The number of people claiming unemployment benefits in Britain soared by more than 69 per cent last month as coronavirus lockdown hit the labour market, official figures show.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said those without a job claiming Universal Credit rose to 2.1 million in April, a rise of a record 856,000 compared with the previous month.
But Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said the situation would be worse if it was not for the government’s Job Retention Scheme.
Speaking with talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer, she said: “The furlough scheme has been very successful in trying to keep people linked to their employer and understandably we want to encourage people, where it’s safe to do so, to get back into work as quickly as possible.
“I think that the furlough scheme was an important way of making sure, instead of people just being laid off straight away, allowing them to keep that connection.”
The scheme, which pays 80 per cent of the monthly wages (up to £2,500) of 7.5 million workers, has been extended until the end of October.
The ONS also revealed that unemployment increased by 50,000 to 1.35 million in the three months to March, as the impact of the pandemic first started to be felt in the UK.
However, in the same period, the number of people in work increased by 210,000 to 33.14 million.
The rate of unemployment nudged marginally higher, to 3.9 per cent, but remained markedly below economists’ predictions of 4.3 per cent.
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