Britain ended its furlough scheme on Thursday after spending nearly 70 billion pounds (about 94 billion U.S. dollars) to protect workers from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over 18 months after its launch and with over 68 billion pounds (about 91 billion dollars) spent, the scheme has protected over 11.6 million jobs during the toughest times of the pandemic, the British Treasury said in a statement.
Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, said: “With the recovery well underway, and more than 1 million job vacancies, now is the right time for the scheme to draw to a close.”
With the majority of COVID-19 restrictions removed and the economy open again, the British government is focused on investing in jobs and skills — with the Plan for Jobs continuing to fuel the economy’s bounce-back by supporting employers across the country to create new jobs, and workers to boost their skills, according to the Treasury.
The scheme has been seen as instrumental in protecting British workers from the worst of the crisis. The Resolution Foundation, a think tank, said this week that it has “prevented catastrophic rises in unemployment”, and there are now almost 2 million fewer people forecast to be out of work than was feared at the height of the pandemic.
However, uncertainty remains ahead for people who have not yet fully returned to work, with many forecasters, including the Bank of England, expecting a small rise in unemployment as the scheme ended.
Nearly 1 million workers were expected to be on the scheme at the end of September, according to research by the Resolution Foundation.