Workers on payroll down by nearly 700,000 since start of Covid pandemic

The number of UK workers on payrolls is down by 693,000 from the start of the pandemic, with younger people and those in London worst hit.

The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows the hit on employment from February 2020.

Of the decrease since then, almost two-thirds of those hit were among the under-25s, while over half (368,000) were in hospitality and almost a third were jobs in London.

The ONS added that 123,000 payroll jobs were also lost in the hard-hit retail sector.

ITV News Business Editor Joel Hills said analysis of the figures, however, show some positive signs.

"ONS says payroll data suggests that the fall in the number of non-UK nationals in employment has fallen by 4% in last year, less than the 15% its survey detected," he reports.

"It’s not clear if these people lost their jobs or left the country."

The latest figures show the rate of unemployment stood at 5% between November and January, compared with 5.1% in the previous three months.

A largely empty Oxford Street, in London, as most shops and businesses remain closed during lockdown. Credit: PA

There were also signs of hope with the number of workers on payrolls up by 68,000 last month - a rise for the third consecutive month.

Sam Beckett, ONS head of economic statistics, said: "After yet another monthly increase, there were almost 200,000 more employees on payroll in February than three months earlier, although that is still nearly 700,000 down from the start of the pandemic."

Responding to the latest figures, the chancellor said: "Coronavirus has caused one of the largest labour market shocks this country has ever faced, which is why protecting, supporting and creating jobs has been my focus throughout this crisis.

Rishi Sunak added: "We have taken decisive action with a £352 billion package of support.

"The continued success of the vaccine rollout provides us with hope for the future and, through our Plan for Jobs, we will continue to support people throughout the months to come."