Chancellor Rishi Sunak says return of Covid-19 furlough scheme is 'not on the cards'

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said the return of the furlough scheme is “not on the cards” as he stressed the UK Government does not envisage having to impose any “significant economic restrictions” to deal with the continuing fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Sunak said the ongoing vaccine rollout was the “best line of defence against having to move to put in place any restrictions”.

Speaking on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, he said there were no plans to reinstate the coronavirus job retention scheme, even as the number of positive cases continues to increase.

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Mr Sunak said: “That’s not on the cards because we don’t envisage having to impose significant economic restrictions in the way that we had to over the last year, and the reason for that is, although we’ve always said the winter was going to be challenging, the big change is the vaccine rollout, which is our first line of defence.

“The best way to protect us through the winter is to get the booster campaign, making sure that that’s firing on all cylinders, everyone gets their booster jab when they’re asked.

“That’s the best line of defence against having to move to put in place any restrictions.”

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Mr Sunak said Wednesday’s Budget would be "about looking to the future and building a stronger economy for the British people".

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said there are no plans to reinstate the furlough scheme. Picture: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire

He explained: "That means strong investment in public services, driving economic growth by investing in infrastructure, innovation and skills, giving businesses confidence, and then supporting working families. Those are the ingredients of what makes a stronger Budget and that's what we will deliver next week."

Asked if there would be a return to austerity, he replied: "As I said, one of the elements of building a stronger economy is having strong public services and you will see that next week."

Mr Sunak said he wanted to be a tax-cutting Chancellor, despite the fact his government raised national insurance across the UK to pay for social care in England.

“Of course, my instincts are to do that, that’s what I believe,” he said.

"I want people to better keep more of their money, I want to reward people for working.

“I think that is a good thing and I think that will help drive economic growth.

"But as we discussed, I’ve also had to grapple with an economic shock, the biggest in 300 years, borrowing that [is] the highest since World War Two, and things like the elective backlogs in the NHS being at record levels, which we want to make progress on. Those are some of the challenges.”

Mr Sunak also said public sector workers would have to wait until Wednesday to discover if they are in line for a pay rise.

He said: “That will be one of the things that we talk about next week in the spending review. Obviously over the past year, we took a decision to have a more targeted approach to public sector pay given that the year before there were large increases and obviously the private sector was seeing pay decreases last year, and people were on furlough.

“We thought that was reasonable and fair. Now going forward, we’ll have to set a new pay policy and that will be a topic for next week’s spending review.”

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