The £70 billion UK-wide furlough programme comes to an end today after supporting millions of workers in Wales and the UK over the past 18 months.

Uncertainty remains for the future of almost one million workers in the UK who have still been receiving support.

Economists have warned that although many may find work in recovering sectors such as hospitality and travel, there is likely to be a rise in unemployment due to new redundancies.

It has been reported that UK chancellor Rishi Sunak may be set to announce a new programme of grants to help poorer households cope with the cost of living over the winter, however, no official announcement has yet been made.

The plan, which some are reporting may be announced in the coming days, could see up to £500 million distributed through local authorities in England.

How such a funding arrangement would work in Wales, remains to be seen.

The rate of unemployment in the UK is currently 4.6 per cent, however, economists believe it could spike and settle at 5 per cent by the end of the year.

Countries such as the US and Australia have witnessed similar unemployment spikes when financial support similar to furlough have been ended.

In Wales, there are fears the number of people seeking debt advice could rise in the new year as support from furlough and the £20 Universal Credit uplift end.

Rising fuel prices are also expected to pile pressure on families over the winter months.

The end of furlough comes amid record UK vacancy figures, with the latest Office for National Statistics data reporting more than one million available jobs for the first time on record.

The stats are backed up by evidence of significant hiring sprees amid labour shortages for HGV drivers, warehouse staff and food production workers.

However, workers and trade union officials in Wales have told The National staff shortages cannot be addressed without better pay and employer transparency.

With fears that highly impacted sectors such as hospitality will not bounce back to pre-pandemic levels soon enough, leaders at trade bodies are looking beyond the furlough scheme to appeal for policy reform in other areas.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “With businesses currently experiencing a record number of vacancies, our hope is that those seeking employment will consider the varied and exciting opportunities a career in hospitality offers.

“With the right support and conditions, the sector has the potential to be at the forefront of the economic recovery.

“In order to drive further job creation, we urge Government to implement a long-overdue reform of business rates and a permanently lower rate of VAT for hospitality and tourism in order to help fragile businesses back on their feet.”

In Wales, the Welsh Government has long warned against removing furlough too quickly, while it, and poverty campaigners, have called for the UK government to make the universal credit uplift permanent.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has called on Welsh and UK governments to work together in unified fashion to ensure the removal of major support schemes don’t jeopardise Wales’ economic recovery.

Ben Francis, policy chair at FSB Wales, said: “Against this difficult backdrop with businesses facing continued economic uncertainty in the face of reducing support, we need to see unified purpose from both UK and Welsh governments.

“Welsh Government must come forward soon with a clear vision for the economy to help map the road ahead to recovery and we were encouraged by comments by the Minister for Economy on Wednesday which hinted at that.

“Furthermore, we need clarity on things like the Young Person’s Guarantee and how businesses will engage with that and the opportunities it poses for boosting entrepreneurship and well as addressing some of the skills challenges faced by our economy.

“We also need to see clarification of the next round of Economic Resilience Funding to help businesses move to the emergency and survival footing of the Pandemic to something more resembling sustainable regrowth to help recover our economy.

“Recovery of that economy is by no means a given and businesses find themselves within a precarious landscape with multiple challenges.

“Those very same businesses will be required for the recovery effort ahead and governments in Westminster and Cardiff Bay should be looking to do all they can to support businesses and ensure they are in the best possible shape for that task.”

The £20 increase to Universal Credit officially ends on October 6, however, the exact date the money will stop being paid will vary depending on the day people usually receive their payment.

That means some people will have received their final payment already.

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