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UK Unemployment Figures Soar to 2.1 Million in April

© REUTERS / John SibleyA cyclist is seen near the Bank of England as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, London, Britain, April 14, 2020.
A cyclist is seen near the Bank of England as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, London, Britain, April 14, 2020. - Sputnik International
UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak - whose furlough scheme is currently protecting millions of jobs - warned that the country faces a severe downturn with no guarantee of a quick recovery. Economists have predicted that the jobless total will rise and pay will decline in the coming months.

In April, the number of people claiming unemployment benefits increased by the most since records began being kept, reaching almost 2.1 million, according to official figures, capturing the onset of the effect of the coronavirus pandemic.

The jump of 856,500 claims in April reflected the impact of the first full month of lockdown, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The government has made some changes to who can claim work-related benefits during the pandemic, but this figure is one of a series that show the stress the effects of COVID-19 are putting on the job market.

Sunak said he hoped the UK would make a quick recovery, but it could take time for the economy to get back to normal.

Speaking to the Lords Economic Affairs Committee, Sunak said the "question that occupies" his mind was "what degree of long-term scarring is there on the economy" and that, once restrictions begin to be lifted, there will be the case of "what do we return to" and on that the "jury's out".

He admitted to feeling that "all economic forecasters and economists would agree the longer the recession is, it is likely the degree of that scarring will be greater".

​He said that even if the government can reopen retail as planned on 1 June, there will still be restrictions on how people can shop. "This will have an impact on how much they spend, and on how many people go out," Sunak said.

"I think in all cases it will take a little bit of time for things to get back to normal, even once we've reopened currently closed sectors," he added.

In another indication of the bleak employment landscape, the number of job vacancies fell by nearly a quarter, to 637,000 in the three months prior to April, as reported by the BBC. 

Meanwhile, claims for universal credit - the benefit for working-age people in the UK - hit a record monthly level in the early weeks of lockdown.

The unemployment rate was estimated at 3.9 percent, slightly down from the previous quarter, the ONS said.

Jobless figures expected to get worse in coming months

The current jobless figures only cover the first week of the lockdown and are expected to worsen sharply in the coming months.

Emma Lynne Harley, a theatre professional in Edinburgh, told Sputnik about how COVID-19 lockdown measures have affected her working life.

“I usually have 3 zero hour jobs and work freelance as a theatre maker and tour guide. I've been furloughed from my zero hours jobs but once backdated invoices have been paid I've not received any paid work as of yet.”

The lockdown has made her resourceful, however, and she has come up with new ways to carry on her work. 

“I've spent lots of time creating and buying equipment to try to find new ways of earning using my skills set like voice work and online cabarets.”

“Because my earning from self employment makes up only half of my total income I'm not entitled to anything. And when you take into my account my expenses, I don't have a chance,” she noted.

“Even though things are a little clearer now than at the start of lockdown, the confusion about pay and uncertainty about restrictions at the start meant I made the decision to move back in with my parents to avoid potentially being trapped in a flat I couldn't pay for,” she added.

Ross Hempseed, a journalist from Falkirk, shared his experience with Sputnik.

“COVID-19 has really affected my ability to move and work within the area that I am employed. Due to lockdown restrictions I have been unable to operate as a freelancer and therefore have had to turn to the government for help.”

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