The Scottish Secretary has denied furlough was only extended because of the second national lockdown in England.
Alister Jack reiterated furlough is intended for the whole country, despite a backlash from politicians in Scotland and Wales who had previously been denied requests for an extension in the weeks and months before it had initially been planned to close on October 31.
Furlough was first extended for the period of England’s lockdown until December 2, but on Thursday Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a further extension until the end of March due to a rise in coronavirus cases and prevalence of the virus.
Asked on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme about the timing of the initial extension to cover the English lockdown – as Scotland entered new levels of restriction and Wales neared the end of a firebreak – he said: “No, I don’t accept that it has changed because of England – the Job Support Scheme is for the whole country.
“The scheme was moving into the Job Retention Scheme… and at that point when we saw us getting back into more difficult, harsher economic conditions through the lockdown, the Chancellor adapted the scheme.
“This is a fast-moving health crisis, an evolving position, and we have to evolve our approach to respond.
“With England going into lockdown there was a need to reset the Job Support Scheme which as you know was designed when there was a lower prevalence of the virus during the summer.
“On Saturday October 31 that was the last day of the initial scheme, and then the initial scheme has been rolled forward and throughout Wales’s circuit-breaker it was a receiving the full support.”
Mr Jack also confirmed if someone was employed on September 23 and made redundant subsequently, “your employer could reemploy you now and put you back on to furlough so we have addressed that problem”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will have access to the Government’s furlough scheme if they have to introduce lockdown measures to combat Covid-19 at a different time to England.
Scotland’s Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said the extension to furlough is “positive but long overdue”, with new funding for the devolved administrations also announced.
Wales’s economy minister Ken Skates also welcomed the move, saying it “shows the value today of a union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland working together”.