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Some big changes to furlough rules are coming from this week

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Alex Watson

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The furlough scheme helped cover the wages of 8.4 million people in the UK, but the rules are set to change this week.

The government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been a huge part of the coronavirus pandemic, and most of us will at least know some people currently on furlough.

It’s estimated that furlough has now paid for 8.4 million people’s wages, costing the government £15 billion. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced that the scheme – set to end on October 31st – will have a series of changes to wind it down.

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From Wednesday, July 1st, employers can bring furloughed employees back to work for any amount of time and on any shift pattern, with the retention scheme grant paying for the hours not worked. 

Then from August 1st, companies will be expected to pay employer national insurance and pension contributions and the level of the furlough grant will be reduced each month.

In September, the government will pay 70% of wages up to a cap of £2,187.50 for the hours the employee is on furlough.

Companies will have to pay NIC and pension contributions to top up the wages of those on furlough to ensure they are still receiving 80% of their wage. This will still be capped at £2,500 for the time they are furloughed. 

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In October, the government will pay 60% of wages, capped at £1,875 for the hours the employee is on furlough.

And again, employers will be expected to make their employees wages up to 80%, to a cap of £2,500, and pay NIC and pension contributions. 

Despite the furlough scheme proving many people with a huge support system, many people have expressed concerns regarding the impending recession and what this means for unemployment.

The Prime Minister has reported that the government will spend on infrastructure to ‘build our way back to health’.

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“If Covid was a lightning flash, we’re about to have the thunderclap of the economic consequences,” he said.

“We’re going to make sure that we have plans to help people whose old jobs are not there any more to get the opportunities they need.”

Spending on infrastructure could give some immediate ‘payback’ by increasing the number of people in work and the ‘amount of demand’ in the economy in the short term, according to the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Paul Johnson. 

Johnson warned that the UK could return to ‘levels of unemployment we haven’t actually seen for decades’ if money is spent by the government in the wrong way, or done too quickly, adding it could result in ‘low-quality infrastructure projects which don’t pay for themselves’.

The Labour Party has commissioned an analysis of the potential unemployment levels, which could tip past the highest rate of 3.3 million that was seen under Margaret Thatcher’s government.  

Many economists have warned that the full effects coronavirus will have on employment won’t be felt until the wage support scheme completely ends. 

The Mayor of London has called upon the government to extend ‘the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme beyond the end of lockdown’, he Tweeted. 

Adding: “or else risk unemployment, poverty and homelessness across the capital. This is urgent. The Govt must act.” 

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Families to be able to visit elderly relatives in care homes soon, Health Secretary says

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Alex Watson

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock told ITV News the government will be reopening care homes for visits again soon. 

Since mid-March, visiting in care homes has been banned keeping thousands of people away from their elderly relatives for almost four months. Leading charities have said the mental and physical health of residents is suffering due to ‘enforced separation’. 

Mr Hancock told ITV News on Thursday: “We’ve been very very careful to ensure that visitors don’t bring coronavirus back into a care home but in the next few days we will be setting out how COVID secure visiting can happen in care homes.

“How we can have more visits of loved ones in a way that is very careful and in a way that keeps care homes safe.”

He added: “I very much hope that in the next few days we’ll be able to make this change. We’ve got to make sure it works for each local area but I hope we can make that change very soon.”

During the conversation, Hancock refused to apologise for Boris Johnson’s claims that care homes were at fault for coronavirus deaths. Hancock did say that social care workers had gone to ‘extraordinary lengths’ to keep people safe throughout the pandemic. 

Hancock also appeared to suggest that he would lobby for a pay rise. 

Regarding a second wave, the Health Secretary said: “Well I very much hope there won’t be one. People talk about the second wave as if its something that is inevitable.”

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Hancock reflected on the worst moment of the pandemic saying: “The hardest time without a doubt was after we’d brought in the lockdown, when the numbers were still going up, and we knew that the impact of the lockdown would have an impact in a couple of weeks’ time but we didn’t know how much of an impact.”

The update on care home visits comes as leading charities join forces to call on the government to allow relatives of dementia patients to be treated as key workers. 

The BBC reports that Dementia UK and Alzheimer’s Society have signed a letter to the Health Secretary calling on visits to resume safely and relatives to be given ‘key worker’ access to care homes and coronavirus testing. 

