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More women furloughed than men

Written by: Emma Lunn
About 4.7 million workers were on furlough in January, the highest figure for six months, according to HMRC.

The figure is up from 4 million people furloughed in December and 3.9 million in November, coinciding with the third national lockdown which began on 6 January.

More women (2.32 million) are on furlough than men (2.18 million). In the early days of the crisis, men were more likely to have been furloughed, but for the past six months most people on furlough have been women.

During December, the gap between women and men narrowed, but as schools closed again, and women faced the bulk of childcare responsibilities, it opened up once more.

Young people aged 25 to 34-years-old make up the largest group of furloughed employees, with the take-up rate highest among the under 18s.

In the accommodation and food sector 68% of jobs have been furloughed, compared to 16% of all jobs.

Furloughing of staff in the wholesale and retail sector peaked on 24 April 2020 at 1.85 million. This dropped to 356,400 workers furloughed at 31 October. The number of employees furloughed in this sector increased in November and December to 714,400 at 31 December. Provisional figures show that at 31 January, furloughing in this sector had increased to 938,500 workers.

Under the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme, the government pays 80% of a furloughed employee’s full wage, up to £2,500 a month. The scheme was extended until the end of April in December – it was previously meant to end in March, following several extensions.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has urged the government to extend furlough to the end of the year before unemployment surges.

There are rumours that chancellor Rishi Sunak will extend the furlough scheme until the summer. The government roadmap out of lockdown has a potential date of 21 June for rules on social contact to completely end.

Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “The government has promised the 4.7 million people on furlough that they won’t have the rug pulled out from underneath them in April. But they need the reassurance that the rug won’t be quietly shrunk to the size of a doormat either. The Budget needs to offer a meaningful furlough extension to get them through the crisis.

“Furlough is nowhere near its peak during the first lockdown, partly because more of the economy is open. However, it’s not all good news. In many cases, those who were furloughed back in May have lost their jobs: in 2020 the number of people in employment dropped by more than half a million.

“With millions of people utterly reliant on the government to see them through this lockdown, and the current scheme set to expire at the end of April, those on furlough need certainty from the Budget. Rishi Sunak is expected to announce an extension of the scheme until the summer, which will be a lifeline.

“Yet, much will depend on the detail. If the government tapers the support on offer, businesses will need to make difficult decisions about whether they can afford to keep staff on. The government has already tried this once, and because the taper kicked in at a time of widespread uncertainty, it sparked record redundancies. This time we have a roadmap out of the crisis, but there are no guarantees we won’t have to change course, so any potential tapering needs to be cautious and flexible, so people aren’t left high and dry again.”

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