One in four employees (26%) have been on furlough at some point during the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’s operation.
The scheme, which was announced on 20 March 2020 and finished on 30 September 2021, supported 11.6 million jobs and was used by 1.3 million employers.
According to new figures from the Office for National Statistics, employees with GCSEs as their highest qualification were 8.9 percentage points more likely to have been furloughed than those with degrees or equivalent qualifications.
The scheme was designed to support businesses to retain employees during lockdowns or periods of reduced demand. However, the figures showed that those who were furloughed for more than three months, who accounted for half of those on furlough, were less likely to have remained employed in August 2021.
Twenty-three per cent of workers on furlough were on the scheme for six months or more.
Eight per cent of people who have been furloughed were no longer employed in the three months to June 2021.
Business groups had called for the scheme to be extended, particularly for industries hit hard by the pandemic, including the arts, travel and hospitality.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Boris Johnson’s government is heading into winter without a plan to protect working people and rebuild the economy.
“Ministers should rethink the end of furlough. Many workers in hard hit industries are still furloughed and need support for longer. Otherwise, we may see a rise in unemployment.
“The cost of living is rising fast, but ministers are determined to cut vital universal credit support. They must cancel the cut to help keep families warm and fed through the winter ahead.”
Thirty per cent of workers under 24 years old and over 65 years old were placed on furlough, compared with 23% of workers aged 35 to 44. Single working parents were also disproportionately affected as 31% of them were furloughed, compared with 24% of workers living as a couple with dependent children.
Furlough levels also varied by race and ethnic background; Asian workers were 3.8 percentage points less likely to be furloughed when compared with those of white ethnicity.
Twenty-eight per cent of disabled employees were furloughed, compared with 26% of workers without a disability. Four per cent of disabled furloughed people had become unemployed compared with 3% of non-disabled furloughed people.
Current employees who had ever been furloughed were more likely to be in part-time work than those who were never furloughed (30% of furloughed workers compared with 23% never furloughed). They were also more than twice as likely to be on a zero-hours contract than those who were never furloughed, at 5% and 2% respectively.