Apr 14, 2020
Great Britain Coronavirus Briefing Transcript April 14
United Kingdom officials held an April 14 press conference on COVID-19. Government official Rishi Sunak led the briefing, saying the number of deaths in the UK has surpassed 12,000.
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Rishi Sunak: (00:00)
England. Earlier today, the government’s independent fiscal watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, the OBR published a report into the impact of coronavirus on the economy and public finances. It is important to be clear that the OBR’s numbers are not a forecast or a prediction. They simply set out what one possible scenario might look like, and it may not even be the most likely scenario. But it’s important that we are honest with people about what might be happening in our economy.
Rishi Sunak: (00:35)
So before I turn to today’s health figures, I want to spend a few minutes explaining what the OBR have said, and let me thank them for their continued work. There are three brief points I wanted to make. First, the OBR’s figures suggest that the scale of what we are facing will have serious implications for our economy here at home, in common with other countries around the world.
Rishi Sunak: (01:03)
These are tough times, and there will be more to come. As I’ve said before, we can’t protect every business and every household, but we came into this crisis with a fundamentally sound economy powered by the hard work and ingenuity of the British people and British businesses. While those economic impacts are significant, the OBR also expect them to be temporary, where they bounce back in growth.
Rishi Sunak: (01:37)
The second point I want to make is that we’re not just going to stand by and let this happen. Our planned economic response is protecting millions of jobs, businesses, self employed people, charities, and households. Our response aims to directly support people and businesses while the restrictions are in place, and to make sure that as the restrictions are changed, we can as quickly as possible get people back to work, get businesses moving again, and recover our economy.
Rishi Sunak: (02:11)
The OBR today have been clear that the policies we have set out will do that. The OBR today have been clear that if we had not taken the actions we have, the situation would be much worse. In other words, our plan is the right plan.
Rishi Sunak: (02:32)
The third point I want to make is this. Right now, the single most important thing we can do for the health of our economy is to protect the health of our people. It’s not a case of choosing between the economy and public health. Common sense tells us that doing so would be self-defeating. At a time when we are seeing hundreds of people dying every day from terrible disease, the absolute priority must be to focus all of our resources, not just of the state but of businesses and all of you at home as well, in a collective national effort to beat this virus. The government’s approach is to follow scientific and medical advice through our step by step action plan, aiming to slow the spread of the virus, so fewer people need hospital treatment at any one time, protecting the NHS’ ability to cope.
Rishi Sunak: (03:32)
I said in my budget a month ago that whatever the NHS needs, it will get. And we have honored that promise. Yesterday, we published an update showing that we’ve given our public services an extra 14 and a half billion pounds in recent weeks. We are taking action to increase NHS capacity with more beds, more key staff, and more equipment on the front line. The secretary of state for health and social care will be updating on our plans for social care tomorrow. This is why we are instructing people to stay at home, so that we can protect our NHS and save lives.
Rishi Sunak: (04:17)
I can report that through the government’s ongoing monitoring and testing program, as of today, 302,599 people in the U K have now been tested for coronavirus, with 93,873 people testing positive. 19,706 people in the UK have been admitted to hospital with the virus, down from 20,184 people yesterday.
Rishi Sunak: (04:47)
Sadly of those in hospital 12,107 people have now died, an increase of 778 fatalities since yesterday. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of all those who have lost their lives.
Rishi Sunak: (05:05)
These figures are a powerful reminder to us all of the importance of following the government’s guidance. Stay at home, protect our NHS, and save lives. Thank you. I’ll now hand over to Steve to take you through today’s data in more detail before we take some questions from the media.
Stephen Powis: (05:26)
Thank you. Well as you’ve just heard, our main strategy in combating this virus is social distancing. So in other words, stay at home, avoid social contact. By doing that, we can ensure that the spread of the virus, the transmission from one person to another, is reduced, so over time we will start to see a reduction in the number of infections from coronavirus.
Stephen Powis: (05:52)
I’m pleased to say that we continue to see evidence, the Great British public are complying with those instructions. You’ve seen this transport chart most days, and you can see that we continue to see much reduced activity in public transport but also in vehicle transport. There are other data that we look at on a regular basis that tell us that compliance levels in the public are very high. We need to keep it that way. We absolutely need to make sure that we keep the benefits of this going forward, and we don’t take a foot off the pedal. We don’t become complacent.
Stephen Powis: (06:33)
Now, of course, a reduction in infection rates in the next slide will then translate into a reduction in new UK cases. You can see here our testing has shown a plateauing of the number of new cases we’re picking up. We’re not testing everybody who’s symptomatic in the community, so this data will never be a true complete reflection.
Stephen Powis: (06:58)
But I think in the next slide you can see that that in turn will then translate into an effect on the number of people who require a hospital bed. Now as we’ve often said, for the vast majority of individuals, this is a mild illness like a flu-like illness or a bad cold.
Stephen Powis: (07:18)
But for an unfortunate minority, this will require hospitalization. But you can see that there’s increasing evidence now that the number of hospital admissions is stabilizing and plateauing. You can see that in London, but you can also see it in other areas, such as the Midlands. This is evidence that is now accumulating that the benefit of that social distancing, of reducing transmission is now beginning to be manifest in a stabilization in hospital admissions.
