Coronavirus: Furlough scheme caps out at 9.4 million people

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Over a quarter of the entire working population has now been on furlough for at least some time since the job retention scheme was announced in March. Photo: PA

A total of 9.4 million people have been placed on furlough, new figures show, meaning over a quarter of the UK’s entire workforce has been idled at one point or another since the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

New figures published by the Treasury show that a total of 9.4 million people had been placed on the government’s job retention scheme as of 5 July, up from 9.3 million on 28 June. Some 33 million people were in work at the start of this year, according to the Office for National Statistics, meaning over a quarter of the entire working population has now been on furlough for at least some time since the job retention scheme was announced in March.

The figures given by the Treasury are cumulative, meaning not all 9.4 million are necessarily on furlough at the moment.

Employers could only add new staff to the scheme up until 30 June, meaning 9.4 million is likely to be the maximum number of people on furlough. Some 1.1 million companies have used the programme.

The scheme, which is due to run until the end of October, has so far cost the UK taxpayer £27.4bn ($34.2bn).

READ MORE: Retailers and hospitality businesses furlough 3m across UK

Figures released last month show shops, hotels, restaurants and other food businesses have been the most reliant on the job retention scheme. Some three million people have been furloughed across the retail, accommodation and food service industries.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak will on Wednesday announce a package of stimulus aimed at kickstarting the UK’s economy, with a focus on jobs.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak. Photo: PA

Numbers of idled employees have continued to rise even as parts of the UK economy have begun to reopen from mid-May onwards. Unions have urged the government to extend the furlough scheme into 2021 to prevent a “tsunami” of job losses.

READ MORE: Government told to extend furlough scheme into 2021 to prevent 'tsunami of job losses'

The latest furlough figures were published alongside stats on government-backed loans to businesses. Over one million companies have now tapped the government’s Bounce Back loan scheme, which offers loans of up to £50,000, 100% guaranteed by the state.

“I’m delighted that more than a million loans have been approved — and we will continue to do all we can to support small business as they reopen their doors in the weeks ahead,” Sunak said in a statement.

“Our small businesses are the powerhouse of our economy and will help drive our recovery as we bounce back from this global crisis.”

READ MORE: What to expect from UK chancellor Rishi Sunak's summer statement

More than 53,500 companies have borrowed £11.5bn under the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme (CBILS) and 394 companies have borrowed £2.5bn under the coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme (CLBILS).

“As we get Britain’s economic engines firing again, we will not only support businesses to get back on their feet, but also do all we can to level up the economy across every part of our country,” business secretary Alok Sharma said in a statement.