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Over a million still on furlough, with scheme set to end within weeks

Paula John
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Paula John

The end of the furlough scheme could lead to a rise in unemployment and increased household debt

The number of people on furlough has fallen to its lowest level since the start of the pandemic, according to government figures.

The number of people on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) on 31st July stood at 1.6 million – down 340,000 from almost two million at the end of June and a peak of nearly nine million at the height of the pandemic in May last year.

However, this marked a slower decline than in previous months, with only three weeks to go until the furlough scheme ends.

A report by Reuters suggested that up to one million could still be on furlough when the scheme expires at the end of the month.

Government figures also show that a further 800,000 people have claimed the latest self-employment scheme grant.

So what happens next?

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, said: “With furlough naturally unwinding and coming to a close at the end of the month we are doubling down on our Plan for Jobs – focusing our support on giving people the skills and opportunities they need to succeed in the jobs of tomorrow.”

Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown, added: “Hundreds of thousands of people could be left high and dry when the furlough scheme comes to an end, and those who are carrying debts could find themselves in serious difficulty.

“On the face of it, if their employer can’t take them on again, they should be able to find work, given there were an estimated 953,000 job vacancies in May to July 2021, a record high.

“However, in reality, it’s incredibly tough. There’s a real mismatch between the sectors people are on furlough from and the sectors that are recruiting. Not every sales assistant wants to take a pay cut to move into care or retrain as a delivery driver. It’s why NIESR forecasts unemployment will hit 5.4% at the end of the year.”

Figures released today revealed a slowdown in economic growth, with GDP rising by just 0.1% in July, lower than had been expected by economists.