Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said the government is will pick up 80 per cent of wage bill for employees unable to work due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In the third big intervention from government in recent days, Rishi Sunak said the “unprecedented” measures were part of plans to protect people’s jobs.

The new coronavirus job retention scheme will cover wages up to £2,500 a month.

Many companies are already drowning. Bosses are warning that thousands of firms will collapse, wiping out thousands of jobs, as life in the UK is largely coming to a halt.

In a reassuring move, the chancellor said: “Today I can announce that for the first time in our history the government is going to step in and pay people’s wages.”

“I know that people are worried about losing their jobs, about not being able to pay the rent or mortgage, about not having enough set by for food and bills,” he said.

“I know that some people in the last few days have already lost their jobs. To all those at home right now, anxious about the days ahead, I say this: you will not face this alone.”

Mr Sunak appealed to employers to stand by their workers during the coronavirus crisis.

He said employers will be able to contact HMRC for a grant to cover most of the wages of people who are not working but are furloughed and kept on payroll rather than being laid off.

“I know it’s incredibly difficult out there. We in government are doing everything we can to support you,” he said.

“The government is doing its best to stand behind you and I’m asking you to do your best to stand behind our workers.”

In the Prime Minister’s daily press briefing at Downing Street, Mr Sunak said that measures to strengthen the welfare system are also being put in place.