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95,000 on furlough in Northern Ireland as eat-out meals topped 7.5m during August scheme

More than 7.5 million meals were claimed for in Northern Ireland during the Eat Out to Help Out scheme in August. Picture: Mal McCann
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THOUSANDS more people in Northern Ireland are being furloughed on a monthly basis, new figures show.

According to HMRC, some 94,800 employees were availing of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CRJS) at the end of December.

That compares to 68,000 at the end of October, rising to 79,300 by November 30 - and is now roughly one in eight of all workers.

The government figures also revealed that 52,000 individuals, or more than half (55 per cent) of eligible self-employed workers in the north, had claimed £143 million Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) grant by year-end at an average value of £2,700.

The schemes have proven a living standards lifeline for those tens of thousands of workers.

But their winding up in just three months' time is likely to cause a fresh wave of unemployment, with some economists predicting that the jobless rate in Northern Ireland could treble to almost 10 per cent of the total workforce.

Yesterday, Stormont economy minister Diane Dodds described the numbers as "startling", and she called on chancellor Rishi Sunak to extend the schemes beyond their due closure date to avoid thousands of workers transitioning straight from furlough to the dole queue.

She said: “The furlough and self-employed schemes are essential and must remain in place until there are clear signs of economic recovery.

“It's vital workers across Northern Ireland are able to access the support they need, not just to protect their livelihoods now, but to be in a position to plan ahead towards recovery with some degree of certainty.

“Too many workers are clearly still reliant on this essential support, therefore April 30 is too early to consider stopping it.”

Meanwhile HMRC also released a detailed geographical breakdown of last August’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

It showed that eateries in Northern Ireland claimed for 4,573,000 meals, equivalent to more than half the region's population.

South Belfast, renowned for its density of top restaurants, was ranked eighth in the UK with 606,000 claims for meals.

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