8.4m Brits furloughed as Chancellor weighs end to scheme

8.4 million people have now been furloughed through the government’s job retention scheme at a cost of £15bn ($18.5bn) to the taxpayer.

HMRC on Wednesday tweeted the latest stats for the scheme, showing an additional 400,000 people across Britain had been furloughed over the last week. One million employers have used the scheme, which was introduced in March to stop widespread layoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

HMRC said separately that 2.3 million people had claimed under a separate self-employed income support scheme at a cost of £6.8bn to the state. It means 10.7 million people — almost a third of the UK workforce — are now reliant on some form of support from the state for their income.

Read more: Fears grow UK aid for 2.3 million self-employed will stop

The new figures come amid reports that chancellor Rishi Sunak wants to wind up both schemes due to the spiralling costs.

The Financial Times reported on Tuesday evening that Sunak will this week announce a cut off date for new entrants to the furlough scheme and give more details about employer contributions to the programme. The chancellor has already said employers will be expected to pay towards the scheme from August.

Fears are growing that Sunak will also chose not to extend the self-employment support scheme, which is due to run only until the end of May.

New figures for government support for business were also published on Wednesday. They show that over £27bn of state-backed loans have been written by banks under various government coronavirus business support schemes.

READ MORE: Lockdown measures could widen gender pay gap in UK

The largest amount, £18.5bn, has been lent under the Bounce Back Loan scheme, which offers 100% state-backed loans of up to £50,000 to small businesses. Over 600,000 businesses have successfully tapped the programme.

Sunak said on Twitter on Wednesday that the government’s “support schemes continue to deliver for people and businesses up and down the country.”

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