COVID-19: Nine million have borrowed more money during pandemic, figures reveal

Nine million people had borrowed more money during the coronavirus pandemic by the end of last year, according to official figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed the figure in a series of updates on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and suggested the self-employed were among those most likely to have taken on loans above £1,000, despite state aid to compensate for a lack of work.

It reported that the proportion of people borrowing had accelerated to 45% since June.

The data also highlighted a “widening financial gap”, with the lowest-paid and young people suffering most in a tough labour market since the first lockdown began in March 2020.

Ahead of the latest employment figures, due to be released next week, the ONS said the under-30s were 35% more likely to have been furloughed.

Those earning below £10,000 were 60% more likely to be affected.

Separate figures – which are also experimental and subject to revision – revealed that 16% of the UK workforce were furloughed in the aftermath of Christmas – a rise of two percentage points.

That reflected growing coronavirus-related restrictions, including the third national lockdown in England.

The ONS said self-employed workers, those seeking work and working parents were most likely to have endured falling incomes.

It estimated that parents were 50% less likely to be able to afford their usual expenses.

The independent Office for Budget Responsibility estimated last month that total government spending on the COVID response this financial year would top £280bn following record peacetime borrowing.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to maintain support in his March budget – and perhaps ask those with the broadest shoulders to contribute more as he seeks to limit borrowing following what is expected to be the worst economic shock since the Great Frost of 1709.

Labour has pressed the government to extend the £20 a week increase in Universal Credit, due to expire in April.

Senior ONS research officer Gueorguie Vassilev said: “Many people took a financial hit in the first months of the pandemic, either being furloughed or working fewer hours.

“What we are seeing now though, is a widening financial gap between households, where some people are relying on savings or borrowing to make ends meet.

“Those hardest hit are people on low pay, young people and parents of dependent children.”

A survey of banks, released by the Bank of England, showed lenders feared a leap in the number of households expected to default on their mortgage payments and other loan commitments over the next few months.

That is despite the availability of mortgage payment holidays, which hit a peak of 1.8 million in June last year.

The deadline for applications is 31 March 2021.

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