The number of people on furlough fell below two million towards the end of June as the economic recovery gathered pace, official figures show.
Almost three million people have come off furlough since the restrictions started to ease in March, according to HM Revenue & Customs. In May last year about nine million people were furloughed.
More up-to-date figures suggest that use of the scheme fell again in July. The Office for National Statistics said that between a million and 1.5 million people, or 5 per cent of the workforce, were furloughed this month. However, its findings, based on interviews with about 5,000 businesses, have consistently undershot government figures.
“It’s fantastic to see businesses across the UK open, employees returning to work and the numbers of furloughed jobs falling to their lowest levels since the scheme began,” Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, said: “I’m proud our Plan for Jobs is working and our support will continue in the months ahead.”
The number on furlough fell by 590,000 last month after dropping by 1.1 million in May. The reopening of the hospitality sector has helped young people to come off the scheme quickly, with the proportion of 18 to 24-year-olds on it declining from 10 per cent to 6 per cent.
Older people are now more likely to be furloughed than younger workers. One in ten workers aged 65 and over was on furlough last month, the highest of any age group.
The scheme is due to close at the end of September and employer contributions to furloughed staff’s wages are set to double to 20 per cent from August 1. Unemployment is expected to rise as a result, with the Bank of England expecting a 5.5 per cent peak this year.
Charlie McCurdy, an economist at the Resolution Foundation, the think tank, said that the number of people still on furlough was still “higher than many expected” and was a cause for concern.