Boris Johnson has warned there can be no further extension to the Government’s furlough scheme despite a fresh wave of job losses across the country.
Ministers are facing calls to extend the programme – which has protected more than 9 million jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic – following the announcement this week of thousands of lay-offs in the retail and aviation sectors.
But in an interview with London’s Evening Standard, the Prime Minister insisted it was not “healthy” for either the economy or the employees concerned to maintain the scheme beyond its planned end date in October.
“I’ve got to be very, very blunt with you. We’ve spent £120 billion supporting people, it’s a huge commitment and we have put our arms around people,” he said.
Build, build, build
“The best way forward for us now is to work together to beat the virus and get the economy back on its feet. We’re going to do amazing things; we’re going to build, build, build, invest massively in our country.
“But I think people need to recognise that the particular restrictions that furlough places on you are not, in the long term, healthy either for the economy or for you as an employee.
“You are keeping people in suspended animation. You are stopping them from actually working. I am being absolutely frank with you, we are pushing it out until October but in the end you have got to get the economy moving.”
The furlough scheme – which has seen the state pay up to 80% of the wages of workers who would otherwise have been laid off at a cost of £25 billion so far – is due to begin unwinding from August.
The prospect that firms will have to start contributing to the pay of employees on the programme has led to fears of a fresh wave of redundancies among businesses who cannot afford the cash.
Labour has called for the continuation of targeted assistance for sectors which have been particularly hard hit as a result of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson defended his appointment of his chief EU negotiator David Frost as the new national security adviser after it was sharply criticised by Theresa May.
In the Commons earlier this week, the former prime minister denounced the choice of a “political appointee” with “no proven expertise” in national security to such a critical position.
Mr Johnson said: “I didn’t hear what she said but I have the highest admiration for David Frost, and he will do an outstanding job. And by the way you know he is a very distinguished diplomat who has served in many, many different capacities.”