Number of people on furlough lowest since pandemic began

29 July 2021, 18:56

The number of people on the furlough scheme is as its lowest level since the start of the pandemic
The number of people on the furlough scheme is as its lowest level since the start of the pandemic. Picture: Alamy
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The number of people on the government's furlough scheme is now at its lowest level since the coronavirus pandemic began.

New figures show that 590,000 workers were taken off the scheme last month, meaning around 1.9 million people were on furlough by the end of June.

Speaking during a visit to Scotland, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the drop showed how well the government has supported jobs during the crisis.

"Great numbers out today on the furlough scheme," he said

"People are rapidly coming off furlough and coming back into work, which is really wonderful to see."

Last month's figure represents a significant drop compared to the 5.1 million people who were on furlough in January.

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Discussed its phasing-out, Mr Sunak said it had saved "millions of jobs" but the government's focus was now on getting people back into work.

He added: "All the data we're seeing about the labour market is really positive. A year ago people were expecting unemployment in our country to peak at 12 per cent - 1980s levels.

"If you asked them now, they think it will peak at a level half of that - that's two million people fewer out of work than we feared a year ago.

"Unemployment in this country is lower than in most of our competitor nations."

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Last month's figure was the last before the burden of the scheme began somewhat shifting away from the Treasury and more towards companies.

In July, firms using furlough had to pay 10 per cent of their employees' salaries, while the government's support dropped from 80 to 70 per cent.

From Sunday, this will be reduced again to 60 per cent, with employers picking up 20 per cent of the furlough pay in August and September. After that, the scheme is set to be dropped.

At the start of July, more than one in four employers still had some of their staff on furlough. Unless they are made redundant, or brought back to work, keeping them on furlough through the month will cost businesses millions of pounds.

However, some businesses are still heavily affected by the pandemic. Data released on Thursday shows that 58 per cent of jobs at UK airlines are still furloughed.

Travel agencies and tour operators, photographers and the arts also still have many people on furlough.

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On Thursday, the chancellor said: "It's fantastic to see businesses across the UK open, employees returning to work and the numbers of furloughed jobs falling to their lowest levels since the scheme began.

"I'm proud our plan for jobs is working and our support will continue in the months ahead."

Young people have been the most likely to be on furlough during the pandemic, but this changed in June when they moved off the scheme twice as fast as all other age brackets.

In total, 600,000 under-25s were either brought back to work or made redundant.

Now, staff over 65 have the highest furlough levels of any age group.