Almost a million UK workers left with uncertain future as government ends £70 billion furlough scheme

The UK government ended its furlough scheme on Thursday, bringing to a close the Covid support system that has propped up the wages of 11.6 million people at a cost of £70 billion ($94.13 billion) since starting in March 2020.

Announcing the closure of the scheme, UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak stated he was “immensely proud” of the support it had provided but now is the right time to wrap it up, as things return to normal following the pandemic. 

Speaking to Britain’s Sky News, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke admitted that “there’s never an easy moment to end these measures” but defended doing so by claiming “there is a lot of opportunity out there for people now.”

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The government’s decision to end the scheme comes despite nearly a million workers still being reliant on the support provided, according to data from the Office for National Statistics, and warnings from businesses that, without help, they might be forced to lay off staff. UK economists have raised concerns that the removal of furlough could hit low-income workers particularly hard, as it comes at the same time as rising energy prices amid a petrol crisis and the removal of the £20 Universal Credit boost.

The furlough scheme, called the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, was implemented in March 2020 to help support the wages of those working in industries that were heavily impacted or forced to close due to lockdown. It ended up covering the pay of 11.6 million employees at a cost of £70 billion to the UK government. That figure marks around one-fifth of the total amount spent by the government on its Covid response.

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