Chancellor Rishi Sunak has promised to give the NHS “everything it needs” to tackle the ongoing coronavirus outbreak at today’s Budget.
The funding pledge is part of £12bn worth of measures to shore up public services and support individuals and businesses affected by the outbreak.
The Treasury response to the crisis, which Sunak called "brave and bold", includes a £5bn Covid-19 response fund to provide cash to the NHS to treat patients and pay for staff; to local authorities to support vulnerable people in their areas; and to other public services, ensuring they are “prepared and protected”, Sunak said.
“Whether it’s millions of pounds or billions of pounds, whatever it costs, we stand behind our NHS,” Sunak said.
The government will also provide support to businesses affected by the outbreak in the form of both tax breaks and direct grants, Sunak said.
These include increasing the Business Rates retail discount for 100% for a year and extending it to leisure and hospitality companies; increasing the planned rate discount for pubs; and giving small businesses that already benefit from rate relief a £3,000 cash grant to help them meet costs. This comes ahead of a "fundamental review" into the long-term future of business rates, he said, to be included in the autumn Budget.
The British Business Bank will meanwhile launch a scheme for loans of up to £1.2m for businesses affected by the outbreak “in a matter of weeks”.
And the government will refund up to 14 days’ worth of statutory sick pay for employees of businesses with fewer than 250 people, he said.
Sunak said the measures would provide a “bridge for businesses” that take a hit if employees fall ill, supply chains is disrupted or consumer spending goes down.
"Coronavirus will have a significant impact on our economy. But it will be temporary," he said.
"People will return to work, supple chains will return to normal, life will trurn to normal. For a while, it’s going to be tough. But I’m confident our economy will recover."
This comes alongside extra measures to make it easier for individuals to stay home from work if necessary to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Those advise to self-isolate will be eligible for statutory sick pay and will be able to obtain a sick note to show their employers by contacting the NHS 111 helpline, rather than having to visit a doctor.
And in what the chancellor called “an expansion of the UK’s safety net”, the government has relaxed the minimum-income requirement for people to claim Universal Credit or the contributory element of Employment and Support Allowance, so self-employed people affected by Covid-19 who do not usually get sick pay can claim the benefit.
Meanwhile, the Department for Work and Pensions will not require benefit claimants who are self-isolating because of the novel coronavirus strain to attend appointments in person.
These measures come after the prime minister announced emergency legislation last week to ensure people get statutory sick pay on the first day they are absence from work, rather than the fourth day as was previously the case.
The package also includes £40m for the Department of Health and Social Care and the National Institute for Health Research, DHSC’s clinical research arm, to further investigate the disease and increase capacity for diagnostic testing and surveillance by Public Health England. Up to a further £150m will go to the International Monetary Fund’s Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust, to support international efforts to curb the disease’s spread.