Number of workers on payroll down half a million since start of Covid pandemic

The number of UK workers on payrolls has fallen by more than half a million (553,000) since the pandemic struck, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The figure rose with strength, however, between April and May as the country came out of lockdown restrictions - with 197,000 employees added onto payroll.

The surge, as hospitality and entertainment firms hired for indoor reopening, is the highest rise since records began in 2014.

The Sondheim Theatre in London's Shaftesbury Avenue

The figures come as England's next stage of lockdown easing, planned for June 21, was pushed back by the government - with no extension to the furlough scheme due to wrap up in September.

But Rishi Sunak said the figures are evidence his "Plan for Jobs is working".

"The latest forecasts for unemployment are around half of what was previously feared and the number of employees on payroll is at its highest level since April last year," the Chancellor said.

The Office for National statistics said, despite the growth in May, the number of people in employment was still down over half a million since the pandemic struck.

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"Job vacancies continued to recover in the spring, and our early estimates suggest that by May the total had surpassed its pre-pandemic level, with strong growth in sectors such as hospitality," Sam Beckett, ONS head of economic statistics, said.

"Meanwhile the redundancy rate remains subdued, while the number of employees on furlough has continued to decline."

The ONS data showed that total unemployment fell by 90,000 to 1.6 million, while employment rose by 113,000 to 32.5 million between February and April.