612,000 UK workers lose jobs during coronavirus lockdown

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A total of 612,000 people across the UK have lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic – according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

According to ONS and HM Revenue and Customs, a further 163,000 people lost their jobs last month, on top of 449,000 in April.

The data from ONS and HMRC has revealed the true impact of the COVID-19 enforced lockdown.

The UK employment rate in the three months to April 2020 was estimated at 76.4%, 0.3 percentage points higher than a year earlier but 0.1 percentage points down on the previous quarter. The UK unemployment rate for the three months to April 2020 was estimated at 3.9%, 0.1 percentage points higher than a year earlier but largely unchanged on the previous quarter.

The total number of weekly hours worked in the three months to April 2020 was 959.9 million, down a record 94.2 million (8.9%) hours on the previous year.

There were an estimated 476,000 vacancies in the UK in March to May 2020; this is 342,000 fewer than the previous quarter and 365,000 fewer than a year earlier; experimental single-month estimates indicate a decrease of approximately 60% of vacancies for May 2020 compared with March 2020.

Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician for ONS said: “The slowdown in the economy is now visibly hitting the labour market, especially in terms of hours worked. Early indicators for May show that the number of employees on payrolls were down over 600,000 compared with March.”

Industry reaction

James Reed, Chairman of REED, Britain’s biggest recruitment firm

What was sadly a health emergency is now rapidly becoming an employment crisis. Millions of jobs are now at risk and what we’re seeing may just be the tip of the iceberg. There’s a real danger that unemployment could go above 15%, and as the clock continues to tick on the Government’s generous Job Retention scheme, jobseekers and businesses face an unforgiving employment landscape.

We need to act now if we’re to ease the economic effects of the lockdown. Existing jobs must be protected, jobseekers need support finding new roles, and furloughed workers should be redeployed or reskilled. We must also find constructive ways to accelerate jobs growth and protect livelihoods – in fact it must become one of the government’s number priorities.

Relaxing the two metre rule and re-introducing the least vulnerable demographics back into their workplaces is a good place to start. In the longer term, economic stimuli such as reforming National Insurance and employment law, re-booting apprenticeship and training schemes, investing in infrastructure and expanding research and development can help to improve current employment prospects.

Some parts of the economy are starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel, and we must work tirelessly to identify opportunities in these areas. Non-essential retailers, car showrooms and outdoor experience providers are re-opening to the public and the wheels are slowly gathering pace for a recovery. This has been reflected in an increasing number of job vacancies across a range of sectors, for example, the ‘motoring and automotive’ and retail sectors have seen 480% and 122% month-on-month increases between March and April on reed.co.uk.

In times of great hardship we must think constructively and creatively to preserve and create jobs. Our Keep Britain Working campaign is an example of how this can be achieved in practice, linking jobseekers and businesses to surface opportunities and ensure we successfully rebound from this national emergency.

Matthew Percival, CBI Director of People and Skills

We can now clearly see the significant impact the virus is having on the labour market already. Over 600,000 people were taken off payroll between March and May, vacancies fell by the largest amount on record on the quarter, and hours worked fell at the fastest pace on record over the year.

Unemployment falls unevenly across society and leaves scars that last generations. The urgent priority must be creating inclusive jobs today, by turbo charging the sustainable industries of tomorrow. This should be backed by a revolution in retraining, with business, government and education providers stepping up to reskill communities for the future.

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