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More than 600,000 workers have lost their jobs during lockdown

MORE than 600,000 workers have lost their jobs during the coronavirus lockdown while benefit claims soared by 1.6 million, employment figures revealed today.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said early estimates show the number of paid employees dropped by 2.1 per cent in May compared with March, while job vacancies also slumped to a record low. 

Claims under universal credit (UC) rocketed by 125.9 per cent since March, with a record rise of over one million in April alone. 

Experts have warned that the worst is yet to come for Britain’s labour market, with the true impact being revealed after the government’s furlough scheme ends in October. 

Trade Union Congress (TUC) general secretary Frances O’Grady called for strong action to prevent lasting economic damage, and urged the government to work closely with unions and businesses to “get the next steps right.”

“The plan for recovery has to prioritise protecting and creating jobs,” she said. “Getting people back into work is the only way out of recession. 

“That’s why we need a job guarantee scheme to help those who lose work, especially young workers.” 

The ONS figures also revealed a fall of 131,000 in the number of self-employed workers.

Media and entertainment union Bectu’s Philippa Childs said: “What these figures fail to show is the human devastation of people who are out of work and have been ineligible for income support schemes because they work as freelancers.

“As the economic fallout of coronavirus continues to emerge, people working in film, TV, theatre, live events and the arts are desperate for the government to step in and provide backing that has been lacking for this sector throughout the crisis.”

The Scottish TUC urged politicians not to panic about rising unemployment levels over fears the public could be put at risk in a rush to reopen workplaces, which could lead to a second spike in infection rates followed by a double-dip recession.

Scotland’s rate of job losses is currently higher than the rest of Britain.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said the figures were “deeply concerning,” adding that the government must begin work on a “Scottish jobs guarantee scheme to ensure Covid-19 does not create a lost generation of young workers.”

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds criticised the government for being “slow at every stage of this crisis” and called for urgent action to assist the hardest-hit regions and sectors.

Mr Reynolds said this was why Labour was calling for a “Back to Work Budget.” 

Ahead of the ONS figures, shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said: “We are increasingly worried that the slow and confused health response is now being followed by a slow and confused response to saving jobs. 

“The window is closing to protect existing jobs and encourage firms to invest in creating new ones.”

Ms Dodds said the Budget would focus completely on jobs and added that the Labour Party would want to work with the government to get the “right solutions.”

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