20,000 fewer workers on furlough in the region in April

More than 20,000 fewer workers in the Black Country and Staffordshire were on furlough in April, as coronavirus restrictions started easing across the UK.

Many pub, restaurant and shop workers returned to their roles that month as outdoor hospitality and non-essential retail opened for the first time since December.

However, with restrictions still in place, businesses in other sectors continue to be hit hard by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

HM Revenue and Customs figures show that 94,300 jobs held by workers living across the region were furloughed in April.

That was 22,900 fewer than the 117,200 furloughed at the end of March.

The figures also show that in April in the Black Country and Staffordshire: furloughed jobs in the retail sector dropped by 8,460, to 18,020; in the arts, entertainment and recreation sectors, 1,830 fewer jobs were supported by the scheme, however 6,160 were still furloughed in April; and the number of hospitality jobs furloughed fell by 2,950, to 21,190.

Through the scheme, the Government pays 80 per cent of a worker’s wages, up to £2,500 per month, if they haven’t been able to work due to the impact of the pandemic.

However, employers will pay a larger contribution from July.

New jobs

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said he will continue work to create new jobs to avoid unnecessary unemployment.

He said: “After enjoying a record number of people in work before the pandemic struck, Covid has knocked us for six.

"We estimate there are about 100,000 people now across the West Midlands who have fallen out of work, and this number could become a lot worse with tens of thousands still on furlough.

“It is therefore absolutely critical we avoid that happening and work with employers and the Government to help bring people back off furlough. That is what my 100,000 jobs plan commits to, and the furlough figures released for the Black Country today suggest that is what’s happening.

"But there is still a long way to go, with some sectors that have many staff on furlough still struggling. We absolutely must avoid any unnecessary unemployment at what is such a difficult economic time, and I will continue to work to my practical plan to create new jobs and help get people the training they need to move into work.”

Across the UK, the total number of jobs furloughed fell by 900,000 during April to 3.4 million at the end of the month, the figures show.

Dan Tomlinson, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation, which focuses on living standards, said the drop in the number of people on furlough was "encouraging".

He added that it is an indicator that the labour market – as well as the wider economy – is recovering quickly.

Risks

“But with around one in six young workers still on furlough at the end of April, today’s figures are a stark reminder of the risk of rising unemployment when the furlough scheme ends," he said.

"The Government must do all it can to ensure those workers find work as quickly as possible.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “We’ll continue to support those who need it through to September but I am hopeful that we’ll see more people moving back into work as we continue on the road to recovery.”

At a recent four-nation coronavirus recovery summit, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called for the UK Government to extend the furlough scheme beyond September.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said the Government was “open-minded” about the possibility and that the furlough scheme had been a huge success.

Separate HMRC figures show 76,200 self-employed workers in the region have received Government cash since the self-employment income support scheme started. The total value of the claims made across the area stood at £637.9 million by May 9.

Corin Crane, Black Country Chamber of Commerce CEO, said: "Furlough has been a lifeline for businesses and their employees during the Covid-19 pandemic which has meant that for those workplaces, which have remained closed or severely impacted by lockdown restrictions, that they retain their workforce.

“Whilst we will hear next week about the final stages for reopening, the furlough scheme will remain in place until September.

“The recently published figures are in line with what we are hearing that many places are continuing to open up or making plans to fully reopen and people all across the Black Country are looking forward to returning to those businesses and places they've missed.”

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