Half of businesses would have to lay off staff within three months if furlough scheme ended

Matthew SmithLead data journalist
June 17, 2020, 9:01 AM UTC

Only a third are sure they won’t have to get rid of anyone

The government’s furlough scheme is set to continue in its current form until the end of July, and will continue in amended form until October.

The scheme is claimed to have protected 7.5 million workers, but the results of a new YouGov poll reveal how fragile the employment situation still is.  A YouGov Custom B2B survey of more than 500 business leaders finds that 51% will have to make lay-offs within three months if the furlough scheme came to an end. This includes 21% who say they would have to let three in ten or more of their workers go.

Only a third (34%) say they wouldn’t have to get rid of anyone.

While the government is increasingly coming under fire for the way it has handled the outbreak, it does seem to have satisfied many within the business sector. Half (48%) say the government’s response to coronavirus when it comes to business has been good, compared to 38% who say it has been bad, and 13% who say neither.

Social distancing will be disruptive, but only one in ten companies won’t be able to operate while following rules

The survey includes the views of business leaders on a number of other coronavirus-related issues.

While it is clear that social distancing measures will be disruptive for some time, only one in ten businesses (10%) say they could not operate at all if staff had to stay 2m apart or continued to work from home.

Around a quarter (28%) say they could operate completely effectively under such circumstances, while a further 38% believe their company could operate “largely effectively” and another 24% “somewhat effectively”.

Economic outlook is gloomy, but business leaders have more confidence in their own firms’ prospects

With the OECD forecasting an 11.5% slump in GDP for the UK, eight in ten business leaders expect that in 12 months’ time the economy will be in worse shape than it was before the coronavirus outbreak.

They are, however, fairly optimistic about the prospects for their own businesses. Six in ten think that in a year their company will be in either identical condition (34%) or better (27%) than it was before the virus struck. Four in ten (39%) think it will be worse.

When it comes to the main sector they operate in, 45% expect their sector to be in a worse shape, compared to 32% who expect it to be much the same and 23% who think it will be better than it was pre-covid.

Business leaders are more concerned about prioritising the economy over saving lives than the wider public

Business leaders are noticeably more concerned about prioritising the economy over saving lives than the public as a whole. Asked to choose between the two, 31% of the business leaders said the focus should be on “protecting the economy” rather than “trying to save every life” – a survey of the general public in late May found just 14% of Britons made the same call.

Nevertheless businesspeople are still more likely than not to want to prioritise saving lives – 47% gave this answer, as did 65% of all Britons in the earlier study.

See the full results here

Find out more about YouGov Custom B2B research