The release by the Government of new data from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme — better known as furlough — includes a number of interesting metrics, including a breakdown of numbers on a daily basis from the start of the scheme in March until the end of June, as well as breakdowns by region and by sector. Let’s take a look at some of the trends it reveals.
The first thing to say is that overall furlough numbers peaked on 8th May, reaching a total of 8.86 million, but had fallen significantly by the end of June. Nevertheless, the numbers remained very high, with 6.8 million still on the scheme as at 30th June.
The data breaks the overall numbers down across sectors, and we have set these out on the chart below. As you can see, most sectors follow a fairly similar pattern, with a big increase of numbers in the first couple of weeks, then a leveling off, followed by a decline towards the end of May. It is not entirely clear yet whether this fall was as a result of people returning to work, or people being laid off, but it is interesting to note that the decline then slowed across almost all sectors throughout June, with overall numbers only dipping below 7 million on the last couple of days of the month. Interestingly, Public administration and defence is the one sector bucking this trend, and it has seen furlough numbers increase at the end of March, then again at the end of April, and then staying at roughly the same numbers throughout the rest of the period. You can zoom in on any sector by clicking on the titles at the top of the chart, and then click on “All” to get back to the original display:
The data provided by the Government also gives a breakdown of the percentage of economically active workers in each sector, across the nine English Government Office Regions, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. If we map these out, we can get a good sense not only of which sectors have seen the most furlough numbers, but also some of the anomalies between regions.
In the chart below, you can see that the sectors with the least percentage of furloughed workers are Public administration & defence; Domestic employers; and Finance & insurance, whilst those that furloughed the biggest proportion of the workforce are Accommodation & food services; Arts, entertainment, recreation & other services; and Construction. By and large we see a similar pattern throughout the various regions, although there are some outliers. For example, Northern Ireland and Scotland furloughed significantly more Construction workers than the other regions, with 71% and 73% respectively, compared to an average of 61% across all regions:
One of the most important questions that the data answers is which industries are seeing the biggest fall in furlough numbers since the peak. Whilst this does not necessarily signify a return to work for all these people, with some very likely to have been made redundant, it should give us some indication of where economic activity has picked up again after the shutdown in March.
Some of what we see here confirms a lot of what we will have seen with our own eyes, read in the media, or heard anecdotally. For instance, we know that building work was one of the first activities to restart after the initial lockdown, and we can see this reflected in the fact that Construction is at the top of the chart, with 318,000 less people on furlough at the end of June than at the peak of 720,000 in mid-April (a fall of 44%). A particularly noteworthy figure is the one for Information and communications. Although take up of furlough was not particularly high compared to many other sectors (just 18%), by the end of June only 10% of the entire furloughed number (20,000) had returned to work.
Overall, the rate of return from furlough is 24%, which is represented by the line on the chart, and so everything from Property upwards is ahead of average:
Once again, we must stress that we don’t yet know how many of those coming off the furlough scheme are returning to work, and how many are being made unemployed, and we must wait for the release of the Labour Force Survey later in the year to answer this. In the meantime, we will continue to monitor both furlough data and claimant count data as it is released.
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