LONDON — The British government is digging deeper into its pockets, with plans to extend a nationwide furlough scheme to the end of October and a new program to support garment and agricultural supply chains in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
On Tuesday, Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said employees would continue to receive 80 percent of their wages, up to 2,500 pounds a month, until October, although the government will start asking employers for help as of August when employees begin filtering back to work.
According to the BBC, a quarter of the U.K. workforce, or 7.5 million people, are taking advantage of the furlough scheme, which is costing the government about 14 billion pounds a month.
“We stood behind Britain’s workers and businesses as we came into this crisis, and we will stand behind them as we come through the other side,” Sunak told Members of Parliament on Tuesday. “I’m extending the scheme because I won’t give up on the people who rely on it.”
The furlough program was unveiled in March, after the country effectively shut down due to the outbreak of COVID-19, and was supposed to run until the end of June. Given the country won’t start reopening until June 1, at the earliest, it has decided to extend the scheme in a bid to stem potential job losses, and keep the economy afloat until businesses can fully reopen later this year.
As part of the government’s multibillion pound coronavirus aid package, self-employed workers are also eligible to receive up to 80 percent of their profits, while businesses can apply for a variety of loans to tide them over until lockdown ends.
Separately, the U.K. government has also set up COVID-19 Vulnerable Supply Chains Facility via the Department for International Development and the Department for International Trade. It will offer grants and/or technical assistance between 200,000 pounds and 600,000 pounds to garment and agricultural businesses.
According to the government, the support is meant to ensure that vulnerable workers and suppliers outside the U.K. are prepared for the economic and social shocks of COVID-19. Businesses and not-for-profits can apply for technical assistance or funding to help workers on wages, temporary workers and suppliers. Countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq and Zimbabwe are eligible to apply.