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LACA view

19 May 2020


In today’s press conference the Environment Secretary George Eustice announced the launch of a “pick for Britain” website which enables people to check the job availability from agricultural employers across the country. The UK needs to rely on a domestic workforce to pick the harvest this year due to a substantial drop in the number of people coming from overseas to fill these roles. This scheme is of particular relevance to furloughed employees, who can use the scheme to supplement their income and “do their bit”.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey has also stated today that if the UK Government were given the “wrong” scientific advice towards the start of the outbreak, then this will in turn have meant that Government advice was “wrong”. Referring to SAGE informing the Government’s response, she then stated that “you can only make decisions based on the information that you have at the time”.


Official data showing the impact of coronavirus on UK unemployment has been published for the first time today. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that the claimant count, measured through Universal Credit applications, is now at the highest level since 1996 at 2.1m in total. The eye-watering figure is in part down to the 856,500 people who submitted benefit claims in the month of April, the largest monthly leap on record.

Following the release of the figures, the Treasury released their own figures in relation to their measures to protect jobs and support businesses:

  • 464,393 Bounce Back Loans have been approved.
  • 40,564 Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans have been approved.
  • 86 Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loans have now been approved. The maximum loan size available is also being increased from £50m to £200m, subject to restrictions on dividend payments, senior pay and share buy-backs during the period of the loan.
  • 8m jobs have been furloughed.
  • 2m claims have been submitted for the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme.

A new report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies further signals the damage that the job market is enduring. They report that vacancies “have collapsed almost everywhere”, with new job postings on March 25 down 92% and new job postings in the first week of May down 75% on their 2019 levels.

Another think tank, the Resolution Foundation, have also reported that a “U-shaped living standards crisis” is ongoing. It finds that many people are earning less than at the start of the year, with 18-24-year-olds most likely to have had reductions in their income.

International Trade

The Department for International Trade has announced the UK’s new MFN tariff regime – The UK Global Tariff (UKGT). This regime will replace the EU’s Common External Tariff on 1 January 2021 at the end of the Transition Period.

The DIT has stated that the new tariff will be “simpler, easier for businesses to use and reduce cost pressures for consumers”. UK consumers “will benefit from more choice and lower costs” due to the implementation of zero tariffs on a range of goods, including dishwashers, sanitary products, cooking products and Christmas trees; whilst zero tariffs on thermostats, vacuum flasks and LED lamps will “promote a sustainable economy”.

Some tariffs will be maintained for industries such as agriculture, automotive, fishing and ceramics in order to protect UK industry. The DIT has launched a web page to easily look up the new tariff information on all commodities. The tariff will not apply to goods from many developing countries in order to allow them to compete and “reduce poverty through trade”; a full list of these countries can be found here.

Regional Variance and School Re-opening

Liverpool, Hartlepool, Rochdale, Bury and Stockport councils have all told local parents that their primary schools will not be reopening on June 1 due to safety concerns. Newcastle, Sunderland, Wigan and Wakefield councils are also yet to decide whether they will permit schools to open in any capacity at the start of next month.

This local advice goes directly against the Government’s instruction to prepare schools in England for a potential reopening to year 6, year 1 and reception on June 1. DCMS Secretary Oliver Dowden has not ruled out penalising regions if they refuse to reopen schools.

In terms of a regional approach to lifting the lockdown outside of schools, Tony Blair’s think tank, the Institute for Global Change, has released a report which calls for a localised approach to lifting the lockdown and modelling to assess the extent of outbreaks in different parts of the country.

National cohesion, regardless of whether a localised approach is pursued, has been identified as key by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Science and Technology Select Committee. Both have urged all four nations to continue to share scientific advice and work closely together. Gordon Brown has specifically called for closer working between the Scottish and UK Governments on a test, trace and isolate strategy and stated that the Government should change its coronavirus slogan to “get tested”.

The Daily Press Conference

George Eustice, Environment Secretary

  • 2,772,552 people have been tested for coronavirus, an increase of 89,784 on yesterday.
  • 248,818 people have tested positive for coronavirus, an increase of 2,412 on yesterday.
  • 10,025 people are in hospital with coronavirus, down 17% from this time last week.
  • 35,341 people have died in all settings, an increase of 545 on yesterday.
  • We are still in a position to continue moving towards the level 3 Covid Alert in gradual steps.
  • Only about one third of the people that normally come to our country to help with the summer harvest are already here and some may continue to travel.
  • We will need to rely on British workers to help bring the harvest “home”.
  • We have launched a new “pick for Britain” website that enables people, particularly furloughed people, to check job availability from growers and employers.
  • Furloughed people are urged to visit the website if they want to supplement their income and “do their bit”.
  • We are seeking to learn lessons from the approaches of other countries.
  • There will be sectors, such as hospitality and aviation, where it will take longer to get back to normal and the Treasury will be thinking carefully about this.

