A leaked Treasury document suggests Chancellor Rishi Sunak may need to hike income tax, freeze public pay or end the pension triple-lock to foot the bill for the coronavirus pandemic. The document, obtained by the Telegraph, predicts the UK’s budget deficit will reach £337bn in 2020 – the March Budget predicted a £55bn deficit. Tax rises and spending cuts that raise up to £30bn could be required to fund the increased debt, and may be announced within weeks, the document says. In the worst-case scenario, the deficit will reach £516bn this year, requiring £90bn in cuts and tax rises, while the Treasury’s most “optimistic” scenario forecasts a £209bn deficit.
The news comes as the government officially lifts lockdown measures for the first time. From today, people can exercise outdoors as much as they want and meet a friend in the park, while those that cannot work from home are encouraged to resume their commute, avoiding public transport when possible. Scientists at University College London have said 8 million people with underlying health issues should be exempt from the government’s back-to-work plans to avoid a deadly second spike of infections. In a new study published in the Lancet, they said people with conditions such as diabetes, obesity and heart problems – about a fifth of the working population – should stay home.
One set of businesses allowed to reopen today are estate agents, a move designed to kickstart the stalled housing market. Removal firms and conveyancers can return to business, show homes can open and councils can restart construction in residential areas in staggered shifts. Anyone buying a house can now view properties again, creating a bizarre situation whereby people can visit a strangers’ home, but not see their family. It is estimated that 450,000 buyers and renters have moving plans on hold.