During the pandemic, there have been 5,404 excess deaths, which is a 52.5% increase compared with the five-year average in people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in England and Wales, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

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Prof Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England, said a balance needed to be struck between allowing family visits and protecting care home residents from further coronavirus outbreaks.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Families are a really important part of care delivery but at the same time you have to be really, really cautious because, as people know, care homes have been really badly affected during this pandemic.

“People living in care homes are probably at the highest risk, so if there is an outbreak of Covid-19, it has serious and very tragic consequences, so I think we have to balance the need for people to engage with their relatives and families but also we have a responsibility for the protection and safety of the people in care homes.”

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Everything you need to know about gyms, swimming pools and beauty salons reopening

Here’s what you need to know…

Alex Watson

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The government has announced that leisure facilities and beauty services in England will be allowed to reopen this month.

The latest updates to lockdown restrictions include the reopening of gyms, swimming pools and the much-anticipated beauticians. 

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said ‘normal life is slowly returning’ at the Downing Street news conference last night.

He said: “Having allowed hairdressers to reopen, beauticians, tattooists, spas, tanning salons and other close contact services can now do the same, I’m pleased to say, from Monday.

“Of course that will be subject to some restrictions on particularly high-risk services.” 

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Gyms can also now reopen and people will not be expected to wear face coverings. While changing rooms will be open where possible, people are encouraged to shower and change at home. 

Other measures will include limiting the number of people that can use a facility at any one time, reducing the size of classes and spacing out the equipment – there will also be strict cleaning procedures in place.

Regarding sports, club cricket can return this Saturday with limited numbers of spectators. Guidance has been published for competitive grassroots team sports to resume, but each sport will have to submit an action plan to the government.

People can attend an outdoors sports event in small numbers, providing they are in groups of no more than two households or no more than six people, while adhering to social distancing measures. 

At the Downing Street briefing, Mr Dowden said: “I’m really urging people to get out there and to play their part: buy the tickets for outdoor plays and musical recitals, get to your local gallery and support your local businesses.

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“Our fight began with a collective effort and I really hope it will end with one.

“At the beginning, we all stayed at home to protect the NHS and save lives, now the British public has a new part to play. It’s time to eat out to help out, to enjoy the arts to help out and to work out to help out.

“It’s over to all of you to help the country recover safely.”

Beauticians can reopen but not all beauty treatments will be able to go ahead. For instance, face waxing, sugaring or threading services, facial treatments, make-up applications and eyebrow treatments are all deemed too high-risk. Beard trimming is allowed, however. 

The full list of treatments that still aren’t allowed:

  • Face waxing, sugaring or threading services
  • Facial treatments
  • Advanced facial technical (electrical or mechanical)
  • Eyelash treatments
  • Make-up application
  • Dermarolling
  • Dermaplaning
  • Microblading
  • Electrolysis on the face
  • Eyebrow treatments
  • Intricate detailing, outlining or shaving of beards
  • Advanced beauty therapy and aesthetic treatments
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The businesses that can now reopen include: 

  • Outdoor pools and outdoor theatres from July 11th
  • Grassroots sports from July 11th
  • Beauticians, tattooists, spas, tanning salons from July 13th (subject to restrictions)
  • Indoor gyms, indoor swimming pools and sports facilities from July 25th.
  • Singing and playing brass and wind instruments will be allowed in professional environments
  • Small indoor performances with socially distanced audience can be piloted 

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Welsh campsites will reopen to holidaymakers later this month

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Alex Watson

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Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford, has revealed that campsites will reopen in Wales later this month.

From tomorrow, self-contained accommodation such as static caravans and holiday lodge parks can reopen, but Drakeford has now shared the date for campsite facilities. 

Speaking on Radio 5 Live, Drakeford said they can reopen from July 25th. 

He also announced that house viewings of properties that are occupied in Wales can restart on July 27th.

Mr Drakeford said: “Campsites can open from July 25th if we make a success of the reopening of self-contained accommodation which will begin as of tomorrow.

“Campsites have shared facilities and it’s not like just going into a toilet in a shop, you have to use the shared facilities whether that’s showers, kitchens, toilets.

“We need to make sure campsites in Wales are well prepared, are safe to reopen.

“They will have a fortnight now to prepare and then from the 25th of July providing all is well people will be able to use those facilities as well.”

Will you be heading for the fields with your tent? Let us know!

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