Saturday, October 31

Budget 2020: UK pledges cash to tackle coronavirus and climate change

UK chancellor chancellor Rishi Sunak

UK chancellor Rishi Sunak has big spending plans

James Veysey/Shutterstock

The UK government today pledged a £30 billion stimulus to offset the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, which it warned would be significant but temporary.

“I know how worried people are,” said chancellor Rishi Sunak as he unveiled a package of measures that he called a “world-leading” response to the virus. The National Health Service would receive “whatever it needs, whatever it costs” to cope with covid-19, he said.

As points out, £18 billion of the stimulus package in the government’s budget is made up of general spending designed to boost the economy. That means £12 billion will be responding specifically to the coronavirus outbreak.

A total of £1 billion was promised to assist the self-employed and those working in the gig economy, split equally between helping people access benefits and a hardship fund for local authorities to distribute.

Companies with fewer than 250 employees will also be compensated for the first 14 days of sickness taken by staff who self-isolate, while small businesses will be supported through a combination of tax relief on business rates, grants and loans. Altogether, the steps add up to a £30 billion package.

With the UK hosting a major international climate summit in November, COP26, the budget also focused on steps to cut carbon emissions. A total of £1 billion was promised on “green transport solutions”, including £403 million to extend grants for new electric vehicles until 2023, and more funding for rapid electric car charging points.

However, the pledges to clean up transport – the sector with the biggest CO2 emissions – were offset by a commitment to spend £27 billion on over 4000 miles of roads.

Sunak also froze fuel duty tax for the 10th year running, despite admitting he was “mindful” of the environmental cost of the step. Climate analysts CarbonBrief estimates that UK CO2 emissions are 5 per cent higher today than they would have been without the freeze since 2010.

The budget also confirmed other green policies from the 2019 Conservative election manifesto, including £640 million for a tree-planting fund and £800 million to support carbon capture and storage. The Treasury promised “further climate policy measures” in coming months, ahead of COP26.

The government said it would increase research and development investment to £22 billion. Sunak also said the UK was “changing the way it funds science”, as he confirmed at least £800 million for a new UK research body modelled on the US Advanced Research Projects Agency.