Chancellor announces £5bn 'response fund' to tackle COVID-19
Presenting his Budget 2020 speech, today, Chancellor Rishi Sunak put COVID-19 at the top of the agenda, declaring that "whatever extra resources our NHS needs to cope with coronavirus – it will get".
Extra resources promised by the Government include a COVID-19 Response fund, initially set at £5 billion, created for:
- The NHS to treat Coronavirus patients, including maintaining staffing levels;
- Local authority actions to support social care services and vulnerable people;
- Ensuring that funding is available so other public services are prepared and protected;
- £40 million of new funding for the National Institute for Health Research and the Department of Health and Social Care to enable further rapid research into COVID-19 and increase the capacity and capability of diagnostic testing and surveillance facilitated by Public Health England. This follows the £91 million that the Government has already pledged to the international response.
- A commitment of up to £150 million to the International Monetary Fund’s Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust, to help the effort to stop further transmission, including into the UK, and supporting vulnerable countries as they respond to the outbreak.
"I know how worried people are. Worried about their health, the health of their loved ones, their jobs, their income, their businesses, their financial security," commented Sunak, adding: "There is likely to be a temporary disruption to the economy. On the supply side, up to a fifth of the working age population could need to be off work at any one time and business supply chains are being disrupted around the globe.
"This combination of people being unable to work and businesses being unable to access goods will mean that for a period our productive capacity will shrink. There will also be an impact on the demand side of the economy, through a reduction in consumer spending. The combination of those effects will have a significant impact on the UK economy. But it will be temporary... I’m confident that our economic performance will recover."
Commenting on the Budget statement, Siva Anandaciva, Chief Analyst at The King’s Fund said: "The coronavirus outbreak has understandably altered the government’s priorities for this Budget so the extra £5bn announced for the NHS, social care and other public services to support their response to the coronavirus is very welcome. As the situation develops the Government will need to keep under review how much funding public services need.
"The Budget also included an additional £6bn for the NHS to deliver on some of the government’s headline manifesto commitments. Chronic workforce shortages remain the single biggest issue currently facing the NHS and social care, yet the Budget was light on detail of how it would boost recruitment and retention, and support under pressure staff. The publication of a long-term, comprehensive NHS People Plan has been repeatedly delayed and held back to allow for today’s Budget commitments, so it is now essential to get this published as soon as possible.
"The Government made a manifesto commitment to extend healthy life expectancy and narrow health inequalities by 2035, yet local directors of public health are still waiting to find out know how much they will have to spend from next month. Following on from years of cuts to public health budgets, this begs the question of how seriously the Government takes its commitment to improving people’s health.
"Adult social care remains a pressing and overlooked issue and despite the Prime Minister’s election commitment to ‘fix it once and for all’ the pressures have only increased in recent months. It is hugely disappointing that this Budget does not include an emergency cash injection to help local government to address social care needs beyond coronavirus. In writing to MPs and Peers last week, the Government has still not come forward with any proposals for long-term reform of social care."