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Media captionRishi Sunak: “We have never in peacetime faced an economic fight like this one”

The government is facing questions over whether its £350bn package of measures will be enough to support the UK economy through the coronavirus crisis.

It includes mortgage “holidays” for those in financial difficulty as well as £330bn in loans and £20bn in other aid to protect businesses.

But some MPs, trade bodies and unions said more support was needed sooner, particularly for renters and those working in the so-called gig economy.

It comes as the UK death toll hit 71.

Unveiling the measures at a press conference on Tuesday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to do “whatever it takes” to support the UK economy through a challenge unprecedented in peacetime.

But concerns have been raised over whether the measures do enough to help people including those who have already been made redundant, the self-employed and renters.

The chancellor said the £330bn in loans – equivalent to 15% of GDP – would be available from next week to help businesses pay for supplies, rent and salaries.

Other measures to be put in place include extended business rates relief for all firms in the hospitality sector and funding grants of between £10,000 and £25,000 for small businesses.

Mortgage lenders will also offer a three-month holiday for people in financial difficulty as a result of the virus.

Help for airlines, which have been hit by travel bans and a slump demand, is also being considered.

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Media captionBoris Johnson: “We must act like any wartime government”

Rachel Reeves, Labour chairwoman of the Commons Business Committee, said there was nothing in the chancellor’s announcement to offer financial support to people who were already on statutory sick pay, self-isolating or had been laid off.

And unions raised concerns there were no measures to help freelancers and people working in the gig economy.

Other MPs called for more help for renters – although Mr Sunak said measures would be announced in the “coming days”.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn urged the government to suspend home rental fees and ban evictions of tenants during the coronavirus crisis.

The prime minister is likely to face more questions on the government’s response to the crisis when he appears before MPs in the Commons for Prime Minister’s Questions at 12:00 GMT.

Companies and trade bodies welcomed the financial measures, but said they needed to work through the fine print.

Adam Marshall, chief executive of the British Chambers of Commerce, said the size of the grants and loans were good news for smaller businesses.

“But what’s going to be hugely important is that cash actually gets to the front line and gets there quickly,” he said.

Paul Johnson, director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, said the business rates holiday offered “a substantial level of support” but was “probably not well targeted at saving jobs in those industries”.

“It will remain as expensive to pay people and if demand is down then jobs are likely to go,” he added.

He said it may be necessary to cut employer national insurance contributions, delay increases to the National Living Wage, and increase support for individuals through Universal Credit.

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Image caption The airlines industry is among those to be hit by the virus

The additional measures came after the public were told to avoid all non-essential contact and travel.

By next weekend, those with the most serious health conditions must be “largely shielded from social contact for around 12 weeks”, under the latest government guidance.

Meanwhile, leading scientists at Porton Down, the Ministry of Defence’s highly secure research laboratory in Wiltshire, have been called in to help deal with the spread of coronavirus, the BBC has been told.

A team of about 10 defence scientists at the laboratory are now working with public health officials to analyse the spread of the virus and to help with testing.

The laboratory was also called in to help following the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury.

The number of people who have died with the virus in the UK reached 71 on Tuesday, after a second death was confirmed in Scotland, as well as a second in Wales and a further 14 in England.

The government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said it would be a “good outcome” for the UK if the number of deaths from the virus could be kept below 20,000.

Some 1,950 people have tested positive for the virus in the UK, according to the latest Department of Health figures – but the actual number of cases could be as high as 55,000.

Among the latest confirmed cases is a newborn baby at James Paget hospital in Norfolk.

In other developments:


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