Chancellor Rishi Sunak defends huge Budget spending as reward for austerity

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has defended the huge £30 billion spending pledges laid out in his Budget, effectively saying the extra cash is reward for several years of austerity.

Mr Sunak, who delivered the first post-Brexit Budget on Wednesday, said he was able to spend £18 billion in response to the coronavirus outbreak, due to "responsible management of the economy over the past several years".

The huge spending package - which included a further £12 billion being spent elsewhere - has been described as the biggest in 30 years and one that would not look out of place being delivered by Labour.

The new Chancellor said he was able to make the spending pledges because the country's finances are now "in a strong position" and "the foundations of our economy are good, which means I can stand here and say that we will do what it takes to respond to coronavirus".

And he said he was prepared to spend much more on the NHS to try mitigate the impacts of Covid-19.

After less than a month in the job, Rishi Sunak delivered the Budget Credit: PA

"We will look and respond to the situation as it evolves but yesterday there was a very comprehensive package of support," he said, adding "of course, if we need to do more we will".

Mr Sunak - who took over from former chancellor Sajid Javid when he quit after being asked to get rid of his aides - said his Budget was sticking to fiscal set out by his predecessor.

"I've delivered a Budget within those rules which means we don't borrow for day to day spending.

"We borrow to invest for things like infrastructure, rail, road, broadband and we that because it raises our long term productivity as a country, it provides jobs it raises wages and that I think is the right economic plan," he said.

His Budget is estimated to add hundreds of millions of pounds to public borrowing by 2024, but he defended that, saying the government will not borrow for day-to-day spending.

Unusually, Labour's John McDonnell welcomed much of the spending pledges in the Budget, but said it had not gone far enough to protect workers against the impacts of coronavirus.

"We're supporting the government in terms of what they've said about the NHS, whatever the NHS needs, it will get and we support that - it's a pity its taken a crisis to produce this but at least we're there.

But he said his "worry" was over social care.

"Social care treats the elderly and they're the most vulnerable group so we need investment in social care, which is already in crisis remember," the shadow chancellor said.

He said he was also concerned that "low-paid, part-time workers, zero-hour contract workers don't seem to have access to statutory sick pay".

He said it means those workers could be forced to make a decision between "health or hardship" if they contract the coronavirus and need to be off work.