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The number of people in employment in the UK fell by 649,000 between March and June as the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said there were 2.6 million people claiming work-related benefits, including unemployment.

It also revealed a record drop of 175.3 million in the total number of hours worked per week since the start of lockdown, equivalent to a 16.7% fall to 877.1 million hours.

“This was the largest annual decrease since estimates began in 1971, with total hours dropping to its lowest level since May to July 1997,” the ONS added.

“Vacancies in the UK in April to June 2020 are at the lowest level since the survey began in April to June 2001, at an estimated 333,000; this is 23% lower than the previous record low in April to June 2009.”

The fall in employment figures are not as big as some expected, with many businesses making use of the government’s furlough scheme to avoid job cuts. It is believed that the true extent of job losses won’t be realised until the scheme comes to an end in October.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) found that 29% of its members expect to reduce the size of their workforce over the next three months.

Matthew Percival, the CBI’s director for people and skills, said: “These figures show serious difficulties for hundreds of thousands of people, but unfortunately this is still only the beginning of the impact on the labour market. Flattening the unemployment curve will remain paramount.”

 

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