Johnson Pledges To Do ‘Whatever it Takes’ To Support U.K. Jobs

Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to do “whatever it takes” to help U.K. workers through the pandemic, in a further sign the government will extend its job support plan.

Asked Friday whether the furlough program would be extended past April if the U.K. remained under lockdown, Johnson said the government would “support livelihoods” as it had done through the crisis. The comments come after people familiar with the matter said Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is drawing up plans to extend aid in the months ahead.

“We will do whatever it takes to support the people of this country throughout this pandemic, to support jobs, support livelihoods as we have done throughout,” Johnson said at a televised press conference. He also warned that the current lockdown can only be lifted once infection rates have dropped, and that it was an “open question” when that can happen.

Demands from businesses for extra support have intensified since the country was put back into lockdown to contain a surge of infections triggered by a new variant of the disease. Data Friday show the restrictions pushed output down at the fastest pace since May this month, leaving the U.K. at risk of another sharp contraction after it saw the deepest recession in three centuries last year.

The Confederation of British Industry this week asked the government to urgently extend furlough, which pays 80% of the wages of temporarily laid off workers, until June. The program, announced last March, has already been extended on a number of occasions as the pandemic progressed.

Johnson said the government is determined to avoid lifting lockdown rules too early and triggering another spike in cases, which will do more damage to the economy.

“Obviously the faster we can roll out the vaccine, the faster we can give businesses what they really want, which is certainty about being able to resume something like business as usual,” he said.

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