Number of UK workers on payroll falls by more than 600,000 in two months

The number of UK workers on payrolls fell by more than 600,000 between March and May as lockdown hit Britain's labour market, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS said early estimates showed the number of paid employees dropped by 2.1% or 612,000 in May compared with March.

The number of people temporarily away from work, including furloughed workers, rose by six million at the end of March into April.

The ONS said jobless claims under Universal Credit jumped 23.3% month-on-month in May to 2.8 million and soared 125.9% or 1.6 million since March when the UK was placed in lockdown.

This saw hours worked each week tumbled by a record 94.2 million, or 8.9% year-on-year, in the three months to April, the ONS said.

But the UK jobless rate remained largely unchanged quarter-on-quarter at 3.9% in the three months to April.

Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician for economic statistics at the ONS, said: "More detailed employment data up to April show a dramatic drop in the number of hours worked, which were down almost 9% in the latest period, partly due to a six million rise in people away from work, including those furloughed."

Lockdown has created a worsening Labour market, experts have said, as new employment figures were released.

Mr Athow told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There is a lot going on in the labour market at the moment.

"In the two months to May we saw a 600,000 fall in the number of people on the payroll.

"So, we are starting to see a worsening, worsening labour market."

He added: "The big change has been in the number of hours worked. It seems that businesses have really taken advantage of the furlough scheme.

"And we saw six million people on the furlough scheme in April. So, furloughing seems to be were many employers are going."

Asked if May unemployment figures could reach around 5%, Mr Athow said: "That would certainly go in that direction if that 600,000 reduction in payroll goes through into unemployment.

"We haven't quite seen the down turn feed through into unemployment yet."

Minister for Employment Mims Davies said: "Today's figures are starting to show the impact of Covid-19 on our economy, but our furlough scheme, grants, loans and tax cuts have protected thousands of businesses and millions of jobs, setting us up for recovery.

"Already our nationwide network of work coaches have moved in to support jobseekers across sectors and match them with employers who are recruiting.

"By responding to the needs of communities across the UK, they will be at the heart of our revival and renewal, helping people find new roles and move forward with their lives."

Responding to the figures, Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds warned the UK faces mass unemployment "on a scale not seen for decades once the furlough scheme is withdrawn".

"The Government has been slow at every stage of this crisis," he said.

"They cannot afford to be slow again in responding to this threat."