Over the last week the Government has been focused on restricting the spread of the coronavirus by introducing new social distancing measures and urging people to stay at home as far as possible. The early indications are that this may be starting to slow the rate of new infections of the virus, so whilst this has had a huge impact on our daily lives, it is a worthwhile step.
Many of our local businesses and self-employed people have effectively seen their work cease over the last two weeks, which is why the Government has introduced an unprecedented support package to keep people going until the restrictions can be lifted. This has included more that £330 billion in loans and guarantees to help firms manage their cashflow. As part of this any business with a rateable value of less than £51,000 can now get access to a government grant of up to £25,000. We have also abolished business rates altogether this year for all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses.
Last Thursday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak also announced a new Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. Through this the Government will pay self-employed people a grant worth 80 per cent of their average monthly profits over the last three years, up to £2,500 a month – that’s unlike almost any other country and makes our scheme one of the best funded in the world.
I have been approached by a number of constituents over the last week who are trying to get home from another country but are unable to because of the lack of flights. On Tuesday this week the Government announced that it will commit £75 million with airlines to ensure they keep as many commercial routes open as they can, whilst also chartering flights for countries where there are none, allowing stranded British travellers to return back to the UK safely. People have also been concerned about the financial support for families who receive free school meals, now that the children are at home. The Government have now introduced a new voucher scheme so that every eligible child will receive £15 per week paid to their family. This will be funded by the Department for Education, and the scheme will be administered by the schools.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared that there’s an ‘infodemic’ of disinformation about the coronavirus, spreading rapidly around the world. We have all seen examples of this content being shared in our friends and family networks on social media and through messaging apps. So this week I helped to launch a new service called Infotagion, a free to use, online, independent, fact-checking service for COVID-19. If you see something that doesn’t look right, send us a screenshot or a link to it; you can find out how to do this at the website infotagion.com. Then the team will check the facts against independent, trusted and official sources, like public health services and the WHO. If the key claims made within the messages we see are false or can’t be proven, we will warn people not to share them, using a traffic lighting system. COVID-19 is too important to take risks with unreliable information, and the people who are spreading news about it should be able to back up what they say.