Number of furloughed staff in UK falls to record-low 1.5 million

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People walk during the morning rush hour in the financial district of Canary Wharf amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in London, Britain September 28, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville

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LONDON, June 24 (Reuters) - The proportion of British employees on furlough in early June fell to its lowest since the start of the pandemic at 6% of staff or about 1.5 million people, as easing COVID restrictions allowed most businesses to reopen.

Thursday's figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) represent a drop from the 7% of staff on furlough in late May and are far below the peak of nearly 9 million recorded at the in May 2020, during the depths of Britain's first lockdown.

Government figures as recently as late March showed more than 4 million jobs furloughed, and the latest data will add to many economists' confidence that the end of the programme on Sept. 30 will not create a big jump in unemployment.

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The Bank of England (BoE) - which announces its June policy decision later on Thursday - expects less of an increase in long-term joblessness than it feared at the beginning of the year.

But there were some signs that a surge in consumer spending when lockdown restrictions eased in April and May could be beginning to slow.

A measure of spending on debit and credit cards collected by the BoE and published by the ONS showed aggregate spending dropped to 90% of its February 2020 level in the week to June 17 from 95% the week before and a recent peak of 102% on June 3.

The figures are not seasonally adjusted, fluctuate depending on public holidays, and typically peak early in the month, after people have recently been paid.

Even so, spending in the week to June 17 was still about 5 percentage points lower than a month before.

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Reporting by David Milliken Editing by William Schomberg

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