Stephen Powis: (07:48)
Then on the next slide, you will see the number of deaths in the UK. As you’ve heard, that is continuing to rise. This is the number that will reduce last, unfortunately. With sadness, it’s the one that will take longest to change, but those benefits from social distancing will eventually translate into a reduction in the number of daily deaths.
Stephen Powis: (08:15)
So, the message is quite clear. We are beginning to see the benefits of the undoubted hardship that we’ve all been asked to go through, in terms of social distancing, in terms of not meeting with friends and family. It’s really important that those benefits are maintained, that we continue to follow the instructions that we’ve all been given. We will then get on top of this virus.
Rishi Sunak: (08:43)
Thank you Steve. If we could turn to some questions, think first, Laura Kuenssberg from the BBC.
Laura Kuenssberg: (08:49)
Thank you, Chancellor. People are of course devastated by the numbers of people losing their lives, but tonight with warnings of 2 million extra people unemployed, people are also desperately worried about their jobs.
Laura Kuenssberg: (09:01)
If you can level with people, do you think we will be feeling the costs of this crisis for a generation? If I could ask the medics, can you, from as soon as you possibly can, start including the numbers of deaths in care homes and in the community in these daily statistics, so people can have a true picture of what’s going on?
Rishi Sunak: (09:20)
Thank you, Laura. I also, when I see these numbers, am deeply troubled. As I’ve I think consistently said when I’ve been at this podium and elsewhere, you know, this is going to be hard. Our economy is going to take a significant hit, and as I’ve said before, that’s not an abstract thing. People are going to feel that in their jobs and in their household incomes.
Rishi Sunak: (09:40)
You know, what I would say and what the OBR report I think confirms is that, you know, the measures we’ve put in place can significantly mitigate that impact. In particular, the jobs retention scheme, the furloughing scheme we’ve put in place, aims to do exactly that, ensure that fewer people are unemployed but remain attached to their company through the furlough scheme. Then also as the OBR says, the reason that’s a good thing, not just in the short term, which means when we get through this, we can bounce back as quickly as possible. So, to your point about a generation, no, I very much hope that the measures we’ve put in place will allow us to do exactly as the OBR have said, bounce back. If you look at their scenario that is something that they talk about in there.
Rishi Sunak: (10:22)
So, you know, yes it will be difficult in the short term. I’m happy to be honest about that with people. I think the measures we’ve put in place will help, and then as we get through this, it will mean that we can recover quickly and strongly and get our lives and economy back to normal. And I think Yvonne or Steve on the, [crosstalk 00:10:40] on the data.
Yvonne Doyle: (10:41)
Thank you, Chancellor. Thank you, Laura. Yes. So, the deaths in out of hospital, we, the Office of National Statistics do actually collect total deaths, and we’ve had a download of that today. But Laura, we are working with the ONS to actually speed that up, so that we do get quicker information.
Yvonne Doyle: (10:58)
As you know, the daily deaths we would very much like to have, it’s a bit more complicated for care homes, because although over nine out of 10 deaths sadly do occur still in hospital, in the community there’s a range of places where they occur including in care homes, but not just there. In hospices, and at home, indeed, as well.
Yvonne Doyle: (11:19)
In these very dispersed systems, we just need to be absolutely clear that the cause of death that is attributed is correct. That is what takes time on the death certificate to get right. But we would like to have much more rapid data, preferably on a daily basis. And that’s what we’re working towards.
Rishi Sunak: (11:39)
Does that cover it, Laura?
Laura Kuenssberg: (11:41)
Can I just come back in on your point? I mean, the numbers you, you hope there will be a temporary [inaudible 00:11:45], but the expansion of the amount of borrowing that the government is going to do and the projections for the deficit do suggest that there will be very longterm consequences for either your government or future governments’ choices.
Laura Kuenssberg: (11:56)
Do you really think that we could just shake this off within a few months from the economy?
Rishi Sunak: (12:01)
I think there’s two separate things. You know, one is what happens in the real economy, in terms of business activity, economic growth, and jobs. And there, I do hope the measures we’ve put in place will ensure that we can have a reasonably fast bounce back. That’s why we’re doing what we can. Obviously, that’s a function of when we exit all of these measures.
Rishi Sunak: (12:20)
But I think your second point about public finances this year, the OBR is right to say, you know, there will be a significant increase in borrowing. That, you know, we are, we are borrowing a significant amount in order to fund these measures. I think that’s absolutely the right decision. As the OBR have said, I think the cost of not doing that would be far worse than if we did do what we’re doing. So, I think that is the right thing to say.
Rishi Sunak: (12:42)
Then, we think about our future public finances. If we get, as the OBR has put in its scenario, a relatively swift bounce back and the economy recovering, actually our public finances on a year to year basis should return to a more normal position. The interventions we’ve put in place are largely temporary and do not need to be repeated on a year by year basis. So hopefully that will allow us-
Rishi Sunak: (13:03)
… to get to a sustainable position in a reasonably soon after we exit. Thank you. The next question is Paul Brand at the ITV. Paul, you there? Brilliant.
