Unemployment in the UK has fallen for the first time since the Coronavirus pandemic began.
Overall, the unemployment rate was at five per cent in the three months to January, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), slightly lower than the 5.2 per cent economists had expected.
Official figures showed that the number of workers on payrolls increased for the third month in a row, up 68,000 between January and February.
However, the overall number of people on payroll has plunged by 693,000 since the start of the pandemic, and the ONS added that 123,000 payroll jobs were lost in the hard-hit retail sector.
Younger workers (under the age of 25) also accounted for 60 per cent of the total jobs lost since February 2020.
Meanwhile, the Government’s furlough scheme has protected nearly five million jobs as lockdown measures continue and the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, used his latest budget to extend furlough until the end of September.
The Office for Budget Responsibility has forecasted that unemployment will peak at 6.5 per cent at the end of this year after the scheme ends, although it was previously estimated in November to peak at 7.5 per cent.
Responding to these latest ONS figures, Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “While the Christmas quarter traditionally sees a rise in retail jobs, the last quarter of 2020 saw the lowest Q4 job numbers since 1999.
“While the second wave of the pandemic swept away tens of thousands of retail jobs, many more were saved by the Government’s furlough scheme, which is now providing support for 600,000 retail workers, a rise of 200,000 since December.”
Ms Dickinson added: “This is likely to get worse if the third lockdown wears on. Now is the time to rebuild the economy.
“Retail remains the largest private sector employer in the UK,” she said, saying the biggest threat to jobs and shops will be future lockdowns beyond 12 April… “it is imperative the Government takes all necessary precautions to prevent that from happening”.
She concluded: “Any delays to the roadmap will undoubtedly result in more store closures and threaten the livelihoods of the retail workers currently furloughed.”