Quarter of workers were furloughed during pandemic, official figures show

ONS finds half of those were on the scheme for more than three months, with young people and older workers most likely to have been placed on furlough

One in four employees were furloughed at some point during the pandemic, official figures have shown.

An overview of the scheme, which closed last Thursday (30 September), by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that 26 per cent of all people in the UK who were in employment at any point between March 2020 and June 2021 were put on furlough at some point during that time.

Half of those furloughed were on the scheme for a total of more than three months across this period, with 24 per cent spending more than six months on furlough, the ONS said.

Those that were furloughed for more than three months were less likely to be in employment by August 2021 when compared to those who were furloughed for a shorter time, the data showed.

In total, 8 per cent of people who were furloughed at some point were no longer employed in the three months to June 2021, which the ONS noted was a similar proportion to those who were not furloughed – of which 7 per cent were no longer employed.

Commenting on the end of the furlough scheme, Jamie Mackenzie, director of Sodexo Engage, described the process of bringing employees back to the workplace as a “delicate process”.

Get more HR and employment law news like this delivered straight to your inbox every day – sign up to People Management’s PM Daily newsletter

“For some, it may mark the end of employment and leave the remaining staff with possible ‘survivor’s guilt’,” he said, stressing that open and frequent communication with staff would “be crucial for reassuring employees”.

“Leaders at every level should endeavour to engage in regular dialogue with their team to explain their decision-making, as well as offer employees a forum to share their anxieties,” he said.

The ONS figures also provided insight on which groups of workers were more likely to have been furloughed over the last year and a half.

Younger and older workers – those under the age of 24 and over the age of 65 – were the most likely age group to be furloughed, making up 30 per cent of all those who had ever been furloughed, compared to 23 per cent who were aged 35 to 44 years.

Similarly, single parents were more likely to be furloughed than workers living as a couple with children (31 and 24 per cent of people furloughed respectively), while part-time workers were more likely to have been furloughed than not, making up 30 per cent of furloughed workers and just 23 per cent of workers who had never been furloughed.

Employees who held GCSEs as their highest qualification were also more likely to be furloughed, with the likelihood of being furloughed lower for those with qualifications above A-levels.