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Furlough figures fall by half a million as the economy re-opens

Written by: Emma Lunn
Provisional figures from HMRC show there has been a decrease in levels of furlough between February and March 2021 with 4.2 million workers on furlough at 31 March 2021.

The number of people on furlough had risen from 4 million in December to 4.9 million in January, before falling to 4.7 million in February.

At 28 February, 41% of employers had staff on furlough. Provisional estimates show that this decreased to 39% of employers at 31 March 2021.

Since the start of the scheme a cumulative total of 11.5 million jobs have been supported by the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme at various times. The levels of furlough reflect the changes to restrictions on individuals, households and businesses across the UK since the autumn.

The number of women on furlough outnumbers the number of men; 2.12 million women versus 1.95 million men. The under 18s had the highest take-up rates of furlough. Those aged 18 to 24 and those who were aged 65 or over were also more likely than average to be on furlough.

Myron Jobson, personal finance campaigner at Interactive Investor, said: “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 cashflow 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 30 September.”

Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “Half a million people came off furlough in March, as business owners prepared to throw open the doors of shops, beauty salons, gyms, restaurant patios and beer gardens across the country. People who are returning to work will breathe a huge sigh of relief that they still have something to go back to; and even those still stuck on furlough have hope.

“Older people returning to work will be particularly relieved, because according to the ONS, a third of this group think their chances of having a job to go back to after all this is over are about 50:50.”

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