Tony and Cherie Blair are coming under pressure over furlough payments totalling £76,000 which they claimed on behalf of employees during Covid lockdowns over the past two years.
There is no suggestion that the couple broke any rules, but some MPs have said they should consider returning the money, as a number of companies have done after finding that they were able to cover the cost of supporting staff from their own resources.
Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme set up by chancellor Rishi Sunak in March 2020, employers were able to claim payments to cover up to 80 per cent of the salary of staff who would otherwise be laid off because they were unable to work normally as a result of Covid restrictions.
Official documents highlighted by the Daily Mail list payments to “Anthony Charles Blair and Cherie Blair” continuing up to the point the scheme was closed in September 2021.
A spokesperson for the couple confirmed that claims totalling £76,000 were made over the lifetime of the scheme in respect of staff at Mrs Blair’s law firm based in Harcourt Street, London.
But the spokesperson pointed out that monthly claims were throughout in the lowest band and far smaller than those made by many of the 940,000 organisations which accessed the scheme.
Former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron told the Mail: “The Blairs are not the only people on the scheme who don’t appear to need it, but have accessed it.
“I think there are a lot of people out there who need to have a long hard look at themselves and ask whether they took advantage of a scheme that they could afford not to use.’
And Tory MP Peter Bone added: “Wealthy individuals and companies have handed back money they have received during the pandemic because they felt it was morally wrong. It may be that the Blairs will reflect on that.”
The Daily Mail report came amid a string of editorial commentary in the newspaper opposing the award by the Queen of an Order of the Garter knighthood to the former prime minister, alongside news stories highlighting controversial aspects of his career.
A petition calling for the honour to be revoked has gathered more than 1m signatures.
The Blairs’ spokesperson said: “As you will be aware this scheme provided grants to employers so they could retain and continue to pay staff during coronavirus related lockdowns, by furloughing employees at up to 80 per cent of their wages.
“In relation to the December (2020) to September (2021) months it was just over £35,000, an average of around £3,500 a month, in respect of three members of staff, based in the Harcourt Street office, who were unable to fulfil their usual duties because of Covid restrictions. The previous year’s figure was approximately £41,000 for five members of staff.
“They have all received their full pay and continue do so, regardless of the scheme ending.”