Angela Mclean, Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser

  • There is some increase in the use of vehicles, but the reduction in the use of public transport has stayed low. This is good news – people are continuing to respect the fact that we must stay at home.
  • In England, there were 639 Covid-19 hospital admissions on 17 May, down from 751 on 10 May. This is not falling as fast as it has been recently, this is a cause to debate as to why this is.
  • Across the UK, 15% of mechanical ventilator beds have been occupied by Covid-19 patients, down from 18% of 11 May.
  • There is a steady decline in the number of confirmed Covid-19 deaths. This allows some sense of relief
  • 41,020 people are suspected to have died in the UK from Covid-19. This includes people who were not tested.
  • We have drawn lessons from South Korea, in terms of contact tracing, and Germany, in terms of testing capacity.

Government Activity

  • Brexit negotiations. Following the third round of negotiations, the Government has published its legal texts which formed the basis of its negotiating position so far.
  • Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove has said that some parts of negotiations with the EU on law enforcement, civil nuclear energy and aviation had progressed well, whereas negotiations on fisheries, governance and the level playing field had not. He accused the EU of pursuing an “ideological approach” and confirmed that the Government remains committed to achieving an agreement with the EU, with a Free Trade Agreement at its core.
  • Travel. The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, has announced plans to create ‘air bridges’ with other countries, allowing British holidaymakers to travel to foreign resorts and return to Britain without entering quarantine if such countries have similar levels of the virus to the UK.
  • Statutory Sick Pay. HMRC has announced that employers will be able to make claims through the Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme from 26 May.
  • Child support. The DfE has announced that low income families with seriously ill or disabled children will benefit from a £37m settlement to help with the cost of equipment, goods or services.

Parliamentary Activity

  • The post-Brexit Immigration Bill passed through the House of Commons last night with a majority of 99. The bill will end free movement and “pave the way” for a new points-based immigration system from 1 January 2021. The Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, stated that the Government’s immigrant salary threshold of £25,600 could tell people that anyone earning less is unskilled and unwelcome in our country.
  • The Science and Technology Committee has evaluated the Government’s coronavirus response and issued 10 recommendations for improvement:
    • Greater transparency is needed about scientific advice.
    • Answers about the UK’s approach to testing are needed.
    • The nations must work closely together.
    • Testing capacity must increase.
    • Deaths of BAME patients must be better recorded.
    • Strategies for managing asymptomatic people must be clearer.
    • Contact-tracing capacity must be urgently built up.
    • Isolation and quarantine must be part of “test, track and trace”.
    • Capacity for making and deploying vaccines must increase.
    • The Government should continue to draw on extensive scientific advice.
  • Chair of the BEIS Committee, Darren Jones, has written to Business Secretary Alok Sharma to press the Government to respond to a series of concerns around safety in shops and workplaces and to outline the powers it intends to introduce to stop profiteering during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Professor David Robertson, Head of Viral Genomics and Bioinformatics at the University of Glasgow, has told the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee that Covid-19 is “so successful” that it will never be eradicated.
  • The union, Prospect, which represents staff working in the Houses of Parliament have announced that they will be resisting plans to end the virtual parliament and bring MPs back to Westminster, citing fears about safety and practicality.
  • During a session of the Health and Social Care Committee on ‘Management of the Coronavirus Outbreak, Professor Martin Green, Chief Executive of Care England told MPs that the focus on the NHS at the beginning of the outbreak drained resources from care homes.
  • Responding to an Urgent Question on Coronavirus and Care Homes, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that 89% of all Covid-19 deaths in the UK were in those aged over 65. He also stated that it was a clinical decision to take patients out of hospital and put them into care homes. 

Health Updates

  • The ONS has published its latest weekly data for the week ending May 8 on deaths in England and Wales. The number of people who have died with coronavirus now stands at 39,071. In the seven days up to May 8 coronavirus deaths fell by more than a third to 3,930.
  • PHE guidance has been issued which states that buildings must flush out their water supply before they reopen in order to stop bacterial growth.
  • First results from human trials of a potential Covid-19 vaccine have produced positive results in a group of 8 volunteers, according to the U.S. pharmaceutical company Moderna. 
  • The Guardian reports that unpublished PHE data shows agency workers on zero-hour contracts were transmitting coronavirus cases between care homes as cases surged.
  • Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said that increased testing in care homes is the only way forward.

Business Developments

  • EasyJet has revealed that the personal details of nine million customers have been accessed by “highly sophisticated” hackers. The data breach was discovered in late January and affected customers are to be notified over the coming days. There is no indication at this stage that any personal information of any nature has been misused. 

Global News

  • G10. The Pound has been the worst-performing major currency this month following concerns about a no-deal Brexit, rumours of negative interest rates and concern about Government debt levels.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to permanently withdraw U.S. funding from the WHO and completely withdraw from the organisation if it does not demonstrate its independence from China in the next 30 days. The President has also told White House reporters that he has been precautionarily taking the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine for the past two weeks; the remedy is unproven in treating Covid-19.
  • EU. Germany and France have agreed to a €500 billion recovery fund that will give grants to member countries worst-hit by the pandemic. Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands have opposed the package.
  • Greece. British holidaymakers will be welcomed to Greece if the UK Government agrees to drop its 14-day quarantine for Greek citizens in return.
  • Mexico. Some local authorities are resisting the President’s call to restart their economies since the peak of the virus is not over yet.

Wider News

  • Thousands of prosecutions for drug, public order, theft and criminal damage offenses are set to be dropped in the UK in an attempt to alleviate pressure on the court system.
  • Socially distanced training has commenced at Premier League clubs.