Paul Brand: (13:13)
Hi. Yeah, good afternoon. I just want to pick up on Laura’s point about data and put that to you as well, Chancellor. We’ve been filming today at a care home in Gateshead where they feel as if the residents they’ve lost to COVID-19 are being forgotten. Given that data does exist, however imperfect it may be, wouldn’t it just be more respectful to include those deaths in your own statistics?
Rishi Sunak: (13:34)
Well, look. Paul, before Yvonne talks about the data, what I tell you from my perspective is I’d say to all those people working in care homes up and down the country, whether it’s the people in them, whether it’s the people looking after them, you’ve absolutely not been forgotten, and there’s an enormous amount of focus, whether it’s at the NHS, whether it’s at Public Health England or elsewhere to make sure that care homes not just get the PPE they need, but they get the testing they need, they get the support they need in every aspect of the job they’re doing, which is extraordinary. When we clap every week, we’re clapping for people everywhere who are caring.
Rishi Sunak: (14:06)
In terms of the data, there’s absolutely no desire not to respect what’s happening in care homes and to provide that data. As Yvonne could talk about in a second, we’re actually working with the ONS to speed up the publication of that data. In terms of the data that we publish every day and make decisions on, I think there, there is a question about making sure we have a data set that is consistent and accurate and timely, and I think there is just a logistical challenge in being able to collect that data and then make decisions based on it, but Yvonne can maybe elaborate on that point.
Yvonne Doyle: (14:39)
Thank you, Chancellor. So absolutely. I would very much like to have the best possible data on a daily basis, and the care sector is very much seen as part of the health and care family. They are the front line, and we’re very familiar with that sector through our local work and through our national work with local government and with the local response forums, Then local resilience fora. We work on the outbreaks, which is even more important to discuss in a sense than anything else at the moment, where we have a number of outbreaks in care homes, and there is very active input there to ensure that the damage and the harm to people is mitigated. So we work very actively with the care home sector, but it is a very dispersed sector.
Stephen Powis: (15:26)
I would also say that the reason that we can provide the data very quickly from hospitals is because there are fewer hospitals compared to care homes, so we’re working with a smaller number of organizations. But because our hospitals are very used to the process of supplying data to NHS England on a regular and even on a daily basis, that is something that they do during normal times for all sorts of data. We in the hospital sector have a have an infrastructural basis to get that data rapidly, and of course the patients that we report from hospitals are those that we know have been tasted as positive. Again, that is different from in the community where doctors are registering deaths based on a probable diagnosis and not necessarily on a tested diagnosis, so there are key differences in the two sets of data and how they are collected.
Rishi Sunak: (16:17)
Yeah. Paul, just to put some context around Steve’s point, there are a couple of hundred NHS troughs with an existing consistent system for providing data. There are tens of thousands of social care settings that one needs to collect data from, and that’s the challenge that Steve is talking about. Does that answer your question fully?
Paul Brand: (16:38)
Yeah. Can I just pick up on the data again though, because there has been some discussion the past couple of days that your own slides include data from France, which does include … in France, they do include deaths in care homes in their data, so why would it be fair to put that data on your slide but not care homes in the UK on that side?
Yvonne Doyle: (16:56)
Happy to discuss that. Indeed, different countries report in different ways, and one of the issues that we’ve noticed is sometimes the way those data are presented can cause quite a surprise in the system. Recently, there was quite a large inject of data from care homes in France. It made the data look as if there was an alarming increase in deaths on that day. It wasn’t actually the case. It demonstrates exactly the challenge of getting this right day on day, and we’re very much learning internationally. We’re in touch with all our European neighbors to learn the best we can do.
Stephen Powis: (17:33)
I think that the general point is that it’s really important that we compare with other countries, that all countries compare with each other and learn from each other. But of course, there are differences in the reporting of all sorts of statistics from different countries, and it’s really important to ensure that that is taken into account when you are doing that comparison.
Rishi Sunak: (17:55)
Thank you, Paul. If we could turn next to Kathryn Samson at STV?
Kathryn Samson: (18:01)
Thank you, Chancellor. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon said at her press conference this afternoon, she wants the assurances that Scottish care workers aren’t going to lose out on PPE because of reports companies have been told to prioritize NHS England. Could you please confirm for me no company has been told to do this by Public Health England? Will you be investigating this further? Basically, is this story rubbish or is it not?
Rishi Sunak: (18:27)
Thank you for the question, Kathryn. I think if you look at what the national clinical director in Scotland said, I think earlier today, he said we’ve looked into it and we do think it’s rubbish. Those were his words, not mine. I would say from our perspective, there’s been incredibly close coordinated action across our public health bodies and NHS bodies to make sure we have a four nation approach to all of this. There’s no truth in those stories that those companies have been told to prioritize PPE equipment, and I think rather the contrary is actually happening. In fact, as Steve and Yvonne will elaborate on a minute, there’s been incredibly close collaboration between our four nations in this regard. But, Yvonne, are you best placed to give some examples of that?
