The number of employees on furlough increased sharply in January, a result of the tighter restrictions introduced at the start of the year.

Figures released by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has revealed that 4.7 million staff were furloughed during January 2021.

This was an increase of 0.7 million in comparison to statistics from December 2020, showing that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been vital for employers during a time of further restrictions due to the impact of COVID-19.

The furlough scheme covers up to 80 per cent of an employee’s usual salary for hours not worked, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. Employers can furlough employees for any amount of time and any work pattern, while still being able to claim the grant for the hours not worked.

The sector which placed most employees on furlough was the accommodation and food services sector. Provisional figures suggest that over two-thirds of employers (68 per cent) within this sector chose to furlough employees during the first month of this year. Overall, the the number of employments furloughed increased to 1.15 million on 31 January, the highest of all sectors.

The wholesale and retail sector was similarly impacted with 938,500 employments furloughed by the end of January. This is in comparison to peak figures from April 2020 which saw 1.85 million jobs furloughed.

In addition to this, the data found that more women were placed on furlough than men.

By the end of December 2020, 1.92 million female workers were furloughed compared to only 1.88 million men. In January 2021, this increased to 2.32 million women  and 2.18 million men placed on furlough.

As has been highlighted in previous research, it was younger people that were most likely to be placed on furlough. By 31st January,  409,700 females and 333,000 males who were aged between 18-24 were furloughed by their employer.

The research also highlighted that the furlough rates across nations and the regions of the UK were broadly consistent over December and January. It was London which had the highest take-up rate of furlough, standing at 17 per cent by the end of January.

Since the start of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, 11.2 million jobs have been supported. Furthermore, a total of £53.8 billion has been paid out by the Government as part of the measures.

As the CJRS is almost a year old, there have been questions raised about the future of the scheme. Although there has been no formal statement yet to clarify whether the scheme will be continued or will end in April as planned, it is expected that Chancellor Rishi Sunak will address this in the Budget next week (3rd March).