The Government is picking up the wage bills of close to nine million furloughed workers, who are unable to do their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Around £17.5 billion has been claimed by more than one million firms who have sent their colleagues home as the country went into lockdown in a bid to slow the spread of the deadly virus.
Government figures released on Tuesday show that 8.7 million jobs had been furloughed as of Sunday.
This is a rise from 8.4 million a week earlier, when £15 billion had been claimed, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said.
In March, the Government promised to pay 80% of the salaries of workers sent home because they could no longer do their jobs with public health restrictions in place.
The jobs retention scheme was designed to allow companies to keep staff on the payroll.
However, experts worry that the scheme may simply be disguising massive unemployment, with sweeping layoffs potentially on the cards after it ends.
Last week companies were told they would have to start contributing some of the pay given to employees, to slowly start weaning the economy off Government support.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that businesses would have to bear some of the costs and start paying National Insurance contributions from August.
Staff will be able to return to work part-time without losing any furlough pay from next month, the Chancellor also said.
Mr Sunak said: “We stood behind Britain’s businesses and workers as we came into this crisis, and we stand behind them as we come through the other side.
“Now, as we begin to re-open our country and kick-start our economy, these schemes will adjust to ensure those who are able to work can do so, while remaining amongst the most generous in the world.”
New figures on Tuesday also revealed that 2.5 million claims totalling £7.2 billion have been made under the Government scheme to support self-employed people.