Economy Minister Diane Dodds has called on Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak to extend the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CRJS) and Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) beyond April this year.
The Minister was speaking after figures published by HMRC revealed around 94,800 workers in Northern Ireland were furloughed using the CJRS as at 31 December last year – an increase from approximately 68,000 furloughs at 31 October.
The figures also revealed that around 52,000 self-employed individuals in Northern Ireland had claimed the third SEISS grant up to the same date – around 55% of eligible self-employed workers in Northern Ireland.
She said: “These are startling figures which underline the continued economic costs of Covid-19 on individuals and their livelihoods. I have always been clear that the furlough and the self-employed schemes are essential and must remain in place until there are clear signs of economic recovery.
“Since last March, I have lobbied hard with national government on this issue and I will continue to do so. It is vital workers across Northern Ireland must be able to access the support they need, not just to protect their livelihoods now, but to be in a position to plan ahead towards recovery with some degree of certainty.
“It is so important that we get infections under control and allow people and business to get back to work as soon as is feasible in order to begin the process of recovery. However, these figures demonstrate that too many workers are still reliant on this essential support. Therefore it is too early to consider stopping it.
“That is why I am calling on the Chancellor to extend both schemes beyond the end of April 2021.”
According to HMRC figure, Northern Ireland has a 12% take-up rate on the CJRS of eligible employments as at 31 December. This is as increase on the 8% take-up rate at the end of September.
Around 52,000 self-employed individuals in Northern Ireland had claimed the third SEISS grant up to 31 December 2020, totalling £143m. This is an average value of £2,700 in terms of claims made.