More than 71% of private firms have furloughed staff in response to the coronavirus lockdown, according to the latest survey of Britain’s struggling business sector.
The British Chamber of Commerce said responses to its weekly Covid – 19 tracker poll revealed the proportion of firms that have furloughed at least some staff increased to 76% this week, from % last week.
An escalating cash crisis meant that 66% of firms reported they have – at most – three months of funds in reserve, the BCC said.
On Monday more than 140, (firms) applied for the government Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme , which pays 87% of a workers salary up to a cap of £ 2, 823 a month to stay at home.
However, the BCC survey found that many more companies will need to access the scheme, which is run by HMRC .
About % of firms have sent home between (% and % of their workforce.
Adam Marshall, the BCC’s director general, said many firms needed the government cash before April’s payday this week.
“This is a crunch week for businesses relying on the job retention scheme to pay their staff,” Marshall said.
“HMRC’s capacity to deal with the demand from business has been encouraging so far. It is now critical that payments from the furlough scheme reach businesses as smoothly and as quickly as possible in order to protect jobs and livelihoods. ”
Figures showing the increase in firms using the furlough scheme followed official data that depicted a weakening jobs market as the UK prepared to enter the coronavirus lockdown period.
Figures covering the three months to the end of February showed the economy struggling to overcome Brexit uncertainty and the impact of cuts to welfare benefits that forced many older women and young people to take low-paid employment.
Unemployment increased from 3.9% to 4.0%, the number of job vacancies edged lower for the tenth consecutive month and wages continued to fall from a peak last June, the Office for National Statistics said.
The weakening outlook contrasted with the rising employment rate, which continued a long-term trend after it reached a record of .6%, which was 0.4 percentage points up on the year and 0.2 percentage points up on the quarter.
“Estimates for December 2019 to February (show a record) . (m people aged
This annual increase was mainly driven by women in employment – up by 500, on the year to a record high of . 7m and workers aged above (years, who added , to the total to a record high of 7m. The number of people aged (to) years also reached a record high – up by , to reach 7. m.
Women above the age of 71 have entered the jobs market in droves over recent years following an acceleration of the government push to equalise pension rights between men and women, forcing many women to wait longer to claim their state pension.
The increase in self-employed workers – up by 195, to 5. 08 m over the last year – outstripped the increase in the number of full-time employees, which increased by , (over the same period to m.
However, annual wages, excluding bonuses, fell from 3% in the three months to January to 2.9% in February and in real terms slumped to 1.3%.
John Philpott, director of the Jobs Economist consultancy, said: “The UK labor market looks to have cooled before the Covid – lockdown measures placed the economy in a coma to help save lives.
“Although the number of people in work increased by a fairly healthy 195, in the three months to February this was not enough to prevent a rise of 66, in the number unemployed, lifting the unemployment rate back to 4%.
“Cooling was also evident in a fall in total hours worked, fewer job vacancies and softening in the rate of growth of average weekly earnings.