Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said his “overwhelming focus” is on saving jobs at the moment, and again declined to comment on fiscal policy when asked about the possibility of tax rises to pay for the cost of the Covid-19 crisis.

Speaking to Sky News on Tuesday, Sunak admitted that the economy is facing severe and significant challenges and “many people are losing their jobs.” But he believes the main thing in the short term is to focus on supporting employment as much as possible in order to have long term sustainable public finances.

I think the priority right now is on jobs. My overwhelming focus at the moment is trying to protect and support as many jobs as possible.

The minister did not comment on tax policy, but his remarks came a day after he said there was a “sacred duty” to balance the books, which prompted speculation of possible tax rises.

Asked on Radio 4’s Today program on Tuesday if he has been fighting against further lockdown measures, Sunak said everyone is striving to get back to normality but that relies on controlling the virus.

Covid-19 will remain a factor in the UK economy for a long time, the minister noted, adding that it is “therefore wrong to pretend to people that they can always, in every circumstance, go back to the job that they had before this started.”

More than a third of UK employers plan to make staff redundant over the next three months, YouGov said in a report published on October 1, after polling more than 2,000 managers.

The government will end the current furlough scheme at the end of this month and start a new Jobs Support Scheme in November. The new program will be open to small- and medium-sized businesses and will run for six months.

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