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Tue, 4 August 2020

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Boris Johnson prepares coronavirus back-to-work push as figures reveal 650,000 fewer in jobs

Boris Johnson prepares coronavirus back-to-work push as figures reveal 650,000 fewer in jobs

The Prime Minister is set to use a Downing Street press conference on Friday to urge people to head back to the office. (PA)

4 min read

Almost 650,000 people have lost their jobs during the coronavirus crisis, official figures suggest, as Boris Johnson prepares to urge the country to return to their workplaces.

Fresh data from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of workers on UK payrolls tumbled by 649,000 between March and June.

There are now 2.6 million people claiming work-related benefits, including the unemployed, the figures show.

The findings come as the Prime Minister gets ready to launch a new back-to-work push amid fears that a reluctance to travel in to offices and other workplaces is holding back the UK’s economic recovery.

Mr Johnson is expected to use a Downing Street press conference on Friday to shift the Government’s official guidance which still recommends that public transport only be used for essential journey and says those “who can work from home should continue to do so”.

The Prime Minister has already signalled a change in the Government’s message, saying earlier this week that firms had gone to “huge lengths” to make their businesses safe as Covid-19 restrictions have been eased.

“What I want to see is people who've been working from home for a long time now talking to their employers, talking to their place of work about the steps that have been taken, and looking to come back to work in a safe way," Mr Johnson said.

Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey is reported to have told Conservative MPs on Wednesday night told that Britain’s economic recovery will need staff back at work to support cafes, restaurants and bars that rely on their custom.

The latest ONS data reveals that 74,000 fewer people were in paid employment in June when compared with May.

And 649,000 fewer people were in work when compared to March, when the UK’s Covid-19 lockdown began.

Workers who are currently on furlough through the Government’s coronavirus job retention scheme are still included as on payroll in the data, meaning the impact of the crisis could be far higher once the scheme comes to an end in October.

While the overall unemployment rate stands at just 3.9% — 0.1% higher than a year earlier but “largely unchanged” compared with the previous quarter, the ONS said said an “increased number of respondents who were previously unemployed have moved to economic inactivity in March to May 2020”.

That suggests that “some who were previously unemployed are no longer looking for work,” the stats body said.

Speaking as the figures were published on Thursday morning, Business Secretary Alok Sharma acknowledged the economic toll of the pandemic would be “very, very difficult for for lots of people”.

But he told the Today programme: “The best thing we can do is continue to open up the economy, in a phased manner, in a cautious manner and get businesses up and running again.”

And he added: “As a government we have put in £160 billion of support through the furlough scheme, through loans through and grants to businesses and others... The cost of inaction would have been far greater than the cost of the action that we've taken, but I completely accept that it is going to be very, very difficult for lots of people.”

Nye Cominetti, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation think tank, said: "The recent lockdown caused a profound economic shock, with millions of workers furloughed or seeing their hours of work cut.

"But the easing of restrictions in May and June appears to be levelling off this stage of the labour market crisis.

"Hours worked and vacancy rates recovered slightly from record falls, and some workers returned to work from furlough.

“But while the initial shock is levelling off, that doesn’t mean the jobs market is in recovery. The next big test of this crisis – on rising redundancies and unemployment – is still to come as the furlough scheme that has supported over nine million jobs is phased out."

 

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