs in the country’s two biggest cities starting on Friday.
Sunak’s new jobs plan would subsidise two thirds of the wages of workers in pubs, restaurants and other businesses forced to close, the Times newspaper reported.
“Today’s figures show our economy has grown for 4 consecutive months, but I know that many people are worried about the coming winter months,” Sunak said in a statement.
“Throughout this crisis, my single-focus has been jobs – protecting as many jobs as possible, and providing support for people to find other opportunities where this isn’t possible. This goal remains unchanged.”
The opposition Labour Party said the government had lost control of the virus, harming companies in the process.
“Businesses, which have stepped up to help our country and economy through this pandemic, will face a weekend of uncertainty about whether or not they will be able to stay open,” Labour leader Keir Starmer wrote in the Daily Telegraph.
Sunak’s wage subsidy plan for workers across the economy expires at the end of this month.
It has been credited for slowing a rise in Britain’s official unemployment rate to only 4.1% although more up-to-date tax data have shown that 700,000 jobs have been lost since the pandemic began.
An official survey published this week showed 30% of accommodation and food businesses had low or no confidence they will survive the next three months.
(Writing by William Schomberg, Editing by Paul Sandle and Alison Williams)