Yvonne Doyle: (19:11)
Thank you, Chancellor. I can assure you that the four chief medical officers and the four medical directors, the nursing directors work very closely on if not a daily, certainly a weekly with that group, and we are very coordinated on what we want. We want to make sure that each country gets what it needs, and that is driven by the intelligence that we get back from each of the devolved administrations. Public Health England has not, in any sense, directed any of the devolved administrations to be at any disadvantage. We work really closely together.
Rishi Sunak: (19:46)
Brilliant. Thank you, Kathryn. Can we turn next to Ed Conway from Sky?
Ed Conway: (19:53)
Yeah. Thanks, Chancellor. There’s been quite a lot of talk about how unprecedented the economic impacts of COVID-19 has been, but the scenario that we’ve heard about from the OBR, as you say, it is pretty shocking. It’s the deepest slump since 1709, 2 million people unemployed. The state’s at its biggest size ever. The national data, 100% of GDP. Did all of that shock you? And even if the economy does bounce back we’ll still have higher debt. It will be a bigger state. Are you really suggesting that life will simply return to normal?
Rishi Sunak: (20:30)
Well, Ed, I’d echo what I’ve said before, and you’ve given some numbers there, but I generally don’t believe this is a time for ideology or orthodoxy. This is an unprecedented times, an unprecedented crisis, and that calls for an unprecedented economic response. In that sense, it’s not surprising to see some of these figures, because what we’re dealing with here is unlike anything we’ve seen before, which is why we’ve put in place the measures we have. I do believe that those measures will help mitigate some of the short term impact on our economy and ensure that we can try and keep as much of the productive capacity of our economy, as many businesses connected to their employees as possible during this difficult period, so that when it’s over, and it will be over at some point, then they can reconnect and we can bounce back as an economy as quickly as possible. Indeed, that’s what the OBR scenario puts in its forecast. I do believe that is possible in that sense when you talk about getting back to normal, but I sense you might have a followup on that, so please do ask.
Ed Conway: (21:33)
Well, I’m curious just because you’ve talked a lot about hardship, and I’m curious. We’re getting some idea about what hardship means for many people in Britain, for many companies, but I’m also wondering whether the hardship might have to continue after this, if we have such a high level of debt that the UK economy is going to look slightly different than it was only a few months ago.
Rishi Sunak: (22:01)
Well, look, once we get through this, obviously we’ll have to take stock of public finances and the economy and make the right decisions at that point. I’ve talked before about doing whatever we need to right the ship at that point, but what I would say is we remain very committed to the agenda that we set out before, which was about leveling up and spreading opportunity around this country. Indeed, I believe that can still be a critical part of how we get back to normal here, right? We’re all in this together as we face this public health crisis. It’s a collective national effort, and when we think about our economic recovery, I think about it as one in which we’re all in together as well, and one where every single part of this country is able to share in the benefits of growth and opportunity and improvements in productivity at that point.
Rishi Sunak: (22:47)
Our agenda about spreading opportunity to our regions about leveling up and investing in infrastructure, that will only become I think more important as we exit this crisis. It’s delivering on that, it will actually help right the ship, restore public finances to a sensible place when we come out of this. The OBR talks about the possibility for that, and our job is to deliver on that once we get through this. I hope that’s clear. Is that all right? Thank you, Ed. Perfect. Should we move next to Francis Elliott, The Times?
Francis Elliott: (23:21)
Hi, Chancellor. Yes. Just picking up on Ed’s point there, it’s clear that the economic fallout from this is going to disproportionately hit the young. I’m thinking of particularly people joining the labor market. Looking forward, can you commit to maintaining policies like the triple lock on pensions, for instance? What’s your message to younger people? To the medics, if I could ask, do you have any data on the proportion of new cases which are hospital acquired infections of COVID or acquired in care homes? Are there kind of R rates that are above one in those settings? We understand that they are below one in the community. Could you possibly give us some granularity on the data of hospital acquired infection, please?
Rishi Sunak: (24:05)
Francis, thanks. You’re kind of drawing me into writing future budgets here today, which is probably a difficult thing to do, but to your general point about young people and the role and the part they’ve played in this, I’ll pay enormous tribute to them. Whether it’s very young children who are not able to go to school, take exams, it’s enormously disruptive to them, and they’re trying to operate at the best that they can. While they’re doing it in difficult circumstances, trying to do the best they can. Then all the way up to people in the labor market as you talked about, my message then would be thank you for everything you’re doing. When I see all the reports of people volunteering, young people in their communities who have the time to help out an elderly neighbor with shopping or volunteering on our new NHS app and other systems, that to me is our society coming together, everyone realizing they can play a different role to help us as a country get through this, and that deserves enormous praise.
