Britain says more than a fifth of workers furloughed as of SundayBritain says more than a fifth of workers furloughed as of Sunday
Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in London

LONDON (Reuters) – More than a fifth of employees in Britain have been furloughed, with 8 billion pounds ($9.9 billion) claimed from the government to sustain their wages during the coronavirus lockdown, tax authorities said on Monday.

HM Revenue and Customs said on Twitter that 6.3 million workers from 800,000 employers had been furloughed, citing figures up to midnight (2300 GMT) on Sunday.

That accounts for 23% of Britain’s 27.9 million employees, according to the most recent labour market data.

Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which is central to efforts to slow a rise in unemployment, the state pays 80% of workers’ pay up to 2,500 pounds a month.

The scheme is due to run until the end of June and is likely to cost the public finances around 39 billion pounds, based on an assumption that 30% of employees are enrolled, Britain’s official budget forecasters have said.

The figures came as pensions minister Therese Coffey said the government received 1.8 million claims for welfare payments between March 16 and the end of April via its ‘Universal Credit’ benefits system.

Universal Credit benefits are paid to people in work as well as those who have lost their jobs.

Coffey said that overall, the volume of welfare claims had been six times bigger than pre-coronavirus during that period, and that in one particular week the increase had been tenfold.

Last week an official survey showed two thirds of British firms had asked for public money to pay staff they have temporarily laid off, pointing to a strong take-up for a key part of the government’s plan to soften the economic impact of the coronavirus.

Another part of the government’s strategy – offering state-backed loans to companies – has made less progress.

Data from a finance industry group showed government-backed bank lending to small and medium-sized businesses rose to 4.1 billion pounds by April 28, up from 2.8 billion pounds the previous week.

(Reporting by Andy Bruce; editing by William James and Alistair Smout)