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Coronavirus: 1.6 million people in the UK are now claiming job-related benefits

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By Euronews
A dilapidated former public house boarded up on the high street in Hartlepool, England, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019.
A dilapidated former public house boarded up on the high street in Hartlepool, England, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019.   -   Copyright  Frank Augstein/Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved   -  

The number of Britons claiming jobless benefit has surged by 125.9% since the beginning of the country's coronavirus lockdown in March, rising to more than 1.6m people.

The latest figures by Britain's Office of National Statistics revealed that while the UK unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.9% between February and April, job-related benefit claimants soared 23.3% in May alone

Meanwhile, job vacancies have plunged as the coronavirus crisis batters the UK and economic uncertainty makes companies reluctant to take on new staff.

While in the first quarter of 2020 there were around 800,000 job vacancies in the UK, between March and May that figure was cut in half, with just 476,000 vacancies currently available in the country. That is the lowest number of open positions in the UK since records began in 2001.

The unemployment rate was largely unchanged due to the massive number of workers in the UK that are currently furloughed, meaning that the government pays the bulk of their wages and they are not counted as unemployed. As of June 7, 8.9 million Britons were currently on furlough.

And economists warn that unemployment could spike in the third quarter of 2020, when furlough schemes are wound down and companies either have to begin paying - or laying off - staff.

“If the public health crisis is just starting to ease, today’s figures show that the unemployment crisis is only just beginning," Tony Wilson, director of the Institute for Employment Studies, told AP.

Wilson said that unemployment is rising faster than during the Great Depression in the 1930s and is set to top three million this summer.

Elsewhere in its findings, the ONS revealed that the number of hours worked per week in the UK between March and May was down almost 100 million hours on the previous year, showing the extent of the impact of the coronavirus lockdown on the economy in general.

Britain has the third-highest death toll in the world from the coronavirus, with over 40,000 deaths since the pandemic began and almost 300,000 cases. On June 15, many businesses were allowed to re-open after more than two months of compulsory closures.