Furlough’s over, what’s next?
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, or “furlough” as it quickly became known, has now ended. It started in March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, and finally came to an end on 30th September 2021 (although claims can be submitted up until 14th October 2021 for the period ending on 30th September).
Over the summer of 2020 there was public discussion about ending the scheme in the Autumn of that year. That did not come to pass. In the autumn of 2020, the Government introduced a replacement for the scheme, the Job Support Scheme. That was delayed with hours to go until its introduction amid rising COVID cases in October 2020, and then cancelled.
So, the furlough scheme remained in operation for nearly a year longer than originally planned. The number of employees on the scheme peaked on 8th May 2020, at 8,861,300, at the height of the first lockdown. A year later, the numbers using the scheme had been reduced to 2,786,500. By the end of July 2021 (the last date with figures available), there were only 1,563,600 people still on the scheme.
The sector which made the largest use of the scheme throughout was, unsurprisingly, the hospitality sector. Hotels, restaurants, cafes, pubs, were all badly affected by lockdown restrictions. 259,100 employees in that sector remained on furlough at the end of July.
The gradual reduction in numbers using the scheme illustrates UK businesses adapting to the impact of the pandemic since March 2020. It may well be the case that many of the people who remained on the scheme in September 2021 will find there is no job to which to return now and redundancies may follow.
In somewhat positive news, August 2021 saw the largest number of job vacancies since records began, with positions open for 1,034,000 people. 134,000 of those positions were open in the hospitality sector.
The figures seem to suggest that jobs are available for many people leaving the furlough scheme, even in the same industry. However, where industry has vacancies, but still has people on furlough, it is reasonable to conclude that the jobs are not the same. We can expect jobs in different places and differently structured jobs, with all the disruption that that entails.
While the furlough scheme has now come to an end, the effect of the pandemic on the job market in the UK is far from over.