‘Furlough capital’ South Lakeland devastated by effects of lockdown


It is one of the UK’s most beautiful regions, and home to tourist hotspots such as Windermere, Coniston Water and Kendal, which is famous for its mint cake.

But now South Lakeland has another less welcoming claim to fame – as the furloughing capital of Britain.

Official figures show how the area, described by tourist chiefs as the ‘economic powerhouse’ of the Lake District, has been devastated by the coronavirus crisis and is now on life support from taxpayers.

Drastic hit: The idyllic Lake District area has effectively shut to tourists and many workers have had to live off taxpayers’ ‘life support’

A report published by HM Revenue & Customs reveals a staggering 40 per cent of workers in South Lakeland have been furloughed – more than any other local authority in the UK.

Many face a precarious future as the Job Retention Scheme which pays their wages is wound down before being closed at the end of October.

South Lakeland’s reliance on state support is not because, as some less charitable commentators might suggest, it has become ‘addicted to furlough’.

Rather, it is explained by the fact that its economy is dominated by the tourism and hospitality sectors, which are only just emerging from enforced hibernation.

To underline this, at the opposite end of the spectrum is Boston in Lincolnshire, where the main employers are the NHS and agriculture, where workers have been in more demand than ever before during the crisis. 

As such a mere 20 per cent of employees in the area have been furloughed.

Tim Farron, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats who is the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, said local residents ‘want to get back to work’ but that this is easier said than done. 

He pointed to a recent survey that showed that almost seven in ten local businesses, including pubs, restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts, could not fully reopen because of social distancing rules, and that one in ten cannot reopen at all.

South Lakeland's economy is dominated by the tourism and hospitality sectors, which are only just emerging from enforced hibernation

South Lakeland’s economy is dominated by the tourism and hospitality sectors, which are only just emerging from enforced hibernation

‘It’s a terrifying situation,’ said Farron. ‘It’s such a seasonal feast or famine industry that we are now effectively facing three winters in a row, enough to kill off many businesses.

‘The virus came just as local businesses were gearing up for spring season, and the support ends just when all money dries up anyway and visitors stop coming.

‘Firms have found the furloughing scheme immensely valuable. But as it is wound down many just can’t afford to keep people on.’

Farron warned the area is facing mass redundancies unless the Chancellor extends the Job Retention Scheme beyond October – something he has repeatedly ruled out – or provides grants for firms in tourism and hospitality.

Farron’s concerns will be shared, to varying degrees, by MPs across the country.

In total 9.4m workers have been placed on furlough, with 1.2m firms applying for support at a cost just shy of £28billion so far.

Although very few businesses have escaped unscathed from the coronavirus crisis, the report from HMRC provides a vivid reminder of how some sectors, regions of the county, and age groups, have been affected far more than others.

It reveals that almost nine in ten (87 per cent) of firms in the accommodation and food services sector – restaurants, pubs, hotels, bed-and-breakfasts – have furloughed at least some staff.

The sector also has the highest proportion of workers furloughed, at almost three-quarters (73 per cent).

In contrast, just 7 per cent of workers in finance and insurance have been furloughed, underlining how white collar workers have been able to do their jobs at home. 

Women aged 17 were the most likely to be furloughed, at 61 per cent, due to so many working in sectors such as retail and hospitality.

Meanwhile, middle-aged men, many of whom will be in better paying, white collar jobs, were the least likely to be furloughed, at 28 per cent.

But there is one thing that millions of furloughed workers of all ages will have in common, whether they work in finance or on the shop floor.

And that is anxiety about whether they will be able to keep their jobs and get back to work.

With official figures today expected to show a surge in job losses in May, it is already far too late for many.

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