Chancellor Rishi Sunak pledges billions to get people back in work as UK debt grows

Rishi Sunak Credit: PA

Rishi Sunak is promising a multibillion-pound package to help unemployed people get back into work as he seeks to kick start an economy still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

Ahead of his Spending Review on Wednesday, the Chancellor said his “number one priority” is to protect jobs and livelihoods in the wake of the economic havoc wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic.

The review will include £2.9 billion over three years for a new Restart scheme designed to help more than a million unemployed people find jobs.

  • ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston breaks down what the plan means

Under the programme, the Treasury said people who have been out of work for more than 12 months will be provided with regular intensive support tailored to their circumstances.

There will be a further £1.4 billion of funding to increase capacity in Job Centre Plus to provide additional assistance to those looking for work.

All of the announcements ahead of the spending review were new spending which will further add to the UK's ballooning deficit and debt.

Mr Sunak has said in the past that after the coronavirus crisis is dealt with there will have to be a reckoning on how to reign in the government's spending.

It has been rumoured in recent weeks that Mr Sunak was considering a freeze in public employees pay, although NHS workers would be exempt.

The government has borrowed heavily to tackle the coronavirus crisis by keeping many businesses alive with grants and the furlough scheme.

The public sector debt is now larger than the UK's entire GDP and is the highest since the 1960s.

During the Spending Review, Mr Sunak will also confirm funding for the next stage of his Plan for Jobs – including £1.6 billion for the Kickstart programme, which the Treasury has said will create up to 250,000 state-subsidised jobs for young people.

The scheme, first launched in August, offering employers £2,000 for every new apprentice they take on, is to be extended to the end of March.

There will also be a £375 million skills package, including £138 million of new funding to deliver Boris Johnson’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee.

Speaking ahead of his statement in the Commons, Mr Sunak said: “My number one priority is to protect jobs and livelihoods across the UK.

“This Spending Review will ensure hundreds of thousands of jobs are supported and protected in the acute phase of this crisis and beyond with a multibillion package of investment to ensure that no-one is left without hope or opportunity.”

CBI policy director Matthew Fell said the Chancellor was right to focus on job creation as the economy looked to recover in 2021.

“Covid-19 has swept away many job opportunities, for young people in particular,” he said.

“The scarring effects of long-term unemployment are all too real, so the sooner more people can get back into work the better.”