Responding to the COVID-19 jobs crisis and beyond: building an evidence base for public policy


The COVID-19 crisis is having a profound effect on the UK labour market. The government sought to protect the labour market through the first national lockdown via the introduction of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS – also known as the furlough scheme).

A novel initiative in the context of UK labour market policy, the CJRS has offered employers wage support of up to 80 per cent to cover the furlough of workers. Evidence suggests the furlough scheme has been well received by business groups – including the Confederation of British Industry and the Trade Union Congress – and in financial terms it has constituted the most significant response by the government to the COVID-19 crisis.

Take-up of the scheme has been high, with nearly 12 million claims, and at the peak of the first lockdown nearly a third of the UK labour market was on furlough, helping to prevent a large-scale increase in unemployment.

The CJRS went through a number of changes, revisions and extensions before finishing at the end of September 2021.

Our research looked at employers’ use of the scheme, as well as their perceptions about the future. Uncertainty around the scheme impacted employers’ planning. As the scheme evolved, redundancy levels began to increase as the economy re-opened.  Problematically, there was little evidence-base to guide policy makers in terms of employers’ use of furlough (as part of the CJRS or outside it), their experiences and expectations of its effects, their preferences for job support, or their future employment plans beyond furloughing. 

In our research, we conducted the first national survey of employers’ use of furlough and the CJRS in the UK. The sample was 2000 employers in the UK, including firms of all sizes and across all sectors. The survey explored firms’ responses to COVID-19, their perceptions and attitudes towards planning, recruitment, retention and HRM, and their use of furlough and the CJRS. The survey was distributed in February and March 2021. Findings were summarised in our report, published in April 2021.

Our employers’ survey generated vital new primary evidence on the use of furlough and the CJRS, generating an evidence base of significant interest to policy makers and external beneficiaries.

Ongoing research in CERIC is exploring employers’ job retention strategies during and beyond the crisis.

Publications and outputs

This work was supported with funding from Research England QR-SPF (01/12/20 – 31/03/21).

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