Back in September, the chancellor was still hoping the summer reopening of the economy would be enough to kickstart the jobs market, as he steadily scaled back the support programme.
Despite repeat warnings from business leaders, Sunak insisted it was not right to endlessly extend furlough. Hard choices needed to be taken to help protect the public finances. “As the economy reopens it is fundamentally wrong to hold people in jobs that only exist inside the furlough,” he said.
The words would come to haunt the chancellor on Halloween. Five hours before the scheme was due to end, it was clear the second Covid wave and tougher new restrictions would require a screeching U-turn.
The trouble now for Sunak is that his actions will be criticised for coming far too late for thousands of people.
Early figures from HMRC suggest 33,000 people were removed from company payrolls in October, at a time when Sunak still insisted furlough would close at the end of the month. The replacement programme – tossed from the drawing board last week after several rewrites – wasn’t enough for these workers.