Rishi Sunak: (25:01)
From an economic perspective, whatever age you’re at, our job is to provide opportunity if you, when we come out of this. To me, it doesn’t matter whether you’re young, middle aged or old, whether you live in London or in the countryside in the Southwest, or indeed in the Northeast of England. We want to make sure that there’s economic opportunity for you. That might mean that you want to start your own business, so as we come out of this, I want to look at making sure that this remains one of the best places in the world to start and grow a business, this is the best place to go and study and research the next generation of whether it’s vaccines or indeed anything else that our country is so good at doing to create the next companies of the future. I will look at all of those things and make sure that the plans we had in place before are the right ones. What can we do to turbocharge them even further, because if you’re young and entering the labor market, I want you to look forward and see opportunity and hope for your future, and I’m confident that we will be able to deliver that as we exit this crisis. [crosstalk 00:12:59], Steve?
Stephen Powis: (25:58)
Should I say something about hospital acquired infections? Yvonne might want to comment too, and Yvonne might want to say something about …
Stephen Powis: (26:03)
… care home infections.
Stephen Powis: (26:06)
So the first thing I’d say is we take hospital-acquired infections very seriously. We do in normal times, and we absolutely do now. Now, we have a very strong record in the UK of managing hospital-acquired infections.
Stephen Powis: (26:20)
One example of that would be MRSA blood infections. When I was a young doctor, they occurred relatively frequently. Due to a huge amount of work on that particular hospital-acquired infection, it now happens rarely. So we have very strong infection prevention and control systems within our hospitals. So we are in a good place going into this epidemic.
Stephen Powis: (26:42)
Having said that, clearly this is a new virus. It’s one that we are still learning about in terms of how it’s transmitted, in terms of its infection rates. Of course, we are seeing much more of it, because it is coming into a population that is not immune, than we would for other infections. So it’s not unexpected that we will see some hospital-acquired infections relating to coronavirus.
Stephen Powis: (27:04)
We’re really looking at that very carefully. We want to ensure that where we do see it, we get on top of it very quickly. Our hospitals are separating out coronavirus patients from other patients. They’re cohorting, they’re using all the standard infection prevention and control methods that they use to manage infections. But we do need to make sure that we learn from this new virus, and if we need to adapt our infection prevention and control policies to manage it differently, then we should do that. So it’s something that we are actively looking at at the moment.
Stephen Powis: (27:37)
I can’t give you that R number that you asked for because don’t know what that is. But the message is that we take hospital-acquired infections very seriously, and we will continue to look at this and ensure that we adapt our policies within hospitals to take account of what we’ve learned about this new virus and how we should manage it.
Stephen Powis: (27:58)
Yvonne Doyle: (27:59)
Yes, thank you, Steve. Equally, we are very much cognizant of what is happening in care homes. Each day, we get information from our local teams working with directors of public health and the local resilience for about what is going on in terms of this infection in care homes. It doesn’t distinguish. It will pick the vulnerable. Of course, they will not be immune either. Those situations, we call them, but actually sometimes [inaudible 00:28:28] outbreaks as well, local teams with our support and guidance will be in there providing advice, doing testing, and arranging for the mitigation of harm to those vulnerable people.
Yvonne Doyle: (28:40)
Bear in mind, it’s a very challenging group, because many of these residents may have dementia. It’s important that it is a humane response as well. So this is a different challenge to hospitals but of equal concern.
Stephen Powis: (28:57)
And on that R number in hospitals, when I said I know what it is, let me be clear, it’s because the data is not clear enough for us to get a good sight of what it is at the moment. But that work will be ongoing as part of our look at healthcare-associated infections.
Rishi Sunak: (29:14)
Francis, that answer is comprehensively as they can, hopefully.
Well, look, just to be absolutely clear, so there is no number of hospital-acquired infections?
Stephen Powis: (29:26)
So the data is being looked at at the moment. I think you specifically asked about the R number, which is infection rate. The data is not clear enough yet to be able to give that number or to calculate that number.
Rishi Sunak: (29:40)
Thank you, Francis. Turn next to Tom Newton Dunn at The Sun.
Tom Newton Dunn: (29:46)
Chancellor, thank you very much. A question on the furlough schemes, loans and grants that you’re supervising. There’s been a lot of complaint from sectors like the British Chamber of Commerce and others that although welcome, it’s just simply not happening fast enough. Money’s not getting out the door fast enough. Payday for a lot of companies is coming up on April the 25th, after which a lot of companies simply won’t survive unless they have that money in time. So can you give a guarantee today that your furlough money, the portal will be open by April the 25th and money will start to leave the treasury to these companies by that April the 25th?
Tom Newton Dunn: (30:27)
And a quick question to Yvonne and Steve. Going back to the France-UK comparison on the the daily mortality figures, it is simply unfair to compare them, to put those figures on the same chart, is it not? Because effectively, you’re comparing apples with pears, one with care home deaths, one without. Do you accept that if you just compare hospital deaths between France and the UK, the UK would be above the French line for some time now?
Rishi Sunak: (30:59)
Thanks, Tom. You mentioned three different schemes, and you’re absolutely right to do that, and do keep pushing, because we need to make sure that the interventions we’re putting in place reach the people that they’re designed to help.
