Coronavirus: Wales has 316,000 workers on furlough

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People on bikes at Bike Park WalesImage source, Bike Park Wales
Image caption,
Workers at Bike Park Wales in Merthyr Tydfil have been placed on the furlough scheme

Nearly a third of a million workers in Wales have been placed on furlough since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, new Treasury figures show.

A total of 316,500 employees have been paid 80% of their salaries under the UK government scheme following lockdown.

Furlough arrangements allow workers to claim up to £2,500 a month in salary.

Figures also show 102,000 self-employed workers in Wales - 73% of those eligible - have also been helped, receiving a total of £273m.

The Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) differs from the furlough scheme because it is a grant paid out in a single instalment covering three months and amounting to 80% of average profit.

The average claim in Wales is £2,900.

Furloughed and self-employed in Wales. Numbers claiming support during pandemic by county.  % under furlough based on ONS employment figures, March 2020. Self-employed claims are those eligible for SEISS scheme..

Just over a quarter of the 1.2 million-strong Welsh workforce is furloughed.

These include 36,000 people from Cardiff alone and 23,000 in the Swansea area.

The figures suggest Conwy, Pembrokeshire and Powys could have higher proportions of workers in furlough, about 30%.

This may be due to the importance of the tourism and hospitality sectors in those areas.

Furloughed employees in UK. Proportion of employees in coronavirus job retention scheme.  Based on ONS employment figures for 2019.

Wales has the lowest proportion of employees on furlough of all UK nations and regions.

The highest is in the West Midlands, where 29.3% of employees are furloughed.

Across the UK, the figures show retail (161,900) and construction (154,400) are the sectors with the largest numbers being paid under the scheme.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: "Our unprecedented coronavirus support schemes are protecting millions of vital jobs and businesses across the whole of the United Kingdom."

Image caption,
Emma Peterson is one of 11 people furloughed from a Cardiff recruitment firm

'Furlough gives you the opportunity to press the pause button'

One IT and finance recruitment company Recruit 121, in Cardiff, has had to furlough 11 staff because business "fell off a cliff", with the remainder working from home.

One of them was Emma Peterson, a director.

"I was furloughed from the beginning of April. The company had a chat with everybody and asked if anybody would prefer to be furloughed," she said.

"Being a single mum I had difficulties with childcare, as my parents are the main support for me but are over 70. So with covid I didn't want my son going over there. By being furloughed it was a huge relief and a lot of pressure and stress was taken off me and helped my mental wellbeing. I could focus on being a mum, doing the home schooling and enjoying the quality time with my son. It's been a huge relief to be honest."

Che Hookings, chief executive of Recruit 121, is hopeful all furloughed staff will be brought back while the rest continue to work from home.

"We're very technology enabled - so the transition [to home working] was quite easy at the start and was quite novel and it was moving in the direction of travel the company was looking to.

"Furlough gives you the opportunity to press the pause button while you consider the impacts. It's helped with overheads and provide reassurance that we're considering things.

"We've lost 30-40% of income in the last few months so it's already a recession, whatever you want to call it. But come the climb-out you haven't the rigmarole of trying to find people who you valued previously so hopefully they feel the same and we can start up pretty quickly."

Schemes to furlough workers and support the self-employed were brought in to "hibernate" or protect jobs. When recessions have hit in the past, the first thing companies did was cut their costs, which usually meant cutting jobs. The aim of the UK government's was to stop it happening this time.

We now know just how many employers took up the offer and the revelation that one in three workers in Wales is furloughed is something few would have foreseen in March. It highlights just how vulnerable organisations were feeling as coronavirus hit.

It's interesting however that Wales has the lowest proportion of furloughed employees in the UK, lower than the West Midlands and Scotland.

Concerns about survival is reflected in the figures for self-employed support, which shows a take up rate of 75% of those who were eligible.

We also now know which industries have experienced the highest numbers of workers furloughed - namely retail, accommodation and food. This could be one explanation behind why Conwy, Pembrokeshire, Powys and Gwynedd have the highest proportion of furloughed staff.

The big question is how many staff those employers can afford to take back?

Also, how many businesses will be able to break even and survive after lockdown is lifted, when they have to work within health safety restrictions continuing after the pandemic?