The number of people claiming unemployment benefits in the U.K. recorded the biggest monthly jump on record in April, with 856,500 new claims, official statistics showed Tuesday.
The figures highlight the scale of the economic damage caused by the new coronavirus on the U.K. economy, even with expansive government support packages designed to cushion the blow.
The Office for National Statistics said the number of people claiming jobless benefits rose to 2.1 million in April from 1.2 million a month earlier, a 70% increase and the largest month-on-month change since records began in 1971. The number claiming benefits is the highest since 1996.
Officials cautioned the figures might not be an accurate reflection of changes in employment as the government opened the benefit system to some working people whose income had dropped because of the virus.
ONS data shows the record increase in the so-called claimant count was just one measure of the virus’s economic toll. The number of hours worked by employees in the first three months of the year fell on the quarter by the largest amount in a decade—and that was before a nationwide lockdown took effect. Vacancies plummeted in the three months through April.
The government is hoping that a taxpayer-backed program to pay the wages of furloughed workers, extended to the fall, will keep a lid on layoffs. Some 7.5 million workers are being paid at least 80% of their regular salary under the program even though they aren’t working.