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Coronavirus: Retailers and hospitality businesses furlough 3m across UK

Staff wears masks as they process orders at the Shikara Indian Restaurant in Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, where they have closed the restaurant and started doing takeaway meals and deliveries as part of the UK's response to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images)
The accommodation and food service sector has furloughed 1.4 million people. (Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images)

Shops, hotels, restaurants and other food businesses have leaned most heavily on government support for furloughed workers during the COVID-19 shutdown, new figures show.

Numbers released by the Treasury on Thursday showed that retail and hospitality businesses have furloughed more workers than any other sectors.

161,900 businesses in wholesale and retail have furloughed 1.6 million people under the government’s job retention scheme, figures show.

102,000 companies in accommodation and food service have furloughed 1.4 million people.

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The two sectors are the only parts of the economy to have furloughed more than one million people, although the Treasury was unable to classify which sector a further one million furloughed workers were in.

The numbers are perhaps unsurprising. The strict lockdown, introduced in March, forced all restaurants and pubs to shut down, while hotels have seen business collapse as airlines have been grounded worldwide and people have been told to stay at home.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is seen as he arrives at Downing Street, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, May 13, 2020. REUTERS/John Sibley
Chancellor Rishi Sunak: 'Our unprecedented coronavirus support schemes are protecting millions of vital jobs and businesses across the whole of the UK'. (John Sibley/Reuters)

Some 8.9 million people have been furloughed across the UK by more than one million businesses since the launch of the job retention scheme in March. Under the scheme, the government pays 80% of furloughed staffs’ wages up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.

Thursday’s figures from the Treasury are the first time it has broken down furlough numbers by sector and geography.

One million people are furloughed in London, with a further one million furloughed across the wider South East region.

Some 628,000 are furloughed in Scotland, while fewer than 320,000 people are on the job retention scheme across each of Wales and Northern Ireland.

“Our unprecedented coronavirus support schemes are protecting millions of vital jobs and businesses across the whole of the United Kingdom — and will help ensure we recover from this outbreak as swiftly as possible,” chancellor Rishi Sunak said in a statement.

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The job retention scheme is due to run until the end of October, although employers will not be able to add more people from the end of this month. Employers will also be asked to contribute to the cost of the scheme from August onwards.

The Treasury has also been awarding grants to help support the self-employed during the pandemic. The Treasury said 70% of those eligible for grants have so far applied.

“We have extended both schemes so they will continue to provide measured support across the UK as we start to reopen the economy,” Sunak said.