The proportion of people on furlough at UK businesses in early June decreased to just 6%, the lowest level since the scheme began, new data has shown.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that this accounts for around 1.5 million people, according to its latest Business Insights and Conditions survey.
The figures represent a drop from the 7% of staff on furlough in late May, and are far below the peak of nearly 9 million recorded in May 2020, during the UK’s first lockdown.
It comes as leisure and hospitality venues across the country have reopened indoors after months of coronavirus restrictions. While numbers have been reducing, some sectors remain hugely reliant on the support programme. Some 70% of staff in pubs and bars were on furlough at the end of April and 65% of hotel and accommodation staff were using the scheme.
Rishi Sunak’s furlough scheme, officially known as the coronavirus job retention scheme, is set to end on 30 September, alongside the launch of the kickstart scheme.
The kickstart scheme will provide funding to create new jobs for 16- to 24-year-olds on universal credit who are at risk of long-term unemployment.
Earlier this year, the chancellor said: “Since opening for applications last autumn, we’ve worked with some of the most exciting companies to create more than 120,000 Kickstart jobs – which is a huge vote of confidence in our young people at a challenging time.
“With £2bn ($2.8bn) available and no limit on the number of places, it’s now easier than ever for businesses across Great Britain to take part.”
It comes as economists are expecting dwindling furlough numbers to help keep unemployment down. More than £65bn has been spent so far on the programme, with 11.5 million workers helped so far.
Since March last year the Treasury has paid 80% of furloughed workers' wages up until £2,000, while employers contribute nothing. From 1 July, government payments will reduce to 70% of wages and employers will be on the hook for another 10%, and then 60% in September before winding down completely.
However, after UK prime minister Boris Johnson delayed the full reopening of the economy just days ago, Kate Nicholls, head of UKHospitality, called for an extension to the support. She told the BBC at the time that a one month delay to "freedom day" could cost the industry £3bn.
Meanwhile ONS data on Thursday also showed that the number of job adverts crept up by 2% week-on-week, as the economic recovery continues to pick up. However, aggregate spending on debit and credit cards dropped to 90% of its February 2020 level in the week to 17 June, from 95% the week before and a recent peak of 102% on 3 June.
Watch: What is the job support scheme and how has it changed?