Rishi Sunak: (31:10)
In terms of the grants to small businesses, that money has obviously left central government and gone to local government who are administering those grant schemes. I think the last numbers I saw showed that about a third of it had already been dispersed to businesses at three to four billion pounds, but there’s still obviously more to go. I spoke to the local government Secretary of State today about that, and he’s intensifying his efforts and scrutiny to make sure we can get that money out the door as fast as possible.
Rishi Sunak: (31:38)
In terms of the loans, I think there’s been enormous improvement from where we were at the end of the week before last, where there were about a thousand loans that had been issued. That number is now up I think four times to the end of last week. The amount, in terms of millions of pounds that have gone out the door, is up I think five times. The changes that we made I think are making a difference.
Rishi Sunak: (31:58)
I’m grateful to all the bank staff, who I know many at the large banks have worked over the Easter weekend to help work through the backlog of applications that they had. So thank you to all of them for doing that, which I think will mean that we see an acceleration in those numbers in the coming days as well. But we’re keeping a careful eye on that as you would imagine, and I’m in close contact with the bank CEOs.
Rishi Sunak: (32:20)
Then lastly on the furlough scheme, what we said when I announced this scheme was, to reiterate, we’ve never had something like this in the UK before. As you’ve seen from the OBR report today, it potentially might cover millions of people, and we had to build a brand new system from scratch to handle that. That is what is dictating the timing.
Rishi Sunak: (32:44)
The team have been working night and day since the announcement to get this up and running. I’ve always said that the scheme would be up and running by the end of April. That’s our intention. Where we are at the moment is we are on track to deliver that. The system is built, we’re in the process of testing that out with small groups of employers at the moment. It will open is the plan on the 20th of April, is the working assumption, that it will open on the 20th of April for applications. Then there is a period of several days between submitting an application and receiving cash.
Rishi Sunak: (33:17)
That’s comprised of two chunks. One is our desire and need to do some fraud checks, as you would rightly expect, because we need to make sure that the taxpayer is protected against fraudulent claims. That takes us a little bit of time to do. Then the remainder of the time is the back system in order to get the money back to people. But the [inaudible 00:33:37] portal should be open on or around the 20th. Then from there, there’s a period of days, several days, to get the cash. But you should be able to get the cash before the end of the month if everything goes to plan.
Rishi Sunak: (33:48)
Then Steve, did you want to pick up or was it Yvonne?
Stephen Powis: (33:49)
Yvonne, did you want …
Yvonne Doyle: (33:53)
Well, I can start. So yes, I completely understand the point about comparing like with like, and there are so many measures now even of death, which you might imagine is a fairly straightforward measure. It can be very difficult to understand what exactly you’re looking at, and one of the things we’re doing all the time is speaking to our European neighbors to understand not just what they’re measuring, but what they consider best practice to be and how we can learn together about that.
Yvonne Doyle: (34:19)
In the early stages of this epidemic, it was clear that even for death, we were looking at very different denominator populations. So even there, we weren’t actually able to compare like with like, because it was a much younger population that had been tested.
Yvonne Doyle: (34:35)
So it would be ideal if we were absolutely clear we were comparing like with like, and that’s what we endeavor to do. But we are always open for learning on that.
Rishi Sunak: (34:45)
Perfect. Tom, I think covers everything. Right?
Tom Newton Dunn: (34:49)
Rishi Sunak: (34:51)
Tom Newton Dunn: (34:51)
… if you don’t mind. The loan guarantee scheme is … Certainly also a lot of criticism from people who say, “You should be taking 100% of the risk, certainly for the smaller companies, for loans under 250,000 pounds.” One of your predecessors, George Osborne, has said today you should do that. Will you think about doing it?
Rishi Sunak: (35:10)
Yeah. When people say I should take 100% of the risk, it’s not really me. It’s actually all of us. Right? So taxpayer taking 100% of the risk of the loans defaulting and removing at that point any credit check that the bank might do. So having said that, is there an argument for looking at something like that? Of course there is. There’s systems like that that are in place in Switzerland and in Germany. Germany have just put a system in place right at the end of last week that they got approval to do. We continually look at everything that other countries are doing to see if there are things we can learn and improve from.
Rishi Sunak: (35:46)
What I would say is there’s first, there’s an economic and fiscal question as to whether it would be the right intervention for us. We are also doing a lot of direct cash support to businesses through the grants that you asked about. I mentioned 10,000, 25,000 pound cash grants. We’ve also done huge business rates tax cuts in the tens of billions of pounds. Those collectively are quite significant. Not every country has replicated those direct cash help to businesses.2 But as I said, we continue to keep everything under review and look at everything to see where improvements might be made.
Rishi Sunak: (36:18)
I think the last thing, sorry, to add on on that is as you asked before about the furlough scheme, we have to be confident that whatever we come up with is actually deliverable. Some of the countries that have put these things in place elsewhere have historic systems that are able to deliver them. That is not the case in this country. We have not done things like this before, which means we don’t have the capability and the systems to deliver something necessarily just because you see it in another country.
Rishi Sunak: (36:48)
I think on loans in particular, whether it’s the US, whether it’s France, whether it’s actually Germany as well, in all their domestic press and media and business organizations, you have seen frustration with the pace of the loan programs, because all of these countries like us are doing things that they haven’t done before. There’s a genuine just delivery question about that.
