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The Furlough Scheme That Supported Millions of Hospitality Jobs Is Gone

The number of workers using the coronavirus job retention initiative fell sharply over summer, but the problems for employment in the restaurant world are far from over

A waitress cleans a table at a restaurant bar in Soho
Many restaurant workers have come off furlough over the last few months.
Belinda Jiao/SOPA Images

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, more colloquially known as furlough, is over. First introduced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in March 2020 — but not before, according to U.K. Hospitality estimates, the restaurant sector laid off nearly quarter of a million workers — the scheme in which the government paid 80, then 70 , then 60 percent of people’s wages was initially envisaged as lasting until May 2020. Then it got extended to June 2020. And now, 15 months later, after supporting around nine million workers at its peak, it is finished. And while the number of hospitality workers protected by the scheme dropped precipitously through spring and summer 2021, there were still around 260,000 at the end of July.

Hospitality workers persistently made up some of the highest proportions of staff on furlough and jobs lost throughout 2020 and early 2021, but owing to its exclusion of tips and tronc from its wage calculations, they were simultaneously some of the most and least supported employees.

But perhaps what most accurately presaged the current situation was the news that of those made redundant, only 33 percent were able to find new roles. Then, that huge job deficit was due to lockdowns; now, it’s the fault of Brexit. While lifting the furlough scheme may be intended to feel something like normal, in the restaurant world, it’s anything but.

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