New government figures show that the number of employees on furlough fell to 2.4 million on 31 May 2021, down from 3.5 million on 30 April, with young people in particular leaving the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme in high numbers.
Numbers on the CJRS last peaked at 5.1 million in January and have fallen continuously since, said the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
But according to the Resolution Foundation think tank, the figures were not all good news, with some indicators pointing to older people being stuck in furlough and a serious threat of long-term unemployment hovering over many workers in the UK.
With the furlough scheme starting to be phased out today, the government must do all it can to prevent a big rise in unemployment this autumn” – Daniel Tomlinson, Resolution Foundation
On 31 May, 8% of people in jobs eligible for the CJRS were on furlough, down from 12% at 30 April. However, there remained wide variations between sectors of employment with passenger air transport having 57% of employees on furlough, the same figure as hotels. Tour operators had half their staff on furlough (51%). Pubs and bars (43%), the creative arts and entertainment (39%), were the next highest, followed by clothing manufacture (32%).
Pubs and bars saw the largest reduction in jobs on furlough between 30 April and 31 May: a decrease of 179,700, followed by restaurants and mobile food services, which saw a reduction of 133,000.
The ONS found that for the first time since the early months of the CJRS, more men were on furlough than women. It said this reflected decreases in the number of jobs on furlough in sectors such as accommodation and food where there was a high proportion of female employees. About 1.13 million women were on furlough on 31 May compared with 1.2 million men.
London had higher take-up rates than the rest of the UK, particularly for male employments, with eight of the highest rates of furlough among local authority areas being in the capital. Newham (15%), Hounslow and Brent (both 14%) had the highest rates. Outside of London, Crawley in West Sussex (14%) and South Lakeland in Cumbria (12%) had the highest rates. Crawley and Hounslow’s high figures were likely associated with their proximity to Gatwick and Heathrow airports.
The number of employments on partial furlough fell between 30 April and 31 May from 1.4 million to 1.1 million. The ONS noted that some employments that were previously on full furlough may have moved to partial furlough as businesses reopened and restrictions eased.
According to the Resolution Foundation, the new data served further evidence that older workers are disproportionately likely to remain “parked” on furlough, with far more younger people leaving the CJRS (from 616,000 to 322,000).
It also pointed out that the ONS survey also suggested that the pace at which furlough rates are falling has slowed considerably since 17 May, when the majority of the indoor and outdoor economy could reopen.
The Foundation’s own research – also published today – shows that more than 600,000 workers aged 45 to 64 have now been unemployed or fully furloughed for at least six months. Older furloughed workers were less likely to have returned to work during the crisis than younger furloughed workers: with 26% of workers aged 55+ workers that were furloughed in April 2020 still being on full furlough in May 2021.
It said that this indicated that the rise in unemployment was ahead of us, rather than behind us and further support was likely to be needed when the furlough scheme was ended completely in September.
Daniel Tomlinson, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation, said: “The grand reopening of the economy in May has caused over a million people to return to work from furlough. It’s especially encouraging to see so many young people – who have been hardest by the Covid economic crisis – finally returning to work.
“But with 2.4 million employees still not fully back to work, today’s figures offer a sobering reminder of just how incomplete our Covid recovery is.
“With the furlough scheme starting to be phased out today, the government must do all it can to prevent a big rise in unemployment this autumn – particularly for those who have spent long periods not working during the pandemic.”
Since the start of the scheme, a cumulative total of 11.6 million jobs have been supported by the CJRS at various times. This is across all claims submitted to HM Revenue and Customs by 14 June 2021.