Rishi Sunak: (37:08)
Thanks very much. Can we turn next to Dan O’Donoghue from the Press & Journal?
Dan O’Donoghue: (37:14)
Hi, Chancellor. [inaudible 00:37:19] already been said this afternoon. There are warnings that unemployment would soar by more than 2 million due to the coronavirus crisis. Given all the problems [inaudible 00:11:30], and if not, are you open to proposals such as universal basic income? I have [inaudible 00:37:34] quick one to the medics as well. [inaudible 00:37:47] intensive care [inaudible 00:37:52] reports suggest there are just 19 patients currently at NHS Nightingale in London but hundreds of dying in care homes [inaudible 00:38:08]
Rishi Sunak: (38:11)
I think we’ll try and get Dan back, but if I can answer the first part of his question, which I think was … Dan, are you there? We’re struggling to hear you. Why don’t we try and move on, and if we can get Dan back, we can. Yeah, fine. Brilliant. Turning next to Emilio from Politico.
I’ve got two questions, one for the Chancellor. So we’ve had an idea today of how bad the economic hit from the coronavirus could be, and the Treasury’s already committed obviously eye-watering sums to supporting the country through it. You said you don’t want to write a budget now, but can you just give us a rough sense of how you’re thinking that we might pay for it? Will there be tax rises? Could there be tweaks to the triple locks that our pensioners-
… help pay? Could that be maybe another decade of austerity for public services? Can you just give an idea of where you think that money’s going to come from? How will you right the ship? And one question for the medics. You’ve been guided by the science in making the decisions so far, but now of course we’ve got the benefit of hindsight for at least some of this. So can each one of you maybe name the one thing that you wish we’d done differently. So maybe locking down the country earlier, getting testing going earlier, joining the EU ventilator scheme, something like that. Is there anything at all you wish we’d done differently with the benefit of hindsight? Or do you think the UK response has been without fault so far?
Rishi Sunak: (39:42)
Thanks [Emilio 00:39:43]. Look, I’m just not able to talk about future tax policy here. What I would say, the economic priority now is to make sure that we can mitigate as much of the impact that the health interventions are causing. I think the sums that we’ve committed are worthwhile in that regard as the OBR report talks about, it would be far worse if we weren’t doing what we were doing. So I do believe that is the right decision.
Rishi Sunak: (40:09)
In terms of when we come out of this, in terms of righting the ship, we’ll have to look at it then. As you’re right to point out, obviously this has cost a lot, but as I said before, the best way out of this for all of us is to just grow the economy, which is why trying to keep as much of it intact as possible at this moment, allows that bounce back when we come out of it and allows us to hopefully snap back to normal as quickly as possible.
Rishi Sunak: (40:32)
That’s clearly the most preferable thing. If that happens, it means the longterm impact on public finances, for example, will obviously be reduced, the interventions [inaudible 00:40:42] are temporary, the quicker we get back to normal, the quicker we get back to a sustainable set of public finances. So that’s very much the priority right now. Then, [Yvonne 00:40:50], do you want to go first?
Yvonne Doyle: (40:53)
Yeah. So it’s a very good question and I’m sure it will be asked many times. To me, it seems as if my colleagues and I have been working since at least mid January, seven days a week, sometimes all night in our labs. We have learned so much that I wish I had known in January because undoubtedly we perhaps could have done things differently. But we have just worked tirelessly month in, month out and it’s been a privilege to do so.
Yvonne Doyle: (41:24)
One of the great questions for me is when was this virus first around? If I had known that, I think it would have been a wonderful public health gift to have been able to perhaps anticipate what it would do. That’s one of the good scientific questions. But it’s not meaning that we have nothing to learn. We have so much to learn. But I can assure you we are working so hard that every day, what we do, we do in all sincerity for the benefit of the population. Yes, of course we could do things better and that’s why we keep talking to our neighbors actually so that we can learn that. So I’m very humble about it, but there is so much to say about this.
Stephen Powis: (42:06)
So it’s a great question, and I spent my medical career as a doctor always looking back on cases I’ve managed, circumstances I’ve been in, asking what could we have done better? I think doctors and other clinicians are very self critical. But one thing I’ve learned is that you can come to those conclusions too early, and you have to wait until you’ve got to the appropriate time to look back and learn the right lessons, and do the right analysis because at the moment we are still very much at the early stages of this. I think the answer to your question will likely be different when we get towards the end of this than it will be now. So I think it’s too early to jump to those sorts of conclusions, but I’m absolutely confident that we will all want to look back and say, what could we have done differently? What could we have done in this way? What could we have done perhaps in another way?
Rishi Sunak: (43:01)
Thank you, Steve. I mean, if I might just add on that, we’re all dealing, whether it’s politicians, whether it’s medical advisors, doctors, we’re all dealing with something that no one’s ever really faced before, and we’re not alone in that. Every country around the world is in the same situation. So when you’re faced with such an unprecedented challenge, are we are going to be absolutely perfect in every single thing we do at the pace we’re having to do it? No, of course not.
