George Eustice calls for workers to get off furlough and return to jobs as Rishi Sunak set to unveil changes to scheme

JOE MURPHY, NIcholas Cecil
Jeremy Selwyn / Evening Standard / eyevine

A senior Cabinet minister today issued a call to “get back to work” and to begin reviving Britain’s battered economy.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said workers cannot depend “indefinitely” on state-funded furloughing or cash assistance for the self-employed and many could “return to work now, albeit observing social distancing”.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak was due to unveil changes to the popular furloughing scheme, the costs of which are forecast to balloon to £80 billion over eight months unless reined in. Mr Sunak was expected to taper the taxpayer contribution to the scheme, making employers pay about 20 per cent of an employee’s salary.

He said today: “What we’ve got to do now is to kickstart the economy and help businesses kick on — so the extension of the support for a full eight months, and a modest contribution from employers, will help them ease back to a new normal.”

MPs were hoping Mr Sunak would extend a scheme for self-employed people, which currently pays a lump sum equivalent to 80 per cent of three-months’ income.

Asked on Sky News if there would be continued support for the self-employed, Mr Eustice said: “A lot of those self-employed professions such as plumbers, electricians and so on ... are able to return to work now, albeit observing social distancing, but we need to try to start to get bits of the economy back to work.”

He said the Government would reveal a “series of steps” next month to “try to get people back to work”. “We need to start identifying ways of moving them off the furlough schemes.”

He confirmed pubs with beer gardens were likely to be the first venues in the hospitality sector to reopen , but cinemas and theatres would be among the last.

Derek Cribb, chief executive of the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed, warned that a lot of the workforce could face a choice of either putting themselves, and customers, at risk by restarting while there was still a pandemic or potentially losing their business.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds told Today that support should be extended for those unable to work due to coronavirus restrictions.

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