Last week in Parliament, the Chancellor announced that our furlough scheme - to help protect people’s livelihoods through coronavirus - will not just be extended for one month but until the end of March. Employees will receive 80% of their usual salary for hours not worked, up to £2,500 a month. We also increased the support for millions more workers through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. The third grant covering November to January will now be calculated at 80% of average trading profits rather than 40%.
As Work & Pensions Secretary, I followed this up by announcing a £170m Covid Winter Grant Scheme for our local councils, to ensure that vulnerable households do not go without food or other essentials. Crucially, our £220m Holiday Activities and Food programme will be rolled out across the country and I know there are many children in Suffolk Coastal who will be eligible to participate. Helping children enjoy fun, enriching activities with a good meal during the longer holidays will help them perform better at school - which is vital for improving their life chances.
As I said in the House of Commons recently, I firmly believe that local councils are best placed to understand who needs support and which local organisations to fund to ensure families are looked after. Suffolk County Council leader, Matthew Hicks informed readers of this paper about the work that they were doing with the £700k grant, which local leaders topped up with a further £800k. I know this extra money will be very welcome. If you or someone you know needs help, call the helpline on 0800 068 3131.
Finally, I met our local NHS leadership recently for both Ipswich and James Paget Hospitals and our two local Clinical Commissioning Groups. Ipswich Hospital is operating on non-Covid treatments at about two-thirds of the capacity prior to Coronavirus. There are, of course, other reasons why people can become seriously ill and their message is do not hesitate to seek clinical help if you are worried about anything. Contact your GP, keep your GP and hospital appointments and get treated as necessary. I was also updated on how all care homes are now linked to a GP practice. Having that clinical lead will ensure that our care homes are getting the right advice and support they need to protect the most vulnerable. The CCG is also putting more funding into mental wellbeing and community groups to help neighbours. At the north end of the coast, where people are more often treated at James Paget, there are definitely challenges on local infection control but public health have been very proactive in tackling this. With the national restrictions, we must all keep trying to suppress this virus.