LONDON—The number of workers still on furlough in Britain has fallen to its lowest level since a salary support program was first introduced at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic 18 months ago, official figures showed Thursday.
HM Revenue and Custom, which compiles the data, said that 1.6 million people remained on the government’s support plan at the end of July, down 340,000 on the month before.
Under the program, the government paid 80 percent of the salaries of those workers unable to work because of lockdown measures. The program helped support around 12 million people but the number has been falling as lockdown restrictions have been lifted over recent months.
July was the first month that employers had to pay 10 percent of the salaries of their furloughed workers, giving them an incentive to bring staff back, or end their employment. This went up to 20 percent for August and September.
“It’s fantastic to see furlough levels at their lowest since the start of the pandemic, with young people in particular getting back to work and kickstarting their careers as the UK gets back to business,” said Treasury chief Rishi Sunak.
According to the latest numbers, the over-65s are the most likely employees to still be on furlough as young people took up their old jobs following the reopening of some of the hardest-hit sectors in the economy, such as hospitality. Also, furlough levels remained highest in London.
The furlough plan was the most expensive support measure the government introduced to cushion the blow of the pandemic. The government has paid a total of 68.5 billion pounds ($95 billion) to furloughed employees.