finance

Sunak plays down need for winter Covid measures that would harm economy


Rishi Sunak, the UK chancellor, has warned of a “challenging” winter ahead as Covid cases rise, but has said that cash will be available in next week’s Budget to alleviate pressures on families and arts institutions.

Sunak’s Budget was already tightly circumscribed by high debt levels and the threat of higher interest rates, but now the chancellor also faces the additional potential problem of more Covid disruption.

Speaking ahead of next Wednesday’s Budget, Sunak said the winter would be “challenging” but that he did not expect the government would have to respond with policies that seriously harmed the economy.

“There’s a range of options that are available, and those are not options that involve lockdowns or very significant economic restrictions,” Sunak told the Times.

The chancellor will stick within self-imposed spending limits when he announces the results of his three-year spending review, which will set out Whitehall budgets until the next election.

But he is expected to announce £500m of investment to support families, including £80m for “family hubs”, £100m to support mental health for new and expectant parents and £120m for other family projects.

Meanwhile 300,000 vulnerable families will be helped through an extra £200m for the government’s “supporting families programme”, which helps households through complex issues that could lead to family breakdown.

Family hubs are places where families can go to access the services they need in one place, but Kate Green, shadow education secretary, said they were a “sticking plaster for a fractured childcare and children services landscape”.

Separately, Sunak will announce in his Budget £850m in support for museums, galleries and other cultural locations over three years to help them recover from the effects of the pandemic.

Among the institutions receiving more money would be the V&A, Tate, Natural History Museum and National Museums Liverpool, the Treasury said.

Sunak said he was “proud to be part of a country with such a strong cultural heritage”, but has acknowledged that the closure of cultural institutions during the pandemic caused considerable damage.



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