Rishi Sunak: (43:27)
But what you’ve heard and I would echo from our end, is constantly being driven to do what we think is in the best interest of the country and people and keeping them safe, and where we can learn, adjust, or iterate whether it’s on what I’m doing on economic interventions and loan schemes and whether it’s on what Yvonne and Steve are responsible for, constantly being open to hearing what can be improved, what can be better, responding to feedback and changing things where we need to is absolutely the approach I think all of us collectively take as we try and get the country and the economy through this. Thanks very much and I think we might have Dan back.
Yeah, I’ll try again. Chancellor, as has already been said this afternoon, unemployment could soar by more than 2 million due to the coronavirus crisis. Given all the problems prior to the outbreak with Universal Credits, is US really an adequate safety net? And if not, are you open to proposals such as universal basic income. Could I also just ask quickly to the medics, it keeps being said how the UK won’t exceed intensive care capacity, reports suggest there are just 19 patients NHS Nightingale in London, but hundreds are dying at care homes and at home. Why aren’t they being taken into hospital if there’s room for them?
Rishi Sunak: (44:45)
Dan, thanks for your question. Look, I don’t think universal basic income is the right response to this. I think Universal Credit is working well. Obviously, your DWP staff are under strain, like many other organizations across the country because they’re dealing with people being sick in a way as well. But I think given the circumstances, they are processing claims efficiently and effectively. We’ve provided some extra resource to DWP to help them with that, but I think their staff do deserve praise for what they’re doing.
Rishi Sunak: (45:17)
We’ve also injected extra resources to deal with the particular nature of this crisis into the welfare system, whether that’s a strengthening Universal Credit, temporary for this year, working tax credits, or indeed local housing allowance, the local council tax support. All of those interventions, which will total several billion pounds because of the unprecedented nature of what we’re facing, will go to supporting the most vulnerable people in our country. I do believe all of those things are getting to the people that they need to. Yvonne, did you want to?
Yvonne Doyle: (45:49)
Just a quick comment. I think this is a really important question because it brings forward the answer that nobody who needs the NHS care in an emergency should be denied that. I think that’s the message that Steve would want to convey as well. The NHS is there for people. What we do need to understand is the death … much more analysis and understanding of the deaths as they occur, and that is being done regularly. So there may be very good reasons why people from care homes are not being admitted to hospital, I can’t answer that here. But what I do want to make clear is that at no time has it been said to me anywhere that the NHS would not accept a patient who needed to be admitted.
Stephen Powis: (46:35)
Yes. So I think that’s absolutely right. In normal times when we’re not dealing with a global pandemic, doctors and other clinicians make difficult decisions with families and patients on a daily basis as to who might get admitted to hospital when there’s a serious illness, perhaps somebody in a care home, who might be admitted to ITU in terms of the benefit of ITU treatment. So those decisions and discussions are made and had day in day out in the NHS, and it should be exactly the same now.
Stephen Powis: (47:06)
So one of the purposes of ensuring that the NHS capacity always stays ahead, not just in the ITU beds, but actually in the general beds on the ward as well, has being to allow clinicians to continue to have those discussions and make those decisions in the way that they always do make those decisions. The chief nursing officer, and myself, have been very clear and in fact we’ve written on do not resuscitate orders that we should be dealing with that as a clinical body exactly the same way as we always have done. The fact that we have got the additional capacity in, that we planned so well to get that additional capacity, should mean that clinicians should be confident that they can have those discussions as they always have done in the current epidemic.
Rishi Sunak: (47:55)
Thank you. Dan. I think we had one followup that I may have missed so apologies. Emilio, hi.
Hi, sorry. I put the mic away. Just a quick one on the economic impact, it’s a bit of a cheeky follow up, but obviously one thing that could make the economic situation worse is a no-deal Brexit, so why is the government willing to put the country through that on top of what is currently already going to be suffering through coronavirus?
Rishi Sunak: (48:21)
Thanks Emilio. I mean you talk about no-deal. I mean the reality is we’ve left the European Union, and we’ve left it with a deal that was negotiated. With regard to our future relationship, obviously that’s something that currently those talks are underway. We remain very committed to the timeline that we’ve set out to conclude those by the end of this year. What I can say is, David Frost, our chief negotiator on behalf of the prime minister, was in touch with his deputy counterpart last week and with Michel Barnier his direct counterpart this week to make sure that we have a timeline in place for this phase of the negotiations, which obviously can happen over video conferences and texts and legal agreements are being exchanged between the EU and ourselves. So I’m I’m confident that that work can continue and hopefully reach a satisfactory conclusion, but we remain committed to the timeline that we’ve set out. Thank you Emilio.
Rishi Sunak: (49:18)
I think that brings today’s press conference to collusion. Thank you Yvonne. Thank you Steve, and to everyone at home. Thank you for complying with the social distancing guidelines and rules over what was a very sunny bank holiday weekend. I know it’s difficult for all of us in our different ways to get through this, but we are getting through it. We’re getting through it together and we can look forward to happier times. But in the meantime, please do stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. Thank you.