Two-thirds of UK’s furloughed workers continued job in Covid-19 lockdown

Donna Ferguson
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Jessica Taylor/AFP/Getty</span>
Photograph: Jessica Taylor/AFP/Getty

The majority of people who have been furloughed have carried on working during lockdown, with men significantly more likely than women to flout the rules of the scheme and work for their employer when they are not allowed to do so.

Working mothers have also felt more compelled to volunteer to be furloughed than working fathers, research shared exclusively with The Observer reveals.

Economists from the universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Zurich have found that “not all workers are furloughed equally”, with women significantly more likely to be furloughed than men doing the same type of job.

The study also found that three-quarters (75%) of furloughed men had their wages topped up beyond the 80% provided by the government, while less than two-thirds (65%) of women enjoyed this financial benefit.

One reason seems to be a kind of deal with the employer: my salary gets topped up, so I do some work

Dr Christopher Rauh, economist

Nearly nine out of ten (87%) men and eight out of ten women (77%) who received a salary top up continued to work for their employer while on furlough, even though the government explicitly forbids this practice. Among those workers who didn’t receive a top up, 69% of men and 52% of women routinely ignored this prohibition.

“One reason seems to be a kind of deal with the employer: my salary gets topped up, so I do some work. But it also seems that people are afraid of losing their jobs when the scheme ends. In particular, men who can do work from home, are doing it,” said Dr Christopher Rauh, an economist at Cambridge University. “Most men who can do all of their tasks from home are even working-full time. They are signalling: hey, I’m a great worker.”

By contrast, just one in four furloughed women who can work full-time from home are choosing to do so. This may be because they have less time to devote to their jobs – previous research has found that, in general, women have taken on more childcare, homeschooling and housework during lockdown than men.

Rauh thinks the government should not have tried to prevent furloughed workers from working in the first place. “It’s better for everyone that people have ignored this rule. If people are working, they might be producing something which is creating some kind of value, and they are not losing their job skills.

“Other countries have a short term work scheme where an employer can say: I can’t make full use of this worker, so they’ll be working 50% of the time. And then the government only has to cover that part of their salary.”