Furlough figures fall by half a million as the doors open again

The numbers on furlough fell half a million – to 4.2 million by the end of March.

They had risen from 4 million in December to 4.9 million in January, before falling to 4.7 million in February.

Women still outnumbered men on furlough (2.12 million women and 1.95 million men).

The under 18s had the highest take-up rates of furlough. Those aged 18 to 24 and those who were aged 65 or over were also more likely than average to be on furlough.

Sarah Coles personal finance analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown: “Half a million people came off furlough in March, as business owners prepared to throw open the doors of shops, beauty salons, gyms, restaurant patios and beer gardens across the country. People who are returning to work will breathe a huge sigh of relief that they still have something to go back to; and even those still stuck on furlough have hope.

“Older people returning to work will be particularly relieved, because according to the ONS, a third of this group think their chances of having a job to go back to after all this is over are about 50:50.

“At the end of March, 4.2 million people continued to rely on the scheme to make ends meet, but we’re likely to see the numbers fall back again in April, as businesses prepare for the rules to relax further in mid-May and again in June.

“Unfortunately, it’s not unalloyed good news, because while many of those coming off the scheme are returning to work, others will have been taken off the scheme and made redundant. We don’t yet have redundancy figures for March, but early payroll data shows 56,000 fewer employees than in February.

“Some companies will have had to cut staff numbers to make the figures add up while the workplace looks so different. Others will have been making a loss for so long they have run out of road entirely, and been forced to give up the fight. The number of company voluntary dissolutions during March averaged more than 6,000 a week.

“However, there’s still hope. If you’re still on furlough, you have the comfort of knowing that the scheme continues through the summer, and the government will offer 80% of pay until the end of June, before it starts to taper. There’s still a good chance the economy will reopen sufficiently to protect your job before support starts to fall.

“If you’ve lost work, or are worried you might, the positive news is that data produced by Adzuna for the ONS showed job adverts finally rose above their pre-pandemic level in the third week of April. While it’s only an early indication from one job site, there’s the hope that if your job doesn’t come through this in one piece, there may be something else out there for you.”