Parliament rose early for Easter recess in an attempt to combat the spread of coronavirus.
On Monday 23rd March, the Government published guidance on staying at home, including the list of businesses and premises expected to close. In an evening press conference, the Prime Minister announced that people will be required to stay at home, unless shopping for essential items such as medicine, taking one form of exercise per day or travelling to and from work when ‘absolutely necessary’. Boris Johnson said police will have the powers to fine people and disperse gatherings. He added that people should not be visiting family members outside of the home and encouraged people to use food delivery services. Johnson said all shops selling non-essential goods will be shut, as well as other premises such as libraries and places of worship. Johnson said all gatherings of more than two people will be banned including weddings, however he did make an exception for funerals. The Prime Minister stated that parks will remain open, but again stressed that any groups congregating in such public spaces will be dispersed should individuals not follow the strict social distancing rules in place.
On Monday evening, MPs also voted in favour of the emergency Coronavirus Bill which passed in both Houses by the end of the week. The Bill proposed new measures that would provide the Government, and various public bodies, with powers to manage the effects of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK.
The Government also announced a package of extra protection for businesses and a ban on evictions for commercial tenants who miss rent payments.
On Tuesday 24th March, Secretary of State for Health of Social Care Matt Hancock MP delivered the Government’s daily briefing via a virtual conference. Mr Hancock announced that the Government is seeking 250,000 ‘NHS volunteer responders’ to help the NHS for shopping, delivery of medicines and to support those who are shielded.
Also on Tuesday, Local Government Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP confirmed the Government’s £500 million Hardship Fund which will provide council tax relief to vulnerable people and households to help those affected most by coronavirus. The Government has set out that the Hardship Fund, which was announced by the Chancellor at Budget, will go to local authorities in England to enable them to reduce the 2020 to 2021 council tax bills of working age people receiving Local Council Tax Support.
On Wednesday 25th March, during Prime Minister’s Question Time, Ben Lake (PC) Ceredigion called on the Prime Minister to support vulnerable rural people who are stuck in self-isolation and unable to secure food delivery slots. Mr Lake highlighted the case of constituents who had been in contact, concerned that they could not get access to food deliveries until 16 April. The couple who had been in touch live in a rural area and are taking ‘shielding’ measures due to underlying health conditions.
On Thursday 26th March, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a new Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, which will allow self-employed people facing financial difficulties to receive 80% of their monthly wages, covered by the Government. This will be calculated using average monthly profits over last three financial years and support will be capped at £2,500 per month. This new scheme will initially last three months and will be available from ‘the beginning of June’ due to the complexity of the system, however it will be backdated until March. In the interim, self-employed workers will be able to apply for universal credit or access local council emergency funds.
Additionally, Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP published a letter which will be send to every UK household this week to urge them to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.
On Sunday 29th, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick MP delivered the Government’s daily briefing, during which he explained that his Department has established Strategic Coordination Centres to ensure that the whole of the UK ‘is on an emergency footing’. These centres will be led by Gold Commanders, and will bring together senior members of the emergency services, the armed forces, local authorities and the NHS. Robert Jenrick also announced that the first food boxes have been delivered to those vulnerable people being shielded from coronavirus as the Government moved to support those most in need.
On Monday 30th, the Government agreed a set of measures with various telecoms companies, to help ‘support vulnerable consumers through COVID-19’. In a joint statement between the Government, Ofcom and the telecommunications industry, they have agreed the following measures:
These commitments have been made in addition to a range of other ‘supportive measures’ offered by individual providers.
Parliament has now risen for Easter recess until 21st April.
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