The number of workers on UK payrolls tumbled by more than 600,000 between March and May as the coronavirus pandemic took its toll on the economy, new figures show.
Experimental data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) show that the number of paid employees fell by 1.7% compared with May 2019, and by 2.1% when compared with March 2020.
The ONS estimates that 163,000 people were no longer on payroll in May, on top of 449,000 in April – suggesting that 612,000 more people are now out of work compared to when lockdown began.
The UK employment rate now stands at 76.4% – 0.1% lower than the previous quarter but 0.3% higher than a year earlier.
"Early indicators for May 2020 suggest that the number of employees in the UK on payrolls is down over 600,000 compared with March 2020," the ONS said.
The figures come after the ONS last week recorded a drop of more than 20% in UK GDP month-to-month.
And they were published as Labour demanded a ‘Back to Work Budget’ in a bid to protect people from further job losses.
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds urged her opposite number Rishi Sunak to press ahead with an emergency summer Budget focused on tackling unemployment.
The Labour frontbencher said: “We are increasingly worried that the slow and confused health response is now being followed by a slow and confused response to saving jobs. The window is closing to protect existing jobs and encourage firms to invest in creating new ones.”
Responding to the latest ONS data, Matthew Percival of business group the CBI said: “We can now clearly see the significant impact the virus is having on the labour market already.
"Over 600,000 people were taken off payroll between March and May, vacancies fell by the largest amount on record on the quarter, and hours worked fell at the fastest pace on record over the year.
“Unemployment falls unevenly across society and leaves scars that last generations.
He added: "The urgent priority must be creating inclusive jobs today, by turbo charging the sustainable industries of tomorrow.
"This should be backed by a revolution in retraining, with business, government and education providers stepping up to reskill communities for the future.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, whose organisation acts as the umbrella group for Britain’s trade unions, said: “The labour market is on red alert. We need strong action now to stop lasting economic damage.”
And she added: “The Government must work closely with unions and business at national and industry level to get the next steps right.”