FOR Louise Dobson, the furlough scheme was a lifeline and provided a safety net in protecting her job during the coronavirus pandemic.

The worker at Free Squares cafe, in Darlington, returned to work for the first time last week since March 2020 after seeing out the end of the furlough scheme on September 30.

Despite not working, the scheme proved beneficial for Ms Dobson and allowed her the chance to take up a Level 3 Understanding Autism course in her free time.

She said: "I was reassured that my job would be protected, and despite being a small business, we knew that everything was going to be fine.

"I feel like both I and the business have benefited from the furlough scheme and it could have closed down without it."

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The Northern Echo: Darlington Town CentreDarlington Town Centre

However, as the country locked down and came to terms with a restricted life, Ms Dobson revealed she didn't leave her estate for nine weeks due to uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic and the vulnerabilities that came with being type 1 diabetic.

Going back to work last Thursday, however, was a step back into normality. She said: "It was a bit strange, and I felt as though I'd never been away, but it was great to be back working again."

Tori Gill, who owns her own marketing business and works on the Love Darlo campaign, said the scheme had been a "godsend" for businesses in the town centre.

She said: "I thought it was really easy to access and it ensured I could keep working as a business.

"My income took a hit by about 20 per cent so furlough meant there was no redundancies and thankfully, I only had to use it for a couple of months after adapting my business."

It was the hospitality industry that predominantly used the scheme last year as the region was placed under several tiered restrictions by the Government.

"Businesses in hospitality wouldn't have survived if it wasn't for the furlough scheme and they have found it an utter godsend," Tori added.

"I don't think there's anything bad you can say about it."

Furlough figures

The latest data from HM Revenue and Customs shows 1,600 jobs held by workers living in Darlington were furloughed as of August 31 – 4% of all that were eligible.

That was 500 fewer than the 2,100 at the end of July, when 5% of jobs were furloughed.

It was also 10,000 fewer than in May 2020, when the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was at its peak across the UK.

630 people aged 50 and over were on furlough at the end of August – down from 760 a month previously.

By comparison, there were just 290 workers aged under 30 still on the scheme at this time.

The Northern Echo: Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Simon ClarkeChief Secretary to the Treasury and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Simon Clarke

However, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Simon Clarke said there will be some job losses, which he described as “part of the process” of ending the crisis.

He said: “It’s been a huge success in meaning this awful situation hasn’t cost millions of jobs which would have been the central estimate when this all began.

Mr Clarke added that around two million fewer people are unemployed because of the scheme with the unemployment rate falling seven months in a row, and there would be a "range" of new opportunities for jobseekers.

He added: “We never said we could protect every job. I think we need to be totally honest about this, the Covid pandemic has taken a toll on our economy, it’s changed some things."

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