Thursday, 24 Sep 2020

UK loses 700,000 jobs to pandemic as pressure mounts for aid

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) – Britain has lost almost 700,000 jobs in the coronavirus crisis, a blow to the economy that will heap further pressure on the government to extend its wage-support programs.

The number of employees on payrolls in August is down 695,000 from March the Office for National Statistics said on Tuesday (Sept 15). The number of people claiming for jobless benefits has risen to 2.7 million, an increase of 121 per cent since March.

While restaurants and pubs started to reopen after coronavirus lockdowns, the figures are a reminder that the upturn in spending masks deeper fragilities. Employment fell by 102,000 in July alone, the first decline since April.

The jobless rate rose to 4.1 per cent – climbing from the 3.9 per cent level it has been at since March.

The government is facing mounting calls to extend its furlough programmes – as other European nations have done – after the worst economic contraction in centuries. The furlough programme pays people idled by the pandemic. The UK faces a triple whammy of a spike in unemployment as aid ends, new restrictions on activity as infections mount, and a turbulent Brexit at the end of the year.

Most economists predict the heightened uncertainties will prompt the Bank of England to increase its monetary stimulus later this year. Policy makers may lay the groundwork for that when they meet this week.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has so far insisted that the furlough programmes must be allowed to expire so that the economy can adjust to the post-Covid reality. Yet companies are already notifying authorities about layoffs to come, putting the UK on course for twice as may job losses as in the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, the Institute for Employment said Monday.

British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and London City Airport are among high-profile examples of companies announcing massive job cuts. Sandwich chain Pret a Manger is also shedding staff as fewer people commute to city centers.

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