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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Confusion and uncertainty haunts the UK Government's response to COVID-19

For a government that only a few months ago had secured a substantial Commons' majority through a clear and focussed campaign featuring message discipline and good communication strategies, the present uncertainty over how to tackle coronavirus is difficult to fathom,

As the Guardian reports, No 10 is facing criticism after a day of widespread confusion over its coronavirus lockdown advice, with a lack of clarity about who is allowed to travel to work, whether couples who live apart can still see each other and what counts as exercise.

As a result, Ministers had to give further guidance on a raft of different scenarios, after people expressed worries about what they were allowed to do and who they could still see:

The biggest confusion occurred over workers still travelling in packed tube trains to non-essential jobs, such as construction, with employees complaining they were being forced to work despite feeling unsafe.

Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, and Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, said construction workers should not be attending their workplaces.

However, the government overruled them, saying employers could still require staff to attend their jobs in person – even though the overarching guidance is for people to “stay at home, where possible”.

Other areas of confusion included:
Meanwhile it is evident on the ground that government support for business has huge holes in it.

Amongst all the grants and business rate relief being put into place, there is no provision for the sole trader operating from home like window cleaners, gardeners, plumbers, electricians etc not all of whom are classed as essential trades. There are large numbers in my ward, many of whom cannot work because of social distancing etc.

If an employee of a small or medium business furloughs their employees then they can claim back 80% of their wages and continue to pay that out. They can also claim a refund on their business rates and other grants.

A sole trader operating from home with just a van and a valued skill, will not be paying business rates, and is not eligible for the grants or the 80% wage. All they can get is universal credit at the level of statutory sick pay. I am told that government recognises this deficit but cannot work out how to address it.

It must be time surely for the government to stop fence-sitting and get these issues sorted.
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