COVID 19 – Most UK workers now off furlough

Date : 16 August 2021

The UK “furlough” scheme (properly the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or CJRS) ends on 30 September 2021, but data from ONS shows that most UK employees are already back at work, at least some of the time.

Use of the furlough scheme has declined through the first part of 2021. In late July, respondents to an ONS business survey said that only 1.5% of employees were still on full furlough, with 2.2% on partial furlough.

65.4% of workers were at their usual place of employment, 27.1% were mainly working from home instead of at their usual location and 1.8% were on sick leave or otherwise absent.

The rate of unemployment has remained low as use of the furlough scheme has tapered off. The unemployment rate in the latest month, April, was 4.8%.

This suggests that workers leaving furlough are not moving into unemployment, which in turn implies that furlough has been successful in preserving jobs in a period of unprecedented crisis – albeit at great cost.

However, a deeper reading of employment data suggests that the rate of employment in the UK is still lower than it was pre-crisis and that the rate of economic inactivity (ie: not working and not looking for work) has also risen.

In some cases, this may be for health reasons (eg: persistent effects of COVID or other conditions which have been left untreated).

However, IGD’s interviews with employers have raised another possibility: that one effect of COVID has been to change attitudes to work and to life, leaving some citizens looking for a less work-focused lifestyle.

Another key point is that IGD contacts have expressed concern over lack of workers in many roles – it is evident that the ending of furlough will not release large numbers of workers back into the labour market.

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