UK employment suffers virus knock after lockdown eases

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UK employment took a hit even after the government started to lift restrictions to control the coronavirus as companies stepped up job cuts.

The number of redundancies increased by 227 000 in the June-August period - the most since 2009, the Office for National Statistics said Tuesday. Employment fell by 153 000, almost five times the level estimated by economists, and the unemployment rate rose to 4.5%, the highest since 2017.

The numbers may have been impacted by revisions due to data-collection problems caused by the need to avoid close contact.

With many more job losses expected in the coming months as state support is scaled back, the figures will raise pressure on the government and the Bank of England to do more to support the economy.

The pound was little changed after the report.

The number of employees on payrolls in September was down 673 000 from March, the ONS said.

Employers hit by the pandemic will see wage subsidies for furloughed workers end this month. Few think its replacement or newly announced support for firms affected by local lockdowns will be enough to avert mass job losses, with some predicting unemployment could surpass 3 million – levels not seen since the 1980s.

“What we’re seeing today is the effect of the tapering of the furlough scheme,” Josie Dent, an economist at the Centre for Economics and Business Research, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “August was the first month where employers had to contribute significantly and that will have meant, unfortunately for many, those costs just rose too high.”

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak’s efforts to keep Britons in work come too late for many people. Firms from brewer Greene King to bank TSB have announced thousands of cuts in recent weeks.

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