Rishi Sunak has told Sky News there will be “difficult times ahead” despite new emergency measures to kickstart the economy after the coronavirus lockdown.
The chancellor admitted “we are not going to be able to protect every single job” as businesses reopen following a three-month shutdown.
“I am absolutely anxious about the state of the economy,” he told Kay Burley@Breakfast after a major statement on Wednesday.
“We are, as I’ve said before, entering into a very significant recession. We know that that is happening.”
He said the forecasts of mass unemployment “weigh very heavily on me”.
But Mr Sunak struck a note of optimism, adding: “We don’t want people to be left without hope or opportunity.”
He also urged Britons to “have the confidence” to return to eating out “because of the measures restaurants have taken” – despite being seen serving food to customers in a Wagamamas without wearing gloves or a mask.
The real toll of COVID-19 on the economy will take some time to be realised, the chancellor added, explaining people will have to gradually readopt behaviours they have “unlearned over the last few months”.
His highly-anticipated speech to the Commons revealed plans to subsidise discounts on meals out, cut stamp duty and pay companies for taking workers off furlough and retaining them into 2021.
Despite focusing on the drive to get people spending again, there was no word in the statement on plans to scrap the waiver put in place during the pandemic meaning NHS staff do not have to pay for parking at their own hospital.
Mr Sunak told Sky News the “commitment hasn’t changed” for it to remain as long as the coronavirus crisis.
And he repeated a manifesto pledge to extend free hospital parking for the disabled, frequent outpatient attendees, and parents of sick children who are staying overnight and night-shift workers.
Addressing businesses who still have to stay closed under lockdown rules, such as the beauty industry, Mr Sunak said an announcement will come “very soon” on which firms can reopen next.
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said there are “some aspects” of the chancellor’s speech Labour supports, but he “isn’t shifting” away from a “one-size-fits-all” approach to the economy.
It will create “unnecessary waves of unemployment” – particularly in sectors where the furlough scheme is needed for longer, she told Sky News.
Ms Dodds added there should also have been “more targeted” measures to create affordable housing on top of the stamp duty cut.