Rishi Sunak has said it is right that the furlough scheme comes to an end in September, as focus turns to businesses operating with more normality.
The Chancellor insisted that reopening the economy as restrictions end would be the “right way” to sustainably help people.
Speaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland, Sunak also defended the planned cut to the £20 per week Universal Credit uplift.
Opposition parties, along with charities, have called for the uplift – introduced to help people during the pandemic – to be made permanent.
With the uplift due to be phased out in September, Sunak said the Government’s support schemes will “naturally come to an end”, as the country moves beyond the worst of the crisis.
He said: “This is one part of a huge package of support that we put in place during the crisis and it was always meant to be temporary and it’s right that we did certain things to help us get through the worst parts of the crisis, that’s what we’ve done.
“And much like other things, the furlough scheme for example, these things will naturally come to an end as we have got through the worst of it and we can look forward to a different future.”
Sunak defended the Government’s record on jobs, pointing to the unemployment rate in the UK as compared to other nations including the US, France and Italy.
He said: “A year ago today, when we outlined the plan for jobs, people’s fear was that unemployment would reach 12% in the United Kingdom – 12%, 4m people unemployed.
“And now, as a result of our plan and our sticking to the plan and the plan working, people now thing that the forecast for unemployment, it will be half of that, that is 2m fewer people out of work than were previously feared.
“And that unemployment rate today is lower here than it is in countries like the US, Canada, France, Italy, Spain, Australia.
“So, actually, our record on keeping people in work is really good.”
‘It’s right that we get the economy reopened and then get people back to jobs.’Rishi Sunak, Chancellor
Asked why September is the date set for the furlough scheme ending, he said: “It’s well past the end of the restrictions.
“And obviously, the Scottish Government will make their own decisions, but it’s well past the end of restrictions.
“It’s right that we get the economy reopened and then get people back to jobs, and we want those jobs to be jobs that we know are sustainable for them.
“This has been a hugely important, but expensive, intervention for the Government. It was the right thing to do, but it’s also right that it comes to an end and we focus on reopening the economy, that is the right way to sustainably help people.”
He added: “I’m sure whatever date I said, you or someone else would say why not another month, why not another three months, why not another six months, right?
“So, I think September strikes the right balance between providing support for people for 18 months since the beginning of this crisis, past the end of the restrictions, and allowing us to transition to slightly more focus on businesses operating normally.”
Sunak said that people can be “reassured” that there will be strong investment in public services, in response to suggestions that spending during the pandemic could lead to further austerity.
He said: “The spending plans that we have set out over the course of this Parliament allow for very healthy growth in public spending.
“It actually implies that by the end of this Parliament, we’ll be spending £100bn a year more than we were at the start of this Parliament, which I think is a large amount of money in anyone’s mind.
“And what that implies for the growth rate, which is also important, the growth rate of public spending will be historically high for any parliament in recent times.
“So, I think people can be reassured that there is strong investment in public services, in levelling up and spreading opportunity for the NHS, Police, schools, et cetera, that is happening.
“Now within that, of course do we have to make decisions and prioritise, of course we do, all governments do, we’ll have the spending review in the autumn where we set out those plans.”