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COVID-19 has plunged Britain into the deepest recession on record

COVID-19 has plunged Britain into the deepest recession on record – and we’re tracking where jobs are being lost across the UK economy. Sky News is analysing cuts made public by major businesses since the UK lockdown began on 23 March. Worst hit is the retail sector – accounting for about one in four of the total. Big names such as Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, Boots and John Lewis have been axing thousands of roles while others, such as Oasis and Warehouse, have disappeared from the high street altogether. The hospitality sector has also seen large numbers of job cuts and closures at brands such as Pizza Express and Pret. The aviation industry is paying a heavy price after the pandemic grounded flights and quarantine measures left travellers uncertain about making bookings. Aircraft manufacturing workers, baggage handlers and airline pilots have all been affected. Few sectors have been spared as the collapse in demand takes its toll on industries from car making and double glazing to ferry operators and oil companies. The biggest hit on a single day took place on 28 April when British Airways said it was cutting 12,000 jobs. That announcement alone made it the bleakest day so far in the coronavirus jobs crisis.

Another low came on 1 July, when Upper Crust owner SSP, retailers Arcadia and Harrods, lender Virgin Money and consultants Accenture revealed cuts adding up to 7,370. British Airways leads the table of the number of UK jobs lost by company, followed by Marks & Spencer – axing nearly 8,000 workers in two separate announcements. Some big job losses are not included in our list as they were announced before the lockdown – notably the more than 2,000 jobs lost at airline Flybe, which blamed coronavirus as the last straw that prompted its collapse in March. The list is not comprehensive – not all companies have given precise details on UK job numbers. There may also be smaller or privately-held companies where cuts have not been disclosed or widely publicised. Figures published by the Office for National Statistics suggest the number of employees on UK payrolls is down by 726, 000 between February 2020 and January 2021 – much larger than our total. But by compiling numbers made public so far, we’ve been able to reveal a compelling picture of where the pain is being felt since the economy was brought to a halt. The roll-out of vaccines and with it the prospect of a full reopening of the economy offers hope for a recovery but with many businesses on their knees after months in and out of lockdown – and furlough support likely to taper off as restrictions ease – further tough times look likely. The impact on overall unemployment is likely to be stark. The Bank of England thinks this could peak at 7.75% in 2021.

In the months before the pandemic struck, the jobless rate had fallen below 4%, its lowest since the early 1970s. The record high for UK unemployment was in 1984, when it climbed to nearly 12%. There were other spikes in the early 1990s – when it topped 10%. In 2011, after the financial crisis, the jobless rate rose above 8%. In recent years, people aged between 16 and 24 have been the worst affected by joblessness. More than a fifth were out of work in the aftermath of the last crisis, and over 10% during the recent, more favourable climate. Official figures show redundancies climbing to record levels though the unemployment rate is yet to reflect fully a major collapse in jobs. That is largely thanks to the government’s furlough scheme – subsidising wages for temporarily laid-off workers – persuading some employers to hold off on redundancies. Also, some people who have lost their job are not currently looking for work and so are not included in the unemployment figures. Instead, they are classed as economically inactive. The unemployment rate was 5.1% in the three months to December, according to the ONS – the highest since the start of 2016. However, the ONS also pointed to more up-to-date though still experimental figures – mentioned above – which cover the period up to January. They show the number of people on UK payrolls has fallen by 726,000 since February 2020. ONS data also shows how workforce numbers have changed in different regions since last year and – on an even more local level – figures show the hotspots where the highest proportion of people are claiming unemployment-related benefits.

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