COVID-19: Britain pledges £30 bn package to combat #coronavirus

Britain has pledged £30 bn package to combat #coronavirus fallout as finance minister Rishi Sunak warns the economy will suffer a "significant but temporary" impact.

Chancellor Sunak promised to do "whatever it takes to support the economy" in his first Budget as the economic fallout of the coronavirus grows.

Sunak pledged £30bn of spending to fight the coronavirus outbreak as he unleashes the “largest fiscal boost for 30 years” 

The UK government's response to COVID-19, the impact of which has already panicked global stock markets, will include a business rates holiday for firms with fewer than 250 employees and the refunding of sick pay by the government for small businesses.

The measures were announced hours after the Bank of England cut interest rates from 0.75% to 0.25%.

Mr Sunak warned of "temporary disruption" to the UK economy due to COVID-19 and admitted many Britons would be worrying about their health, finances and the future of their businesses.

But there were wider concerns for the UK economy.

The Office for National Statistics revealed figures earlier on Wednesday to show there was zero growth in the UK economy in the three months to January 2020, prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

And the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast UK growth would fall to 1.1% this year - down from 1.2% last year.

Mr Sunak vowed the government was "doing everything" to keep the UK "healthy and financially secure", including giving the NHS "whatever" it needs to deal with coronavirus.

"We will get through this together," the chancellor, who has only been in the job for 27 days, added.

"The British people may be worried, but they are not daunted. We will protect our country and our people. We will rise to this challenge."

As part of the £30bn fiscal stimulus in response to coronavirus, Mr Sunak announced:
A £5bn emergency response fund
An "exceptional" business rates holiday for retail, leisure or hospitality firms with a rateable value of under £51,000
The government will fully meet the cost of providing statutory sick pay for workers self-isolating for 14 days in businesses with up to 250 employees
More help for self-employed or those in the gig economy through a £500m welfare boost and new £500m hardship fund
A £3,000 cash grant to businesses eligible for small business rates relief

As well as the emergency coronavirus response, the chancellor hailed his budget as representing "the largest sustained fiscal boost for nearly 30 years".

But he stressed he had kept to the fiscal rules set out in the Conservatives' election manifesto - as drawn up by his predecessor Sajid Javid - "with room to spare".

The OBR forecast government borrowing will increase from 2.1% of GDP in 2019-20 to 2.8% in 2021-22.

Borrowing would then fall to 2.5%, 2.4% and 2.2% in the following years.

Confirming other Tory manifesto pledges, Mr Sunak announced the national insurance threshold will increase from £8,632 to £9,500.

And £5bn would be provided to get gigabit-capable broadband into the hardest to reach locations.

Among the chancellor's other measures:
The "tampon tax" - the 5% VAT charge on women's sanitary products - will be abolished
A planned increase in spirits duty will be cancelled and duties on beer and wine will be frozen
The lifetime limit for entrepreneurs' relief will be reduced from £10m to £1m
Research and development investment will increase to £22bn a year
A plastics packaging tax will be levied on manufacturers and importers
The red diesel tax relief scheme will be abolished "for most sectors"
Treasury offices will be established in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, along with a new "economic campus" in the North
There will be £640m extra for the Scottish government, £360m for the Welsh government, and £210m for the Northern Ireland executive
£500m per year will be spent on fixing potholes
VAT on ebooks will be abolished
The health surcharge for migrants will be raised to £624
Spending on flood defences will be doubled to £5.2bn over six years
There will be a rise in the gas levy

"This is the budget of a government that get things done," the chancellor said at the end of his hour-long address.

"A people's budget from a people's government."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the action in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, but said the UK was going into the crisis with a "flat-lining" economy and public services "on their knees".

"Having ruthlessly forced down the living standards and life chances of millions of our people for a decade, the talk of levelling up is a cruel joke," he said.

"The reality is that this is a budget which has an admission of failure - an admission that austerity has been a failed experiment.

"It didn't solve our economic problems, but made them worse, that held back our own recovery and failed even in its own terms."

During a cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning, ahead of the budget, Prime Minister Boris Johnson wished health minister Nadine Dorries a "speedy recovery" after she became the first MP to test positive for coronavirus.

Senior cabinet minister Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, suggested next week's planned talks on the future EU-UK post-Brexit economic relationship may be postponed due to COVID-19.

The fate of the next round of negotiations was a "live question", he told a committee of MPs.

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