In Depth

More than 730,000 jobs axed during lockdown

Newly published ONS data reveals largest drop in UK employment in decade, with youngest and oldest worst hit

The number of employees on UK payrolls fell by more than 730,000 between March and July as the coronavirus pandemic wreaked economic havoc, newly released figures show.

And despite the government’s Job Retention Scheme and business loan programmes, overall employment fell by a total of 220,000, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The drop marks “the largest quarterly decrease since May to July 2009, the depths of the financial crisis”, says the BBC.   

Salaries have also fallen, with pay levels including bonuses down by 1.2%, on average, and regular pay by 0.2% - “the first negative reading since records began in 2001”, reports The Guardian

Youngest and oldest worst affected 

The number of people in work who are aged 65 years and above fell by a record 161,000 to 1.26 million over the three months to June. 

But workers aged 18 to 24 “were the worst affected by the loss of employment and most likely to be hit by a loss of hours”, according to The Guardian. The ONS data shows that number of people on zero-hours contracts increased by 156,000, or 17.4%, to a new all-time high of 1.05 million. 

ONS deputy national statistician Jonathan Athow said: “The groups of people most affected are younger workers, 24 and under, or older workers and those in more routine or less skilled jobs. This is concerning, as it’s harder for these groups to find a new job or get into a job as easily as other workers.

“Figures from our main survey show there has been a rise in people without a job and not looking for one, though wanting to work. In addition, there are still a large number of people who say they are working no hours and getting zero pay.” 

Further unemployment hike fears

Redundancies have increased by 30,000 on the year, and 27,000 on the quarter, to 134,000. 

The newly published ONS report says that “while this is the highest level since February to April 2013, the level remains well below that seen during the 2008 downturn”. 

But KPMG economist Yael Selfin believes the current unemployment rate will soar when the furlough scheme ends of October, City A.M. reports. 

“As the job retention scheme unwinds, we expect unemployment to rise quickly in the fourth quarter”, she said. “That could see unemployment average over 6% this year, compared to only 3.9% at present.” 

Calls for furlough extension 

Trades Union Congress (TUC) general secretary Frances O’Grady is calling on the government to extend the furlough scheme, arguing that “the more people in work, the faster our economy will recover from this crisis”.

“The alarm bells couldn’t be ringing any louder,” she said. “Ministers must act now to protect and create jobs. That means extending the job retention scheme for businesses with a viable future who can’t operate because of virus restrictions. 

“It means investing in the jobs we need for the future in green industries, social care and across the public sector. And it means ensuring a decent safety net is in place to help those who lose their jobs get back on their feet.” 

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