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One in three NI workers on Covid-19 wage support

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Support: Neil Gibson

Support: Neil Gibson

Support: Neil Gibson

Around one in three workers in Northern Ireland are now receiving coronavirus-related wage support from the government.

Some 280,000 people here have benefited, according to official figures.

But it is feared that 28,000 of them could go on to lose their jobs.

One economist suggested that consumers should help to support the economy by spending when lockdown is lifted.

HMRC, which has administered the wage and grant schemes, confirmed that 211,700 people here are enrolled by their employers on the coronavirus job-retention scheme (CJRS).

Under the scheme, the UK Government covers 80% of an employee's pay packet per month, up to a maximum of £2,500, where the employer has not been able to operate due to lockdown.

Another 69,000 people here have received grants totalling £198m through the government's self-employed income support scheme (SEISS).

Combined, the figures mean that 32% of the workforce of 877,000 people, as recorded between January and March this year, are being supported by the government.

Between January and March, there were 137,000 self-employed included within the 877,000 - half of whom are now on the self-employed income support scheme.

The scheme involves the payment of a grant of up to £6,750. People will be able to make a second claim for another payment in August.

Neil Gibson, chief economist at business advisory firm EY, said the figures shed light on the "extraordinary level" of support given to firms and people during the coronavirus crisis.

He said: "With 211,700 people in NI on furlough and just under 70,000 self-employed workers availing of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, that accounts for roughly a third of the 876,000 who were defined as employed at the end of 2019."

He added that the future job security of the 280,700 would be crucial.

"Critical to the economic recovery will be how many of these people remain in work, as supports are removed later in the year," he explained. "Our own projections are that perhaps around one in 10 furloughed workers may be out of work by the end of 2020.

"This, however, may prove optimistic if consumers and businesses remain reluctant to spend. The key message remains that every citizen will have a part to play in the recovery through their willingness to spend.

"Government support has helped to protect incomes to make this possible, but confidence is very fragile on the back of such a devastating pandemic."

Fermanagh and Omagh had the lowest number of employees on furlough, at 12,400, while Belfast had the highest, at 36,100.

Newry, Mourne and Down recorded the highest numbers of people claiming the self-employed grant, at 9,200. Antrim and Newtownabbey had the lowest number, at 4,400.

Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said: "The UK Government is doing everything we can to protect jobs and businesses in Northern Ireland and across the UK during the crisis."

Brandon Lewis, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, also praised the scheme.

He said: "The extension of the CJRS until the end of October, and the fact that self-employed people will be able to claim a second SEISS grant in August, is good news for local businesses, reinforcing our commitment to doing all we can to support the Northern Ireland economy."

Belfast Telegraph