A key announcement about the coronavirus furlough scheme will be made tomorrow, Boris Johnson has confirmed.
More than 6million workers are waiting to find out how support for them will carry on after the end of June – in a scheme that costs as much as the NHS.
It comes after millions of people not on the furlough scheme, including in construction and manufacturing, were told to start returning to work from Wednesday in England.
Boris Johnson announced on Sunday night that people who could not work from home would be “actively encouraged” to return to their job.
Guidelines on how to keep workers safe will also be published tonight, the Prime Minister said.
He clarified the position after a major row over when workers would have to go back. Mr Johnson originally said people should return to work from “this week” – leading to chaotic scenes on public transport this morning.
The PM has warned any returning workers to avoid public transport and either walk, cycle or drive – but unions warn many have no other option.
Under the groundbreaking furlough scheme, 6.3million people moved to having up to 80% of their wage paid by the state.
That support – worth up to £2,500 a month for staff unable to work – currently expires at the end of June and will be “wound down”.
The Prime Minister said Chancellor Rishi Sunak will provide an update on the scheme. The time, format and subject is yet to be confirmed.
Boris Johnson’s plan for easing lockdown
Today’s roadmap for easing the Covid-19 lockdown warns: “These measures are extraordinarily costly and cannot be sustained for a prolonged period of time.
“As the UK adjusts the current restrictions, the Government will also need to wind down the economic support measures while people are eased back to work.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has insisted there will be no “cliff edge” end to the furlough scheme.
But reports have suggested support will be cut from 80% to 60% – prompting alarm among workers and unions.
Most workers have not chosen to be furloughed and have been put on the scheme against their will by bosses.
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran today warned there must be clarity ahead of a deadline this Friday.
If clarity does not come by then, she said, many firms could start the process of making workers redundant.
She said: “The Government must, in the next 24 to 48 hours, come forward with their plan for the furlough scheme.
“I am suggesting they keep it in place until September, particularly for the tourism and hospitality industries.
“They should also introduce flexibility, enabling businesses to pay for part-time hours where suitable, with the Government topping up the rest.”
Downing Street has made clear it will “continue to keep it under review” and extend it if needs be. Boris Johnson’s spokesman said on April 24: “It’s our intention to stand by both workers and businesses.”
But speaking to The Observer, business leaders urged the government to announce a “flexible” extension now to give firms security.
Alan Lockey of the RSA think tank warned pulling the plug could see a return to levels of the 1930s, when unemployment hit 3million.
He told the newspaper: “There is an estimated 27% of the entire workforce on furlough, with more than 80% of workers in the hospitality sector affected.
“If those people were made redundant the level of unemployment would rocket to levels not seen since the Great Depression”.
Meanwhile the Chancellor faces anger over his refusal to close a loophole for new starters in the furlough scheme.
Mr Sunak last month bowed to pressure and extended the cut-off date from February 28 to March 19.
But tens of thousands of people who started a new job in March still don’t qualify – because their first payday needs to have been before March 19.
A Treasury spokesman said: “The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is protecting jobs and businesses through this crisis and has already supported millions of workers across the UK.
“Future decisions around the scheme will take into account the wider context of the measures in place, as well as the public health response.
“We have been clear there will be no cliff edge and people will be eased back into work in a measured way.”