The U.K. government will keep supporting workers and jobs as the economy reopens, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak told Sky News on Sunday.
“I said at the beginning of this crisis that I would do whatever it took to protect people families and businesses through this crisis,” the chancellor told Sky when asked if the furlough program would be extended beyond the end of April. “I remain completely committed to that.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday announced a four-step plan to reopen the economy that sees the last businesses reopening on June 21 at the earliest. Sunak said he wants “to support people and businesses along that path.”
The chancellor’s flagship Coronavirus support program pays furloughed workers up to 80% of their wages, capped at 2,500 pounds a month, and is scheduled to expire at the end of April. The most recent statistics show that as of Jan. 31, some 4.7 million workers were still on furlough.
Since the program began operations last April, a total of 11.2 million jobs have been supported, peaking at 8.9 million on May 8. The program has paid out almost 54 billion pounds.
Sunak is grappling with how to close a budget deficit that’s on course to swell to 400 billion pounds ($557 billion) this year. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated he may need to bring in tax increases of about 60 billion pounds in coming years in order to balance the books. He said that
U.K. public finances now face “challenges” due to the damage the pandemic has done to the economy and Sunak said he would lay out his plan to shore up finances in the budget presentation.
The chancellor has committed some 300 billion pounds to fighting coronavirus and supporting businesses and workers through the pandemic this fiscal year in an attempt to buttress the economy against the worst effects of three damaging lockdowns. Even so, the outbreak plunged the U.K. into its deepest recession since 1709, pushing the national debt above 2 trillion pounds for the first time.
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