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Furlough figures fall by half a million as doors open again

The number of people on furlough has fallen by half a million to 4.2 million, according to the latest furlough figures published by the government.


Women still outnumbered men on furlough – 2.12 million women compared to 1.95 million men. The under 18s had the highest take-up rates of furlough. Those aged 18 to 24 and over 65 were also more likely than average to be on furlough.


Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at UK investment firm Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “At the end of March, 4.2 million people continued to rely on the scheme to make ends meet, but we’re likely to see the numbers fall back again in April, as businesses prepare for the rules to relax further in mid-May and again in June.


“Unfortunately, it’s not unalloyed good news, because while many of those coming off the scheme are returning to work, others will have been taken off the scheme and made redundant. We don’t yet have redundancy figures for March, but early payroll data shows 56,000 fewer employees than in February.


Some companies will have had to cut staff numbers to make the figures add up while the workplace looks so different. Others will have been making a loss for so long they have run out of road entirely, and been forced to give up the fight. The number of company voluntary dissolutions during March averaged more than 6,000 a week.”


Furlough scheme has worked

Myron Jobson, personal finance campaigner at UK investment platform interactive investor, says: “The latest unemployment data shows that the furlough scheme has worked, and continues to do so.


“While society has started to reopen, UK plc is still reeling from the damage done to its cash-flow by a year of Covid restrictions. With 4.2 million workers still on the scheme according to latest figures, the greatest challenge for the job market may be yet to come.


“The extension of the furlough scheme has been instrumental in keeping a lid on rising unemployment. The hope is that the labour market will be in a much better position to prevent a surge in unemployment once the scheme comes to an end on September 30.


“The financial cost of the scheme is likely to be significant, and it will be taxpayers who foot the bill further down the line. However, from purely an employment standpoint, it may just be a price worth paying.”

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