Lockdown sends furlough numbers up

Chancellor Rishi SunakChancellor Rishi Sunak
Chancellor Rishi Sunak
Over 2,500 more workers in Northumberland were on furlough last month as stricter lockdown restrictions were imposed, according to new figures.

HM Revenue and Customs data reveals around 19,200 jobs held by workers living in Northumberland were furloughed as of January 31.

That was 2,600 more than the 16,600 furloughed a month earlier, when the UK was on the cusp of its third national lockdown.

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But despite this increase, the number is still far lower than in May last year – the earliest month with comparable figures – when there were 33,800 furloughed jobs in the area.

The latest figures come amid reports that Chancellor Rishi Sunak is preparing to extend the income support scheme into the summer.

Jobs at firms which are unable to operate or have no work for their employees during the pandemic are eligible for furlough pay from the Government – with workers currently getting 80% of their wages, up to £2,500 per month.

Charlie McCurdy, researcher at the Resolution Foundation think tank which focuses on living standards, said: “This data shows that the Job Retention Scheme again took the strain during the latest lockdown.

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"Furlough has once again played a crucial role in protecting incomes and keeping a lid on rising unemployment.

"But with almost five million workers still on furlough in the most recent data, our biggest labour market challenges may be ahead of, rather than behind, us."

Speculation is growing that Mr Sunak will announce an extension to the programme during the March 3 Budget after Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed the Government would not "pull the rug out" from those using taxpayer-funded support schemes.