UK unemployment claims soared by more than 69% in April after the coronavirus lockdown gripped the labour market, official figures revealed.
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) said that jobless claims under Universal Credit surged by 856,000 to 2.1 million in April, compared with the previous month.
Official statisticians also said that early estimates for April 2020 indicate that the number of paid employees fell by 1.6% compared to March, as firms began to feel a greater impact from the lockdown.
Job vacancies also significantly decreased, with the number of empty posts in the three months to April diving by 170,000 to 637,000, compared to the previous quarter.
The ONS also revealed that unemployment increased by 50,000 to 1.35 million in the three months to March, as the impact of the pandemic first started to be felt in the UK.
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Therese Coffey said: "Nearly two million people have claimed Universal Credit since March 16 and we want to make sure once we get people into the benefits system that we help them get back in to work as quickly as possible.
"There are still vacancies out there and we will be encouraging people to look where they can get back into work. But I think it's also important to stress the furlough scheme has been important in keeping that link between many millions of people and their employer so that when the economy fully gets going again, that the link can be reinstated quickly and British business can get on."
Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician for economic statistics at the ONS, said: “While only covering the first weeks of restrictions, our figures show Covid-19 is having a major impact on the labour market.
“In March employment held up well, as furloughed workers still count as employed, but hours worked fell sharply in late March, especially in sectors such as hospitality and construction.
“Through April, though, there were signs of falling employment as real-time tax data show the number of employees on companies’ payrolls fell noticeably, and vacancies were sharply down too, with hospitality again falling steepest.”
Tej Parikh, chief economist at the Institute of Directors, said: “Even before lockdown, coronavirus was threatening to take the shine off the UK’s sterling jobs record, and initial estimates for April don’t make for easy reading.
“It’s clear that without the Government’s furlough scheme, the picture would have rapidly deteriorated even further.”