It would, Rishi Sunak said, be “fundamentally wrong to hold people in jobs that exist only in the furlough”. That was on 24 September. Six weeks on, the chancellor has performed a spectacular U-turn by extending his furlough scheme until March at an estimated cost of £6.2bn a month.
He has torn up his previous pledge to preserve only “viable” jobs. Some 400,000 furloughed jobs might disappear next spring. His decision is right, but it is very late in the day. Opposition parties, the CBI and TUC have been calling for it for months.
The latest last-minute move adds to the impression of a government running to catch up with coronavirus. Boris Johnson would almost certainly have saved lives by putting England in a temporary lockdown in September, when the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage) recommended it. Sunak, who talked Johnson out of it, would almost certainly have prevented redundancies if he had bitten the bullet on furlough earlier.
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