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One in four employees furloughed during pandemic

Written by: Emma Lunn
A quarter of people who have been employees during the pandemic had been on furlough at some point between March 2020 and June 2021, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS has published an overview of workers who were furloughed during the pandemic, after the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme (CJRS) came to an end yesterday.

It found that the proportion of people who have ever been furloughed was higher (30%) for workers aged under 24 years and over 65 years, compared with 23% of workers aged 35 to 44 years.

Single working parents were particularly affected, as 31% of them were furloughed, compared with 24% of workers living as a couple with dependent children.

Employees with GCSEs as their highest qualification were more likely to have been furloughed than those with degrees or equivalent qualifications.

The ONS found that 8% of people who have ever been furloughed were no longer employed in the three months to June 2021; this is a similar proportion to employees who had never been furloughed (7%).

Half of those furloughed were furloughed for more than three months and this group were less likely to be employees by August 2021, when compared with those furloughed for a shorter time.

For furloughed people still working, 22% had gone to work for someone else and 12% were working in a different sector.

More than half (55%) of employees in arts and recreation and 69% of those in accommodation and food services were furloughed at some point. More women (54%) were furloughed for more than three months, than men (45%).

Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “Being furloughed was no picnic in the park: the shock of being locked out of work caused hundreds of thousands of people to lose faith in their employer and worry so much about the future that they found work in another sector entirely. Others used the weeks or months they were away from work to reassess what they really wanted – and decided they needed a change.

“It’s still too early to tell if being furloughed made you more likely to lose your job. By June the difference was only marginal, but it remains to be seen how many of those who were still furloughed on the final day ended up losing their job altogether. These figures could look far less positive in the final analysis.

“But so far it has already sparked hundreds of thousands of job hunts: over a fifth of those who were furloughed and are currently working have changed job. And while a similar number were job hunting, they were twice as likely to say this was because of the pandemic. In some cases, this is because they’ve lost faith in their employer and are concerned they could find it just as easy to let them go if they needed to cut costs again.”

Myron Jobson, personal finance campaigner at Interactive Investor, said: “The furlough scheme has undoubtedly kept a lid on unemployment, but the burning question is: what happens next?

“The hope is the record job vacancy levels will be able to absorb those who have been rolled off the scheme and have found themselves without a job. However, a mismatch between skills supply and demand is underpinning employers’ inability to fill their vacancies – most notable HGV drivers – and those who have come off furlough won’t necessarily have skills and qualifications in the areas where the demand is.”

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