Britain is considering more targeted measures to help save jobs once its furlough scheme stops at the end of October, foreign minister Dominic Raab said, amid speculation that German-style wage subsidies could be brought in.
Opposition and business leaders have been calling for the scheme to be extended in some form to avoid a cliff-edge effect they fear could put millions out of a job, particularly as new COVID-19 restrictions hamper any economic recovery.
Raab said the programme, officially called the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), would come to an end, but hinted more help could be on the way.
“I don’t think the Chancellor’s minded to wholesale extend the furlough scheme, we are looking at the targeted measures”, Raab told Sky News on Wednesday.
Finance minister Rishi Sunak is said to be considering a wage subsidy similar to the Kurzarbeit system in Germany where government tops up the pay of workers on reduced hours, according to reports in the Financial Times and the Guardian.
Britain announced new restrictions on pub and restaurant opening times on Tuesday after a surge in COVID-19 cases in September and warned that the measures could last for six months.
That prompted warnings from the hospitality industry that more jobs could be lost, while other sectors such as airlines and airports have pleaded for sector-specific packages to help retain staff as the economic impact of the pandemic deepens.
Sunak has said he will be “creative” in finding ways to minimise any future rise in unemployment.
Budget forecasters expect the furlough programme to cost around 54 billion pounds ($70 billion) over its eight-month lifespan. At its peak it supported just under 9 million workers and millions continue to rely on it.
Sunak will keep all measures under review, said Raab, adding that new help for employers through the retention bonus and the kickstart scheme would help avoid a cliff edge.
A YouGov poll found that 78% of people supported the measures already announced, although 45% said Johnson should have gone further while 32% said he had got the restrictions about right.
Britain has the highest COVID-19 death toll in Europe, with a total close to 42,000.
New infections have been accelerating in recent weeks, leading scientists to say they could hit 50,000 per day by mid-October if left unchecked.