UK unemployment hits 5.0 pct on virus fallout

Britain’s unemployment rate hit 5.0 percent at the end of last year as coronavirus lockdowns destroyed jobs, official data showed Tuesday.

The rate for the three months to the end of November compares with 4.9 percent in the quarter to October, the Office for National Statistics said in a statement.

At 5.0 percent, the figure is 1.2 percentage points higher than a year earlier, the ONS added.

“This crisis has gone on far longer than any of us hoped — and every job lost as a result is a tragedy,” finance minister Rishi Sunak said. 

Analysts expect the unemployment rate to surge further when the UK government’s furlough scheme paying the bulk of wages for millions of private-sector workers stops at the end of April.

Between February last year, ahead of Britain’s first lockdown, and December, the number of payroll employees dived by 828,000.

The ONS data comes one day after administrators for collapsed UK department store chain Debenhams said it planned to shut all its outlets, costing around 12,000 jobs.

While Debenhams had struggled with fierce online competition long before the coronavirus pandemic, Britain’s bricks-and-mortar retailers are in turmoil after a series of lockdowns.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted that the current lockdown may not be lifted until around Easter.

“Overall, the labour market will probably continue to weaken over the rest of this year, especially once the furlough scheme finishes,” Thomas Pugh, economist at Capital Economics research group, said.