More than one in eight UK workers were furloughed at the end of December, new figures have shown, as nearly £6 billion was claimed in the last two months of the year.
Government figures show that 13% of employments across the country were furloughed on December 31, and that more than one in three employers were claiming money to pay their staff as part of the scheme.
Figures fell slightly from November, when just over £3 billion was claimed, to December when a little under £3 billion was claimed but remained higher than they were in October.
The end of October saw new claimants being allowed to be placed on furlough as the pandemic proved to last longer than initial estimates.
The number of people on furlough shot up from 1.7 million at the end of October to 4.1 million a month later as a result, the data shows.
“The Job Retention Scheme has been a living standards lifeline for millions of workers, with three in 10 private sector workers furloughed at the peak of the first lockdown. And with the UK back in lockdown, over four million employees are likely to be on furlough right now,” said Charlie McCurdy a researcher at the Resolution Foundation think tank.
He added: “The winding up of the scheme in just three months’ time is expected to cause a fresh wave of unemployment. It’s vital therefore that the Chancellor ensures a flexible transition out of the scheme, in order to avoid millions of workers simply moving from furlough straight into unemployment.”
Separate figures from the Treasury also revealed that businesses are still needing support, with another £1.2 billion paid out in bounce back loans, which lend up to £50,000.
Nearly 40,000 more businesses were granted a bounce back loan between December 13 and January 24, while around 66,000 applied.
Another £1.4 billion were lent under two other loan schemes, bringing the total for Treasury-backed loans to nearly £71 billion since the start of the pandemic.
“As economic uncertainty due to the pandemic continues, many individual businesses and some specific sectors are facing significant and extended disruption and may find themselves in financial difficulty,” said Stephen Pegge at UK Finance, the trade body for banks.
“With widespread restructuring and recovery situations expected, the finance sector and related professional services are focused on providing the capacity and expertise to help support the turnaround of companies where possible, while ensuring the sympathetic treatment of those businesses which are no longer viable.”