UK govt urged to extend worker support after reopening delay


LONDON — The British government fended off calls Tuesday to provide more financial support to businesses and workers who will suffer financially from its decision to delay the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions in England by four weeks to July 19.

Although many coronavirus restrictions have been eased in recent weeks that’s allowed large parts of the U.K. economy to reopen, a number of businesses, particularly those in the hospitality and entertainment sectors, have not been able to do so because it was not financially viable. After months of planning, those businesses had been preparing to reopen on June 21, the date the government had earmarked for the possible lifting of restrictions on social contact.

However, the recent spike in new infections as a result of the more contagious delta variant that was first identified in India has upended that plan.

“Now is the time to ease off the accelerator, because by being cautious now we have the chance in the next four weeks to save many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more people,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday when announcing the delay.

Following the announcement, unions joined with business leaders to urge the government to compensate those affected by the delay, particularly those in the arts and hospitality industries.

Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said the delay means “many workers and businesses will need more help.” She said the government should delay asking businesses to make contributions beginning in July to the salary support scheme it has had since March 2020.

“We can’t afford for more companies to go the wall, taking good jobs with them,” she said.

And the Confederation of British Industry urged the government to hold back on the planned tapering of tax relief for businesses and extend the commercial rent moratorium for the sectors most impacted. It also said a solution must be found for the hard-pressed international travel sector.

“We must acknowledge the pain felt by businesses in hospitality, leisure and live events,” the CBI’s director-general Tony Danker said. “At best, they’re operating with reduced capacity hitting revenues, and at worst, some aren’t open at all.”

Cabinet Officer minister Michael Gove, a close ally to Johnson, appeared to indicate that no more financial help will be forthcoming, saying that the government’s support programs were predicated on the assumption that there could be delays in the road map out of lockdown.

Gove told Sky News the “worst thing for business” would have been to allow them to open up again and then having to reimpose restrictions. He laid out his hope that the government won’t have to delay reopening again.

“It would require an unprecedented and remarkable alteration in the progress of the disease,” he said.


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