Over 1,000 more workers in Epping Forest were on furlough last month as stricter lockdown restrictions were imposed.

The latest figures come amid reports that Chancellor Rishi Sunak is preparing to extend the income support scheme into the summer, to coincide with the Prime Minister's roadmap out of lockdown.

HM Revenue and Customs data reveals around 11,000 jobs held by workers living in Epping Forest were furloughed as of January 31.

That was 1,100 more than the 9,900 furloughed a month earlier, when the UK was on the cusp of its third national lockdown.

But despite this increase, the number is still far lower than in May last year – the earliest month with comparable figures – when there were 16,700 furloughed jobs.

Jobs at firms which are unable to operate or have no work for their employees during the pandemic are eligible for furlough pay from the Government – with workers currently getting 80% of their wages, up to £2,500 per month.

Across the UK, 4.7 million jobs were furloughed as of January 31, a steep rise from 4 million a month before, but still well below the 8.7 million in May 2020.

Charlie McCurdy, researcher at the Resolution Foundation think tank which focuses on living standards, said: “Today’s HMRC data shows that the Job Retention Scheme again took the strain during the latest lockdown with an increase of almost a million people on the scheme during January.

"Furlough has once again played a crucial role in protecting incomes and keeping a lid on rising unemployment.

"But with almost five million workers still on furlough in the most recent data, our biggest labour market challenges may be ahead of, rather than behind, us."

Speculation that Mr Sunak will announce an extension to the programme during the March 3 Budget is mounting, after Boris Johnson vowed earlier this week that the Government would not "pull the rug out" from those using taxpayer-funded support schemes.

As is the case across the UK, the industry with the most jobs furloughed in the East of England is hospitality, with 92,100 at the end of January – 22% of all furloughed employments in the region.

The Labour Party warned more than a million hospitality jobs could be lost nationally if the furlough scheme is not extended.

Lucy Powell, shadow minister for business and consumers, said: “Business owners want to protect their livelihoods and those of their employees, but they can’t plan in the dark and they’re crying out for certainty from the Government on business rates, VAT and the furlough scheme."

Around 1.1 million jobs in the accommodation and food services sector were furloughed in the UK as of January 31.

Separate HMRC figures show around 6,600 claims had been made in Epping Forest for the third Self-Employment Income Support Scheme grant by the end of January – 70% of eligible workers.

The SEISS allows the self-employed to claim a grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits, up to £7,500.

The deadline for submissions to the third grant was January 29, with details of a fourth grant set to be announced at the Budget.