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UK reports highest number of quarterly job losses since 2009 recession

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A woman walks by a closed store, in London, Thursday, July 16, 2020. Figures show UK employment suffered the biggest three-month decline since the 2009 recession.
A woman walks by a closed store, in London, Thursday, July 16, 2020. Figures show UK employment suffered the biggest three-month decline since the 2009 recession.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Alastair Grant
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The number of people working in the UK fell by the highest amount since the global financial crisis more than a decade go, according to official figures released on Tuesday.

Employment fell in the April to June quarter by 220,000, its biggest three-month decline since the 2009 recession.

This came even as the unemployment rate held steady at a historically low 3.9% in June.

The Office for National Statistics also reported that the number of people on payroll in the UK fell by a a further 81,000 in July to 28.27 million.

The number of people coming off the payroll since March is now 730,000, with the decline in employment greatest among younger and older workers, along with those in lower-skilled jobs.

The stable jobless rate is largely due to a government salary support scheme. Some 1.2 million employers took advantage of the programme during the lockdown to furlough 9.6 million people at a cost to the government of £33.8 billion (€37.5 billion).

Although those on the scheme are not working, they are not counted as unemployed. UK finance minister Rishi Sunak said Tuesday's figures showed the support measures have helped to "safeguard millions of jobs and livelihoods that could otherwise have been lost".

But the government has been phasing out the programme and it is due to end in October, a cliff-edge moment that many economists think will lead to an almost immediate doubling in unemployment.

It's thought the number of jobseekers could rise to over three million, a level not seen since the 1980s.

Unions are urging the government to at least extend the furlough scheme to those sectors that are still suffering because of lockdown restrictions.

The long-established UK retailer Debenhams announced plans on Tuesday to cut a further 2,500 jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic, despite praising the performance of 124 stores that have reopened since the end of the lockdown.

"The trading environment is clearly a long way from returning to normal and we have to ensure our store costs are aligned with realistic expectations," the company said in a statement emailed to Euronews.

The number of firms cutting jobs has accelerated in the past month or two with big companies like British Airways and Rolls Royce announcing layoffs.