LONDON (AP) — The U.K’s treasury chief batted away speculation Sunday that he is about to turn off the spending that has buoyed the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying now is not the time to worry about the government’s record peacetime borrowing.
Rishi Sunak used appearances on Britain’s Sunday morning political talk shows to announce plans to give the National Health Service an extra 3 billion pounds ($4 billion) and pledge that support for businesses and workers hurt by the pandemic will continue through the spring.
The comments came amid reports that Sunak may announce a pay freeze for government workers when he delivers his annual spending review to Parliament on Wednesday. That triggered questions about whether he was preparing to clamp down on spending and raise taxes amid forecasts that government borrowing will reach 372 billion pounds this fiscal year.
Sunak said the government is still focused on responding to the pandemic, with 750,000 people having lost their jobs already and more likely to follow. He declined to comment on pay freeze reports.
“It’s very sad to see,” he told the BBC. “It’s real, it’s not just numbers of a chart, it’s people’s lives, it’s their livelihoods, their security that’s being impacted. And it’s something that we’re going to grapple with for a while to come, sadly.”
The question of government spending is a very sensitive one in the U.K., which struggled under years of austerity after the 2008 financial crisis.…